I wasn’t quite sure how to dress up for my fourth-grade Career Day. I had borrowed multiple books from my elementary school’s library in an attempt to research exactly how one goes about becoming an author, but most of the information I uncovered related to finding work as a freelance writer and lacked the step-by-step instructions and list of appropriate tools and attire that I had hoped to find. So I settled on an outfit that made me happy: my favorite pink shirt, a pair of comfortable pants, and my white Keds, with a cloth-covered journal – one of several from my collection – and pen my only real props.
Years later, after drastically altering my career path and enrolling in medical school, it was that same principle, doing what made me happy, that brought me back to writing. As fascinated as I was by my studies in anatomy and physiology, by the end of my first year I full of facts but empty as a person. When I learned of an opportunity to incorporate an independent writing project into my medical curriculum, I felt a surge of excitement, which was quickly washed away by abiding apprehension. I waited until the night before the deadline to submit my application. In truth, I spent half of that night trying to convince myself that I might actually have something to say.
When I was accepted to the program and awarded a fellowship to help support my efforts, words began to flow from my fingers into my journal, onto my laptop, onto any scrap of paper within my reach. What I had dismissed during my pre-medical studies as a childhood hobby suddenly emerged as an integral ingredient in my efforts to survive medical school and eventually to thrive as a physician. I filled the blank pages of journals that had sat on my bedroom shelves for so long, untouched yet unable to be parted with. And I finally recalled the sentiment that had first sparked my interest in medicine: the desire to understand, to bear witness to, and to offer a hand to hold throughout patients’ stories as they unfold.
Becky MacDonell-Yilmaz earned her Bachelor of Arts and Master of Public Health from Dartmouth College and her Doctor of Medicine from Stony Brook University School of Medicine. She completed a residency in pediatrics at Brown University/Hasbro Children’s Hospital. Her work has been published in Pediatrics, Annals of Internal Medicine, The New Physician, The Writers Circle, and Paumanok II, an anthology of poetry and photography by Long Islanders. Her first chapbook of poetry, Tools for Survival, was published in 2015 by Finishing Line Press. You can explore more of her writing at The Growth Curve: ruminations of a pediatrician in training. She lives in Providence, RI, with her husband and son.