When I Knew I Wanted to Do Medicine

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When did you know you wanted to become a doctor?

Physician Family

I was born into a physician family. My dad is a medical doctor, and grandfather was a doctor, and my maternal great-grandfather also happened to be a medical doctor. My earliest impression of doctors was they “helped” people in need. I thought it was a pretty noble profession, but what do you know as a kid right?

Growing up, I was genuinely interested in many subjects. I was fascinated with astronomy, architecture, paleontology and engineering but I didn’t really have much interest in biology or medicine. My favorite subject was math and I found rote-memorization difficult and much preferred logic and problem solving. Even today, I am weaker than my peers at memorizing facts. Nevertheless, over time I came to appreciate biological sciences too.

When I was younger, I was also a quiet person. It took me a long time to make friends and I was shy when meeting new people. Much has changed since then but deep down I am still quite introverted. However, I was always genuinely interested in people and always liked working with people. I was curious about each person’s life story and found it rewarding to get to know someone.

The idea of being a doctor has always lingered in my mind since I was a kid. A major factor was the constant exposure and influence from my dad. He would talk about his job and the interesting cases he would see each day. He wasn’t withholding on topics such as job stability or financial reimbursements. I saw that every Christmas, patients would give him presents to thank him and almost every year, my mom would get to tag along for vacations at various conferences.

Similarly, I saw firsthand the lifestyle of a doctor. When I was younger, I was often asleep before my dad came home from work. We ate dinner as a family late in the evening because he often had clinical duties to wrap up at the end of the day. I even thought it was normal to be work night shifts and weekend calls all the time, later I realized that not every career was like that.

Despite my preference for numbers and withdrawn personality, I entertained the thought of medicine as a youngster.

High School

It was during high school that I began to seriously think about what I wanted to do with my life. I knew liked the math and sciences – in my senior year I took the notorious “Six Pack” of 3 sciences and 3 maths – and I narrowed my career choices down to engineering, research or health care. I also did enough volunteering to know (a) I wasn’t afraid of blood and (b) I could work with other people. I applied to both engineering and life sciences program and received acceptances in both but was disappointed when I was received a rejection from McMaster’s Health Science program.

I even briefly toyed with the idea of doing an engineering degree and applying to medical school afterwards. But many wise upper years in both engineering and life sciences told me to commit to a single path, at the end of the day, there wasn’t any way I could practice both fields at the same time.

At the end of high school, I chose to do a life science degree with the intention of doing medicine afterwards.

University

In a life science program, every student is premed until proven otherwise. I worked hard during my undergraduate studies, wrote my MCAT, volunteered, participated in extracurriculars and even started doing research. On paper, I was setting myself up for success in my medical school applications, internally I still had my doubts. What if medicine was too hard for me? What if I wasn’t good enough? Is there something else out there I would enjoy doing more? Is this my passion? Can I spend the rest of my life really doing this?

Luckily, I got involved with several different activities during undergrad that helped push me in the right direction. I discovered I enjoyed teaching, first through tutoring high school students and classmates and then later through teaching/TA classes. I started doing some bench research and really enjoyed the scientific method and process. However, I found the politics and environment too hostile for my liking. I helped out with clubs/events/volunteering and enjoyed my experiences working in a team and in leadership positions, even when a lot of it wasn’t useful or relevant for medical school applications.

However, I never had that one moment when I knew I wanted to do medicine. There was no event I could pinpoint that sealed the deal for me. For some applicants, it was when they saw their family battle cancer and the way the doctors treated their family that motivated them. Others may have seen a malnourished orphan during a medical missions trip that moved them to pursue a medical career. I just didn’t have a good answer to the question “Why do you want to be a medical doctor?”

It wasn’t until I was preparing for my interviews and really asking myself hard questions that I realized, I didn’t have a good reason to do medicine, I had many reasons why I wanted to it. There was no defining moment or single driving factor, but instead it was a series of steps and thoughts built up over a decade that made me certain I wanted to do medicine. And the answers weren’t unique or particularly moving, in fact they were simple and unoriginal.

Putting it all together

If you ask me, “Why did you go into medicine?” – this would be my answer [Warning: this list is so trite, that I'm a bit embarrassed about how un-insightful it might be]

  • I like working with people – to interact and connect with another human being is one of life’s gifts
  • I believe that human life is valuable and I want to improve the quality of life in others
  • It is a privilege that patients share with you their life’s most profound moments – birth, health, sickness and death
  • I want to use my knowledge and training to help others in a direct and positive way
  • I love learning, especially sciences, and find it rewarding when I can apply my knowledge to my work
  • I enjoy problem solving and critical thinking, and medicine is an has endless puzzles and mysteries
  • I enjoy working in teams and in leadership positions
  • I enjoy teaching – but didn’t want to do it full time
  • I like research – but didn’t want to do it full time
  • There’s good job and financial stability
  • I have seen the lifestyle of a doctor firsthand and am aware of the many challenges from it

Each item on its own is pretty unremarkable, but when you combine them all together, it validates the many experiences and thoughts I have had over the last decade growing up in a physician household. My story is not unique or original, but it is mine. There are many more touching and memorable stories out there of why or how people chose to do medicine. Every person’s story is unique, at least to them.

So I just wanted to put up my story to show to others that you might not always know when or why you wanted to do medicine. Deciding on a career in medicine (or any othe rcareer) takes time and it’s a gradual process that has multiple factors. So take some time to think it over. The answer won’t come overnight, on a weekend, or maybe even in a year.

Thanks for reading, definitely one of my longer posts. If anyone has a story to share in the comments below, I would be more than happy to read it!

4 Responses to When I Knew I Wanted to Do Medicine

  1. m says:

    As scary as it sounds, I’m going into my Grade 12 year still unsure of what I actually want to become. I was pretty confident about medicine a few years back, but as did more research and came across more blogs, I kinda lost hope in my abilities to be a successful (or worthy) candidate. Sure, I do my own fair share of extra curricular work and have a pretty solid average in all my years, but I can’t help but compare myself to other prospective pre-meds and see how small my achievements actually are.

    Besides, sometimes I think I want to be a doctor simply for the sake of having a stethoscope wrapped around my neck. Maybe it’s my way of making the folks at home proud, but after reading all these blogs I know for a fact studying medicine to impress others is probably the worst thing you can do. While I do actually plan on continuing in the sciences throughout university, I’m afraid of what will become of me after those 4 years. I mean what is a decent career you can have with just bachelor’s degree in science if you don’t enter a professional school? Would it not be much safer for me to do something more specialized like engineering or computer science?

    It might be a bad plan, but I’ll just wait until I’m in university before making any sort of decision and see how things go from there. I’m trying to push myself away from medicine (probably because I’m scared of wasting time and money only to find out I didn’t get in), but at the same time I really want to do it (but likely for the wrong reasons aforementioned). What a dilemma…

    Well, that’s my little rant

  2. Higgs says:

    To the person above it is important for you to realize that after University too many years will have passed. I recommend you pursue a engineering degree. This will be more beneficial for you in the long run.

    I commend you on being honest to yourself, on why you want to be a doctor.

    -Higgs
    2nd yr
    Yale Med student

  3. R says:

    This was great to read.

    Your story sounds remarkably like my own: my father is a doctor, and I also have very eclectic interests which I’ve always had trouble reconciling. I had a question though: is it a good idea to say during an interview that your father/mother or people in your family are doctors? I know I am supposed to be honest, and I know that it is an essential part of who I am and how I came to this decision, but I’ve also been advised against saying it unless asked explicitly.

    Do you have any thoughts on this?

  4. pat says:

    wow, your story is just like mine…I could even say “ditto” if it were not for your notorious “Six Pack” subjects. Though I had considered engineering too, I had taken up biology at the end of high school-simply because we were not allowed to choose both biology and math simultaneously in my city! Besides, I had double the dose of the firsthand lifestyle experience that you describe here: both my parents are doctors!

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