A Role for Selfishness in a Selfless Profession

by Hans Humrick.

When you graduate high school with a 2.4 cumulative GPA, the odds of achieving any level of ‘success’ are not in your favor.

Even rarer is the opportunity to become a doctor….

Well, take that, statistics!

This was no easy task, and I’ll be the first to admit that I had plenty of luck and outside help along the way. The key for me was allowing myself to be selfish. ‘Selfishness’ has such a negative connotation these days, but I believe it is vital in the right context as a means of self-improvement.


“find a way to leave this house and succeed.”

A family of six people may produce a dichotomy of selfish- or generous- natured individuals. I happened to be of the latter. As the oldest of four children in middle-class America, on the surface, it seemed that I was born with all the opportunity in the world. Digging deeper would reveal a different story; Dad was a negative presence and wasn’t around much, money was tight, and tensions always ran high. My siblings and I showed up to school and tried not to fail; there was no pressure to achieve beyond that goal. Life was survival, or at the very least, it was existence. I left home at the age of 22, with my final words to my siblings essentially being, “find a way to leave this house and succeed.” I wanted to inspire them to find passion and pursue it. If I could do it, they could too! 

As far as my home life was concerned, my first year of medical school was… messy. My parents began the divorce process and sold the home we grew up in. My grandfather died of heart failure. Each of my siblings found themselves in less than optimal life situations. I had just ended a serious long-term relationship. There were some tough questions to answer like,

‘how can I stay focused on school?’ and,

‘how can I help my siblings overcome this?’

I would call my brother and sisters constantly to check in on them. I lectured them on career choices and college classes. I offered a room in my apartment for them to stay in, rent-free, to start fresh in a new city. I told them to quit that job and start this job, don’t take that class, take this class, etc. Eventually, they stopped calling. It was a tough pill to swallow. I thought I was helping. What’s so wrong with trying to help?

I realized each of us faced these crises hand in hand but walked onward alone. They were processing everything just as I was but in their own way, not mine. To help them, I had to help myself. I decided to be ‘selfish’ and focus on what I could control in my life: school. With this in mind, both my grades and relationships greatly improved the following semester.

selfishness can help me become a better provider and a better human being.

I can’t control how my siblings cope with our family dramas, but I can always be there for them if they need me. Patients are largely the same. I can’t knock on each door in my neighborhood asking to assess peoples’ feet while telling them to stop eating chocolate and salty foods. Similarly, I can’t force patients to be compliant with my treatment plan. This is not a cause for discouragement. Rather, it highlights the importance of ‘selfishness’ and self-reflection to not exude a ‘my way or the highway’ disposition on anyone. I can’t force my siblings or my patients to do anything, nor do I desire to. However, I can be available to help at a moment’s notice. In the interim, selfishness can help me become a better provider and a better human being.


by Hans Humrick

School: Western University School of Podiatric Medicine

Class of 2020

A Role for Selfishness in a Selfless Profession

Creative writing, Short story, Lifestyle

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