“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

My parents gave me scars.

The pale pink one on my left knee was from Dad, a surgeon, who meticulously sutured a puncture wound made when I fell on a rusty nail. The jagged arc on my forearm was from Mom, an emergency physician, who stitched my skin no less precisely than the quilts she sews by hand.

I, too, have begun to leave scars on the people and things I care about. In health care, the wounds are many, and they need fixing: An elderly Haitian immigrant without insurance. A smoker with throat cancer who refuses to quit. A country that permits racial disparities in treatment. A system that cures too little and costs too much.

As a surgeon, it will be my job to perform microscopic procedures to eradicate cancer, restore hearing, and reanimate faces marred by disease. But technical skill and thoughtful compassion are not enough. I must also challenge the macroscopic problems that threaten to unravel the fabric of our health-care system — a fabric that must be stitched and sewn back together.

The imperative for meaningful change will cut deep, and it will be painful. I must help treat these wounds. I must leave scars to mend a broken system.

— Matthew Naunheim