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PracticeMatch Empowered Physician Scholarship: 2021 Winner

Congratulations to our 2021 Winner!

Meredith K. Shaw 2021 winner
Meredith K. Shaw

I am humbled and honored to be selected for the 2021 PracticeMatch Empowered Physician Scholarship. The money I receive will go towards furthering my medical education through supporting my decision to pursue a fellowship in regional anesthesiology after my graduation from residency. I am so excited to advance my education in anesthesiology to be able to provide the highest level of medical care to my future patients, and this scholarship will help me achieve my goals.

…and I hope to ensure that all of my future patients feel that they have someone by their side with "magical" powers…

I opened up the cardboard flaps of old boxes with clouds of dust flying up towards the flood lights overhead. Going through old boxes in the attic of my childhood home had sent me on a journey through memory lane, since as an only child my parents had meticulously kept everything imaginable from my childhood and all that wasn't destroyed in hurricane Katrina was seen as a prized possession. With their bent pages and worn covers from years of reading and re-reading, the books of my childhood made me think about the stories I read during my childhood and how lessons I learned from them were represented in other ways in my life. Grabbing one of the books off the top of the pile, I smiled as I recalled the first time I read the story of Matilda, in which a young girl discovers that she has extra-ordinary powers and uses them in aid of a silenced teacher against an evil spirited headmistress.

During my third year of medical school, I initially felt invisible and powerless in the treatment of the patients I was seeing. Because plans and treatment decisions had already been made, I often felt that I was repeating evaluations that had already been performed and was not significantly contributing to the overall care of the patients. However, my perspective began to change when I experienced anesthesiology during my general surgery rotation as I gained confidence in my ability to articulate the wants and wishes of patients I was caring for.

This was highlighted when I participated in the anesthesia management of a woman who was undergoing a cholecystectomy. While normally a quick and routine surgery, her procedure was complicated by her severe anxiety which was only exacerbated by the recent loss of her mother to cancer after multiple surgeries. It seemed like no amount of medication was able to relieve her distress, and while the nurses in the preoperative area were caring and attentive, she began to monopolize their time by repeatedly asking the same questions, preventing them from distributing their time towards the care of other patients awaiting surgery. So, I began to comfort her the only way I knew how – by listening and conversing with her.

For the next two hours, she asked for details about the intricacies of the procedure, stating that knowing more would lower her anxiety, and only then could she move forward with having the surgical procedure. I assured her that I would be with her the entire time, and with a sensitive and calming voice, reviewed all of the details of the anesthesia care and the surgery, even going so far as to draw a diagram of the hepato-biliary system to demonstrate where clips and surgical incisions would be made. Slowly, she began to understand what would transpire in the operating room and was at last comfortable enough to allow the surgery to proceed successfully.

Anesthesiology is an amalgam that blends the direct hands-on procedural opportunities of surgery with the mental agility required of intensivists. I am drawn to this challenging combination and have become even more driven to expand upon my medical knowledge and perfect my technical skills in order to be an effective anesthesiologist who is able to adapt to a variety of cases with diverse patient populations. I believe my undergraduate anthropological background additionally provides me with the emotional and cultural competency that is required of an anesthesiologist to better understand a patient's wishes and concerns and to instill the confidence that their healthcare is the upmost priority, even in their mental absence.

Under anesthesia, patients must relinquish their voice and the ability to make their own decisions, relying instead upon their anesthesiologists to ensure their wellbeing, honor their preoperative wishes, and monitor every aspect of their physical existence during surgery. Similarly, in the story of Matilda, Ms. Honey initially felt defenseless and alone in her desire to teach her students in the headmistresses' dark school environment. However, it was not until Matilda finally revealed her magical powers to Ms. Honey, that she no longer felt unaided in her fight and was empowered to restore her voice and autonomy.

Embodying Matilda, I was impassioned by my ability to provide my patient who was awaiting her cholecystectomy with the strength to conquer her fears while certifying that her wishes would be respected during sedation. I will carry Matilda's example into the rest of my rotations and my future career as a physician, being ever certain to spend extra time listening and learning about my patients and their concerns. While I may not have magical powers, my medical experiences have proven how simple acts can have big consequences upon the care of patients, and I hope to ensure that all of my future patients feel that they have someone by their side with "magical" powers, just like Matilda.

Meredith K. Shaw

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