At a time in everyone’s life, we come to find ourselves in a situation where the music stops, and we must go on.  The unfortunate truth about life is that the unexpected will happen. Some of us learn from it, some of us change because of it and some of us find our life’s calling because of it. The latter was the case for me.  After our dad picked us up from middle school, we spent that afternoon like we had every afternoon that month. We went to the oncology unit at the hospital, where my brother was admitted.



I remember him. I remember the man in the dark blue sarong the same way I remember the lines on back of my own hand. He was hunched over next to a column on a dirty platform at a railway station in Calcutta, India in the middle of the harsh summer sun. His hands were withered, his fingers and toes looked like tiny nubs, and he was completely malnourished and alone. He had opaque blue eyes, as if fog had taken place of his irises and pupils.



I studied insects in college; my favorite insects were the bees (I found them diligent and so helpful to humankind).  One of my favorite classes was about medical diseases caused by insects. My professors noticed my interest in the medical side of things and connected me with a professor who did clinical research. Our work focused on a clinical trial for children with intractable epilepsy and exposed me early on to patient care and patients.


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mother and father. His soothing voice guided them through each step of the way, explaining the process like a teacher to a student. He attended to their physical and emotional needs uniting the two into one swift motion.

As a singer, I experience music’s power to touch people’s lives and emotions with every performance. However, the most meaningful connection I made while singing occurred not on a stage but in a hospital room during a volunteer shift. When I first entered the room, a little girl face peered at me skeptically with big brown eyes. Her hesitation ended quickly as she giggled while I moved her hands to the tune of “Itsy Bitsy Spider.” A nurse walked by, paused, and furrowed her brow. Pulling me aside, she informed me that the girl had refused all interactions during her stay. It warmed my heart knowing I brought her some joy. When I returned to sing and play with her, the ventilators connected to her body beeped and interrupted our rhythm, bringing me sharply back to a harsh reality. Emotional healing, though powerful, has limitations. I could uplift her spirits, but the physical damage remained.

To explore my interests in healthcare more, I shadowed a number of physicians. Unlike the one-time interactions while volunteering, I observed relationships grow between the patient and the physician. Trying one type of medication didn’t always solve the root of the problem, and frustrated yet hopeful patients would return. As patients confided about their families, habits, hopes, and fears, I became emotionally invested in their lives as much as their physical health. While in this setting, I gained insight into the less idyllic and more realistic aspects of medicine. Doctors labored over their notes long after patients left. Angry parents refused to vaccinate their children. Drug seekers screamed violently for pain medication. Triumphs overshadowed these valleys, though, as each smiling patient reminded me of the reason why these physicians endured the long hours and mentally draining days.

With each patient, the physicians pieced together a new mystery, demonstrating a mental tenacity that I admired. In my undergraduate research lab, I fell in love with the process of inquiry that the doctors used when deducing their diagnoses. While studying the vocalizations of songbirds, I performed surgery to implant headphones to alter the way they heard their songs. However, unpredictable obstacles arose daily, such as silent birds or broken headphones. Every bird presented a unique case, requiring different doses of analgesics and various incisions during surgery. I enjoyed the physicality of using my hands on the miniature creatures and the mental Olympics I performed with each new case. Now, my mind weighs each possibility and solves problems with patience and flexibility, similar to the physicians who never surrendered to the challenges they faced. Doctors assimilate and interpret all the information presented to them to come to a diagnosis and craft a management plan. My curious spirit craves for that daily quest of knowledge and problem solving. Despite the scientific knowledge gained from the experiments, my research lacked the human connections that I personally crave. Playing with the little girl from the hospital brought me tangible satisfaction not comparable to significant data points on a graph. Science only progresses the healing process to a certain point.

Now attending medical school, the days are long and studious. However, I reaffirm my decision to embark on this path daily in new ways. Some days, it’s learning about a medication that one of my family members has been on so I can explain to them its importance. Other days, it’s holding a heart in the cadaver lab and realizing the magnitude of the lives that I’ll touch. Other days, it’s meeting with the children at the pediatric Salvation Army Clinic and hearing their stories. Serving as the Dance Blue marathon captain, I had the opportunity to support a family battling pediatric cancer during their monthly chemotherapy treatments. Seeing their little boy’s fighting spirit as he’s pierced with lumbar punctures and vomiting from treatments was beyond painful. However, it reminded me each time the importance of everything I study. It’s not just words on a page; it’s a future patient’s well-being.

I decided to pursue a health career to protect and heal the body while also comforting the person. Medicine provides me a constant and novel challenge where I can engage in inquiry of the lab, but still create that human connection. With each new patient, there’s another story and experience that I look forward to uncovering. Although I learned the power of emotions and scientific knowledge separately, I aspired to combine the two in medicine to truly heal the complete individual. Like the caregivers around me who shaped the back of my head, I hope to also guide the human body. However, unlike them, I want to make my impact by investing intellectually and emotionally in my patients.

The back of my head lies flat as a pin board. In the orphanages of South Vietnam, darker babies carried the stigma of the war, bearing a physical resemblance to the ruthless soldiers from the north. I was one of those children.

Because of my skin tone, the caregivers’ prejudice prevented them from picking me up to play. Left to lie on the wooden mats, my head never rounded, and now serves as a constant reminder to me of the human body’s malleability. My mom always told stories of my early days after she adopted me. She soaked me in chamomile baths to heal my dried skin, and the dentist removed the rotten teeth from my mouth caused by a diet of mere watered down tea and rice. I didn’t discover the physical remnant of the orphanage on my head until high school, though. It brought the other stories to life and gave me a sense of gratitude for my physical health. Our health is inextricably tied with the emotional care given to us, a duality that inspired me to embark in a future in medicine.

This led me to develop a fascination with the body’s intricacies and a desire to bring others’ the health afforded to me. The body was an enigma: fragile yet resilient. I wanted to explore the possibility of the healthcare field more. Raised in rural Kentucky, I knew doctors as very distant, almost superhero-like figures. You saw them on checkups and when you went to visit grandma, and then they magically fixed everything. Excited by this adventure, I decided to explore all I could by volunteering at the local hospital. My first hoop to jump through was the easily brushed over TB skin test. “This is just a blip and then


you’ll be done,” all the nurses reassured me. When I visited the hospital, the raised bump on my arm inspired eyebrow raising and alarmed, gaping mouths on all the nurses as they dragged me around to visit doctor after doctor. My TB skin test could not be unequivocally deemed negative, the nurses informed me. As a frightened teenager who had just watched the main character in Moulin Rouge die of tuberculosis, I quickly called my pediatrician. Instead of brushing me off, my doctor eased my fears and took the time to look into my file and explain everything to me, going above and beyond to meet me on her day off. The BCG vaccine administered in Vietnam caused the reaction and I would not die, she calmly assured me. I was so grateful for the time and effort she put in to my case, and my mind began to shift seeing doctors as distant superheroes to comforting and hard-working people who cared about me.

As I volunteered at a local hospital, my awe of the physicians grew as I saw how the bones fit together during a knee replacement and heard the cry of a newborn baby in the delivery room. I took note of not only the amazing abilities of the human body, but also the mastery of the physician. While performing a caesarian section, an obstetrician planned each incision and tied every suture with precision and care. However, he impressed me most as he calmed a frightened soon-to-be


MacKenzie Wyatt is a second-year medical student at UK originally from Mt. Sterling, Kentucky who attended Emory University for her undergrad. She currently represents her class on the Curriculum Committee and leads the College of Medicine DanceBlue team as captain to fight pediatric cancer. In her free time, she enjoys singing and playing her ukulele.