When applying for medical school, I was frequently asked what it was that sparked my interest in medicine. My story was simple; In the seventh grade, I had an amazing science teacher, Dr. Goodman*. He was a former dentist and my classmates and I adored him. We hung on his every word and he was able to illustrate concepts in incredibly vivid and imaginative ways. One night, I awoke in the middle of the night with a pain in the back of my throat. Remembering a lesson he gave earlier that day about indigestion, I went into my parents’ bedroom to grab a bottle of Tums, chewed a tablet, and immediately felt my pain go away. I then decided that 2 A.M. would be the perfect time for a lesson on acid reflux, so I explained to my parents how the antacid was able to alleviate my symptoms. I was fascinated that I could describe what was going on inside my body. My parents were less than thrilled and told me to go back to bed.
When I was accepted into medical school, I wrote Dr. Goodman a letter to tell him that it was his seventh-grade class that made me want to pursue a career in medicine. I thanked him for all he did for me and my fellow students. He wrote back saying how proud he was and wished me luck. In the back of my mind, I hoped that one day I would run into him again. That I could tell him about my patients, the good I was able to do, and how it was thanks to him.
That opportunity, however, would never come. While I was on my first clinical rotation, I found out that Dr. Goodman had died by suicide. I hadn’t spoken to him since my letter, yet the shock was still overwhelming. This man, who meant so much to so many, was now gone. With a heavy heart, I went to the hospital the next day and started on my morning rounds. The first patient I saw was an older gentleman. I introduced myself to him, took his history, and performed a physical exam. Before I left the room, I asked if he had any questions. He looked at me and said, “So doc, why did you go into medicine?” For a moment it felt like my insides had been dipped in ice water. I thought about leaving out Dr. Goodman. I felt it would be too painful to mention his name, knowing how his story ended. But then I thought how selfish that would be. Dr. Goodman dedicated his life and worked so hard to help his students achieve their dreams. How could I pretend that he didn’t have an impact on me? I looked at my patient, and I told him that I had an amazing seventh grade science teacher who inspired me to become a doctor. He nodded and said, “I hope you got a chance to thank that teacher.” I smiled and felt incredibly grateful that I could respond, “Yes, I did.”
The best teachers continue to teach long after we are their students. Dr. Goodman taught me the importance of taking the time to acknowledge those who are important to us. There are many parts of this story that I would change, but I am incredibly grateful that I had the opportunity to thank Dr. Goodman for the impact that he had on my life. As I’ve been away from my friends and family for rotations, I’ve made it a point, now more than ever, to reach out. Whether it’s sending a text asking how their day was or sharing a funny story from the hospital, I try to make sure they know that I am thinking of them. It is so important to express how we feel to those who we care about because the opportunity will not last forever. It is the best lesson that I can take away from him. The next time a patient asks me why I wanted to go into medicine, without any hesitation, I will tell them about an incredible seventh grade science teacher and a bottle of Tums. For that I can say, “Thank you, Dr. Goodman.”
*Name has been changed to protect privacy
Sam Shulimson is an OMS-III at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine.