So…enquiring minds want to know…
I sat across from a friend of mine over dinner last weekend, and this was the question he asked me. He’s an oncologist, and he’s owned his own practice for years. My husband and I were sharing our plans for this crazy journey of mine with him (and his wife), and he looked at me and said, “Why do YOU want to be a doctor?”
I sat there for a minute, and then launched into a very altruistic explanation about wanting to help people…wanting to have an impact on someone’s quality of life…wanting to do work that made a difference…
And he cut me off. “No, no no… all of that is well and good, but if that’s your only reason, then you should go be a social worker, or a teacher, or work at a non-profit… there are LOTS of jobs you can do to help people that won’t require the sacrifice that you and your family are about to make.”
With a gleam in his eye, he goes on…“You have to dig deeper than that…medical schools will ask you this question, and you need to do some serious soul searching and come up with the real reason that you’re willing to forego the comfort of your current life to take this plunge. WHY?”
So I sat there for a minute. And I gave him a different answer. My real answer. He laughed and said, “Now THAT is a good reason to jump off this cliff!”
So… for my wonderful new community of people who are just as crazy as I am (apparently)… for all of you who I am learning so much from… I ask you the same question-- Why? Why is it now worth it for you to abandon all else and pursue your medical degree? Why now (and not when you were younger?)
I’m really eager to hear your answers!
Have a beautiful day!
So…enquiring minds want to know…
Being a social worker or a teacher or a non-profit worker will NOT give you the same opportunities to serve as will being a doctor. I understand and agree with their point, but to suggest that your yen to serve as a doctor would be fulfilled working for Habitat for Humanity is simply wrong.
I don’t know how I will answer that question when (and if) it’s asked of me. The true answer, or at least the truest answer I’ve been able to come up with, is not something that would sound good to an admissions committee. It’s something like this:
I have been blessed with certain gifts and interests, and those gifts and interests always seem to come around to medicine. At a very young age, perhaps five, I began envisioning myself as a doctor. Now that I’m approaching 50, I have some perspective on that issue, yet I still feel drawn to that field. Others might use the term “feeling called”; while I would not use that wording, I suspect the feeling is the same.
But of course, now you have to tell us what you told your friend. I’m sure I am not the only one with a hankering to know.
You know what? You’re absolutely right… and I’m sure that my friend wasn’t equating those careers with medicine. He was simply trying to get me to dig deeper in myself so that I could iterate my “why” in such a way that it simply left me no other choice. His point, as I’ve heard many of you say, is that because the journey takes so much sacrifice on your part AND your family’s, you should make absolutely sure that you can’t see yourself doing anything else. I’m really glad he pushed me, to be honest, because it forced me to put it into words. And he’s right, of course–it’s a logical question to ask. Why, after all this time, are you doing this?
So what did I tell him? It went something like this:
"You know what? All of the reasons I just gave you are absolutely true. I DO want to be in a position to help people…to affect people’s quality of life…to help manage people’s pain… to walk with families through difficult times… and it’s certainly the reason I have a degree in Psychology. But it’s never been enough. There was always something nagging at my insides that said, “NO… this isn’t it! It’s not enough.”
Quite frankly, my life experiences are shaping my choice.
- A completely healthy, athletic older brother diagnosed with a brain tumor. His 1st doctor said, ‘you have months to live…go be with your family.’ My brother was 25 years old and didn’t accept that. His 2nd doctor fought alongside him through every aggressive research and new procedure they could find… and 3 surgeries and several radical treatments later? Well, it’s been 15 years since his diagnosis, and he’s alive and well.
2)My best friend, also diagnosed with a brain tumor. She was 19. She died in under 2 years, after extensive treatment at St Jude. But the compassion, empathy, and care she got from those doctors? I will never forget it.
3)My sweet, perfect, innocent 3 year old daughter… carrying her life inside my body for 38 weeks and 2 days? Watching her grow and develop as her mind conquers new things every day? There is no greater miracle than the human body.
- My father–who has type II Diabetes, but won’t listen to a word anyone tries to tell him about managing it. His noncompliance will put him in the grave if he doesn’t change.
I know myself. I am a communicator. I was born with an incredible gift for empathy. But I also have a need to figure things out. To fix. To diagnose and solve the problem. With all my experiences, it’s never been enough to listen, console, encourage… I also want to fix. Plain and simple. I want to be a doctor because my life experiences have shown me that I need the knowledge, training, research, and resources that will give me the license to fix. Or…at least in the case of people like my dad (who won’t listen) or my friend (who didn’t have a choice)? To at least do my damndest to try."
There you have it. It is what it is, but it’s the honest truth. So hopefully, when they ask me, it will be good enough.
I’ve always been fascinated with medical info. When I hear medical terms or read about anything having to do with health I get get a flutter in my gut. And I’ve been working in healthcare since before I graduated from high school - about 18 years now and I never tire of learning more about it. I was raised in a strict religion where higher education was severely frowned upon, so college after high school was not an option for me; I went straight into the work force and continued to advance in my field until I started my own corporation 6 years ago. In my early 20s I got married (going on 11 years now), but my husband had severe health problems so I spent the subsequent 8 years as the sole income earner and under an intense amount of stress. Amidst all this, we both decided that the religion we were raised with did not fit with our view of the world, so we stopped attending. My husband’s health also continued to improve over the years, but it snuck up on us because it happened so gradually. I did a search one day for “med school when you’re old” and came across this site. I had no idea the opportunity still existed for me! That day I also realized that my husband’s health had obviously improved because I was able to daydream about what I wanted. So I enrolled in classes the next day and haven’t looked back since. That’s my story in a nutshell - haven’t actually put it into words before
This is a fantastic question we’ll all have to address at some point in our pre-medical journey…heck probably after we graduate as well.
While I cannot point to one particular event that brought me to my decision to become a physician, I can point to the mosaic of life experiences that I’ve endured that when pieced together point me in the direction of medicine.
Much like a game of connect-the-dots, I saw glimpses of the bigger picture on my journey to make sense of things, but not enough to articulate them in a manner that would lead to the ultimate decision to pursue medicine.
At some point I think every pre-medical student and physician comes to the realization that there is something greater than ourselves in life, and that life is more than just working a 9-5 grind, generating a paycheck, starting a family and planning for retirement with the occasional vacation in between. Of course, these things are wonderful, but they’re not the be all end all.
Life is an immensely rewarding journey filled with a multitude of wonderful facets. Unfortunately, no matter how much I want it to be nothing but rainbows and butterflies, this simply isn’t reality. Life is also filled with pain, suffering, unfairness, and difficulty that prevent people from having an acceptable quality of life.
Being an EMT, I’ve seen firsthand how ugly life can be for some people and how fragile our bodies are in the grand scheme of things. The reality that misfortune and death do not discriminate and that every human is susceptible to the unthinkable is all too real to me.
This realization had a profound impact on me in my first year of being a first responder and created a constant feeling of helplessness. As an EMT-Basic I could only do so much within the law to help my patients. Any advanced care went directly through a chain of command and took up precious, critical time during the golden hour. This constant sense of having my hands tied in the face of horrific circumstances only drove me further into the arms of medicine.
To help others through a difficult aspect in their walk of life isn’t simply something I want to do when I have time or feel up to it; on a human level I see it as my obligation and my responsibility to help my fellow man when I have the capacity to do so. I would want the same in return if the tables were turned.
I’ve learned that life is hard and does not come with any kind of instruction manual. Being able to reach out and make a direct, positive impact on the life of another human being who is struggling and in pain provides reward that no paycheck or material possession can compete with.
While it’s an impossibility to help everyone, it’s entirely possible for me to help those who walk into my life on a daily basis.
I have been lucky to have a history of good health and the ability to learn the sciences. Unfortunately, many people cannot say the same when it comes to their health.
I want to be a doctor because it makes sense to me to share the burden with those who are suffering. So few professions offer this direct freedom and privilege. The desire to help people in the worst moments of their lives carries immense power and should never be underestimated.