Do Not Let Your Fire Go Out
by Tommy Martin

Can you remember when it first happened? When your heart and soul were set on fire to become a doctor? I can! I went to Sierra Leone, West Africa to help in under-served areas. I saw first-hand the poverty, sickness, and lack of healthcare as I held a young, beautiful six-year-old girl who barely weighed twenty pounds. My world was flipped upside down, my life changed forever, and my heart was set ablaze.

I ask you to think back to when your heart was set on fire to make a difference in this world by becoming a doctor. As you continue, medical school will demand your time, energy, and above all, your heart. Studying will become a way of your nature. 5:00 am, your alarm goes off. Your mind races before you even have a moment to yourself: Anatomy, Pathology exams next week, Step 1 in less than a year, or Step 2 in a few months. Lunch break means flash cards and U-World, and as you go into dinner, the to-do list is piling up for tomorrow. What happened to the fire? Has it turned to an ember? Is it even still there?

In desperation, I ask you again to think back to when your heart was set on fire. As we all come to see, medical school seems to pour sand on our blazing fire for helping others and creates another fire for earning good grades. It seems like there is a war for my heart: My joy and passion for helping others vs the demands of making A's and getting high Step scores.

I write begging you to not let the latter overwhelm your fire for serving people. I ask that you begin to fuel that fire by pouring a little gasoline on it occasionally, by not running to your text book or U-World in every spare moment that you have, but instead fuel your fire by doing what inspired you to pursue medicine in the first place.

I was able to do this by helping a less fortunate school in Grenada while studying at St. George's University. My finals were approaching; it was crunch time. While sitting at a Student Government Association meeting, the principal from a local school in Grenada presented their need for restoration of their restroom facilities at the school. The images were horrific, and that is when I felt the little trickle of gasoline, drop by drop increasing the intensity of the fire that was set ablaze on my heart years ago. Finals week in my mind disappeared and did not seem to be as heavy as it was just moments ago. The whole reason why I wanted to be a doctor was presenting itself to me: My opportunity to pour out my love for helping people. Heart racing, palms sweating, I knew I had to stand up and say we would do it. We would raise the money to restore their facilities; not only to decrease the chances of illness spreading by these horrible conditions, but to show the Grenadian people that we cared and were there to help them. But then, the war again began to rage once again in my head.  

Fortunately, our hearts won the war that day. During one of the most stressful weeks of the year, with the efforts of our whole school, we raised enough money for the restoration of the restroom facilities at South St. George Elementary School. I can remember seeing the children's faces as they saw the restored bathroom, no longer holding their noses to shield them from the smell, or tiptoeing through the room to avoid the poor conditions. Happy, carefree, and full of joy. My heart had found the answer. What had become numbed from medical school, lacking the nutrition of helping others it needed, was restored.

Again, I ask: Can you remember when it first happened? When your heart and soul were set on fire to become a doctor? To help people? To heal people? To pour your love out to others?

Whatever stage you are at on this medical school journey, do not sacrifice your fire for helping others for obsession with A's and high Step scores. Instead, use that fire as a tool to make a difference. It will brighten all other aspects of your medical school life. As you give your loving heart the nutrition it needs, your studying will become easier, the hours will be shorter, and your memory will be quicker. Because now, you will be studying for the people who started the fire in the first place, not just the grades that demand our attention.

Do not let your fire go out.