“Seeing” the Doctor: Depicting the Physician’s Self-Identity

By Stacey McClintick

What do you what to be when you grow up?  Do I even have to?  Can I cry now?  Can I show who I am?  I can only hope you will understand and be able to take away from me all that I have… because that is what I want to give.

I am not who you think I am.  Strong on the outside… an unstoppable ramble of insecurity,  Inquisitiveness and love on the inside.  I am a mom, a Maine, a wife, a soldier, a sister, an engineer, a daughter, a student doctor, a neighbor, a college student, a carpool mom, an artist… my own self gets lost behind all these things.

I lost “rank” to save my kids and my husband, but out of curiosity and hope for challenges and to experience life, I have gained so much more.  But it hurts sometimes to not be recognized in my current position for the experiences I have had.

At the same time it is hard to focus on the facts in medicine when the very curiosity of life which pulled me in persistently tries to pull me away.  ADHD?  Maybe… I have never given up… is that my downfall?

Here, regardless, I can be what I am.  In art my mistakes open up an opportunity for something wonderful I had never thought of before.  In life/medicine my mistakes are lives… more studying and more stress.

I thought long and hard about what I wanted to do for my mask, and even now I would need two, ten, or even forty more sessions to have my mask relay everything I wanted it to say. However, I understand that this was not the entire point of this exercise and that the goal was to find another way to work through the stress and in that, I was successful! (I only wish I could cash in its value more often)…


Coming into medical school, I wanted to give of myself.  I had grand hopes to use my strengths in engineering, science, planning, organization, and leadership to influence the “art” of medicine.  These previous experiences molded the attributes that became both my self-identification and the way others identified me.  I had never felt the need to lead two different lives.  However, as medical school progressed, I found my identity challenged.  No longer was I the mom, former Marine officer, wife, engineer – I had been stripped of my strengths and my identities were restricted to taking turns – one at a time.

As a mom and wife, I am knee deep in scouting, lacrosse, swim team, piano lessons, play dates, and meals.  These were not the topics of discussion for the majority of those students sitting next to me in class who had spent their weekends partying, hiking the Appalachian Trail, or sleeping.  Rather my interests and life mirrored that of my attendings and professors – a subset of the population which my current position precluded me from being a peer.  So who in my new peer group wants to get into a two-way dialogue about tweens and the joys of parenting a child entering puberty… No one.

My military and engineering side had been in charge of upwards of 300 people at once and had directly affected millions of dollars of equipment/revenues.  My experiences and positions held prestige.  I had not initially thought this change in position/title would be as hard as it turned out to be because it is such a minute price to pay for achieving my aspiration of becoming a physician.  However, there is no direct correlation between these skills and a medical student – nor does anyone care.

Our mask art therapy group posed a question regarding differences in masks made during medical school and ones made afterward.  Although, it has not been done officially, I know for me it would certainly be different.  From the time I started my mask, to the second session when I finished it, I found I had completed and passed all of my requirements for graduation.  The puzzle piece, added in that second session, represents healing and the beginning of reconciliation with who I am.

Although, I have begun to heal, I know I have a completely new challenge ahead as a physician and will need to prepare to give of myself, while at the same time continue to piece myself back together.  At that point, I may be able to reveal candidly the meaning of the beaded string with clothes pinned notes.  However, in the meantime, if you are willing to read this and look at my mask – I mean really look at my mask and follow the instructions, you will be able to better look into the window of my soul and see that I only ever wanted someone to just listen.


Stacey McClintick, MD
is a graduate of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences and is currently in the Internal Medicine residency program at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD.  Prior to medical school, she served as a Combat Engineer officer in the U.S. Marine Corps and worked for Abbott Labs as a medical device engineer.   

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