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With This Life: Ruminations on the Tensions Among Medicine, Art, and Advocacy

I want so much to put my art into the world, to share all that stuff that resides inside each of us and that for me falls somewhere between poetry, prose and prayer.

But I also want to disappear from the earth, to take refuge in a singular devotion, like the nuns who ran the home for the children that I played with in my motherland.

Part of me wants to wield policy and paperwork, to reorganize the resources that have been woefully congested (stolen) over centuries.

Yet much of me wants simply to fall asleep under the stars with a child’s hand in my own.

I want so much of everything. Do I? Or is it that I live in a world where women are expected to be everything, and doctors are expected to be everything, and I am in the process of becoming both?

There’s that clichéd quote, too often cited in graduation speeches and inspirational office kitsch: Do not ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. This saying has never sat well with me. Yes, we should follow the callings that make us come alive. But we should always, always be asking what the world needs.

Oh, but the world’s need is bottomless. The world needs greater food security, and it needs access to life-saving medications, and it needs a sustainable energy source, and it needs people who will devote themselves to these ends. What need is there for this medical student’s words and reflections, therapeutic for me, with only the hopes of touching another?

I am afraid that at the end of the day, following my heart means changing a few lives and enriching my own but that I will look back and realize I did nothing to affect change on a larger level, or that I did not even try.

There is so much work I want to do if I am to rest empty-handed at the end of this life. So much need, so much work. Yet I find myself avoiding my biochemistry books and curling up into my covers, listening to the rain.

VyVy Trinh VyVy Trinh (2 Posts)

Contributing Writer Emeritus

Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University

VyVy Trinh is a Class of 2016 medical student attending Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown University. Before entering medical school, VyVy spent a year working as a teacher in summer and after-school programs in her native Bay Area, California.