My initial interest in medicine came from an unlikely source, a stranger I will presumably never meet again.
I was volunteering with one of the nurses at a local Healthcare for the Homeless clinic during my first year of college. From my seat in the corner, I noticed with some apprehension a young man whose body was covered with tattoos.
Two tattoos in particular caught my attention. The first was on his neck: a five-point crown with the symbol and name of one of the largest and most dangerous gangs in the country. The second tattoo was a series of teardrops under his eye. From what little I understood of street gang symbols, the teardrop tattoos under the eye may have symbolized jail time or may have symbolized the taking of another person’s life.
I watched the nurse continue her examination of the man in her usual manner. She smiled and asked him about some of his other tattoos. They made casual conversation about his haircut, the basketball jersey he was wearing, and how hot the weather had been that summer.
This made me uneasy and anxious. Doesn’t she realize that this is a very dangerous man?
After his examination was complete and he left the room, I wanted to jump up and explain to the nurse everything I had seen. But before I could even begin, she turned to me knowingly and said, “Did you see those tattoos?”
I was stunned. She had known throughout the entire visit that the young man was a gang member, may have had a violent history, may have spent time in jail and may have even taken another person’s life. Yet she respected him just like any other patient, and he treated her with just as much respect. I am not sure if I was more embarrassed about my assumptions about the young man, or about my thinking that a nurse who had worked for years with the homeless would not be familiar with these tattoos.
After this encounter I began to appreciate that medicine is truly unique. I saw how special the relationship between a patient and a provider can be, despite the patient’s circumstances or the health care provider’s preconceived notions. I was fascinated by the unique trust and respect between the two of them and knew I wanted to be a part of that relationship. I hope to use my experience one day to guide my treatment towards each and every person I encountered throughout my education and career.