A Complete Education: Learning Respect Despite Differences

Though I may only be a little over three months into medical school, the rigor of the curriculum has already begun to swell my brain with knowledge of biochemistry, cell biology, physiology, anatomy, histology, and all of the other content areas we must become familiar with to progress in our medical knowledge and to prepare for medical practice. Every day I learn more about the immense complexity of the human body. At times I am frustrated by the difficulty of learning certain material, and other times I am intrigued by a certain pathway or component of physiology leading me to investigate further. Despite the difficulty and pace of the learning, I am growing to love learning more each day. I have come to recognize a component of this education lately that I think we ought to pay more attention to.

It is easy to recognize the gains we make in our medical knowledge every day, but it is more difficult to see the ways in which our character is being shaped and our beliefs tested. The humanistic components of our medical education will be integral to the quality of our practice as physicians in the relatively near future. Development of our character, beliefs and interpersonal skills does not occur apart from concerted effort and careful thought. Yet I realize that with the pressure of so many facts to know, I do not dwell long on my strengths and short-comings as a person. When I begin to ascribe greater importance to these aspects of my life and education, I begin to recognize the importance of an education that stretches beyond biology and into my psychology and spirituality. I need to recognize the importance of development as a whole person.

I grew up in a conservative Christian home and went to conservative Christian schools for high school and college. I have been mostly around people who believe the same way I do throughout my life. It is natural to associate the most with people who do share your beliefs and common goals. Now I find myself in the midst of a diverse medical school class where the spectrum of beliefs is wide, and there are many who hold different beliefs than my own. In the last several months, they have been teaching me. I have been amazed by the number of controversial conversations I have participated in that have ended without ill-will and instead with mutual respect. My classmates are demonstrating to me how to communicate respectfully while disagreeing, how to have difficult conversations about beliefs that may be foreign to me, and how to leave such conversations without damaging the relationship.

There is no question that certain topics are harder to talk about than others, but I have not seen my peers shy away from those conversations. We will never agree about certain beliefs, and many issues will remain hot-button topics throughout our time together in medical school. However, I believe we will emerge as better people, better friends and better physicians if we continue to seek to respect one another despite our differences. This kind of tolerance is different from the version often required in our society.  Our society expects unwavering acceptance and respect for another’s beliefs but often fails to address respect for the individual who holds those beliefs. However, we have an opportunity to learn to respect one another for the inherent worth that we have as human beings, to be tolerant of one another despite differing opinions and beliefs.

We are receiving another type of education from one another by engaging and not withdrawing, by respecting rather than hating, and by tolerating people rather than simply tolerating their ideas.  My perspectives are being broadened, my opinions sharpened, and my beliefs strengthened by engaging in conversation with those who disagree with me. We will all be better informed, increasingly compassionate and more understanding if we continue to consciously engage one another in this important aspect of our education. We will be better members of society, not just better physicians by learning to be quick to listen, slow to get angry and eager to understand. So this is my letter of gratitude to my classmates for patiently and respectfully teaching me about things of which I may currently be ignorant. We must continue to be one another’s teachers and supporters as we navigate the next three and a half years toward our shared goal: M.D.


Ben Snyder

I was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio.  After graduating high school, I attended Liberty University in Virginia for my undergraduate studies and graduated in December of 2014 with a degree in cell and molecular biology.  At Liberty, I participated in student leadership as a Resident Assistant and Spiritual Life Director.  I met my wife through student leadership, and we got married in January 2015.  I have wanted to be a doctor since very early in life, and I am very grateful to have the opportunity to study and learn at the USC School of Medicine Greenville.  It is my desire to one day use medicine in missions work and to provide care to the underserved.  I am excited to share perspectives and stories throughout my education on the blog.

Jeanne Petrizzo

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