I’m now in the process of retiring from a mostly successful career as an academic neurosurgeon. I’ve treated hundreds of thousands of patients, operated on thousands, published extensively, mentored residents, fellows and grad students, promoted (and fired) faculty, and developed new clinical programs. In short, I’ve led what many would consider to be a very full medical career.

Have I had disappointments/ moments of depression and burnout, days of horror? Yes, and still do, thinking about what I could have done better or not at all. But isn’t that part of life, no matter what you do? And while many of you have not had those experiences, I can guarantee you will. Sorry.

A recent survey of physicians suggested that over 70% have advised their children not to become physicians. I have no doubt that survey reports their feelings accurately, but the question is wrong. What the survey should have asked, is whether they have adapted to the changes in medicine. And the answer, of course, is no. We want things to be the way they were, not what they should or could be.

I also have a PhD in engineering, but I still text with one hand. You kids have an understanding of technology and a comfort with its utilization that most of us cannot come close to. You also, most of you, have more depth. You’ve seen more, done more, and reflected more than most of us had the opportunity to.

As you consider your life plan, especially as you prepare for medical school, use those advantages. Study what medicine means in the scheme of the world, and how to make it better. Understand that what makes you a better person will make you a better doctor. Make sure when you pick your outside activities, when you pursue your interests, when you write your essays, when you pick your college electives and summer activities, that they’re not targeted towards that elusive goal getting into medical school. Rather, focus on being a more complete, fuller, empathetic, knowledgeable person who wants to use those qualities as a physician. It’s not about meeting some mythical threshold to get in that those making the decisions are concerned about, it’s what you can be and do as a physician.

By Dennis Maiman, M.D.

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