Sample Essay: Harvard Medical Essay 1

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Liberal Arts/Theater Background; Lab Experience in Reproductive Ecology; Teaching Assistant; Clinical Research Experience and Women's Clinic Volunteer

It was opening night. I was about to walk on stage as Ruth in The Pirates of Penzance. Any sane actor would be singing scales, or meditating, or reviewing dialogue. I was spitting into a test tube. Later, I would assay the saliva for cortisol and compare the results with my normal cortisol levels. Discovering what was happening in my body as the curtain prepared to rise was worth the temporary distraction from the pirate king.

"Spit happens," as we say in my lab. Spit happened to me during the summer after my sophomore year in college. I worked in the Reproductive Ecology Laboratory at Harvard University, measuring steroid hormones in saliva by radioimmunoassay. I had never considered my self a science whiz, and I took the job with a little trepidation. I pipetted until my thumb ached and washed an endless stream of glassware, but the end result was something amazing. With those tiny vials of saliva, I could track my menstrual cycle. I could measure my brother's testosterone levels, or my own-which I hadn't even known I had. I realized that I was doing science. I was doing it well and enjoying it. I went on to complete my senior honors thesis on the relationship between cortisol levels and temperament in shy adolescents. In the lab, I discovered the fascination of research and the discipline needed to carry it out. I am excited to be continuing my work there as a researcher and teaching assistant for the 1993-94 school year.

About the same time spit happened to me, I found myself writing research papers on a consistent set of themes. For my women's history class, I wrote about the turn of the century movement for "twilight sleep" anesthesia in childbirth. For my sophomore tutorial in anthropology, I researched the effects of social support on the duration and complications of labor and delivery. For my sociology class, I investigated the controversy surrounding the Depo Provera contraceptive. My passion for these topics and my interest in science fueled a growing desire to go to medical school. I began taking pre-med classes and continued pursuing these interests, both in and out of the classroom.

At Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Illinois, I studied patients who had undergone laparoscopic surgery for uterine fibroids and ovarian cysts. While gathering clinical data, reading literature, and observing surgeries, I was amazed by the results of such non-invasive techniques, and had visions of holding the laparoscope myself in a few years. I enjoyed being part of the rhythms of a busy obstetrics and gynecology practice and solidified my desire to be a doctor.

As a volunteer in a women's health clinic in Boston, during my senior year in college, I answered phones and made appointments and referrals. I discovered how much good I could do just by listening and focusing my attention on the person on the phone. That simple act did so much to alleviate a woman's worries and uncertainties. I also learned to treat each patient with fairness and decency, regardless of her circumstances. I know that the things I can accomplish listening with the additional skills of a physician are extraordinary.

Much of my remaining spare time in college was spent working in theater. While president of the Harvard-Radcliffe Gilbert and Sullivan Players, I led a board of fifteen strong-willed, outspoken peers. I made sure each person was heard in discussions and that the group remained focused. As producer of several plays, I was thrilled to watch the curtain rise, knowing I had harnessed the energies and talents of dozens of people to make the show happen. Through my work in theater, I learned to keep my stress levels reasonable and my temper intact while juggling innumerable tasks- usually on very few hours of sleep.

In college, I became one part scientist, one part counselor, and one part leader. My interest in how our bodies work and how we relate to those bodies continues to grow in tandem with my vision of myself as a physician. I know that with the skills I gained in college, from techniques in the laboratory to group leadership in theater production to listening and compassion on the clinic telephone, I am well prepared to enter medical school. And I can't wait to see what it does to my cortisol levels.

Note: This essay appears unedited for instructional purposes. Essays edited by EssayEdge are substantially improved.