By Jeesun Nam

After declaring we are “pre-med,” we find ourselves asked this very question at least several times in our senior year of high school as well as our college years.

Some may think it’s a no brainer. Being premed means a science major like biology or chemistry or better yet, biochemistry. Some may think as long as the science prerequisites are met, does it matter?

After all isn’t getting into medical school simply about jumping through all the hoops successfully? So is our college major all that important?

Looking back at my own journey in medicine, I would say yes, it does matter. I would say it matters to choose the major that gives us joy.

Why a joyful major?

So why choose a major that gives us joy? Why not? By choosing a major we enjoy, we not only fulfill the premed requirements, we also find ourselves more fulfilled which leads to resilience.

A career in medicine, as rewarding as it is, can be grueling at times so it pays to be resilient.

Psychologists and counselors say that it is joy in what we do, joy in our choices, that sustains us through the ups and downs of life. I’ve found this to be true in my life and career.

As a doctor, numerous times I put the needs of my patients before my own, leading to my being mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted.

However, when I remember to choose joy for myself by running on the beach, having dinner with dear friends, or reading a great book, I find myself recharged and thus, more effective in caring for my patients.

When I have joy and feel fulfilled, I am better at connecting with my patients, weathering mundane frustrations, and creatively solving problems.
So choose joy.

Being a doctor is an incredible journey. There are amazing days when we witness a critically ill patient recover and leave the intensive care unit. There are heart-wrenching days when we deliver a cancer diagnosis that turns a patient’s world completely upside down.

So when we choose joy for ourselves, we choose to be more fulfilled and thus more grounded. And being grounded in joy, allows us to be better confidantes, coaches, and healers for our patients.

When I choose joy for myself, I am more present with my patients, able to share more deeply in their joys and sorrows. When I choose joy, I am resilient and can keep going to be the kind of doctor I envisioned many years ago.

Looking back on my college years, I can’t help thinking I would have enjoyed college even more if I had chosen an English or History major rather than Biology.

As long as I can remember, I have loved reading and writing. In high school, I thoroughly enjoyed and excelled in English and History. In college, I remember struggling to remember all the plant classifications in Biology and being frustrated while attempting to conduct lab experiments in Immunology lab.

If I had chosen an English or History major in college, I would have had a higher GPA, and I would have begun to plant seeds of joy much earlier on in my life. I would have begun investing in, thus strengthening, my resilience and wellbeing much earlier.

So I would encourage those of us embarking on the glorious pre-med journey, let’s get in the habit of choosing joy in our lives from the beginning. Let’s start with choosing a college major that gives us joy.

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