Reflecting on Graduation Day
By: Dr. Jamie Qualls, DO, MPH
May 4, 2017 was one of the most awesome and unforgettable days of my entire life. I fought back the tears as I walked across the stage at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center, while being cheered on by over thirty of my closest friends and family members. I completed two degrees in the same semester - a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) and a Master of Public Health (M.P.H.). After eight long, difficult years of making sacrifices and working so hard to get there, graduation day was an emotional experience that still doesn’t feel completely real. My journey into medicine is unlike what is typical of most physicians, and it’s what made this day even more special.
Although medicine was my childhood dream for as long as I can remember, I didn’t go into it until much later. I got an undergraduate degree in Business Administration and I worked for eight years as a marketing professional first. I didn’t go into medicine because of my childhood, or for status, or for money, or because of family influence. My family probably thought I was crazy when I initially told them of my plans to change careers. I decided to switch from marketing to medicine because I saw such a need for change in health care. I chose to become a family doctor, specifically, because it’s an outstanding platform to be that change.
Eleven years ago, I was on my own journey to plant-based eating for ethical reasons when I discovered the link between our food choices and our long-term health. Information wasn’t as plentiful then as it is now, but while searching for things I could/should eat I stumbled upon the work of my now heroes, Dr. Neal Barnard, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Dr. John McDougall, and others. All doctors who approach medicine in a very different way than I had ever heard before. My curiosity grew, and I began to explore their books and research. I was stunned to read about patients reversing type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, skin and digestive issues, and auto-immune diseases. I read about patients being able to get off medications entirely. These doctors were restoring people’s health, happiness, and quality of life.
That was the first time I had heard of a link between what I choose to eat every day and my own health destiny. My doctor never mentioned it, my parents never knew about it, and my extended family suffered from terrible health challenges and nobody informed them either. Food is like the pink elephant in the exam room in medicine, and so many doctors still avoid learning about and/or discussing it. The nutrition education I received in medical school was inadequate. By and large, my knowledge about nutrition has come from a decade of dedication to reading and researching on my own. During my medical school training, I watched so many patients suffer, taking literally a dozen or more medications to manage conditions that could otherwise be prevented and/or improved through diet. It’s time for change - and I left my previous career and went to medical school because I wanted to spend the rest of my life helping to create this change.
So, I begin my residency training in ten days. I took the past month off to travel and catch up with my loved ones, and now it’s time to get back to hard work again. I have a lot of learning to do over the next three years, but residency is finally my chance to start cultivating ideas and creating new opportunities to help my patients and our community achieve better health. I want to thank my family, friends, and everyone at PBNSG for their endless support and encouragement while I continue my journey as a new family doctor. I’m excited to find out what lies ahead, and to explore new avenues for merging healthy, mindful eating together with primary care medicine.