Aspiring doctor Treasure Walker ’04 finds there’s much more to being a physician than prescribing pills.
by Matt Getty
April 1, 2009
Treasure Walker '04
Treasure Walker ’04 didn’t know why the woman had asked her to stay in her hospital room. As a fourth-year medical student, Walker was the least experienced doctor on the five-person team that had just cleared the patient for surgery. As she approached the bed and looked into the eyes of this 90-year-old woman who was scheduled to have her hand removed, Walker, who’d dreamt of being a doctor since junior high school, just hoped she could answer her question.
But the woman didn’t have a question. She simply looked at Walker, her deep-brown eyes welling with tears. “I don’t want them to do it,” she said. “I’m scared.”
The moment may have had little to do with the Krebs cycle reactions that Walker had memorized during her first year or the heart-attack symptoms she’d mastered during her third, but it was exactly why she’d wanted to go to medical school.
“She didn’t want to tell anyone else,” explains Walker, who stayed with the woman to ease her fears about the surgery. “I guess the way that I interacted with her made her more comfortable with me.”
On the verge of earning her M.D. from the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Walker recalls being a naive 13-year-old who thought being an obstetrician-gynecologist (ob-gyn) looked like “fun.”
“I just liked the whole baby aspect of it,” she recalls. “You know, I thought, here’s a job where you’re responsible for this unborn life, here’s a new life and you get to be a part of it.”
Of course, since then, Walker has found that becoming an ob-gyn involves eight years of schooling and 12-hour shifts on rotation. After graduation, most ob-gyns face even longer hours, spend many nights on call and pay some of medicine’s highest malpractice-insurance rates.
Though she has had her moments of doubt and admits sometimes she’d rather watch Grey’s Anatomy than study human anatomy, Walker has remained sure of her career choice. After two years of in-class learning, she spent the last two years on medical rotations ranging from radiology to emergency medicine.
The routine has been physically and mentally taxing. Walker spent the winter working in the University of Maryland Medical Center emergency room, her hours changing from early morning to overnight week by week. After examining each patient, she would report to a teaching resident and recommend a course of action.
“Say you have a 50-year-old man with chest pains,” Walker explains. “You give him an exam, get his history and you think, ‘Did he have a heart attack, or did he just pull a muscle?’ If I decide it’s just a pulled muscle, I might call for a chest X-ray to be safe … and the teaching resident will say, ‘Have you thought of this?’ or ‘Do you think you should run this test?’ ”
As if life-and-death situations weren’t challenging enough, Walker also faced a constant barrage of questions. “They’re always doing what’s called ‘pimping,’ ” she explains. “They’ll ask you, ‘OK, what is the treatment for acute heart attack? What’s the classic sign for cardiac tamponade?’ They usually ask you questions until you get something wrong, and it’s in front of the whole team, but that’s how you learn.”
Walker also has learned that besides dealing with the complex science of medicine, doctors deal with something that can be even scarier for medical students—people.
“A big part of being a doctor is interacting with people, and not everyone can do it,” she says. “A couple of my classmates have already decided to go into pathology. They found out they don’t really like dealing with sick patients because they can be mean, or they can be really sad and needy. For me, though, I always knew I wanted to work with people.”
And, according to Walker, the people skills that have helped her reassure a frightened patient, encourage emergency-room visitors without health insurance to get follow-up care, or counsel a menopausal ob-gyn patient who still wants to bear children, have little to do with biochemistry but a lot to do with her Dickinson experience.
“I didn’t just study science,” says the biology and chemistry double major. Walker, who attended Dickinson with the help of a Samuel G. Rose ’58 Scholarship, hopes to advocate for women’s health issues and practice overseas as an ob-gyn.
“I have friends who majored in molecular biology at other schools, and almost all their classes were science classes. But I took women’s studies classes; I found my passion for diversity and culture; I got to study abroad [in England, through the Norwich Science Program]—which most premed students don’t get to do. Dickinson gave me opportunities to be flexible, to be a diverse person, to be more than just one thing.”