I thought Medicine Was My STEM Career of Choice

Turns out it's a means to an end

I’ll be honest: I never wanted to be a doctor.  In fact, as a 14 year-old, I remember asking my mother to clarify which “therapist” (psychiatrist or psychologist) was required to go to medical school; that was the one I most certainly did NOT want to be.  A year later, a torn ACL and a subsequent an amazing rehabilitation experience, changed my desire to be the “counselor-kind-of-therapist” to the “physical-kind-of-therapist.”  In college, summer trips—one to Mexico City slums and the other to Haitian sugarcane camps in the Dominican Republic—exposed me to the tangled and toxic relationship between poverty and despair.  But amid the suffocating reality of disease and death, I also saw tangible expressions of hope, and they came (in these situations, at least) through the listening ears and healing hands of physicians.  I wanted to be able to do that, to walk into someone’s darkness and bring light.


Medicine, I decided, would help me do that.  And so, once again, I felt my trajectory changing; this time—surprisingly enough—I was on my way to medical school.  Like my previous career choices of counselor and physical therapist, medicine was always the means to an end – never the destination itself.  Throughout all these changes, my desire to encourage and support others never wavered; it was simply the way in which I wanted to work with them that did. 


I entered medical school with all the eagerness that one would expect of someone who dreams of changing the world.  I even cried while reciting the Hippocratic Oath at Emory’s White Coat Ceremony as scenes from my future life as a globe-trotting pediatrician scrolled through my mind. The next four years couldn’t go fast enough; I thought my heart would burst while waiting to become a doctor.  Medical school, it turns out, is far less glamorous than the Oscar-worthy film I imagined.  Two years after I entered Emory, my initial confidence in my decision to become a doctor had been solidly replaced with the not-so-sneaking-suspicion that perhaps I made a mistake.


Perhaps I was not meant to be a doctor after all.  I wrestled deeply with this doubt for months, finally realizing that, unlike many of my classmates, medicine itself is not –nor will it ever be – my love or my passion.  And so, when consumed with the nuances of pathophysiology and pharmacology, I felt trapped, overwhelmed and certain that a career in medicine was not for me.  It seems obvious now, but it took some time to remember that I never went to medical school because of medicine; I went to medical school because of the role medicine allows me to have in the lives of the vulnerable, the sick, the scared.  Now, looking back, I see that that was the common thread all along – careers that allow me to support and encourage and love others deeply. 


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