Name: Derek Nicolas, MS
Title: Medical Student
Location: Franklin, WI
School/Program: American University of Antigua College of Medicine
Currently Wearing: The Apex Scrub Top
Why did you choose your profession?:
Sitting on a hospital bed surrounded by my family who was all in tears as they spoke to the doctors and medical staff while looking at me, I was still trying to figure out how I got there and why I wasn’t at school. I hear the doctor tell my father “We have no guarantee that your son is going to come out of this surgery the same, but we will do everything we can.” Hearing this sounds like the beginning of a tragedy, but by the grace of God and all of the medical personnel involved, it was a life-defining moment that gave me the ambition to pursue medicine along with outlining who I was, who I wanted to be, and why. This all began with a worsening onset of dyspnea during my seventh-grade soccer season. I was taking Claritin and nasal spray that my primary care doctor at the time prescribed me to help with my stuffiness and headaches. I used to be one of the fastest runners on the field and eventually found it impossible to catch my breath. My father knew something was not right and decided it was time to see a specialist. With one look in the endoscope, my Otolaryngologist, found a large mass blocking the majority of my right nasal cavity protruding towards my sphenoid sinus and said it was time to act fast. My family and I were given two approaches that the doctors had formulated for the removal of the tumor. The first included breaking my zygomatic arch and many years of post-operative reconstructive surgery. The second approach, much less practiced, was to do the entire procedure endoscopically through the nose and mouth. This was a long process with a significantly lesser guarantee of the prevention of tumor regrowth but was the path my parents and I asked them to take in order to avoid the invasiveness of the other route. The surgeons performed back-to-back surgeries for 8 hours removing the entire tumor endoscopically. Had the doctors decided not to take the route of beneficence, I would not look like or be the person I am today. I very much value a methodology based on the patient’s autonomy and plan to prioritize this when treating my patients in order to keep a strong patient-physician relationship.
Current Passion Project:
Anything regarding the mental health of medical students and caregivers as this is greatly understudied and I know first hand how this affects people.
Who was/is your inspiration?
Before applying to medical school, I worked as a CNA in a Neurological ICU, I developed an appreciation of Intensive care that I didn’t see in the Emergency room and Operation room when I shadowed there. I met a few of the interventional Radiologists who invited me to come in on my time off to view the procedures they did, and I found myself there nearly twice a week. They would talk me through the whole procedure moving from the femoral artery all the way to the brain to place stents and coils and even to remove emergency strokes who would come into the ER. I was able to see these patients come in post op and eventually help them get moved to a floor of the hospital once their vitals were stable and sometimes even helped these patients get discharged. Seeing a patient’s condition get better day by day and knowing I was able to help in the slightest bit is an indescribable feeling, and something I never got tired of. I also have spent quite some time shadowing the otolaryngologist who performed my surgery and meeting some of the team members who remembered my procedure was very heartwarming. I made sure to tell them that it was because of them that I am choosing this path and that I am forever grateful for their work. One thing that stuck with me since then was that a PA took me aside and told me that the day of my surgery, the lead surgeon who performed my surgery had just received news that his son was in an accident and would be paralyzed from the neck down. He had every right to call off my surgery but told the team this is a time-sensitive procedure and that the surgery will go on. I have so much respect for the field of medicine and I wish to one day be able to use this story as a way to not only get me through the rigors of medical school but to push myself to be an exceptional doctor when I am practicing.
Fun Fact 1:
I can eat more cheese curds than anyone I know.
Fun Fact 2:
I live on an Island studying medicine.
Do you have any advice for others interested in entering your field?
My father was an immigrant, he came here with nothing and became an admirable successful man. He told me there is absolutely no substitution for hard work and that if you want something bad enough you'll do whatever it takes to make it happen. Here I am now, thousands of miles away from my family and friends chasing my dream of becoming an MD. I had many teachers and colleagues tell me I couldn't do things, but I have already passed by the things they told me I couldn't do. The only one who can stop you from moving forward is you.
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