By Amber Simmons
I first found science when my mom walked away from mechanical engineering to become a librarian. While pursuing her master’s degree, she went to the library every day, and my brother and I went along too. It wasn’t long before I became enamored with reading and learning everything that I could find, which led to a knack for math and science and countless summer camps that revolved around those very subjects. The most memorable experience was at an aerospace camp at my local university. There were flight simulations, bottle rocket launches, even model space stations from LEGOs. For six summers, I continued to be amazed by the infinite discoveries to be made in outer space. The curiosity that I developed as a young child had blossomed into a fascination for science. My determination to become an astronaut and explore the unknown continued to grow far past the point of a child-like dream and inspired me to pursue physics in college.
As a sophomore at Hampton University, I was knee deep in basic physics research and slowly beginning to realize that something was missing in the lab. That’s when I decided to meet with one of my research mentors, who happened to have an MD and a PhD. He suggested pursuing biomedical research in order to delve into medicine. With his encouragement, I took a chance and applied to the Gateways to the Laboratory Program at Weill Cornell, a summer internship for minority students interested in becoming physician-scientists.
I worked with Dr. Chris Mason, an ambitious investigator with impossibly creative projects. One of those was “PathoMap.” It aims to study the microbiome of New York City’s subways to develop a pathogen monitoring system to detect potential outbreaks before they begin. It was through this experience that I truly learned how invaluable medicine is to research, development, and innovation. Physicians who advocate for their patients push the boundaries of current treatments, inspire research investigators to fund new projects, and vitalize the scientific inquiries that propel medical advances. That project wouldn’t have existed without the expertise and perspective of an experienced physician. I realized that innovation begins with a simple desire to help others who aren’t able to help themselves.
Paying attention to detail and fostering an analytical state of mind drew me to physics and those same attributes pulled me towards medicine, managing to solidify my motivation to practice and enhance my attachment to the clinic. But even more important are the people. Being able to harness my curiosity into a concrete experience, to solve a problem and simultaneously save a life, are unique to medicine. People become physicians for the privilege to find better treatments, share more innovative ideas, and show greater compassion for those in need. And it is a privilege that I will never take for granted.