“Everybody Wants to be a Doctor”
My mom once told me, “Everybody wants to be a doctor at some point in their life, but very few can actually become one”. Perhaps not everybody wants to be a doctor, but I do think it crosses many people’s minds. Doctors have historically been well-respected and intelligent professionals who, after training for many years, help people on a daily basis and impact thousands of lives.
It is very rewarding knowing that you can help treat someone’s pain (mental or physical), manage debilitating chronic diseases or literally save someone’s life. Imagine being at a restaurant and a fearful mother yells,
“Somebody help! My son is choking!”
You jump out of your seat, perform the Heimlich maneuver, and save the young boys life.
That actual happened to my dad…
Years ago, my dad took my brothers and I out to eat and mid-conversation a woman in tears yelled for help; I still remember that moment. Without hesitation my dad, a doctor, ran to the child who was turning blue and calmly yet diligently did exactly what his many years of training taught him and he literally saved the boy’s life.
After the applause and a big hug from the mother, my dad returned to our table, briefly explained what happened (we were young) and we resumed our usual family talk. My dad’s cool yet assertive demeanor was inspiring. He didn’t brag about the amazing deed he just did. He accepted the handshakes and pats on the back but he didn’t want or need the attention. He was just doing his job.
But I was left bright eyed at what just had occurred; I had never seen my dad “in action” prior to this. I just heard remarks at the dinner table or his annoying pager that went off at the most “convenient” times. Otherwise he was just my dad that played basketball with me. Perhaps that moment was the seed that planted my future career in medicine. But rest assured, my journey to medicine was not always so clear.
Growing up, I wanted to be anything but a doctor. Having doctors and other medical providers in the family is one of the best ways to show you the reality of the career. Rather than seeing the “glitz and glamour” of doctors portrayed on television (Grey’s Anatomy, ER, etc.) where their long white coats are almost like superhero capes where they save the day almost every episode, I saw tired and overworked parents.
Sure, they loved being a doctor but they also worked very hard and often, long hours. Alarms went off before 5:00 AM; pagers went off constantly at the dinner table; and vacations were cut short by patient emergencies. It just never stopped!
As a kid, I decided that my parents were nuts for voluntarily choosing to do this “crazy” job. So instead of following in their footsteps, I decided that I was going to be just like the character Monica from my favorite movie, Love and Basketball:
I was going to be the first female basketball player in the NBA!
Sure, looking back I was naïve but hey, you can’t blame a kid for dreaming (plus the WNBA really didn’t exist at that time).
It wasn’t until high school that I re-considered becoming a doctor. I took some AP courses that required a fair amount of studying to do well. To my surprise, I didn’t mind studying for hours—it didn’t feel like a chore.
I quickly learned that if I put in the work, I would reap the benefits. I got good grades and was determined to be one of the top students in my class. But knowing that a career in medicine would be demanding, challenging and time-consuming (as I saw every day with my parents), I wanted to be sure so I shadowed a couple doctors in various clinics. (If you have family members who are doctors, you can shadow them but you also need to shadow non-family members.)
As a kid, I could come up with several reasons why I did not want to be a doctor. But as I neared high school graduation, I couldn’t find many reasons why I should not be a doctor.
I became fascinated by the human body and wanted to know more. But what really sold me was the power of service: I genuinely wanted to help people.
What solidified my decision were three life-changing events:
My career-ending knee injury in college where I quickly saw how important it was to have a caring, patient doctor who genuinely wanted you to get better.
The unexpected death of my older brother.
My mission trip to Kenya, Africa (in honor of my older brother) where I learned the true value and power of service and humility.
Continuing the “Family Tradition”
Once I decided on becoming a doctor, I never looked back. My college teammates often made fun of me saying, “Trot, by the time you finish your medical training our future kids will be graduating high school!” I laughed along with them because it was almost true.
The journey to becoming a doctor is long, arduous and at times, overwhelming. Most doctors won’t be done training until their early-mid thirties. In a way, you “sacrifice” your 20s because you are spending a significant amount of time mastering the pre-med material, applying to medical school, and studying endlessly in medical school.
This is the approximate time frame, which does NOT include any graduate school training, time off, or having to re-apply:
Undergrad: ~ 4 years
Medical school: 4 years
Residency: 3-7 years
Being a doctor is a unique and humbling experience unlike any other. Of course there are challenges and frustrations within the field, but that comes with any job; nothing is 100% perfect.
At the end of the day, you need to find a career that excites you and that you are passionate about. For me, that was becoming a doctor. Even after the horrors of the MCAT, headaches from writing personal statements, endless hours of studying, and far too many exams…I am still happy with my decision.
But is it for you?
5 Steps to Take When Considering a Career in Medicine
(In no particular order)
Step #1: Take. Your. Time.
Deciding on a career can be challenging and even overwhelming, especially if you are not 100% certain. From the moment you step onto a college campus, you are asked, “What is your major?” When you meet someone new, you are often asked, “So what do you do?”
Much of our daily lives, experiences and interactions with people are centered around our career decision. That alone sounds overwhelming!
Listen, it’s totally fine if you don’t know what you want to do with your life right now. It’s a BIG decision that doesn’t just fall from the sky. Of course it’s convenient to know exactly what you want to do the moment you step foot onto a college campus, but sometimes life just isn’t that clear and it takes time to figure out your next move–and that’s perfectly fine.
Step #2: Explore different options.
In my opinion, it’s best to explore different options to see what really pulls you. The saying, “You never know until you try” is true! So get out there and be active. Talk to advisors, explore your options, and shadow different professionals even if just for a day. Don’t limit yourself to one or two options if you haven’t considered other options first. What are you passionate about? What gets you excited? Could you do the job every day?
I have talked to many medical students, residents, and practicing physicians and a common piece of advice they tell me to tell future applicants is that students need to make sure that they really want to be a doctor.
Remove the “glitz and glamour”, ignore the financial benefits, and disregard the hype. Does it still excite you? Does it still draw you more than any other career?
Step #3: Talk to people in the field.
I would also recommend that you talk to people who are currently in the field, “living the dream” on a daily basis. They’ve been through the training and are experiencing what it really is like every single day from the complicated patients, never-ending paperwork and politics.
Whenever I started a new rotation as a third and fourth year medical student, I asked the residents and attendings the following questions:
If you could go back to medical school, would you chose the same medical specialty or would you change to another? Why?
If you did not get into your current specialty, what would have been your “plan b” specialty?
Are you happy with your decision in becoming a doctor? Why or why not?
These are easy and basic questions but the responses can be quite interesting and informative, and I’ve learned more about certain fields that I otherwise wouldn’t know especially as a “little duckling” (what I call us medical students because we often trailed behind our medical team).
From the standpoint of a future (or current) medical school applicant, talking to people who are actually in the medical field right now can help you decide if medicine is the right career for you. Ask them:
What it is really like to be a doctor?
What are your hours like?
How often are you on-call?
Do you have a good work-life balance?
I’m considering becoming a doctor, what do I need to know?
Are you happy?
Whatever will help you decide, just ask! In my experiences, people have been very receptive and open to discuss these things especially when it involves deciding on a medical career because it is a big commitment. When considering a field in medicine, here are some good people to reach out to in no particular order:
Advisors who either doctors themselves or are well informed of the field and the application process
Remember, you have me so if you have a question, hit me up!
Step 4: Spend as much time in the field as possible.
One of the best ways to decide on a career is by being as involved in the field as possible. Do as much shadowing as possible and shadow different doctors. Remember, there are dozens of different specialties within medicine and your experience with a family medicine doctor will be very different from a radiologist. It’s great to see the differences within the diverse medical specialties because you won’t like everything and that is perfectly fine. I can make a list of medical specialties that I would not be happy doing but I won’t : )
Aside from shadowing, another great opportunity that has become more popular since when I applied is working as a scribe in the emergency department (ED) or in the clinics. A second year medical student told me how more applicants are working as a scribe to beef up their application and I can see why. Basically, as a scribe you work alongside a doctor and you would be involved with documenting patient visits. I have not worked as a scribe myself, but I think it is a great option and would have done it had I not gotten into medical school on my first attempt. In my opinion, it is kind of a “trifecta”:
You work right in the heart of a busy hospital (medical experience)
You indirectly shadow emergency medicine physicians (medical experience)
You get paid! (work experience)
In addition, you can also gain experience by volunteering in hospitals or free clinics, going on medical missions, working as an EMT, etc. The possibilities are endless. Oh, and don’t think you have to do a million and one things to beef up your application. In my opinion, if you had three main medical exposures (worked as a scribe, volunteered in a free clinic, and shadowed) for a decent length of time, that is more valuable then bouncing around and lightly dedicating yourself to dozens of activities. Remember, quality over quantity.
Step 5: Do some soul searching!
Finally, do some soul searching. If you have done steps 1-4 and still don’t know if medicine is for that is okay! Seriously. Try this activity: get a piece of paper and write down the pros and cons of becoming a doctor. Also, what are you concerned about? What are your fears? Do these have solutions? Fear is a powerful human emotion that can deter the greatest minds from accomplishing their greatest tasks. Personally, I know I am about to accomplish something big when I have a little fear because that means I am stepping outside of my comfort zone and I am reaching a new height that I have not reached before. It takes courage, strength and mental toughness to reach your goals.
Also, think about these questions when deciding on a career in medicine:
Why do you want to be a doctor?
Are you more interested in the financial gain and socioeconomic status?
If you applied to medical school and did not get in on the first attempt, would you try again or change careers?
If you couldn’t be a doctor, what would you be? Would you be happy?
What is Your Dream?
Becoming a doctor is a BIG commitment. Actually, it is a lifetime commitment. You sacrifice a lot, don’t have as much free time as your non-doctor friends, and spend countless hours studying often loaded on caffeine because there simply is not enough time in the day to match the amount of material medical students are responsible for knowing amongst many other things required of you. And oh by the way, say hello to sleep deprivation.
When I decided to become a doctor, my dad told me that there will be times where I will miss family gatherings, events, and other fun activities because I’ll either be working on the weekends, on-call or studying frivolously for yet another exam. And he was right! (I’m glad he warned me lol.) For example, I’ve missed:
My most recent birthday (was on-call working night shifts)
My younger brothers’ college graduation party (was on-call)
My friend’s graduation (you guessed it)
Again, despite all of this, I still feel that this “doctor dream” is worth it for me. But this is about you! Think about some of the questions I listed above and really consider talking to people who are in the field currently (feel free to hit me up). Don’t feel obligated to rush your decision. At the end of the day, do what makes you happy because it is your life and you have to live it. Isn’t that something…
Step 1: Take. Your. Time
Step 2: Explore different options.
Step 3: Talk to people in the field (I got you!)
Step 4: Spend as much time in the field as possible.
Step 5: Do some soul searching.
~ Alana aka “Dr. Trot”
Instagram: @iamdrtrot & @doctorgoals