Updated: Sep 20, 2019
Trying to figure out what kind of doctor you should become? Wondering what specialty you should choose? Then SheMD's Why Specialty Series is perfect for you! We're bringing you female physicians sharing WHY they chose their specialty. Dr. Marcelin is sharing why she chose the field of Infectious Disease and what makes Infectious Disease a great field.
When I was 8 years old, I visited my doctor for a well-child visit. I don’t remember if I was scheduled to meet with her or if I requested the appointment, but I recall feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders as I contemplated life’s biggest mystery: what is my purpose? It may seem strange that an 8 year old was concerned with such deep “grown-up” issues, but I felt a calling towards the biological sciences and I wanted to plan my life well. During that visit, I remember asking: “Dr. Etienne, I like children and I like science – what should I be when I grow up?” I had always been a high-achiever, so I’m sure it came as no surprise to her that I would ask these questions, although at my age it was probably still amusing to hear. She considered my interests for some time and said finally “Well, you could be a science teacher, or you could be a children’s doctor.” I quietly thought about those choices and then said “I have no patience to be a teacher, so I’ll be a doctor then!” From that moment onwards, every class I took, every decision was made with consideration of that specific goal. I went on to complete my Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology & Chemistry with a Diploma in Forensic Science at St. Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and thereafter went to American University of Antigua College of Medicine for medical school.
For a very long time, I was planning to be a pediatrician. I had it in my mind that I would become a pediatric neurosurgeon, because the brain was fascinating to me. As I progressed through medical school, I did my pediatrics rotation and learned that while I still loved children, I preferred taking care of adults, who more often than not, could tell me exactly what bothered them so that I could help fix it. Though I had great respect for surgeons, I also learned quickly that I preferred the pace of Internal Medicine. When I was an Internal Medicine resident, I briefly considered Oncology, but realized that the oncology patients I enjoyed the most were the ones with infections.
When I speak to friends/colleagues around me, and speaking to my family, it was obvious to everyone else that I was destined for Infectious Diseases long before I even knew what that specialty was. Here’s why:
When I was around 10 years old, we had a science fair project. Most people did the typical science-fair-y projects – volcanoes, windmills, etc. I had no interest in these types of projects. I launched into a full-scale epidemiologic investigation of infectious diseases, including mosquito-borne illnesses on my island of Dominica. I contacted the Ministry of Health, my physician, other scientists on the island for their input; I scoured the library for information on these infections, treatment, and prevention. When I was done, I created an elaborate presentation on Manila paper poster-boards, a detailed booklet with the same information on the posters, complete with life cycles and mosquito-reduction intervention ideas, details on how germs spread and how to prevent disease. I designed an expert oral presentation to accompany these materials and my project won first place.
Cleaning out some old suitcases recently, my parents found that research booklet and delivered it to me, reminding me of that childhood passion. I had designed the booklet myself, with stenciled letters on the pink cover, neatly printed handwriting and terrible (but recognizable) drawings. The effort I had put into the project was evident and even as a child, the experience of learning about how these diseases affect human life, and how we as humans can affect disease outcome lit a fire of excitement and passion for Infectious Diseases that still burns within me today.