“[T]ake opportunities to volunteer at clinics or health fairs.  Even if you feel useless, do it.  We’ll all be pretty useless till second year of residency anyway, so we may as well practice that feeling.”

-From a Wise Friend’s Letter


This past Saturday I volunteered at the Korean American Health Fair in Swedish Covenant Hospital in Chicago.  It was a day when Korean doctors from the area volunteered their time to provide free health services to the uninsured Korean populations in the area.  Although as a mere first year medical student I didn’t know anything about anything about anything about anything, I hardly get any patient interaction at this point in my school curriculum (are they real?  do they exist?), so I was grateful for the opportunity to volunteer.

And indeed, I was REALLY useless.  I was a fly on the wall at a podiatrist’s office for a couple hours (I’m not even in podiatry school!); then I went over to an ophthalmologist’s office to usher patients in and out, and to hand a piece of tissue for patients to wipe the excess eye drops the doctor used on them.  Although it may have been nice to have this gentle little Korean boy pull tissues out of Kleenex boxes with perfect grace and timing after the doctor’s administration of eye drops, really they would have been perfectly fine without me.

But then why on earth was I volunteering to be useless?  I could have used that day to study Clinical Molecular Freaking Cell Biology or something.

Actually, although I was there to give help, I received more than I gave.  The podiatrist showed me how a truly good and humble man sees patients; an ophthalmologist, even though he sounded less humble and meek, showed me through deeds (he had volunteered at this fair for ~25 years) his love for patients.  The patients taught me that they indeed do exist(!!!), and that there is a special need for Korean-speaking healthcare providers.  Plus, I made a new friend, and it sure was better than studying clinical molecular cell biology at home by myself on a Saturday.  Also, randomly at the hospital they gave volunteers free honey powder.  I have no idea why.

Anyways, at this point, and for a long time, I’ll be receiving a lot more than I give.  But maybe if I study hard and keep volunteering to be useless, there will come a day when I’ll be able to give more than I receive.

Simeon Koh