Saturday, November 22, 2008

Make sure you know what you are getting into... [part two]

When I give that advice to pre-med students, I say it knowing full well that they'll respond to that advice the same way I did - by spending a bit of time learning about medicine, being fascinated by the great parts, and pretty much completely whitewashing any challenges that come up without ever experiencing what they are like:

"Being on call and getting to sleep at the hospital after a full office day sounds exciting!"

"Having a patient stop breathing and everyone looking to me for a decision sounds like it would be a thrilling challenge!"

"Not seeing my wife and family because I am spending 16 hours a day studying sounds like an honourable sacrifice!"

And some of them last well into med school: "I can't wait to have a pager!"

It's not necessarily Mr. Eager McPremed's fault. A large part of it has to do with the fact that it is so hard (especially in North America) to get experience shadowing physicians one-on-one, let alone living the life of a physician day in and day out with full office days and on call nights.

Another reason pre-meds tend to brush off the difficult parts is because the pull towards the pursuit of medicine is so strong, especially when the pre-med student has the capability to succeed in it. It is so hard to be honest with yourself and walk away from a career path that impresses everybody you tell about it.

When you tell someone you're thinking of applying to medical school, the look on their faces, the eyebrows going up, the subtle gasp, and the inevitable story of their friend's nephew with an A+ average who now works for a drug company because he didn't get in after four times applying to med school gives you a feeling as addictive as some drugs. ..and coming to the point where one realizes that a life of medicine is not for them would mean having to give up the dream and everything that comes with it... including the look on peoples faces when you tell them.

I had this in mind the other day when I read a Starbucks cup quote, only the second one to ever make an impact on me (the first one that ever impacted me I read the day of my med school interview, ask me about that one some other time):

The Way I See It #26
"Failure's hard, but success is far more dangerous. If you're successful at the wrong thing, the mix of praise and money and opportunity can lock you in forever." - Po Bronson, Author of "What Should I Do With My Life"

That's why I have frequently recommended reading medical blogs, which have a great way of showing all sides of medicine if direct experience can't be obtained. I have also often recommended Ifinding's series of blog posts, the Don't Become a Doctor Series.

Hopefully reading those will encourage medical school hopefuls to realize that getting into medicine is an extremely serious decision that should be fully investigated before it is pursued.

It might sound like I'm regretting going into this. I'm not - I've just come to a challenging part of the journey that makes me stop and be thankful for what is driving me and giving me the motivation it takes to get through this. It also makes me feel really, really sorry for those people who are going into medical school for superficial reasons, like the money, their parents' wishes, or that look on peoples faces... beacuse when they get to the rough patches, I really don't know how they'll keep putting one foot in front of the other if that's all that is driving them. If those are the driving reasons, and not something deeper, spare yourself... dragging yourself through this gauntlet just isn't worth it.


Anonymous said...

Well, that is certainly not one of my reasons (but they are good extra's!).
America's med school sounds so much harder than the Dutch system. Wonder why..
How long does med school in America? In Holland it takes 6 years, and then you are a doctor-assistent. Then you have to learn 6 more years before you are something like a surgeon.

Anonymous said...

When people quit breathing, it's easy. You can't do much to screw that up. The way I see it, doing anything is better than doing nothing. They're almost dead anyway. So long as you don't hasten their death, it's a success. There's more pressing issues to loose sleep over.

Helen said...

I couldn't agree more with what you said, particularly the part about that 'look' you see on other people's faces when you tell them you're going to med school. I got as far as the interview (here in Australia) and lucked out. Couldn't have helped that I was 8 months pregnant! But it was the best thing that ever happened to me because now I'm a teacher and I love it. I would be a great doctor, but the difficulties in getting there would ruin my life. I am far happier now and in hindsight I realise I was blindsighted by the glamour being a doctor invokes in mind.