The Power of ‘Meaning’

Angie, Fourth Year Medical StudentWhile boiling raw beets for my mom- she swears by them for helping lower her blood pressure- I came across a Google news story titled, “Tearjerker! Angelina Jolie’s Speech at the Governors Awards Will Make You Cry.” Curious, I clicked on the link and found myself indeed moved by Angelina Jolie’s speech.

Above all [my mother] was very clear that nothing would mean anything if I didn’t live a life of use to others. I didn’t know what that meant for a long time… it was only when I began to travel and look and live beyond my home that I understand my responsibility to others. -Angelina Jolie

I could not agree more with her words about living a purposeful life to the fullest. During the last couple months, I have asked myself too many times why I am choosing to pursue a career that will daily ask demand me to choose between two jealous loves I love most- my patients and those I call family. The next four years of residency will be brutal, exhilarating, and exhausting because it will be the time to try to learn everything in the field of obstetrics and gynecology to come out ready to practice or pursue fellowship. I am realistic- it will be stressful making sacrifices and feeling like I may not be able to make everyone 100% happy all the time.

So why am I still here? It is because the pursuit of medicine in the field of obstetrics and gynecology brings my life meaning. With the skills, experiences, and support I have been blessed with these twenty-seven years, I find greatest peace and energy when I am placing the wellbeing and comfort of my patients before that of my own. This seems counterintuitive, but a TED talk by health psychologist Kelly McGonigal recently helped me see that the new science also supports this idea that stress- when attached to something meaningful- may actually be beneficial. One study looked at the impact of stress on longevity: overall, there was a 43% increase in the risk of death for those who believed they had high stress and that stress had a large impact on health. However, those with high stress who did not perceive stress as negative were amongst those least likely to die. Furthermore, another study found the positive impact of giving to others on stress-related mortality.

I have been so thankful for my parents who have not asked me for anything more than to come home to have dinner with them when I am free. I am also so thankful for my sister who has taken the time to travel with me to some of my interviews; my significant other who helped me first survive, then taught me to thrive in medical school; and my lifelong friends who have forgiven me for my selfishness and stuck by me through the toughest times. These people bring my life meaning, and will continue to balance the negative stress that I will inevitably face at times.

This interview process has been ‘stressful.’ When I talk with my interviewers about my passion for women’s health and medicine, my heart begins racing and the rate of my words speeds up. But I remind myself that this stress is positive, and just a natural response to my perception of a worthy challenge in the pursuit of living a meaningful and responsible life helping others.

It has been a wonderful experience meeting my fellow applicants and and I wish you all the best as we continue to pursue the common goal of becoming excellent OBGYN doctors!

You can trust yourself to handle life’s challenges. And you’re remembering you don’t have to face them alone. –Kelly McGonigal

-angiek