By: Branda Bui, MS-3.
Branda Bui is a third-year podiatric medical student at Western University College of Podiatric Medicine (TUSPM). She is currently the chief editor for PrePodiatryClinic101.
My leadership style described in a single word is education. Before I began podiatric medical school, I tutored middle school students for three years and mostly taught linear algebra. Usually, there is little room for debate or discussions when it comes to solving for “x,” which is why I didn’t expect to connect with these students so deeply. One student in particular stood out to me because she would periodically bring bags of groceries from Stater Brothers to tutoring sessions. I eventually learned that it was because her parents worked until late at night, so they gave her a small grocery allowance each week and left her in charge of feeding herself. I remember not only feeling startled because she was in sixth grade, but also embarrassed because I was twice her age and my mom still cooked for me.
This taught me a huge life lesson about the job — these students aren’t just people that I interact with as part of my daily routine. They have their own lives and struggles. After school, these children will face their problems behind closed doors that will never be publicized, so it became a priority for me to make the classroom as welcoming and safe as possible.
This taught me a huge life lesson about the job — these students aren’t just people that I interact with as part of my daily routine. They have their own lives and struggles.
Eventually, I left my tutoring job to start school at WesternU. I became immersed in studying medicine these past three years; however, I often found myself feeling conflicted. Although I was extremely excited about my own education, part of my heart was still with educating others.
To rekindle the passion I have for teaching—in the midst of the pandemic and shutdowns—I applied to Project Cuenca, an organization that offered the opportunity to teach high school students in Ecuador how to read English once a week through Zoom. My student was very polite, motivated and ingeniously hilarious. He wanted to become better at reading English and reminded me each week that he firmly believed knowing English would serve as a stepping stone for all the things he wanted to accomplish in his life.
However, this is not a story about a student that was struggling initially and then became perfectly literate in English in a month, all thanks to some exquisite tutor. Rather, he wrestled with every word in the book we were reading out loud together for a long time. There was something I noticed about him though. He was relentless and kept plowing through week after week, undiscouraged. As someone who becomes easily embarrassed and hesitant when struggling in front of others, I was completely in awe of him. My student believed that I was his teacher but all this time, he was my teacher too. He taught me that in order to move forward and strengthen the areas that I am weak in, I would have to let go of the illusory obstacles that only existed in my mind. He showed me that I was treating myself unfairly by only feeling confident after I have met a goal, because it should really be the other way around. We truly achieve things when we have confidence in our capabilities. Working with this student provided the clarity I needed, as well as the encouragement, to keep my love for medicine and incorporate it with teaching, in the future.
My student believed that I was his teacher but all this time, he was my teacher too.
During my first year of podiatric medical school, I felt like I was working every minute of every day just to keep up, and still, I felt like I was not doing enough. Our first block was the musculoskeletal system, and for some students, this was a smooth transition into medical school. These students had graduate degrees in anatomy, served as anatomy TA’s in college or majored in kinesiology. Everywhere I looked, everyone seemed to know everything. Why did this seem like a review for everyone else, when this was all brand new for me? I thought my feelings were unique. And then it set in for the first time, what everyone warns you about: imposter syndrome.
We truly achieve things when we have confidence in our capabilities.
However, it turns out I’ve gained a lot more than a vast knowledge of human anatomy. I gained new and closer relationships with my classmates and mentors, a greater appreciation for time spent with family and the fleeting moment of fresh air after an exam, and finally, the confidence in myself to be on this path. Those didactic years were difficult, and it is hard to imagine going through them again without the students who stepped up to encourage their peers, organize study resources, and remind everyone to not be afraid to ask for help. This leadership style, centered around education and the pursuit of knowledge, has shaped the group dynamic of my class our first two years because it encouraged a collaborative environment. This form of leadership is effective because it reinforced the shared goal of understanding material providing our best chance to become a great physician.
Those didactic years were difficult, and it is hard to imagine going through them again without the students who stepped up to encourage their peers, organize study resources, and remind everyone to not be afraid to ask for help.
When I was younger, my parents taught me that anything I learned was mine to keep. This gave me a sense of security because there were certain things in my life that I had no control over. Right when I was about to start college, life suddenly brought a storm and that was when I knew that education needed to be my highest priority. This experience and the lessons of 2020 gave me ample time to reflect on and ask myself why I constantly seek out opportunities centered around education. It also made me think about how my parents, classmates and other exceptional leaders were all characterized by the same thing — the desire to learn. None of them let their circumstances be a limiting factor in their endeavor for knowledge.
It also made me think about how my parents, classmates and other exceptional leaders were all characterized by the same thing — the desire to learn.
In the future, I want my leadership to be defined by my ability to incorporate education and medicine in a meaningful way. My goal is to work in a teaching hospital and remind struggling students that education does not just take place inside a formal classroom. Rather, it is a daily part of living and the most essential instrument to empower oneself and others.
By Branda Bui, MS-3
School: Western University College of Podiatric Medicine
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