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Path to Medical School Part 4: How Do I Know I Want To Be a Doctor?

Please read part 1, part 2 and part 3 before reading part 4:

It was in China. It was during a month long mission trip the summer before my sophomore year. I knew I wanted to pursue medicine at this point, but this was something different.

Every decision needs confirmation. And just because we decide something, doesn’t mean it automatically works out. Just because I decide to be a doctor, it doesn’t mean I’ll be wearing a white coat one day. The path to becoming a doctor is a journey, an arduous process. Many people decide that it isn’t worth it. And that’s okay. However, the thing that gets us through the grueling journey is vision and confirmation. Vision is needed to see the end goal. Confirmation is needed to fuel us to that goal.

How do I know I want to be a doctor? I don’t really know for sure. There isn’t much certainty in this world. There is always a creeping amount of doubt in every decision that I make. Nevertheless, on my path to medical school, there have been many moments in my life that confirmed my decision to pursue medicine and China was a big part.

Our mission team worked with an organization that had deep connections with North Korea because we were stationed on the border of China and North Korea. The organization (I shouldn’t give the name) was briefing us on what their mission was and how they executed it. The day before, I was on the hills of China, gazing into North Korea, a place that I never expected to see. They told us that they go into North Korea every week to deliver food to orphanages that they own. The power point was zipping through and one part of the presentation especially caught my eye. They had three clinics stationed in various parts of North Korea. Different teams of doctors, both “local” (Chinese) and foreign (many of them American), came to these clinics to provide health care for the locals. The government had neglected them and thus the citizens had no access to health care without these doctors.

Some of the patients traveled for two days on foot to receive treatment. Some of them had never even seen a doctor before in their life. They all came because they needed something from the doctors. I couldn’t help but be mesmerized. This was the power of medicine.

When the presentation was over, I had a special moment. I’m not the type of person that looks for signs or miracles, rather I believe in making rational and logical decisions. But I remember that moment being special. It was when I first realized how powerful medicine could be. I realized that being a doctor is more than a career. It is a means to an end: the restoration of lives.

Being sick is not normal. When someone is ill, the normalcy of his or her life is thrown off balance. Doctors are called to restore that normalcy. If the normalcy cannot be restored, pain and suffering becomes the norm. That is why we need doctors. Doctors are often the gatekeepers to a normal life, a life free of wheezing, aches, weakness, physical inability, blindness, etc. My episode in China opened my eyes to see begin to see that. It was one of many confirmations, but it was one that drives me to this day. I want to be a gatekeeper.

I am not saying this because I think everyone needs to have a light bulb moment. Confirmation of how you know you want to be a doctor is different for everyone. I am sharing my story because if you want to be a doctor, you have to ask yourself “why?” I don’t have all the answers. I’m still four years from being a doctor. But the little that I do know is this: A physician must combine knowledge, power, and compassion. Those three elements make the three-cord rope that the physician holds on to for the rest of his life. A doctor wields medical knowledge that is needed to solve a problem. He holds the power and authority of that knowledge to use for good. And in compassion, he treats the sick. The doctor must have all three. Lacking one creates an enormous imbalance that hurts both the doctor and the patient. Would you like a doctor who knows nothing? What about a smart doctor with no compassion? Can you respect a compassionate doctor who wields no power? No authority in his voice and diagnoses?

Ask yourself, do you want knowledge? Specifically, do you want medical knowledge? Do you want power? Specifically, do you want the power to lead other medical professionals and the power to heal and restore? Do you want to execute compassion? Especially to those who are physically sick? If the answer to these questions is yes, then you are on the path to becoming a doctor.

A vocation in Latin means a call, a summons. Is medicine calling you? If you are called, will you answer? Are ready and willing? You need vision, confirmation, and the answers to hard questions. How do I know I want to be a doctor? I’m not 100% sure but I think I’m called. I would love to answer the calling. I would love the opportunity to use my knowledge and power to show compassion to those who need a healing hand. What about you?

Go to part 5.

Edward Chang

Edward Chang is the Co-founder and Director of Operations of ProspectiveDoctor.com. 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 ProspectiveDoctor.com, please contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @EdwardChangMD and Prospective Doctor @ProspectiveDr.

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