Finding Your “Why” in Medicine


Intersession 2021

Instructors: Justin Lorts and Allison Smith

Often pre-med students are so focused on the “how” of getting into medical school that they don’t take the time to reflect upon “why” they want to become a doctor in the first place. With so many required courses, necessary clinical and research experiences, and expected leadership and extracurricular involvement, taking the time to understand one’s values and motivations is a challenge. This course will use the methods of Life Design to help students empathize with their own experiences, connect to alumni working in medicine to better understand the broader field, and articulate their own answer to “why medicine?” so that they are not only a stronger medical school applicant, but also a more self-aware and effective future physician.


Day 1: Introduction and Overview

Introduction to the course, the instructors, and each other; Jamboard activity; Introduction to the Workview Activity

To Read:

Karin Evans, “Finding Meaning in Medicine”  

Siddhartha Mukherjee’s 2016 Commencement Address to JHU School of Medicine (video clip)

To Do:            

Complete your Workview and post to Blackboard

Day 2:     Your Values and Medicine’s Future

Review Workview activity; Online Values sort; Discussion of readings addressing the future of medicine

To Read and Watch:

Siddhartha Muhkerjee, “What the Coronavirus Reveals About American Medicine”  

Keith Wailoo, “Technology, Diversity, and the Future of Health: The Social Predicament of Genetic Innovation”(video clip)

Harold Thimbleby, “Technology and the Future of Healthcare”

Melanie Stefan, “A CV of Failures”

To Do:

Complete your Resumé of Failures and submit to Blackboard

Capacity for Improvement: Sets goals for continuous improvement and for learning new concepts and skills; engages in reflective practice for improvement; solicits and responds appropriately to feedback.

Day 3:   What Does it Mean to Serve the Community? Identity, Inequity, and  Community Medicine  

Guest Speaker: Dr. Carlos Medina, Ph.D., Life Design Lab 

To Read:

Austin Frakt, “Bad Medicine:  The Harm that Comes From Racism

Robert Pearl, “Why Healthcare is Different if You’re Black, Latino, or Poor”

Ashley Fetters, “How Women’s Healthcare ‘Gaslighting’ Went Mainstream” 

Luis Garcia, “Why I Like Working in a Community Health Center”

To Do:

Review Dr. Gupta’s LinkedIn profile and come up with three questions you would like to ask her that connect back to your own values, to the reading, or to your why.

Cultural Competence: Demonstrates knowledge of socio-cultural factors that affect interactions and behaviors; shows an appreciation and respect for multiple dimensions of diversity; recognizes and acts on the obligation to inform one’s own judgment; engages diverse and competing perspectives as a resource for learning, citizenship, and work; recognizes and appropriately addresses bias in themselves and others; interacts effectively with people from diverse backgrounds.

Day 4:     Wellness and Integrative Health 

Guest Speaker: Dr. Alka Gupta, MD, Weill Cornell Medicine / Bluerock Care

To Read:

Jennie Rothenberg Gritz, “The Evolution of Alternative Medicine” 

Service Orientation: Demonstrates a desire to help others and sensitivity to others’ needs and feelings; demonstrates a desire to alleviate others’ distress; recognizes and acts on his/her responsibilities to society; locally, nationally, and globally.

Day 5:    Articulating Your “Why” in Your Personal Statement

Reliability and Dependability: Consistently fulfills obligations in a timely and satisfactory manner; takes responsibility for personal actions and performance.

To Do:

Complete a draft of your personal statement and submit to Blackboard


Day 6:   Personal Statement Review

Resilience and Adaptability: Demonstrates tolerance of stressful or changing environments or situations and adapts effectively to them; is persistent, even under difficult situations; recovers from setbacks.

To Do:

Rose, Bud, and Thorn activity

Day 7:   Working as part of a patient care team

Guest Speaker: Karuna Mizusaki, MSN, RN, Johns Hopkins Hospital (pre-recorded)

To Read:

Dona M. Bradley, “A Day in the Life of a Readmission Prevention Nurse”

Teamwork: Works collaboratively with others to achieve shared goals; shares information and knowledge with others and provides feedback; puts team goals ahead of individual goals.

Day 8:   Empathy and patient care

Guest Speaker: Dr. George Fischmann, MD

To Read:

Danielle Ofri, “Yes, Studying the Humanities Might Make You a Better Doctor”

Danielle Ofri, “The Day I Zipped My Lips and Let My Patients Talk”

Suleika Jaoaud, “What Almost Dying Taught Me about Living” (video clip)

Social Skills: Demonstrates an awareness of others’ needs, goals, feelings, and the ways that social and behavioral cues affect peoples’ interactions and behaviors; adjusts behaviors appropriately in response to these cues; treats others with respect.

Day 9:   What makes for a good death?

Guest Speaker: Dr. Carter Neugarten, MD, Director of Palliative Emergency Care, Rush University Medical Center

Paul Kalanithi, “How Long Have I Got Left?” 

Fresh Air Interview with Sherwin Nuland “Fresh Air Remembers Surgeon And ‘How We Die’ Author Sherwin Nuland,” (audio clip)

Ethical Responsibility to Self and Others: Behaves in an honest and ethical manner; cultivates personal and academic integrity; adheres to ethical principles and follows rules and procedures; resists peer pressure to engage in unethical behavior and encourages others to behave in honest and ethical ways; develops and demonstrates ethical and moral reasoning.

Day 10:  WRAP UP

To Do:

Submit a video (of no more than 3 minutes in length) answering the question “What is your ‘why’ in medicine?”

Oral Communication: Effectively conveys information to others using spoken words and sentences; listens effectively; recognizes potential communication barriers and adjusts approach or clarifies information as needed.

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