Finding Inspiration

I originally decided to come to medical school because of an interest in child & adolescent psychiatry. Unsure of what I wanted to do after graduating with my BA in psychology in May of 2009, I had the opportunity to live, work, and travel to numerous places. The first place that I lived post-graduation was a small town in Southeast Alaska. I worked as a Behavioral Health Technician for a nonprofit organization in an afterschool program for children with a variety of behavioral health issues. I witnessed first-hand the “physician shortage”—with one psychiatrist traveling around all of Southeast Alaska. He stopped in my town a few days per month, mainly to re-prescribe meds. I watched a highly-intelligent boy that was misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder at a very young age go through withdrawals and have to be sent to inpatient rehab in a bigger city when it was realized that his correct diagnosis was Asperger’s. I watched another child, with low-functioning autism, get “discontinued” from our program because we did not have the resources or the training to be able to address his needs as well as the needs of our many other clients. As our program was the only one of its kind in this fishing village on a remote island with 17 miles of paved road, there was nowhere else for this boy’s family to send him in town. Through this experience, I decided that this is something that I could do—I identified a need and a way I could help. I would become a doctor.

Fast forward several years to my second year of medical school, first semester. I started the semester off behind after being diagnosed with mono. I was burnt out, I was tired, I felt like I had lost myself, and I had forgotten why I was interested in medicine in the first place. I had never considered myself a “math & science person.” My favorite subjects in school were always English (in high school) and humanities. Although I was greatly interested in lifestyle and integrative medicine, I wasn’t following what I believe. My diet and exercise habits had plummeted. What had happened?

I finally opened up and was talking with a fellow classmate about how unhappy I was and something she asked me really resonated— “why are you here? What’s your inspiration?” I thought of my kids in Alaska, and how my time with them seemed almost a world away, and I realized that I had almost forgotten my original interest in psychiatry. And then, about a month or so ago, I attended a psychiatry interest group talk on “forensic psychiatry” and was re-inspired. When the forensic psychiatrist was describing her job, I felt as though she were speaking of my interests. It seemed like the perfect fusion of my undergrad interests (psych major, law & society minor) and medicine.

With recent events surrounding Ferguson, Eric Garner, and the protests and talks that have risen from that, I have realized that I do want to somehow be involved in human rights work. Currently, I see forensic psychiatry as an avenue into this sort of work, and something that I could see myself passionate about and interested in for years to come. The secrets of the mind inspire me. The severe lack of adequate mental health care in this country and the stigma that still surrounds mental illness inspires me. And, working to reduce socioeconomic disparities to access in healthcare inspires me.

I am sharing this personal experience with the hope that it may resonate with other students out there that have hit a wall and are going through the same thing, whether pre-med or in medical school. My advice is to not lose sight of your original goals—do something to remind yourself daily of why you are here. Through this experience of essentially losing my inspiration, losing myself in the midst of the stressful environment of medical school and then finding myself and rediscovering my purpose in medical school, I learned how important it is to really take the time to shadow and/or volunteer during the early clinical years of medical school in order to not lose sight of this goal. I have also learned that I want to go into something that will continue to fascinate me over the years—something where I am able to continually find inspiration to go into work every day. I don’t want to just like my job. I want to love my job—and I think this is an important mindset to have in place as I start my third year rotations next year.



Rachel Heidt

Rachel Heidt

I am originally from Beaufort, South Carolina, and graduated from New York University with my B.A. in Psychology in 2009. Unsure of exactly what I wanted to do with my life, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work, travel, and volunteer for two years while discovering my desire to become a physician. I lived in Alaska, Belgium, Australia, and Thailand before beginning a one-year post-baccalaureate pre-medical program at Bryn Mawr College in 2011. I spent the past year in Berkeley, California, working for the University of California San Francisco as the analyst for the Division of Hospital Medicine at San Francisco General Hospital, the safety-net hospital for the city of San Francisco. My interests include integrative medicine, global and community health, narrative medicine, and working with underserved populations. Other interests include hiking, yoga, and exploring Greenville and the surrounding areas with my husband. I’m thrilled to be back in my home state and to become a member of the second class at USC School of Medicine Greenville. I look forward to sharing my journey into medical school with you!


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