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September 5, 1990

The Next Generation

JAMA. 1990;264(9):1157. doi:10.1001/jama.1990.03450090095036

My mother tells me that I wanted to be a doctor since I was 3. When I was given glasses for myopia at age 10, I turned my thoughts toward curing and preventing blindness, and a future ophthalmologist was born. My relatives thought it was "cute" that a little girl wanted to be a doctor, and responded with an approving smile or pat on the head. "She'll be the first in our family," they said, "the next generation."

I experienced death for the first time later that same year, 1967. My paternal grandfather, who had suffered with Parkinson's disease for several years, died quickly and quietly of pneumonia at the age of 68. I remember the suddenness of it all: the surprise, the shock, the tears, the bustle of activity. Over and over I heard, "Thank God he died so quickly." "He didn't suffer." "He wasn't in any pain." The words