To be completely honest, my initial decision to become a doctor was a relatively arbitrary thing. Near the end of my junior year and beginning of my senior year in high school, I was thinking a great deal about what school I wanted to go to, what major I wanted to study and consequently what career path I hoped to take. My favorite subject in high school was actually history. I loved U.S. history and was seriously considering becoming a high school history teacher. At the same time, because of my love for sports, I entertained the idea of being a sports broadcaster or journalist.
My mom always pushed me to go into medicine but her efforts had the opposite effect. As I considered medicine, I thought about the years of schooling, the difficulty of getting into medical school, and the busy life style I would live. It was unappealing. At that age, I really didn’t know much about being a doctor (I still really don’t but hopefully I know more now). Near the end of my junior year, I definitively told my mom that I would not pursue medicine as a career path. I assumed she would be disappointed, but she was actually devastated. Looking back, her devastation was somewhat understandable. My parents emigrated from South Korea just before I was born. They moved because they believed that the U.S. had the best education and career opportunities available. My dad started a wholesale cell phone company from scratch, working long hours to make ends meet. My parents sacrificed so that their sons would have professional jobs, something they were not able to do because of language barriers and limited opportunity–I’m sure many Asian Americans understand my family’s situation. Because of all this, it was my mom’s dream to see me become a doctor.
After my mom stopped badgering me to become a doctor, my interest in medicine ironically grew. I always had a desire to help people. And as a senior, while taking AP chemistry, I realized how much I like science (sorry to those who do not like chemistry). Growing up, both my parents had serious life-threatening health issues, which dramatically affected our household dynamics. This planted a seed in my heart, a desire to help others who suffered as my parents did. But that seed lay dormant for a long time. It wasn’t until I started applying colleges when the seed began to grow. This was essentially my thought process at the time:
“I like science. I’m also a people person. Medicine really helped my parents when they were about to die. I want to help people like my parents using science. Hey I should be a doctor! It might be better and more practical than a high school teacher or sports broadcaster. ”
It was somewhat silly but everyone has to start somewhere. Like I said, my decision was not very well thought out. I did not have extensive experience with clinics, working with doctors, or the healthcare industry in general. But it was a decision and I ran with it. During the summer before my first year at UCLA, I received a random email from a program called MedUSA. Apparently, they got my contact information from my high school and somehow knew I was interested in medicine. How they contacted me was creepy but I took it as a sign. I wanted to go because the program was designed to give premeds exposure to the field of medicine–something that I did not have previously. They offered me a small scholarship for the program so I ended up paying around $600 for the two-week camp. Coincidently, the camp was at UCLA, the school I would be attending in the fall.
At this camp, I received my first taste of what the medical field was like. The coordinators were medical school students who shared their experiences. Every day, doctors from different specialties came and shared about their jobs and life styles. We watched surgeries and practiced suturing. There was a mock emergency room situation. It was a rich experience–a good foundation for the future. Looking back, that camp played a huge role in confirming my desire to go into medicine.
The message I want you as the reader to take away from this article is this. I did not really know what I was doing when I picked my career path. I took some basic interest and passions and combined them. I made a decision based on my limited knowledge. Most people do not know what they want to do as a senior in high school or even as underclassmen in college. There was much uncertainty; I’m sure my decision could have changed. Nevertheless, after my initial decision to pursue medicine, there were numerous events in my life that confirmed my career path. These confirmations continually strengthened my decision. But without making my initial decision, I would have never had the courage to go a program like MedUSA, pick physiological science as my major or even be aware of the signs for me to stay on the path to medical school.
So if you are considering being a physician, make a decision and run with it. It is okay if you decide to stop running after the first 10 feet or even after 10 miles. It is not okay to never try. It is not okay to hold onto a loose dream that you are not really serious about. Many of us fantasize about our careers but the only people who live the fantasies are those who actually try. So I say, give it a shot. You never know where the path will take you.
Continue to part 2.