Issue 6 - May 10, 2024
Savannah Santiago
Doctor of Podiatric Medicine Candidate 2024

Sole Purpose 6
Wisdom From My Superhero Mom:
A Mother's Day Tribute and Life Lessons

Happy Mother’s Day to all the amazing mothers and mother figures out there! To those yearning to be mothers or have suffered loss, my heart goes out to you. Today, I want to shine a spotlight on my incredible Mom, who truly embodies the qualities of a superhero (sorry, Dad, you're awesome too). While I must confess that I haven't always been the most patient daughter (cue the moody teenager phase), my mom has always been a force to be reckoned with.

Allow me to offer you a glimpse into her daily routine: she currently serves as the nursing director at a level 1 Emergency Department. She designs her schedule and eagerly dives into work at the ungodly hour of 3 am each day. According to her, she enjoys taking the time to supervise the transition from night to day shifts and utilizes those peaceful early hours to catch up on her administrative tasks and do a walk-through tidying up the ED. She is the kind of director who isn't afraid to get her hands dirty and ensure her department is best set for success every single day.

Despite her demanding job and unwavering commitment to her patients, she somehow has always found the energy to be even more devoted to my brother and me. Now, let me share a little secret about my mom: while she's incredibly generous and hardworking, she's also brutally honest with me. She has no qualms about calling me out if I'm acting like a baby, and her favorite mantra is "suck it up and get to work." She's never been one to coddle me; instead, she pushes me to figure things out and achieve my goals.

So here are the biggest pieces of advice my mother has given me:

  1. Arrive early to all engagements. As a student, you're investing in your education. Your punctuality reflects your priorities, signaling to your superiors that you value their time. Being late to the clinic, rounds, or class suggests otherwise. 
  2. No task is beneath you. Just as my mother cleans up the ED, she expects me to show the same willingness to tackle any necessary task. If I have the time and capability, I should have no issue resetting a room, disposing of trash, or handling other essential but often overlooked duties. It's important never to delegate a task you wouldn't do yourself.  
  3. What is worrying going to do about it? My kind but extremely realistic mother said to me the morning of my first residency interview: well, you either prepared or you didn’t, what is worrying about it going to do? 
  1. Whining accomplishes nothing, a point my mother often emphasizes. Complaining doesn't propel you toward your goals. Yet, it's important to recognize that verbal processing can sometimes aid in navigating challenges, if you are prepared to find a solution at some point.  
  2. Everyone is facing their own challenges. My mom excels in handling difficult patient behaviors that can be misunderstood and challenging for healthcare staff. I recall a time when she shared an incident where a patient verbally abused her and spat at her. Instead of reacting negatively, she calmly acknowledged that the patient was having a tough day and continued with her work. This experience taught me to empathize with patients, understanding that their behavior is often a reflection of their struggles, especially during their hospital stay. While patients should ideally treat healthcare providers with respect, it's crucial to recognize that their time in the hospital may be one of their hardest moments. I try to remember that I am not always my kindest when I do not feel well. 
  3. Facing challenges can seem daunting until you take the first step. I vividly remember moments of doubt when I confided in my mom about my struggles with passing organic chemistry (but I surpassed mere passing), as well as organic chemistry 2 (yet I prevailed), and numerous hurdles in medical school and the APMLE part 1 and 2 (all of which I conquered). The key lesson I've learned is that what initially appears impossible often becomes attainable through persistent effort and determination. My mom, known for her straightforwardness, recently reminded me of this before a 14-mile-long run that I was dreading. As I prepared to leave, she mentioned that she could pick me up if I decided to quit, but if I did, I'd have to repeat the long run the next day and that she wouldn’t pick me up again. It's important to acknowledge the difficulty of your endeavors and understand that hard work is ongoing—it doesn't end with one accomplishment. Even if you fail, you can try again.  
  4. Embrace it until you ace it. It is a phrase my mom lives by, evident in her daily attire of 4-inch heels and professional attire in the emergency department (the heels are not approved by her podiatrist daughter). She explains that dressing well not only makes her feel good but also projects confidence in her leadership and knowledge. Even on days when she may not feel like a powerhouse, her appearance reflects otherwise, allowing her to embrace her role effectively.  
  5. You never know someone's story. It's essential to be kind to everyone because that person you flipped off on the drive into the hospital might be the family member of your patient who is in critical condition. Everyone is dealing with their own challenges, so practicing kindness and empathy towards others is crucial.  
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  1. Always advocate for your patients. My mom approaches patient care as if they were family—treating them with the same level of care and concern she would show to my brother or me. When you prioritize your patients' well-being and fight for their health, it's challenging to make mistakes or overlook their needs.  
  2. Establishing boundaries is crucial. Bedside manner holds significant importance, and while patients can seek medical care anywhere, it's up to you to determine the level of compassion you extend to them. You also have the power to control how much emotional baggage you bring home from work and which patient interactions resonate with you. Remember, you're human too, and finding balance in these aspects is key to maintaining your well-being. 
  3. These years are for learning and growth. It's vital to prioritize self-care and recognize your limitations; you can't be constantly working at full capacity. My mom always stressed that I made a conscious decision to pursue healthcare—it wasn't imposed on me. No one is forcing me to learn; rather, I have the privilege of attending medical school and becoming a resident. It's my responsibility to push myself and extract the most from my educational and residency journey. Remember, learning is a lifelong process that never truly ends. 
  4. Supporting your peers is essential in medicine. While the field presents individual challenges, being a team player who uplifts others is crucial for collective success. Climbing the career ladder loses its meaning if it comes at the cost of alienating your colleagues. However, being kind doesn't equate to being a doormat; it's about maintaining boundaries and not tolerating abuse of your kindness.  
  1. The nurses will make or break you. My mom often emphasizes that she possesses a wealth of patient care knowledge that I may never fully grasp. She's also quick to point out that the nurses I work alongside likely have a deeper understanding of our patients than I do. She encourages me to treat them with utmost kindness because they are valuable allies, and together, we're all dedicated to the well-being of our patients. I should never let my ego be so inflated that I can't heed the advice of any medical personnel, including nurses.  
  2. Holidays are merely a date on the calendar. Throughout my life, my mom has worked on most major holidays. When I was younger, I didn't fully grasp why we celebrated Christmas a day early or why my mom couldn't join all the family gatherings. However, as I prepare for residency, I deeply appreciate this upbringing. I don't feel compelled to request holidays off because I know my family will joyfully celebrate whenever we can be together. It's not the specific day that defines the celebration; it's the company of loved ones on the day you choose to commemorate.  

To wrap up, let me share my favorite "tough love" mom story, a gem I've recounted in countless residency interviews when asked about my mom's heroics. Back in my third year of medical school, I was bravely practicing suturing with my mom looking over my shoulder. She gave me the classic mom eye roll, criticized my turtle-paced suturing, snipped out every knot, and told me that I was “slow and sloppy”. Then, she had me do it all over again until it was "almost" good enough. Now, whenever I get a pat on the back for my suturing skills in the operating room, I can't help but chuckle and wonder if Mom’s high standards would approve. This tough love tale, mixed with her sage advice, has undoubtedly molded me into the person and resilient healthcare provider I am today.

Until next time!

Savannah Santiago
PRESENT Sole Purpose Editor
[email protected]


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