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 Austin Martin, a second-year medical student at KUMC.
Can you provide a one-minute summary of your life?
I grew up in DC. My father was a pilot in the Air Force. He retired when I was young and stayed in Northern VA to work as a civilian for the Department of Defense. I was raised with the mindset that military service is honorable and something that the best kind of people do. It’s interesting to think about now, but I never actually considered what a career in the military would be like, I just knew I always wanted to be in the military and especially that I wanted to go to a service academy. I was accepted to West Point and quickly discovered that my idea of West Point was nothing like the reality of West Point. After two years I came very close to leaving. Ultimately, I choose to stay and graduated in 2013. I branched Field Artillery – not medically related at all – and served for five years. I was stationed in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. I deployed twice and now I’m here.
If you could choose one word to describe yourself, what would it be and why?
Curious. Absolutely. I think my capacity to find curiosity in a number of different things is both a huge source of motivation and my own way of coping with difficult situations.
What do you do in your free time?
One thing I definitely make time for is working out. It’s very important to me. I also make time to play lacrosse in a league here in Kansas City, which is a huge part of my life outside of medical school. Before I was in school, I would read about two hours every day, all different kinds of books: philosophy, literature, economics. I want to get back into that, but that’s been something that I haven’t been able to do yet.
What are you passionate about?
So, not to disappoint you, but I’m not really passionate about any one thing. But, I do view myself as a very passionate person. I think I have the potential to be passionate about a lot of things. Right now, I couldn’t really tell you what that is. I’m still kind of working through that. I’m very confident that I’m going to find something in medicine that is really going to grab onto me. The hard part though, is that whenever that thing does grab onto me, not letting myself be consumed it.
What inspires you?
One thing that I’m really interested in right now, at least – and this is going to sound extremely esoteric – is finding better ways to make decisions under uncertainty. When I was in the Army, I saw a number of commanders try to collect information from extremely chaotic environments to make decisions that were often life and death. The battlefield, both simulated and how I saw it on my first deployment (admittedly from a TOC), offers a practically unlimited amount of potential data, some of it incredibly important but most of it useless. Knowing what’s important and what’s not, knowing what deserves attention and what does not, and building a team that can help you synthesize all that data to make better decisions was a fascinating experience to be a part of.
Ultimately, what I took from that experience was an appreciation for the difference between randomness and actionable information that could be used to change the way a system behaves. Medicine is full of problems that present in a similar way. When managing an ICU what information do you need to anticipate changes in a patient’s status and make decisions accordingly? As an administrator, how do you insulate your department or hospital from unnecessary financial risk? In either case, how do you make decisions with any sort of true predictive power? I think medicine is full of these questions and its one of the things I’m most excited about in the future.
What is your journey into medicine?
Before West Point I had zero interest in medicine. I broke my leg the spring of my junior year of high school. I was in the hospital for 10 days and I hated every second of it. I still don’t like going to see the doctor. It wasn’t until basic training during the summer before my freshman year that I became interested in medicine. Of all the different jobs I saw available to guys in the military, I was drawn most towards the medics. There was one medic in particular that I remember. This was in 2008 and he had just got back from the surge in Iraq. I asked him why he wanted to be a medic. He told me that he loved the adrenaline that comes with kicking in doors. Then he told me that what he loved more than that, was when something bad happened and one of the guys got hit, being able to fix him and put him on a stretcher and put him on a helicopter and watch that helicopter fly away, and know that his actions as a medic were a small part of why that guy was able to see his family again. I loved that answer. Ultimately, I saw the job of medic as being a really interesting mix of being both a soldier, but also having to think and understand a lot of knowledge and apply it in high stress situations. So, I was drawn to that group of guys. That experience provided the initial inspiration for me to consider a potential career in medicine. Once the school year started, I got into my chemistry and biology classes and I fell in love with it. I let that carry me through my four years at West Point.
What are your future hopes in medicine?
No matter what specialty I go into, it’s very important to me that I consider myself as more than just a physician. That’s a promise I made to myself before starting medical school and it’s something I really want to hold myself to.
My hope is to build a career in medicine where I enjoy my work as a provider, but also have the time to be involved in my community, whether that’s coaching lacrosse, or working in a leadership role in my hospital, or simply reading and writing about life. It sounds terribly cliché but it’s also important to me to have a career that allows me the time to work towards being a good person and a good friend, because I think both require time and effort, and for me at least, it’s scary how easily professional ambition can sometimes get in the way of that. But I’m working on that, and honestly, it’s probably the most important thing.