My route to medical school was fraught with arguments against going: “You won’t have time to enjoy life,” “You’ll be in debt” and, possibly the most alarming, “You know that 50 percent of physicians are burned out, right?”
Bombarded with such discouraging thoughts and potentially bleak prospects, I have often questioned what drove me to forgo a promising career in biomedical engineering to become a physician. Now, nearing the end of my first year of medical school at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and after reflecting on what I’ve learned, some answers have begun to emerge.
Medicine: An Art, Privilege, and Passion
Walking home following a lecture in my Introduction to Clinical Medicine course, I could not stop thinking about a slide titled “Healing vs. Curing.” I had never bothered to make a distinction between the two, but now it seemed impossible to see it any other way.
A doctor, I learned, carefully balances the science of curing someone with skillful and poignant words to help that person heal from the experience.
Uniquely positioned between healing and curing, a physician has the privilege of journeying with someone through difficult situations into what is hoped will be a new, healthier life. With no right answer, set of words, or medications that will do the trick for every condition, doctoring requires a personal flair, a special expression of one’s ambition to help others.
Indeed, being a physician encompasses more than a job that will earn me a living. It is a passion and lifestyle, something I will enjoy doing and toward which I will gladly invest time, energy, and creativity.
Finding Balance: More Than Books
While I see how the stress of studying and a demanding career can cause burnout, finding a balance between curricular and extracurricular activities seems to grant a vitality that leads to endurance.
I don’t believe there’s one person in my class who just studies all day. Rather, everyone engages in activities that range from community service, sports, dance, spirituality, and music to the myriad of student clubs on campus. I found my own niche, co-founding an entrepreneurship-focused venture for students looking to turn biotechnology ideas into reality.
Einstein also offers a WellMed program, a wellness initiative from the office of student affairs that organizes exciting events around New York City, helping students connect with each other and encouraging them to manage their own health.
In all these ways, the realm of medical school does not seem like the rigid box about which I was warned. With so many avenues to explore, and with the right work-life balance, my time as a medical student has offered me unanticipated flexibility and opportunity.
The Journey Is as Rewarding as the Goal
I recognize that I have a long way to go, a fact made obvious during my preceptorships, shadowing experiences, and countless hours in the library reviewing my anatomy atlas.
With just what I’ve learned so far, though, I’ve had the opportunity to be a resource for family and friends managing health conditions—not as a doctor, but as someone who understands what the doctor may be thinking as well as the patient’s experience of the malady. Playing both sides of the interaction is more than a mental exercise; it’s mutualism at its finest.
What Will the Future Hold?
Now that I’m in medical school, people assume I will become a doctor. It’s a safe assumption, but I also plan on being an artist and entrepreneur—that is, an artist in the practice of medicine and an entrepreneur of cutting-edge medical technology. There will be challenges, I’m sure. But if the first year of medical school is anything to go by, passion, balance, and the rewarding nature of medicine will propel me toward my goals.
While medicine may be a rigorous career choice, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and I’m excited to find out where the path leads.