I grew up in a small town in South Carolina where everybody knew everybody. People I’d never spoken to knew my entire life story, and I knew the drama about their mama’s sister’s cousin. No matter where I was, I was surrounded by people who knew me. Sometimes good, sometimes bad. When I was in a car wreck, people stopped left and right to lend a hand. When I was out on a date, people were also there to call my mama and make sure she knew every detail. It was a small, tight-knit community, and it gave off the sense of family. We were there for each other, in all things. We knew who was sick, who had just received a difficult diagnosis, or who had a relative in the hospital. It was all common knowledge. It was just what we did.
I recently took a trip to New York City, quite a change of scenery from rural South Carolina. I was surrounded by tall, steel giants and bright, shining lights. There were taxis zooming by, and overflowing food carts on each street corner. There were vendors with their fruits and flowers, and there were beautiful, flashing signs drawing you in to each attraction. I was in awe at the sheer magnitude of the city. It seemed like utter chaos, but the heart of the city seemed to beat together.
I also found myself surrounded by pure masses of people. Masses of people I didn’t know, and masses of people who didn’t want to know me. Naturally, there were the tourists, sticking out like a sore thumb with their constant look of amazement, and their big cameras. There were men in suits, pacing outside of their office buildings, hastily speaking of business. There were women, dressed impeccably with a coffee in hand, seemingly unbothered by the noise around them. There were children, running around, biking alone, and laughing with friends.
There were the men sleeping in the coves of closed businesses. There were the families huddled on the sidewalk together, fighting against the chill of the wind.
I found myself intrigued by this collection of humanity. I didn’t know them, but I started to learn their stories. All it took was one short subway ride down to West 4th Street.
In engineering school, our first course was called “Thinking Like An Engineer.” It taught us how to look at the world analytically, and how to start solving problems in a more efficient way. As we moved from station to station, I realized the first two years of medical school had taught me its own version – it had me “Thinking Like A Doctor.”
I saw the gentle woman, out of breath; her pitting edema encompassed by her fabulous shoes.
I saw the confused man, struggling to bring up his words as he rifled through his wallet for help with his tickets.
I saw the darling woman, proud of her age and her varicose veins.
I saw the exhausted mom, trying to stand strong for her children, but desperately wanting a seat to open up.
I saw the discreet man, shooting concerned glances at the ad about erectile dysfunction.
I saw the disheveled teenager, mistaken for an addict, with his strange behavior compensating for a debilitating headache.
I saw the sweet old man, with his wheelchair, oxygen, and down one foot, smile at a young child.
I saw the young woman headed to work, constantly tugging on the cuffs of her blazer to cover her self-harm scars.
I saw the man, mumbling to himself and nodding off, with his socks glued to his feet and protruding through the large holes in his shoes.
In a city full of strangers, they were no longer invisible. They had a story, as did every single one of the thousands that I would walk by. I immediately felt a desire to know more and to connect. In a way, I knew them.
As future physicians, this is what we are trained to do every day. We are taught to create meaningful relationships with complete strangers. We are taught to notice the small details and to understand where each person is coming from. We are taught to be a smiling face to every person we come into contact with. We don’t always recognize it, but we now have an instilled sense to always, no matter what, be “thinking like a doctor.”
Anna Tarasidis is a native of Greenwood, SC, and graduated in Bioengineering from Clemson University in 2016. You can most likely find her out on a hike, deep in some Netflix, loving on somebody’s dog, or, let’s be honest, in the library. She has a passion for people, whether by mentoring or teaching or just through a simple conversation.
Copyright 2014 USC School of Medicine Greenville