Moment of Reflection at Kalmanovitz Library, from left to right: Shakkaura Kemet (MS2) Miguel Millares (MS2).

U Can Pray Forever

School of Medicine

If vying for universal healthcare is the third rail of American politics, then attempting to combine prayer and science is the third rail of academic medicine. For better or worse, I expected this when I started medical school.

Having spent the last 6 years of my life at academic institutions studying science I already knew the rules. Science is fact. We talk about that. Belief is not. We check that at the door. Whether or not science really is a conglomeration of ironclad facts in the way we purport is a conversation for another day, so for now we will assume that it is.

However, the problem with following this rule of separation between fact and belief in medicine is that medicine is not just science. Medicine is where science meets the human condition. Therefore, it is the intersection of science and hope, science and despair, science and earnest wishing to be well.

A heartwarming joke often retold in the halls of UCSF is that the letters UCSF stand for the phrase “u can stay forever” as much as it represents “University of California San Francisco.” It is not surprising that this joke echoes around the halls multiple times a day.

Many who have had the experience of practicing studying medicine at UCSF do not ever want to leave. It is not uncommon for medical students to train here, stay on for residency, take an attending position, and teach in the same lecture halls they once sat in as students.

The vast majority of the doctors I speak to describe this intuition as a special place made up of people who come to work and learn every day with a passionate drive to make healthcare better for all people. They come with an earnest wish and desire to heal.

Funnily enough, the second definition of prayer in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is “an earnest wish or request.” So, I can’t help but wonder if the secret to UCSF is that every day we pray the same prayer.

I would even argue that we have rituals around this prayer. More often than I wish was necessary, we have gathered in the space outside the Kalmanovitz library.

This space is now sacred to me. At these gatherings I stare at our reflections in the glass walls of the library, and marvel at the sight of a non-distinct mass of somber white coats. In some cultures, we would be considered angels in our attire.

In other cultures, we would be assumed to be in mourning. In my opinion, we are often somewhere in the middle. Standing outside that library we have demanded the reuniting of immigrant families, wept over the disregard of women’s rights to their own bodies, and stood in horrified silence as White-supremacist groups staged demonstrations threatening to catapult us back to a time when most of us would be barred from wearing a white coat.

We have insisted that gun violence is a public health issue. We have renewed our cries for change as the gun has turned from unarmed African Americans to LGBT individuals to immigrants and most recently Jewish people practicing their faith.

We have written notes of encouragement to each other, our patients, and the universe to keep fighting through the dark time that our country now passes through. We have left those notes on the glass walls of Kalmanovitz, turning pain into paper prayers that flutter in the San Francisco breeze.

We have stood together as UCSF community members and earnestly wished and requested for the world to be better, safer, healthier, and more loving. We have prayed.

The thing I most love about UCSF is that the institution is always changing and improving. This is why the idea of staying at UCSF for my entire medical career does not sound boring or monotonous.

I know UCSF will be a much different and better institution at the end of my career than it is now, and I want to be a part of that change.

However, I do hope that one thing does not change. I hope that when I am lecturing at the front of HSW-300, making that joke about it feels like I was sitting in the lecture hall as a student only a few years ago, that we are still praying this prayer. I hope we can pray forever.