Each story is unique, intimate, and powerful. Readers, please come open-minded and ready to engage with the following stories. More importantly, be ready to interface with an intimate space and allow yourself to step inside someone else’s life. The following is the narrative of Meg Detwiler, a second-year medical student at KUMC.
Can you provide a one-minute summary of your life?
I grew up in a family where working hard and performing well was put on a pedestal above most other things – that was the value that my parents over and over and over instilled into us. They expected the highest in academics. They expected our best effort in sports, whether or not we were good at them. We were always expected to try our hardest. We were expected to be committed. If we started something, we had to finish it. So that was a fundamental principle in the way that we were raised – that you always try your hardest, you always do your best, which I think at its root is a good thing.
But it’s not a good thing when it’s taken too far, like most good things. So, I grew up with this concept basically that my worth was found in how hard I worked. And my worth was found in how well I performed in the things around me. And as a little kid that kind of destroyed the way that I saw myself. So, if I didn’t perform well, then I would panic. It instilled a lot of pride in me because most of the things that I did, I was very good at. But if I ever did something that I wasn’t good at, I didn’t want to do it anymore because I knew I couldn’t perform well. So that was the center of my mindset growing up.
When I was 12, I kind of had a heart change in that. I had been raised in the church and I knew a lot about the Christian faith, but I didn’t know the Christian faith. When I was 12, I had a youth pastor that really cared about me and really sat down and explained to me that that’s not where my worth came from. My worth came from Jesus and from what he had done. And that mindset started to shift. That is still something that I’m working through, and something that I’m restricted in the way that I see myself. But over and over and over, it feels like every conflict in my life, everything that’s happened in my life has come back to reinforcing that it is not all about what you can do. That is not where your worth comes from, that is not what saves you. That it is your faith that should be driving everything.
If you could use one word to describe yourself, what would it be and why?
I think that the one word I would choose would be committed. Not that I always embody that, but that’s what I always try to embody. So, if I say I’m going to do something, I always, always, always try my best to do it. And I try very hard in my friendships, and in all of my relationships, to be really intentional in reaching out to people, making sure that they know that I’m there and making sure that they feel loved. My goal is always that everything I do would reflect what I say I believe, would influence every decision I make. And sometimes that causes a lot of turmoil because I will agonize over a decision that doesn’t really matter because I want to embody the principle that I say is important to me. But I think that overall, it’s a good thing because it inspires a lot of integrity. And I hold myself very accountable to the things that I say, I think.
What do you do in your free time?
Pre-surgery, I was very active. I love to be outside and I love to move around. So I spent a lot of time hiking and rock climbing and running and swimming. A lot of those things I can’t do right now as I’m recovering. Hopefully, I will be back to them soon. But being outside and moving around is a really big stress relief for me. So, it’s really important.
I also love to read and love to cook. I live with my brother and I cook him dinner most nights of the week just because I really enjoy cooking and so it’s something that, again, is sort of a stress relief rather than an obligation.
What are you passionate about?
So pretty much everything I do, which is a good thing and a bad thing. I think that probably number one would be my faith. I am very passionate about that. It bleeds into every single piece of my life. I’m passionate about medicine, I hope. To be honest, more specifically about people and their health care I think than actual medicine. The reason I’m here is just that I feel like this is the best way that I can impact people’s health. I want people to live a fuller life and I think that having good health is a big piece of that.
What is something most people don’t know about you?
I was a very artistic person in high school, and still am to an extent. I still spend a lot of time in the pottery studio and stuff like that. I actually blew glass in high school and college. So everybody on the first day, when they were reading all of our past jobs, like glass blowing assistant, I hid my face because I didn’t want everyone to look at me. But that was a really cool piece of my life that people think is really interesting and is really interesting. But yeah, I blew glass in high school and then I got a job as an assistant in a glass studio in college. It was not at all related to what I will do for the rest of my life and not at all related to my studies, but it was really fun and a really cool experience.
What inspires you?
I think that the people around me inspire me a lot. I think the concept of mentorship is really, really important, so I look for role models everywhere that I am. Parts of my dad’s life inspire me a lot. I think that there are a lot of physicians in our program that inspire me, hearing their stories. I read a lot of biographies because other people’s lives and seeing how they overcome struggles and seeing how they’ve made decisions to reach the best way for their lives to play out and reach their goals is really cool. I think that seeing real people, rather than looking at the ideal way for life to turn out, to see the way that real people’s lives have turned out is more powerful.
What is your journey into medical school?
My dad is a family practice physician. So growing up, I had a really weird relationship with medicine because I kind of thought I knew a lot about it because my dad was a doctor. But I actually didn’t have a whole lot of experience. As a kid, I never actually went to doctor appointments because my dad just took care of us at home. So, I had no experience in the healthcare field at all or within the system. But what I understood was very vague and through the experience of my dad: hearing him talk about work, seeing the way that he treated us when he took care of us and hearing my friends talk about him.
But I grew up with kind of a strange resentment for medicine. My dad was a really, really hard worker. And that’s something that he instilled in us as young kids, that there was a lot of value in working hard and giving everything your best effort, which I think is good in principle. But in practice, it meant that he usually was gone before I woke up in the morning and sometimes made it home for dinner. But usually, it was like, just in time to put us to bed. So I didn’t see him a lot. He was gone for a lot of my childhood. And so I looked at medicine as the thing that stole my dad.
So they say that doctors kids either really want to be a doctor or really don’t and I really did not for a lot of years. I was probably in high school when that started to change. There was this opportunity to go on a mission trip with my church to the Philippines and I really wanted to go. My mom is a scaredy cat and she said to me you can’t go unless your dad goes with you. My dad wasn’t sure if he could get time off of work, and so it was in limbo for a long time. And it ended up that he was able to go with me, so we went and, and it was just overall a very humbling experience.
Through that, I realized that I loved what I was doing. I loved getting to help people in real tangible ways and also share my faith with them, share something that was really important to me. But I also had kind of a reality check and realized what the importance of simple health care was. We saw just all over the city, tons of people – especially people living in villages or living on the streets – that really just needed very simple basic health care, or even basic health education, knowing how to take care of themselves better. And I recognized that there was a cycle: that poverty caused poor healthcare and poor healthcare caused poverty, and that it kept going and kept going until someone could stop it.
So, one example that I remember really specifically, really vividly: We worked with a lot of young single moms with little bitty babies. And there was this one woman who came to one of our outreaches. She had a three-week-old baby, and I love babies. So of course, I asked to hold it. And this little guy was so tiny, like skin and bones, you could see every bone in his body, very clearly malnourished. Mom was also very clearly underfed and looked like she was starving. After talking to her, we realized that she was really frustrated. She didn’t have enough money to pay for her baby’s formula and to buy food for herself, so she was having to choose one of the other. So, she was buying her baby formula, but then to make it last she was watering it down, and that’s why he wasn’t getting the nutrients he needed. And so, we started talking to her about the possibility of breastfeeding, like she could feed herself and then that she could feed her baby. And she had no idea. She thought that formula was far superior as far as being the best way to feed her baby and she truly believed she was doing the best thing where in reality he was starving. There were so many simple issues like that, that were cases where they just wouldn’t have known.
So I came back from that with like a very different respect for medicine and realizing that it wasn’t all about me and that medicine wasn’t just like something that stole a bunch of time. But it was actually important too. And I realized that there’s a really important reason why people dedicate so much time and so much effort, so much energy, why they give up things and sacrifice things in their lives: because it was important. So, from there – I was 16 – I knew I wanted to do healthcare. I knew I wanted to do missions, kind of went back and forth a little bit on what exactly that looks like because I knew that getting an MD is a really long process and I wasn’t sure I wanted to commit that many years. So, there was a lot of uncertainty and a lot of going back and forth actually, up until I got accepted to medical school.
What are your future hopes in medicine?
My dream – I don’t know if this is the way that it will turn out – my dream is to have my own clinic in a developing country and especially to serve women and children. Maternal and child health is really important to me. And women’s health is really important to me because I think that in situations of oppression and situations of poverty, women and kids are usually the ones that get left in the dust. So that is where I would like to focus my efforts. Really, I want to find the most needy people I can find and help them.