AAEM/RSA Medical Student Scholarship Winners Share Why They Are Choosing EM

Author: Hannah Wolsiefer-Leak, MSIV
Indiana University

RSA is proud to share the following essay from one of the 2016-2017 Medical Student Scholarship winners, Hannah Wolsiefer-Leak. We felt this essay best exemplified why she is choosing EM as a specialty. Congratulations, Hannah!

It was day six and we had hardly seen another human. We were surrounded by a desolate, moon-like environment. No trees, no grass, no signs of life – just boulders of rock on one side and a 600-foot drop on the other. “The world’s most dangerous road” we had been told. We drove for days across this landscape to reach vulnerable populations high in the Indian Himalayas to provide medical care of which they were otherwise devoid. I always knew I was passionate for medicine and adventure, but having the opportunity to combine the two pushed me over the edge of enjoyment and into the depths of euphoria.

My parents raised my sister and me outdoors. We lacked televisions and video games, but we made up for it with our dogs, llamas, skis and climbing shoes, and a lot of curiosity. We were constantly exploring and learned at a young age that much like life, the wilderness is unpredictable. From skirting afternoon lightning storms to navigating overgrown trails, one can plan for situations but cannot anticipate everything. From my dad I learned how to be proactive and prepare for disaster, but planning only goes so far. When we would lose trail he taught me to stop and assess the situation – observe our surroundings and prior decisions, call our topographic map for consult, and improvise a plan, all while checking our own pulse first. Then there were times when equipment malfunctioned and weather failed to read the forecast. One eight-hour march through constant downpour and occasional hail in Nepal certainly rained on my group’s parade, but quitting was not an option due to an impending blizzard and possibility of being stranded on the mountain for days. Instead, we laughed cautiously at the slip-and-slide our donkey manure-covered limestone trail had become and motivated one another through it. Perseverance proved to be a valuable asset and the importance of teamwork and strong communication became evident. On that same Nepal trip, my partner became light-headed, dizzy, and had a headache once we reached 18,000 feet. Despite climbing high and sleeping low, we had ascended too quickly and acute mountain sickness crept in. We promptly descended and gave him Diamox and dexamethasone and thought we were covered, but the local Nepalese guides insisted that he also drink their special tea. Modern medicine often dismisses natural remedies, but we trusted their experience of living in the region their entire lives. Being open-minded to different concepts and teachable in new and existing situations is vital – no matter how many times one has been in the backcountry, there are always tips and tricks to learn. I have spent my life building on these concepts and applying them to every environment possible. I am fortunate to have found a profession that enables me to cultivate these same life lessons.

Emergency medicine is not my dream job – it’s more to me. I get to wake up and do something I love every single day. Seeing people of all ages, backgrounds, and of types of emergencies fuels my need for variety and change. Playing such an intimate role in people’s lives is an unbelievable privilege, one that I treat with respect. I enjoy making people feel comfortable quickly and think it is a virtue in emergency medicine. I value the teamwork, assertiveness, and communication skills that emergency medicine physicians hold and I believe these are my strengths as well. Emergency medicine satisfies my desire to work on a team, love of procedures, hunger for a fast-paced unpredictable environment, and drive for constant improvement. There is no other specialty or career that fits so perfectly with my personality.

I wake up every morning with a strong sense of why I want to be an emergency physician. I am completely committed to the field and will bring the same determination, persistence, and open-mindedness from my outdoor adventures to the residency program I join. My goal is to help all people in their most vulnerable state while conveying my love for medicine and the life that exists beyond it, and I want to work in the trenches with people in pursuit of the same goal.