I first decided that I wanted to be a doctor when I was 12 years old, due to the encouragement of one of my elementary school teachers. I had always longed to be a nurse, but she challenged me to dream of being a doctor instead, urging me to reach higher than I had thought possible. I attached myself to this goal at that young age and managed to keep it in sight throughout all my years of education, believing that medicine was truly my life’s purpose.
At the age of sixteen I had a profound experience that further deepened my sense of purpose in life. A classmate of mine was killed in a climbing accident, which brutally awakened me to the fact of my own mortality. At her funeral a priest spoke words which bore into my consciousness. He stated that even though Jolie had only lived for sixteen years, she had truly accomplished her life purpose. I had always assumed that “life purpose” had to do with a career or job, but his sermon made me recognize that how we live our lives is more important than the length of life or the accomplishments mastered. On that day a totally new thought occurred to me: the true purpose of my existence on this earth was to learn how to love; nothing more and nothing less. I saw that becoming a doctor would fit perfectly with this life purpose, for medicine was an ideal classroom in which to learn about love.
And so, learning about love became the focal point of my life. When I had a decision to make, I would weigh my choices on the scale of love: which was the most loving option, which would teach me more about love? This life philosophy served me very well … until I started medical school. On the first day of classes we divided into small groups where each of us would talk about our reasons for wanting to be a doctor. I said something like “I believe that love is the most powerful healing force in the world and I believe that my life’s task is to learn about love. And so, I want to bring this understanding to my work as a doctor.” Now, that statement might earn me a standing ovation at an American Holistic Medical Association meeting today, but in 1977, at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, I was met with stunned faces and total silence when I spoke those words. I learned quickly that my philosophy was out of place in traditional medical training and I had to stifle many of my ideas in order to survive in that environment.
Somehow, I did survive, though I was spiritually battered after four years of narrow-minded education. Residency was a similarly dehumanizing experience for me and I emerged into the world of private practice still believing that love was the true healing force, but with absolutely no idea how to put that belief into action. I had mixed feelings about medicine all along: recognizing always that there was something missing in the conventional approach to health, but not personally strong enough to fill the gap from the well of my own growing spiritual beliefs.
Marriage and the birth of two children added enormous lessons to my emergent understanding of the power of love. I knew I was becoming a better doctor, simply by living life to the fullest and absorbing every experience emotionally and spiritually. My personal and professional worlds were shattered, however, by the suicide death of my father. I struggled to cope with my intense grief and guilt over the fact that my esteemed ability to love and heal others had not been sufficient to save my own dear father. A few years later I quit my practice, desperately needing to heal myself.
Within a short time I found an answer for which I had been searching: I began to volunteer as medical director for our local hospice. Working with the dying opened my heart immensely, teaching me about suffering and loss, ultimately helping me recover from my father’s death.
Next on the journey, I found myself moving, along with my husband and children, to a small community in a new state. Because there was no hospice work available, I reluctantly reentered the world of family practice. This time I found myself better equipped to bring my spiritual understanding to my medical practice. In addition, I became involved with a low-cost clinic for the uninsured where I continued to work for the next ten years. There I could be of service and offer lovingkindness to the truly needy of our community.
Professionally I have sought to educate myself about alternatives to conventional medicine, believing that healing is so much greater than the Western medical model allows. I feel that I can serve my patients best by being aware of the widest possible array of healing modalities in order to individualize treatment for them. My task remains to bring that which I know to be true into this world: love….simply, LOVE.