Everyone questions their future – what they want to do, who they want to be, how they want to impact their community. It’s natural to question your ability to achieve a dream, or whether it’s even possible in the first place. Many pre-meds waver — in organic chemistry or physics, while they are studying for the MCAT, or even as they talk to advisors, family or friends. But what about those of us that knew that they wanted to be a physician from as early as they can remember? Or discovered health care early on in their college career and have attended every possible pre-med function on campus, eager for advice? There will always be that one pre-med with the kind of laser-focus that makes everyone else look bad (not to disparage that type of student, because I think that’s just as awesome). But is this “narrow focus” otherwise a good approach to one’s future?
Although a practicing family physician now, there have been many times in my education and training where I questioned everything that I was doing. In retrospect, I think it’s made me a stronger professional and clinician. Those that don’t question themselves, or that limit their opportunities, are apt to miss out on experiences that can enrich their path beyond what they can imagine. In college, I had my first dose of uncertainty — questioning whether a traditional path into medicine was for me. I turned towards public policy and leadership classes in the hopes of learning more about our society and myself – but deep down, still grasping firmly to my medical aspirations. Such education later allowed me to be open — open enough to step away from medicine temporarily; I decided on a path into law for many of the same reasons that I previously debated. By having explored and diversified my interests, I am now better equipped to help my patients and to work within a team of persons from different backgrounds and different perspectives.
Even now I continue to seek out new opportunities both in my day job and my other volunteer work. I am attempting new research and working with public schools, all to broaden my exposure and reach. As you make your decisions about your future, do not limit yourself by thinking that there is only one path. Of course — focusing on your classes and improving your numbers are of extreme importance. But the end goal is more than just acceptance into school; you have to choose and develop your own career. Without an open mind and sensitivity to any possible detours, you may either end up unsatisfied or disgruntled. Had I not explored my non-science classes or my second degree outside of healthcare, I would have still achieved my goal of becoming a physician – but not the TYPE of physician that I am now. Detours still get you to the same end point. Our patients need you to have as broad of a set of experiences possible so that you can understand their needs and motivations. Be eager, and be focused, but be open and accept that wavering and exploring are a necessary piece of your personal development.