(Pauline and Nienke Mendelaar, medical students, sisters, aged 23 and 21)

Pauline: “Our grandfather died when Nienke was still a baby. When I was about seven years old, my mother told me that he used to be a surgeon. The next day we were taught a biology lesson at school, and suddenly it hit me: I’m going to be a doctor when I grow up! From that moment onwards, I began to study the human anatomy. Years later, again during a biology lesson, we were told to draw a heart. My classmates all drew love hearts. I was able to come up with a very detailed drawing of the human organ, even at that age!”

Nienke: “Pauline and I used to play doctors at home – always together! As a child, I wanted to become a vet when I was older. But then I’d watch a TV show in which a dog was put to sleep, and I’d cry because I felt so sorry for the poor animal. I almost pitied dying animals more than dying people! [laughs] And then I turned out to be allergic to all furry animals, so I decided to look after humans instead. I had to repeat the first year of my study, but now I’m on the right track. When I was struggling with my study, people would ask me, ‘Are you sure this is what you want to do? Aren’t you doing it just because your sister is doing it?’ And I’d respond by saying, ‘That would be pretty stupid wouldn’t it?’”

Pauline: “Nienke has worked her arse off, and she can do this. I’m very proud of her!”

Nienke: “It’s nice and useful to have an elder sister at the department. She knows what it’s like to study medicine at Erasmus University, and it’s nice to be able to talk to someone who knows what you’re working on. Pauline understands that studying medicine is a calling, but that – as with any other job – you can have an off day and hate everything about it, without this meaning that you made the wrong choice professionally.”

Pauline: “I’m in my internship period and about to start at the gynaecology ward. I’m not sure yet which field I’ll specialise in; it’s all very interesting! What I do know is that I’ll be leaving for Tanzania in a while, to do an internship.”

Nienke: “What I think is the most important aspect of the job is putting yourself on the same level as your patients. Not insisting on maintaining the hierarchy we used to have in medicine, but rather giving your patients the feeling that they can say or ask anything, that you’re really listening and doing everything in your power to help them. Being kind and caring about your patients.”

Pauline: “Isn’t that what medicine is all about? In my work I’ll sometimes come across people who knew our grandfather. He was also a kind and warm-hearted surgeon who cared about his patients.”


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