Medical school has been weird.
I learned things about myself that I didn’t like and I’ve also been pleasantly surprised by things that I thought I would never like.
As a fourth-year student, your focus and energy are consumed with thoughts revolving around future residency: the labor intensive training that follows four long years of medical school.
What no one tells you is that you will question your commitment to medicine on more than one occasion. Actually, that’s not entirely true. Physicians who have been practicing for many years will tell you about the “good ol’ days” and in their endless wisdom they will advise you to find a different career, but as a young, 20-something years old, what are the chances you will listen? You always think it will be different because you have worked so hard to get into medical school and because you were personally affected by so-and-so’s sickness and because you want to help people.
You’re determined and motivated and energetic. You want to save lives.
Unfortunately, every medical student has those days when no amount of determination, motivation or energy will help him or her get through the painful studying for board exams or help function as a semi-normal human being on two hours of sleep. For some of us, we have more of those days than we like to admit which makes fourth year — with all of the life changing decisions revolving around which specialty to pursue — all the more interesting.
While it’s fairly common to find students who know what specialty they will pursue before they even begin medical school, it’s also quite common to find students who change their minds several times and even students who end up in specialties they would never have imagined they would like.
Enter clinical rotations.
The point of these clinical rotations is to expose students to different specialties and different disease processes in various settings, and in an age where medicine has become so specialized, it makes sense to experience through these rotations. Even if you have no interest in pursuing surgery, you better believe you’re going to suck up those tears, strap on your no-nonsense attitude and fulfill those 12 credit hours so you can graduate. Along the way, you may even be begrudgingly surprised at how much you learn.
The weirdest part of medical school for me has been the change I’ve seen in myself. In some ways, I’m smarter and more equipped to handle life’s curve balls. I’m more confident and deliberate in the decisions I make — both with patient care and in my small personal life. That is, until I had to fill out ERAS, the mother of all applications.
When it came time to actually apply to residency programs, I was the most lost I had felt in years. I have a heavy emergency medicine background (I was a medical scribe at a level one trauma center in Northern Virginia for a few years before starting medical school and it’s the only thing I have lived and breathed for) and before beginning rotations it’s the only thought I was consumed with. How do I get in to an EM program? Should I choose a three-year or a four-year program? Which hospital should I do an audition rotation at? And in so many ways, my personality was suited for the high energy, think-on-your-feet demanding shift work.
I’d like to fast forward to the part of medical school when I did my EM rotation and realized that things aren’t greener on other side and just like that, I no longer had any interest in pursuing the specialty which had driven me to go into medicine to begin with.
For me, the decision didn’t come easy and in a lot of ways it didn’t make sense to anyone else in my life, including my parents, friends I had grown up with, friends I had made through school, attendings I had worked with prior to medical school. Every time I told them I was interviewing for pediatric residency programs, I was met with furrowed eyebrows, an awkward pause followed by a “Hmm. That’s … interesting.”
Was it interesting? Sure, it was odd to go from craving a high-stress, fast-paced environment like the ER to a mellower inpatient pediatric ward, but the transition had been so gradual in my head that I didn’t even realize it was happening. The change seemed so abrupt to the people in my life, but to me, it was the only thing that made sense. I was still a little high strung and had OCD tendencies, but I was also calmer and more secure with who I was. And somewhere along the way, I had realized that having a personal life did matter to me. It should be okay to change your priorities as you get older. I thought that was normal. But then again, I’ve been in medical school for the past four years so I probably don’t have a great grasp on what normal even means anymore. My normal has been studying in the library for 14 hours on a Saturday, working overnights on holidays, and living out of a suitcase for the past year and a half while traveling for clinical rotations in different cities.
The surprising response to my choice in specialty weighed on me more than I like to admit. I thought I was more confident and an adult who could make more deliberate conscientious decisions. Or at least be able to handle others’ skepticism a little better. I was trying to reconcile who I thought I was going to be and what I thought I was going to do with my career with what I actually ended up enjoying in medical school.
As the deadline loomed near to submit our final rank lists, I had more and more tough days where I wrestled with why I even applied to pediatrics and why I had been pushed away from emergency medicine. Because I like working with kids. Because I like having an impact on a teenager’s life. Because I like the flexibility in what kind of medicine I can ultimately practice. Because I felt like I was making a difference. Because working with kids makes me happy. Because, well, because it made sense to me.
While I know my friends and family have been slightly confused by my choice, it’s also been weird for me to try to process their reactions and to maintain a rational thought process in my head. Medical school is a strange journey that we voluntarily inflict upon ourselves and it challenges you in more ways than one. It pushes you to be the best you can be while simultaneously making you beg for mercy.
For those of you coming up on the 2015 Match: good luck and don’t let the transformation you see in yourself scare you.