Why We Do Service

by Ananya Murali |

This week, I started my first year of medical school. For the past 10 years, I have been dreaming and waiting for this moment to come. I’ve taken advanced science courses, read scientific papers, conducted research, shadowed clinicians, and read books to learn more about medicine. I even got to take a patient’s vitals once! But now that I’m officially coated and starting my journey to become a doctor, this is all becoming more real. I found this quote the other day that really stuck with me.

“The good physician treats the disease; the great physician treats the patient who has the disease.”

Sir William Osler

In order to truly give a patient the best quality care, you have to be compassionate and listen to their story. Ask them how their symptoms affect their quality of life. Actually care about what you are doing and don’t treat them like variables in an equation to solve for x. I won’t be interacting with patients for a while, but I have a huge task ahead of me and it demands a great deal of respect and preparation.

So how does being a doctor relate to service?

Service is an important part of any field. As a healthcare professional, it is especially important to give back to the community. The people that come in as your patients are more than just their symptoms. They have homes, live next to their neighbors, visit local parks, interact with various people, and live fulfilling lives. By getting involved with the community, you are demonstrating compassion and dedication to your field and showing people that you really care about them and their needs.

Before starting our first week of classes as medical students, we all went out into the community surrounding us and performed various service learning activities. This was different from any kind of service I’ve done before, because it was about interacting with the community and getting to know them, instead of just jumping in and trying to find a solution to a problem.


Service learning is about working WITH the community and listening to their needs to create a meaningful impact, whereas service is usually just working WITHIN the community to fix a problem.


We worked with a leader/representative from the community in order to find a service project and give back to the people. He suggested that we go on a walking tour of the neighborhood to better understand the lives of the people living here. As we walked, we noticed a lot of public income-based housing, condemned buildings, land bank lots, trash littering the streets, and community members enjoying the nice weather. While we were walking down the block, people in the community would stop and say hello to us and strike up a conversation.

We met these two older men sitting on the steps of a house. These men had grown up in this neighborhood and had made some bad decisions that led to incarceration and substance abuse, but now they were back and trying to stop young people from following a similar path by sharing their stories and giving advice as community “parental” figures. One of the main problems in this area is the media’s portrayal of gun violence in this predominantly black neighborhood. Many young people here are involved with gangs, and there is violence associated with retaliations between groups. However, these events are often blown out of proportion by the media, and that’s all anyone from the outside ever thinks about this community. These men thanked us for walking around the community and getting to know the area, because it is more than how it appears in the news. This is where children grow up and go to school, where they play in the park and support local businesses, and where neighbors are friendly and the community has so much pride.

Being immersed in this community really opened my eyes to how important it is to be aware of your actions and to treat all people with respect and equity, regardless of race or economic status. I also was able to see that even though this community does not have much, they take pride in who they are, where they come from, and what they do for their young people. They’re not perfect, and everyone could use a little help now and then, but it is important to understand and value your background because that is what shapes your experiences and values in the future. By listening to and understanding someone else’s story, you can become a better person and a better physician.

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