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A Future Doctor’s Greatest Struggle

As a freshman in college, I thought about all the requirements it would take to go to medical school and, honestly, I was completely overwhelmed. I couldn’t fathom how I could achieve a high GPA and MCAT while balancing a bunch of extracurricular activities. Nevertheless, as I reflect on what my greatest struggles are and have been, I’m realizing that even though I feared the MCAT, it wasn’t as great of a hurdle as I thought it was; it was actually enjoyable (to a certain extent). Even applying for medical schools, although it was a pretty stressful period in my life, was not my biggest struggle. Even USMLE Step 1, which is arguably the most important test of my life, doesn’t fit the criteria. So what is a future doctor’s greatest struggle?

A future doctor’s greatest struggle, I believe, is self-centeredness.

||Read: Develop Compassion Before Medical School||

Medicine, by nature, is a giving profession. Doctors train for many years so that they can have the skills in order to serve patients in the future. It requires sacrifice and dedication to a cause greater than ourselves. Nevertheless, it is human nature to be self-centered. It is part of what keeps us motivated. We want to work hard and get good jobs because we want to take care of our loved ones and ourselves. Self-centeredness also keeps us alive and healthy. A doctor who spends all of his time seeing patients but not taking care of his own physical and emotional needs will eventually burn out.

I always struggled with the idea of putting my volunteer experience on my resume/CV. I felt like I was using other people to accomplish my own goals which really made me question my motives. Am I helping others because I genuinely care about them or because I need to get into medical school? The true answer may not always be so black or white, as the world is not black or white. I could help people because I care about them but also because it serves me a purpose. Does that make my service less genuine? I think we all need to decide that for ourselves.

||Read: Truth and Compassion in Medicine||

Both in college and medical school, as I look at my own tendencies and at the habits of my peers (premedical and medical students), I’ve noticed something very disturbing. When a colleague or even my close friend does well on a test, receives an award or a prestigious fellowship, or becomes the leader of a club/organization, I couldn’t help (in my own mind) to make their accomplishments about me.

Why didn’t I do as well on the exam?
I applied to the fellowship too, why didn’t I get it?
I would have made a much better coordinator them him.

It’s disappointing to know that so often, these were my first reactions rather than simply being happy for my classmates. To be honest, this is something I struggle with to this day.

The issue of self-centeredness is not necessarily clear-cut. Focusing on your own needs and wants is very important as well. For example, let’s say that you want to be a doctor but instead of studying for any exams, all you do is serve the homeless and volunteer at the hospital. Although your selflessness is admirable, if you don’t take care of your own needs in this scenario, it will prevent you from ever becoming a doctor.

So when does self-centeredness become pathologic? I cannot clearly define the criteria, but I know it when I see it. It often happens when my view of myself depends on what I do and what I’ve done. As a future doctor, I refuse to be defined only by my career, accomplishments and personal success. I personally don’t feel comfortable when I’m jealous of somebody when instead I should be happy for him or her. I know that looking at other peoples’ successes and feeling inadequate is not healthy.

||Read: Identity Outside of Medicine||

Once again, self-centeredness is human nature. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. But when my natural instinct of self-centeredness becomes pathologic and tries to define how I react towards other people’s accomplishments and goals, I must try to fight against it. I’ll stop defining my worth myself by my or others’ successes. When those around me succeed, I will celebrate with them rather than use that opportunity to criticize myself. I will remind myself of how thankful I should be to be the current position I am in. At the end of the day, who cares if you become a doctor, go to the best medical school or become a world-renown physician? I think sometimes all we can do is sit back, enjoy the ride that we’re on and appreciate the people around us that are also riding this roller coaster we call life.

Edward Chang

Edward Chang is the Co-founder and Director of Operations of He graduated from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and is currently a urology resident at the University of Washington. He also attended UCLA as an undergraduate, graduating with a major in Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology. If you are interested in contributing to, please contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @EdwardChangMD and Prospective Doctor @ProspectiveDr.

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