Last week, My daughter started medical school in her quest to help others. But the road she took was less traveled compared to many of us, including yours truly, who took the more traditional/direct route of entry. As an undergraduate at the institution that Benjamin Franklin founded, she was drawn to architecture and after receiving a Masters degree from the home of the Trojans, she settled in Los Angeles. She began work at a firm whose mission was a bit different than hers. To put the word “green” in perspective, Avery’s vision was to construct environmentally-friendly buildings that could serve as community hubs. While the firm worked on large commercial projects, she discovered that the sustainability of the buildings was driven by the developer, not the firm. And so, she moved on.
I was delighted when she was hired to work at one of the premier architecture firms for designing health care related facilities, including medical schools. During this time, the American Heart Association was interested in collaborating with architectural groups to create “healthy spaces” in medical facilities. My colleague Dr. Francine Welty and I, volunteers for the AHA, arranged with Avery to set up a meeting between her CEO and AHA to initiate discussions toward this goal. One idea, for example would be to create more attractive stairwells, that might include piping in lively music (NOT “muzac”) to encourage and energize us to use the stairs daily. Heck, wouldn’t it be cool to have an internal Spotify player (or “Jukebox” to us older folks) inside the stairwell, where you can choose the song you would love to hear as you climb up to your designated floor?
Needless to say, I was caught off guard several years ago when upon visiting Avery and her fiancé, Andrés, she said “Dad, I’m thinking of applying to Medical School”. It wasn’t so much that she didn’t enjoy her job. Rather, she had a deeper passion to help others and a career in medicine certainly provided the perfect vehicle to accomplish this long-term goal. Over the years, Avery has certainly walked the talk. Not only did she donate peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC) for a stranger requiring a life-saving bone marrow transplant, but she has also been a strong advocate for the homeless (often giving away her lunch/buying a sandwich for someone in need) and spent countless hours after work as a volunteer tutor for disadvantaged youth.
As Avery embarks in this new and exciting phase in her life, I have no doubt that she will be an extremely empathetic and devoted physician. I recall that my classmates who took time off between college and medical school were at the top of the class. This stemmed in large part because of their deep appreciation and passion for medicine that grew after college. While Avery may be the only accredited architect in her class, there are undoubtedly other classmates who took time off to have successful ventures prior to committing to medicine. This is supremely encouraging because with medical school applications rising to new heights in the middle of the COVID pandemic, we need the best and brightest to drive the future of healthcare and medicine.
While I may have been a bit squeamish at the prospect of her desire to become a physician in 2017, based upon the many years of study/training that lie ahead, my viewpoint in 2020 is: “Avery, I couldn’t be prouder!”
Michael Miller, MD is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland.