It’s the most encouraging words you can hear as a premed. There you are, filled with passion and excitement, your whole life is in front of you, and the doctor you’re shadowing turns to you with dreary eyes and reaffirms your life-long dream by muttering “don’t become a Doctor.” You’re flushed with inspiration as you think back to…wait what did they say?
You heard them right, you’ll hear a lot of them right-doctors, nurses, and medical students alike. When I first heard those words I passed it off as an isolated incident, but by my sophomore year of undergrad it became a bit more routine. Most of it didn’t come from physicians, it came from the medical students. They would paint gruesome tales of the horrors and sacrifices of medical school. You’re slaving away to have the chance of going to medical school, and you’re basically being told that you’re a masochist. Now, 6 years later, I’m a third year medical student and I hear the same thing, except it’s the residents, and it’s too late for me to not go into medical school, so now they’re telling me not to go into their specialty. Don’t get me wrong, there are multitudes of physicians and residents who love their job and are enthusiastic and encouraging mentors, but this article is for those students who may feel that they’re working against others advice on their path to medicine. My goal is to reassure you, not frighten you, and if anything, seek to understand why those in the profession may utter those words, whether they truly believe them or not.
It should be no surprise that medical students, residents, and doctors can feel overworked and underslept at times. I’m sure you’ve said a lot of things when you were tired that you didn’t really mean. The important thing to understand is if they regret the decisions that have led them to this point in their lives. Hard workers and soft workers alike can share in their hobby of complaining about their jobs, but when it comes down to it, does the person telling you this actually wish they had never made the decision to pursue medicine, or is this their form of venting. Medical students can complain all day about how much work they need to do, but I think you’d be hard pressed to find many students that are wishing that they had never got accepted in the first place, and if you find them, give them a little reality check.
Have trust issues. Sure, at this point mentors, medical students, and physicians are ahead of you on the hierarchy of medicine, but don’t assume that their reality is any truer than the reality you envision for yourself. As Steve Jobs famously says: “everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.” If you’re weary of your future prospects, don’t let those fears limit you, seek to create your own dimension within medicine.
Remember that the transformation from undergrad to medical student, from medical student to resident, and from resident to attending, do not happen overnight. Try to avoid comparing your current self to the self that you see in those ahead of you. It may make you feel insecure, inadequate, and it may be difficult to fathom ever being at that level. These transformations sneak up on you, they’re natural developments of the time that you will put in to the craft of medicine, and this should not drive you away from pursuing your goals. At each stage you set a new normal. First year of medical school was a challenge when I was in it, now as a third year I’m probably working twice as hard and I look back on first year fondly, in another two years I’ll look back on third year as an intern and probably feel the same. You adjust slowly as you go, and your new normal follows you. As an undergraduate don’t automatically envision yourself as a medical student or intern working 100 hour weeks, it is an overwhelming prospect when you’re so far away from it, but you’ll feel differently at each step of the way.
Like I started with, I was told by many people prior to starting medical school that for various reasons, I shouldn’t start down the road of medicine. Needless to say, I did not take that advice, and at this point, I’m of course glad I did not. Nobody can tell you whether or not medicine is right for you, since none of us can really be sure of it ourselves when we make that initial commitment. It’s a realization that will take years to develop, and no advice can ever substitute for your own experiences and self-awareness. Do your due diligence in exploring the field to the extent that an undergraduate student can, but beyond that there is no way to project your future self into the backdrop of a medical career. In short, if you want to go into medicine, dismiss the negative, put your blinders on, bath yourself in ignorance, and plunge in. Indulging weary advice too much can only lead to uncertainty and fear, and as wise yoda says: “fear is the path to the dark side…fear leads to anger…anger leads to hate…hate leads to suffering.”