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Medicine is a lifelong journey that begins from the time you decide you want to become a doctor. Deciding if medicine is right for you is a difficult task. Arguably it is the most difficult decision to be made throughout your entire journey and can function as a major source of your resilience throughout your journey to medical school, during medical school, and hopefully even after. Naturally, the goal of this chapter is to provide some insight on what medicine is about and provide some guidance so you can decide if it is the correct career path for you.
The first thing to recognize is what a physician really does. While it depends on the specialty you decide on, in general physicians are members of a healthcare team which focus on improving the health and quality of life of their patients and communities in which they serve. Physicians work closely with many other health professionals including, but not limited to, nurses, speech language pathologists, physiotherapists, dieticians, dentists, pharmacists, and many-many more. Contrary to the perception of many, physicians do not work alone and are not lone wolves. They collaborate with other health professionals and other physicians as part of a team. As a physician, you typically have a very broad knowledge base, you understand the whole clinical picture, and most of all, you have a position which affords you the ability to help advocate for what is best your patient.
The beauty of medicine as a career is that it is founded on improving the lives of others and assisting those in vulnerable situations. You have the opportunity to go to work every day knowing you are helping people in lifechanging ways and leaving a positive impact. Throughout your career you can maintain a sense of purpose which can help drive you through the tough times. Very few careers afford you this immense privilege. You also can never truly get bored of your job. Medicine is not and will never be static, it is everchanging and as a physician you are a lifelong learner. No matter how long you have been practicing for, you will always be responsible with learning from literature, colleagues, and your patients. There is always new research, new tests, new treatments, and new diseases. It never gets dull, because even outside of learning the medicine, you are learning from every patient you see bringing with them a story containing unique background and experiences. As a physician you are also afforded the social capital to make a difference outside of a strictly clinical environment. You can advocate for greater social issues such as societal inequalities whether that be gender, race, or economic disparities. With an MD degree, and as a practicing physician, you are also privileged with a powerful platform which you can utilize to better the lives of others and the world as a whole. As a physician, you are also afforded a great deal of flexibility and the opportunities are endless. Wherever your interest may lie, you can find a way to incorporate them in your career. Medical and basic science research, devices and technology, private or governmental consulting, educating – these are just some avenues you can pursue with an MD. Chances are, if you have a passion, there are ways to connect them with medicine and incorporate them in your career. The sky really is the limit.
While Medicine has many Benefits,
it is not an easy path and there are downsides as it is a lifelong journey filled with many hardships. You will encounter and learn to deal with death and dying, you will see tragedies, you will work long hours, you will be responsible for the health and well-being of others, and sometimes, it may feel like you are alone. There is also a lot of uncertainty in medicine beginning from the day you decide it is the career right for you. You do not know when and if you will get into medical school and including where you will study. Once you are in medical school, you do not know until you match a residency position what type of physician you will be and where you will be doing your training. Even then you will not know what subspecialty you will pursue if that is where your interests lie, and when and where you will get hired as a staff physician. It will be expensive, and you can be left with a large amount of debt which you may seem impossible to pay off, leading to increased financial stress on the people. The constant uncertainty and long hours can also make it difficult to maintain relationships and start a family. There will be a lot of personal sacrifice and hardship, but if you are in it for the right reasons and you truly are passionate about it, they pursing medicine will be worthwhile and we are confident that you will be able to persevere through the challenges you will be faced with.
For this reason, before you decide medicine is right for you, there needs to be a lot of self-reflection. You need to think to yourself about what kind of career you would like to have and if medicine is something you are truly passionate about. If you are in it for the money or the prestige and nothing else, then you may find easier careers to achieve such objectives. This is because the process is not short and is very taxing. If there is not an underlying passion driving you, it might be easier to burnout or feel miserable. While the process in applying to medicine is long and filled with challenges, you should not be miserable throughout it.
Enjoying the Process
From the day you are trying to get into medical school until you graduate your final stage of training, you should be enjoying the process. While you will have ups and downs, if you are in medicine for the right reasons, studying for your exams will be less like studying, the years on end of school will feel less like school, and the early mornings, late nights and overnight shifts will be less grueling because it is where you will want to be and you couldn’t see yourself anywhere else.
Keeping with this, from the day you want to pursue medicine to your final stages of medical school, we feel as if you should expect to enjoy the journey. While you may experience ups and downs, remember why you will reflect on why you decided to pursue medicine and from that you may feel that studying for exams become less arduous; spending years in school may feel less like school; and regardless of early mornings, late nights, and overnight work may be less grueling. But holding on to the reasons why you are in medicine should help you through. Back to your applications, you may not be happy with the application process for medicine, but you should hate it, it is a chance for self-reflection and uncovering your passion for medicine.
There is no clear-cut method to determine if medicine is right for you, if there was, we would share it with you. It requires a lot of self-awareness, self-reflection, time, and luck. Some suggestions include connecting with medical students, residents, fellows, physicians, and asking about their path to medicine. Ask what motivated them to pursue medicine, what is currently motivating them now, what they like most about their career, and what they like the least about it. In addition, explore other career options and see if you can see yourself happy elsewhere. Consider your motivations towards medicine as a career. What are they and can any of them can be fulfilled elsewhere or if there is an intrinsic desire toward medicine? Is there a constant gravitation towards medicine and do you feel like if you did not pursue medicine you would always look back wishing you had? There are many questions to ask yourself, but most of all what is needed is time. Sometimes, it can feel like there is a rush on deciding if medicine is right for you so you can start “gunning” for it early by preparing your application and getting in as soon as possible. Take a deep breath and recognize that there is no rush. The pursuit of medicine is a marathon not a sprint. Take the time you need. Ensure medicine is the correct path for you; this is the best service you can do for yourself. In the tough times you can remember your initial motivations for choosing medicine to help push you forward and you are less likely to regret your choice down the road if you sufficiently reflect on it early.
You Have What it Takes To Be a Doctor
You do not need to have immediate or distant family in medicine to be a doctor. You do not need to be wealthy or belong to a certain socioeconomic background to be a doctor. You do not need to be any specific race or ethnic group to be a doctor. You do not need to identify as any particular gender to be a doctor. If you want to be a doctor, and you are willing to work for it and do what it takes, you can do it. Do not forget that there will be challenges, and for some, the barriers will be steeper than for others. It might feel impossible at times, but you need to remember that if you truly want it and are willing to put the work in, you can achieve your goal. Life is not fair, but do not become a victim of circumstance, work to set your own future. All three of the editors in-chief of this book are the first individuals in their immediate family to enter medical school and to eventually become physicians. We did not have family to look to for mentorship or to provide us connections or contacts to help us out. What we did have through it all, and continue to carry with us, is passion. Passion for what medicine is, passion for wanting to help others, and passion to become physicians. This passion is what drives all of us, and we got into medical school through our hard work and determination. None of us are geniuses or superhuman, and what we achieved you can as well. This book will not get you into medical school. It will provide you the insight on what is needed to get into medical school and provide you the tools for you to pave your way and achieve your goals. Once you have decided medicine is right for you, your journey has begun. It will be scary and there will be times where you doubt yourself. Remember to trust yourself, work hard, and you can truly achieve anything.