As a third-year premed student at Brandeis, I have been working in the Brigham & Women’s Hospital Emergency Department since the beginning of last semester. My job as a Business Specialist revolves around secretarial work and assisting physicians. My goal there, of course, is to check off one of the countless criteria set by the medical school admissions, a hopeless struggle to maintain my position in the ever-increasingly competitive medical school application process.

Besides being able to observe emergency medical procedures, my work was mostly tedious and mindless, until one night, on my shift, I came across an article in the Brigham & Women’s journal, titled “Touching the World.” The article caught my eye because it mentioned a very familiar name. The name belonged to an emergency room physician, Dr. Cranmer, whom I worked with occasionally. I never had much interaction with Dr. Cranmer; she gave me an impression of someone who is serious about her work, and not exactly a sociable type. Nevertheless, as I read the article about her four-week long stay in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, after the tsunami disaster as leader of a medical relief group, I soon developed wholehearted respect and admiration for this doctor who I never got to know.

As of April 8th, 2005, the estimated number of lives that were swept away by the December 26th tsunami was 217,241. The countries that suffered the top death rolls were Indonesia (163,978), Sri Lanka (30,957) and India (16,389). When news of the tsunami broke, Dr. Cranmer received a call from a friend who said that the International Rescue Committee needed doctors to help the tsunami victims. Without hesitation, on the night of January 5th, Cranmer packed for her departure for Indonesia. Upon landing, she was immediately faced with the severity of the situation: contaminated wells, overcrowded refugee camps, psychologically traumatized victims, and rampaging illnesses such as scabies and malaria. Cranmer kept a journal during her work in Indonesia, which records the difficulty of organizing relief work due to the lack of resources that had been a problem even before the tsunami. Her entries also describes the devastation the victims had endured, the strength they showed in the battle for survival, and the compassion they demonstrated in helping others in disaster relief. One such entry dated January 31st, 2005, writes:

One of the nurses we’ve been working with at the clinic came by the hotel to say good-bye to a team that was leaving. He had just returned from Banda Aceh himself, with the sad news that no one is left from his entire family. He and his wife and child will now move permanently to Seunuddon. And he made sure to let me know he’ll be ready for work tomorrow, amazingly. He has been a treasure at the clinic…helping as much as he can, along with his wife, who is a midwife. I know he is sad to see this team leave, but he will be a great asset to the next [team] coming. How he finds the strength to do so is just unfathomable. He doesn’t cry—none of our staff have, at least not in front of us.

After reading the article, I cannot help but wonder: will I, one day, get to make a difference like Dr. Cranmer did? Will I have her strength and ability to lessen a people’s suffering, to change the world for the better? Often, as we are busy studying and working to reach our goals, we might have forgotten to slow down a little to ask ourselves these questions. Is going to medical school really about earning a six-digit salary? Or is it about arming yourself with the knowledge and the ability to make a difference where you are needed the most, whether it be the tsunami or Hurricane Katrina? Maybe some of us will find that the satisfaction of having helped others in need is incomparable with anything in the materialistic world.