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Identity Outside of Medicine

I can’t do anything besides medicine. I’ll do whatever it takes to get there. I don’t care how long it takes. I’ve heard these statements, or something similar to them, many times before. I admire the spirit behind it. But at the same time, I worry about anyone who says or even thinks it.

Let me clarify. First of all, I am very grateful to be a medical student. I believe medicine is my calling even though it is very early in my training. With that being said, if I was forced to switch career paths, I would be sad but not devastated. Why? Because even though my future career is incredibly important to me, I am not defined by my career.

It’s natural to identify with our jobs or even future jobs. When we meet someone new, one of the first things we ask about is his or her occupation or college major. This initial question makes sense because we spend the majority of our lives working. Probably the only thing we may do more than work is sleep. This interest in career becomes a problem, however, when we let our jobs completely define who we are.

So why is it a problem? Why shouldn’t we invest our lives into our careers? Focusing too much on career causes us to become narrow-minded. Let us revisit the previously said statement. “I can’t do anything besides medicine. I’ll do whatever it takes to get there. I don’t care how long it takes.” These phrases can be interpreted in many ways.

If we are thinking positively, what we see behind these statements is dedication and it is very respectable when people follow their convictions. The field of medicine is always in need of people who truly believe that medicine is their calling. Health care needs dedicated doctors.

||Read: Should I Be A Doctor?||

If we are looking at this statement from another perspective, however, it can seem rather arrogant and ignorant in their limited scope of the healthcare field. If you think that being a physician (obviously MD and not DO) is the pinnacle of success, you will be prone to looking down on other careers. “I can’t be a dentist. I can’t be a nurse. God forbid I become a physician assistant. And there’s no way I’m considering DO school.” We may not actually say those things out loud, but if our careers define who we are, we will be unwilling to settle for other careers, especially in health care, that we think are “second tier” to the prestigious MD degree. Even worse, we will look down on other people who are in those professions. And what happens if you can’t get into medical school? If you think there is nothing more important than being a physician, your self worth goes out the window.

||Read: Difference between MD and DO||

I am not saying that we should not find any identity in our jobs. Our occupation remains an essential part of our identity, but not our only part. We are all sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, friends, neighbors, lovers, etc. We all have different interests, beliefs, personalities, and hobbies. All these different things make us who we are.  Therefore, being Dr. Chang should not be more important than being Edward Chang.

So if you are considering a career in medicine, I hope that you can be honest with yourself. There’s nothing wrong with saying that you don’t want to do anything besides medicine. There’s nothing wrong with doing everything possible to achieve your goal of being a doctor. The real question becomes ‘why are you pursuing medicine in the first place?’ Are you pursuing it because you think being a doctor will bring you ultimate fulfillment? It won’t. Or is being a manager at In-n-out beneath you? It’s not. I would not want to be treated by a doctor who thinks with that mentality.

||Read: Why Medicine?||

This struggle of finding identity in my career is something I need to frequently remind myself of and fight against. Being a medical student does not make me a better human being than anyone else. Becoming a doctor will not bring me ultimate joy. Medicine is important but there are many other important careers out there. I need to remember these things. While I do not overtly believe that medicine is superior to other careers, my pride often tempts me to do so. The best remedy to this train of thought is to consider the things more vital to you than your career in medicine. For me it is the people that I love: my family and friends, my religious beliefs, and my hobbies such as playing basketball and writing. While I want medicine to be a part of me but I don’t want it to be all of me. I need an identity outside of medicine. I hope the same is true for you.

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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