Progress Notes

School of Medicine 2024 Class President reflects what she’s learned while at Baylor

As I graduate from medical school, I reflect on the reasons that led me on this path and the lessons I’ve learned along the way.

Sahifah Ansari

Lesson One: The time passes anyway

I initially chose not to pursue medicine for multiple reasons, including the time it takes to complete training. As a woman, I was afraid of wasting my reproductive years working 80-hour weeks in the hospital. I wanted more than anything to have a family, but at the age of 25, I was still unmarried and felt something was missing in my career as an athletic trainer. I wanted an intellectual challenge and a way to use the specific skills I have been blessed with to help others. I realized there was only so much in my control, and going to medical school was something I could decide to do. Thankfully, medical school has been an affirming experience. Every exam I passed, every honor I achieved and every difficulty I overcame was proof that I was meant to be a physician. I could have passed the time unfulfilled in my previous career, waiting for my knight in shining armor, only for him never to arrive. Instead, I spent my time pursuing my passion and learning that I’m actually good at it. Most worthwhile things take time, commitment, and perseverance. You can choose to commit the time to something that will make your life more fulfilling or to something seemingly easier – the time passes anyway.

Lesson Two: Diagnoses are hypotheses, and medicine is not an exact science

I got sick when I was 17 and again when I was 20, and I have since spent countless hours trying to understand my body and illness. One of the reasons I went to medical school was to learn more about my chronic illness and help patients like me with undiagnosed, underdiagnosed or poorly understood illnesses. As a first-year medical student, I attended a screening of Unrest, a documentary about a patient with ME/CFS (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) – a disease that many physicians do not recognize or treat. The physician on the panel, after the screening, advised us to give patients a provisional diagnosis even if we weren’t yet convinced of it. I benefited from this advice. Even though I questioned my diagnosis of an autoimmune disease, having it documented allowed me to get the disability accommodations I needed to make it through medical school. I later heard the same lesson from one of our teaching faculty: physicians make “working diagnoses” that are subject to change as we are presented with more information. During these four short years, research has come out revealing the gut microbiome contributes to diseases like Parkinson’s, positing inflammation as a primary driver of disease and refuting the plaque theory of Alzheimer’s disease. All of these are hypotheses and puzzle pieces that may reveal just one element of the diseases we seek to understand. Medical school taught me that we have yet to understand many afflictions fully, so we should embrace humility and treat patients with compassion when we do not have satisfying answers.

Lesson Three: Fight for yourself and others

On my campus tour as an applicant, my second-year medical student tour guide mentioned in passing that she missed her grandfather’s funeral because she had an exam that would not be moved for her. My friends who had graduated from Baylor in previous years had to take full years off because of personal and family issues. Hearing their stories scared me, and I was worried about how I would handle life events during medical school. Starting medical school at an older age and with work experience gave me the confidence to push boundaries, advocate for myself and others and know that I would be okay no matter the outcome. My confidence was tested during my first year when my father had a stroke right before the Term 4 finals. With the help of curriculum administration, I was allowed to have one exam rescheduled, even though it was not standard policy. When I started clinical rotations and struggled with disability accommodations, I found solutions working directly with clerkship directors. I came up with creative ways to manage my illness since I knew what I needed best. I also decided to move one rotation to better take care of my health. You are your best advocate, and your advocacy for yourself should help others, too. Any privilege you have begets the responsibility to help those without that privilege. Not everyone with a disability can go to medical school or have a job that allows them the flexibility they need, as I hopefully will as a radiologist. I know I must fight for accessible spaces for all and continue to educate my peers on the needs of their patients with chronic illnesses by sharing my experiences. We can fulfill the responsibility that comes with privilege in many ways: taking care of underserved populations, using the money we earn to give back, or speaking up against injustice. The battles we fight for ourselves must lead to better conditions for all.

By Sahifah Ansari, a fourth-year medical student and 2024 Class President

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