The Heron’s Grace: Lessons in Resilience for a Future Physician

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In the quiet mornings by the West Boca Medical Center, a colony of great blue herons nesting in the pine trees offers an unexpected sanctuary.

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Sara Burgoa, Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine at Florida Atlantic University, Class of 2026

Every day before my shift begins as a medical assistant, I park my car beneath the shade of the trees, take out my binoculars, and immerse myself in birdwatching. I find solace in gazing at the stately bird pairs perching above me and admire the herons as they meticulously construct their nests. This ritual, born from a blend of personal loss and professional ambition, has become a cornerstone of my well-being as I navigate the challenging path through medical school.

Birdwatching emerged as a beacon of peace during a tumultuous time in my life. This time was marked by the stress of the medical school application process and the profound grief of losing my sister, Lisa. Lisa’s sudden passing tested my resilience to its core, threatening to dismantle the carefully built nest of my aspirations. It was through the support of family, friends, and the meditative practice of birdwatching that I found the strength to persevere. Observing the herons, so poised and focused, reminded me of the importance of building a strong foundation—of self-care, community, and purpose—to weather the storms of life.

The journey to medicine, much like observing and identifying birds, demands resilience, patience, and observation. My commitment to becoming a physician has been built twig by twig, experience by experience—each one strengthening my resolve and shaping my understanding of what it means to care for others. Volunteering as a campus EMT, mentoring students, and engaging with community service taught me the value of empathy, inclusivity, and advocacy.

From as early as the womb, humans need healthcare to guide their development of essential functions; they need doctors to nurture their growth in youth and assure their dignity in old age. These experiences solidified my desire to dedicate my life to healthcare, a field uniquely positioned to impact individuals at any stage of their life.

The discipline required to observe the majestic birds and the patience to distinguish between the subtle calls and plumage of different species are skills I aspire to perfect as a physician. They require a practice of mindfulness, appreciation of the present moment, staying grounded amidst uncertainty, and finding stability in nature's rhythms. As I look forward to a career in medicine, I am reminded of the heron’s grace under pressure, a quality I aspire to embody in my own practice. The lessons learned from birdwatching will continue to guide me as I step into the role of a physician, equipped to support the physical and emotional health of my community.

For anyone facing the stresses of academic and professional pursuits, especially in demanding fields like medicine, I encourage finding your own "heron’s nest." Whether through nature, art, or connection with others, nurturing your well-being is pivotal. If you or someone you know is struggling, remember that support is available. Resources such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK) and Crisis Text Line (text HOME to 741741) provide immediate assistance. Let us take care of ourselves and each other, building our nests one twig at a time, so we can soar with the confident grace of a heron spreading her wings.

Sara Burgoa is a second-year medical student at Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine at Florida Atlantic University. Beyond academia, Sara's passions include birdwatching, reading, and doing crossword puzzles.

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The views and opinions expressed in this collection are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Association of American Medical Colleges.