It’s been an interesting journey, and it was difficult to articulate everything I wanted to in under 5,400 characters including spaces, but after about thirteen drafts and dozens of people giving their two cents, my personal statement was a large focus during my interviews. The medical student I interviewed with at ETSU said it was the best he had ever read, and it gave him tons of great questions that helped us start a friendship that continues to this day. Without further adieu,
I have always been curious about medicine because I grew up around it. My mother was a nurse and frequently brought home interesting stories for my three older brothers and me. Having four boys in the family inevitably brings a fair amount of trips to the hospital via broken bones, stitches, and our always inventive ways to test the boundaries of my Nissen fundoplication. You guessed it, I can’t throw up. Ever. As a child, I was a regular on the futon in the kitchen of the Pediatric practice where my mother worked. Dr. Duck, as three-foot tall me called him, would look in and ask how I was doing in an impeccable Donald Duck voice. His compassion and care as well as the time I spent on that futon are large reasons I became interested in medicine. As a young teenager, I was also diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos. Much to my chagrin, this stretchy connective tissue disease didn’t offer any super powers, just an explanation for my surgery and many injuries. During this time frame, I also watched my dad battle cancer twice and sat helpless as I wrote songs about how I imagined he felt.
Sitting down to write a song can be a difficult task. To simply put a story into succinct words that can vividly paint and evoke emotion is not something that easily comes off the tip of one’s tongue. The right words to describe a red truck driving away down a dirt road must be carefully chosen. Was it granddad’s rusty red truck from the farm or a red truck fresh off the lot? Was it a dusty dirt road on a hot, Tennessee summer day or just a regular dirt road behind Wal-Mart? Was a father peppering the tailgate with a shotgun because the guy driving it stole a kiss from his daughter? Things just got complicated and we haven’t even written the first line. Great songs, I mean the really good ones that leave me humming with nostalgia, tell a story filled with passion, perseverance and a well composed perspective on the human condition. I would write and write, carefully crafting the right way to say simple things like “I love you,” “I miss you” or my personal favorite, “it’s not you, it’s me.” Once a song is finished, the story has been told; the issue has been addressed, but what about fixing the emotional damage and struggles I wrote about? Did writing about the passing of a loved one really help the people that heard it? How do you measure how “effective” a song is?
Writing songs is a skill of communicating that took me years to develop, and it took those years to realize that I was trying to accomplish something the songs themselves couldn’t. Writing songs was my cure to the maladies that can plague a person’s heart. Only, my prescription came on different paper and was usually two verses, a chorus and a bridge – once a day or as needed. It took six years of pounding away on my Gibson, one record deal, a song publishing deal, an opened studio, seven songs on the radio and countless red carpets for me to understand that I wanted to help people more than a catchy chorus could. Being surrounded by fame also intrinsically brought me into contact with everything associated with fame: sex, money, drugs and alcohol. Watching countless friends succumb and wither away to the power of these showed me that music was not the path to healing that I had hoped. During the course of my career, I also took some college classes when, frankly, I shouldn’t have and this is reflected in my overall GPA. I wasn’t serious about my education because I was caught up in a life-changing experience that has shaped who I am today, and it is a cornerstone to the diversified and holistic physician I will be.
The best way I can compare my music and my passion for medicine is that I have watched myself spend the same time and care crafting each word of a song as I do with each patient I meet. A comforting smile or handing a tissue to a family we’ve just told will lose a loved one feels the same as writing the closing line to a song about both of my grandmothers dying in the same week. Crying in celebration as a family finishes chemotherapy feels the same as writing about the realization of my parents’ redeeming and unconditional love for me, who have supported my every decision. They would give the shirt off their back if it meant me succeeding one step further. Caring for a best friend and musician while he convulsed in sweat through nights of withdrawal will surely help me be more compassionate with the human struggle I will face as a physician.
In all these years, my intention has never changed, which is to help people to the best of my innate and learned abilities. It took time for me to realize that a pen and my Gibson were inadequate in truly being able to help my fellow man. I’ve been fighting between music and medicine my whole life. I don’t come from wealth and I’ve given up a successful career in music because I chose to be successful in medicine. Just as it is difficult to transform a red truck on a dirt road into a well composed song, communicating complex information to patients so they understand their treatment options, and doing so with patience, compassion and empathy is no different. I humbly submit that I desire to become a physician so that I may help people with medicine as I hoped words and melodies could.