The Privilege of Listening by George Hutchins

By June 17, 2019Blog

Health – something many of us lose and even more of us too often take for granted. Our lives are built around the assumption that we will maintain this good health, but plagued by the looming possibility that illness, in all its forms, could interrupt our lives at any moment. This notion became all too real for me two days before my eleventh birthday, when I discovered that my mother had unexpectedly passed away after battling cardiovascular disease for many years. While during the years that she was alive, her heart troubles certainly weighed heavy in the lives of my family, but what weighed heaviest at times was her battle with clinical depression. A battle that she faced every day, successfully winning at times, and falling short at others. No matter the challenges she faced, this woman—the strongest woman I’ve even known, never gave up and always did her part to seek out the appropriate treatments. Though these treatments were not perfect, they gave her more quality time with her loved ones that she otherwise might not have had.

As I think back over these formative years of my life, I can see where the seeds of my own desire to become a physician first began to grow. What I once thought was an abrupt decision to pursue medicine after a summer awakening immediately following my junior year of high school, I now realize was actually the culmination of powerful life experiences, some of which tried me and others of which inspired me. I recall going to doctor appointments with my mother after school and either sitting with her or waiting alone in the reception area. What I remember most, however, was that despite the pressures that come with the practice of medicine, her doctors never seemed too busy to treat her with the utmost kindness and compassion while sharing their medical wisdom. And most importantly, they were never to busy to listen. To listen to both success and failures, highs and lows, wins and losses, and act accordingly to support her no matter which side of the continuum she was on. The ability to not just listen well, to hear more than what a patient is telling you with words, but with their actions, with the subtleties in their voices, with their unspoken expressions sets apart good and great physicians in my mind. And when it comes to the field of mental health, an area that is still plagued by unspoken judgement that produces a fear of speaking-out in those with a mental illness, now more than ever we need competent providers that know how to listen beyond what is said. I have been fortunate to begin honing this skill through some of my work with U Bring Change to Mind, combatting stigma on college campuses by letting students know that their voices and their struggles matter.  As I transition into the next phase of my life as a medical provider, I am committing myself to a life of hearing and helping others.

Now, as I find myself preparing to enter the rocky world of medicine by starting my MS1 year at Harvard Medical School, I am excited for the opportunity to learn to listen in a medical setting. I am excited that whether I choose to pursue the life of a psychiatrist or an oncologist or a surgeon, I will have the privilege to listen to my patients compassionately, advise them carefully, and stand with them courageously as they battle both seen and unseen infirmities. Desperately, we need better physicians that will treat illnesses of the body and the mind and recognize that discussing health without addressing both components is a detriment to those we serve. I will be this physician, and I will encourage others to be this physician. Most importantly, I will continue to push forward with the goal of reducing and eliminating stigma by perpetually bringing change to my next destinations in life.

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