Human of Medicine: Ben

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The basics.

Benjamin, 26 years old. Born in Concord, MA. Grew up in Andover, MA. I would say Worcester is my new home, but I’ll always feel at home at my parents’ house in Andover. I attended Colgate University and was a Religious Studies Major and Biology Minor. I am currently an MS2 at UMass Medical School.

What motivates you? Or in other words, what gets you out of bed in the morning?

I have been incredibly fortunate and blessed to be in the position I am now. Getting up and going to the library over and over again can get monotonous, but wanting to give the best care I can to my future patients keeps me going. Any day could be my last, so I try to live my days to the fullest; doing just one small act of kindness or making one person smile makes that day a success.

What brought you to medicine? Please give the real, unfiltered reason, if you are willing.

When I was 16 years old, I went with my church on a weeklong mission trip to an impoverished small town an hour outside of Juarez, Mexico. A doctor, Larry, that went to my church was part of the group of 12 or so that went down. He set up a clinic for a day, and over 100 people lined up to see him, the vast majority of whom had never seen a doctor in their life. One woman walked barefoot over 10 miles to see him. Here I was, a privileged teenager who completely took for granted my yearly checkups and being able to get medicine whenever I was sick; and here was this woman who saw an opportunity that she might not have for the rest of her life. Growing up, my parents always reminded my siblings and me of how lucky we were, but I realized it more in that moment than ever before. Aside from an aunt who used to be a physical therapist and a great aunt who was a nurse, no one in my family works in the medical field; medicine simply never occurred to me as a potential career. I truly felt in that moment that I was meant to be a doctor so that I could help those in need.

Who is most important to you and why? You can include more than one person.

Family and friends. They are always there to celebrate the highs and to help me through the lows.

Describe your perfect day.

Wake up on a nice fall day, eat a delicious brunch (sweet and savory combo of course), go on a day hike and earn some beautiful views. Come back home, eat sushi, play a round of Settlers of Catan, and then watch Good Will Hunting. In bed by ten. All my friends and family would be invited to join!

Tell me about your dream. Do you have one? What does it consist of?

My dream changes from day to day, but some things stay consistent. I know I want be a physician and have a family. I cannot wait to be a dad and embarrass my kids. I want to strike the balance of being involved in my community and giving back, but also take time to take care of myself. The more time I get to spend outside the better!

Describe your proudest moment. Why did you choose this one?

 A few years ago, I co-led a four-week backpacking trip in Alaska with ten 17-year-olds. They had a range of backpacking experience – some had been doing it for years while for others it was their first time. My coleader, Emma, and I taught the group how to backpack effectively, as well as how to lead a group. The first two and half weeks, we showed them the ropes (pun intended), and slowly handed the responsibilities over. They took turns leading the last week of the trip, from grocery shopping and meal prepping, to navigating off trail with just a map on compass, crossing dozens of rivers in the process. The itinerary was difficult, logging 8-12 miles a day, and they nailed it. Not only did they get where they wanted to be, but the community that they helped foster was one of the most positive learning and living environments I’ve ever been a part of. I was so proud to be one of their leaders, and absolutely loved the privilege of being able to explore the Alaskan Wilderness with them.

Is there something about yourself you wish you could improve? Why?

Sometimes I take criticism too personally. I’m working on trying to not be as emotional when faced when being critiqued and realizing that someone doesn’t like me. In the words of Michael Scott, “Do I need to be liked? No. Would I like to be liked? Yes. Do I have to be liked? Yes!” Joking aside, I am trying to stay more true to myself, even when taking a stance may not be the popular opinion.

What is one thing you wish people knew about you?

I don’t like when people try to put others in a box – there is always more to people than we give them credit for. In high school, I was a jock. In college, I was a crunchy outdoorsman. I’ve been the goofy one, the medical student, or just the “nice guy.” I, like everyone, am more than just one thing.

What is your happiest memory?

I know it wasn’t “my day,” but my sister’s wedding was probably the happiest day/weekend of my life. Abby married one of our dear family friends, Josh, who I also knew well. It occurred to me at their wedding that I’d likely know more people there (I knew over 180 of the roughly 220 people) than I’ll know at my own wedding. It was an outdoor wedding on my Grammy’s front lawn, a place where Abby and Josh met, and where I’ve spent over a year of my life and have countless childhood memories. Between having the whole family there, eating delicious food, enjoying perfect weather, dancing along with an incredible band, celebrating with so many dear friends, and witnessing love in its purest form, it simply could not have been a better day.

What is your saddest memory?

There’s not one in particular, but talking with some students on my backpacking trips can be heartbreaking. I’ve led students who were abused by their parents, forced to take unnecessary hormonal therapy, others who have had siblings killed in freak accidents, and have struggled with illnesses (mental and physical) that I can’t even fathom. Hearing these stories and supporting teenagers through events that no one should have to go through is heart-wrenching.

Tell me about your creative outlets.

I have very little musical talent, but I love music. I find myself singing in the car, shower, and just around my house. Not sure if it counts as an art per se, but I like to think that puns are an art that I thoroughly enjoy.

What are you most afraid of?

My biggest fear is that I get caught up in the stress and chaos of medical school and becoming a physician that I lose touch with things I love and who I am. I’ve felt this way in school at times, and I just hope that I can continue to center myself when times are tough. My roommate and I were talking late one night, and I really like what he said about medical school/the medical career – you have to throw yourself at it, but can’t get lost in it.

We all have turning points in our lives that set us off in a different direction. These catalytic moments can include heartbreak, a meaningful conversation, an injury, the death of a loved one, and so many other things… Tell me about a turning point in your life that altered your trajectory. What did you learn from this moment?

I played football, basketball, and lacrosse in high school, but wasn’t good enough to play at a D1 school like Colgate. I went on an eight-day backpacking and canoeing pre-orientation trip, despite never going camping before. I had such an amazing time and felt like I really found my people, despite being completely foreign to all things outdoorsy. I applied to join the Outdoor Education (OE) program at Colgate and went on to complete a nine-month outdoor leadership training, involving being away most weekends in my freshman year, and taking two three-hour night classes each week about hard skills (tent pitching, knot tying, how to cross rivers safely, how to safely hang bear bags, etc.) and soft skills (how to effectively communicate, learning about various leadership styles, how to work with difficult participants, etc.). Three years later, I was one of the three seniors that led the next batch of 16 trainees through the nine-month training, which was one of the most rewarding things I’d ever done. Not only did I make some of my closest friends in OE, but I wound up working as a backpacking/canoeing/biking guide for teens and young adults part time for the next six years, during which I learned countless lessons and helped me grow as a person. OE taught me to trust my instincts, and I wound up finding a lifelong passion in the process.

Have you ever questioned whether you wanted to stay in medicine? Describe the moment. How did you convince yourself to continue?

Medical school ebbs and flows, but in some of my lows I’ve never felt less like myself in my life. There are so many things that made me me that I was able to do before school, but I struggle to find time to do those now. Also, because of the lack of time, it makes maintaining relationships very hard. I was talking with one of my close friends at school, and I really resonated with what she said – medical school can demand so much from you, and forces you to rely on friends and family, but you seldom have the energy or the time to be there for them when they need help. Relationships stop being 50/50 and wind up being more 90/10, where everyone else is investing 90% while you can only give 10%. I hate that.

All this withstanding, I know that medical school is finite. I know there’s residency and fellowship and in a lot of ways the path gets harder, but I think that we all get better at dealing with it. Also, I don’t know how to describe it, but I feel like I am meant to be a physician. I’ve leaned on my faith now more than ever as well, which has really helped.

Has there been a time where you knew you were in the exact right place? Tell me about it.

One summer, I was leading a three-week backpacking trip through the Alps with a dozen 15-year-olds. Backpacking is interesting because you hike all day together, cook together, eat together, clean together, pitch tents together, and eventually sleep just feet away from each other, only to do it all again the next day. Needless to say, you get close to people pretty quickly. I was talking with this girl, who on paper had it all figured out – she was smart, athletic, pretty, and had lots of friends. A week into the trip, she broke down to me, telling me that was depressed, felt incredibly inadequate especially in comparison to her sister, and had considered suicide earlier that year. She had never shared this with anyone, but here we were talking about it at 9,000 feet in the Italian Alps. I was only 22 and didn’t have any answers, but I listened to her, cried with her, and offered what little wisdom I had. Having bottled things up myself, I know how isolating and difficult it can be; I felt privileged to be the one that she opened up to. We are still in touch today, and she’s doing really well.

How do you keep your mind sharp and your body strong? Do you exercise? Do you read? Do you do crossword puzzles?

I love to play basketball, do anything in nature especially hiking, and love puzzles of any kind – crossword, jigsaw, word searches, etc. I also love board (Settlers of Catan, Scrabble, Monopoly) and card games (Oh Hell, 45s, group solitaire).

Who do you admire and why?

My parents. Not only have they given me every opportunity in the world and supported my every decision, even when they didn’t necessarily agree with it, but they are two of the most loving, selfless, and awe-inspiring people I’ve ever met. They would drop everything in a second to help anyone in need, regardless of how close they are with them. On top of that, they never ask for credit. I’m definitely slightly biased, but I also think they are two of the most fun people I know! Also, I’ve been blessed with two of the most loving, nonjudgmental, and incredible grandmothers in the world. At 88, my Grammy is still skiing and playing tennis, and does everything with a smile. My Gramma, at 91, is one of the most appreciative and generous women I’ve ever met, who is also sharp as a tack, still doing puzzles daily and sewing various things to raise money for different charities. They are huge Boston sports fans and, as if it couldn’t get any cuter, they are very good friends with each other. I hope to be half as with it as they are if I get those longevity genes and make it to that age!

Thank you for sharing your story Ben! Let us know your reactions in the comments. What are you currently trying to improve about yourself?