Tour for Diversity in Medicine

True Life: Med student by Day, Uber-Driver by Night

True Life | Med Student by Day, Uber-Driver by Night

By Kareem Alexis, MS II, Duke University School of Medicine

After trudging through my first year of medical school, one might think that I would use my month-long summer vacation to decompress and reflect: sleeping in, night-long Netflix binges, and of course, more sleep. Instead, I immediately packed my bags and headed towards my hometown of New York City to misbehave in the summer heat and let friends and family members know that I was yet alive. I would have never imagined how difficult it would be to stop “running” after finishing your first marathon. I paid my dues back home, and with around 10 days of vacation time left to spare, I began to feel antsy.

On a whim, I signed up to be an Uber driver. I thought that it would be an interesting way to make some extra cash and meet new people in what was possibly my last summer vacation ever. During my first night, I saw a little bit of everything: the drunken partygoers, cute elderly couples and tense business people. I think most would agree that there exists an unwritten “Uber-code” that states as a golden rule, “Drivers should not engage riders in extended conversation under ANY circumstances-ever.” However, being my first night, I neglected these rules and was a bit chattier than usual. After the initial small talk about hometown, weather, etc., I would inadvertently hijack the conversations, steering them towards medically-related current events and topics like HIV awareness, prevention and even rashes.

I told one couple that I was in medical school and that I was interested in primary care. They were silent for a moment. “Really? Don’t you think you could do better than that?” they responded. Our conversation became awkward. I let out some nervous laughter and stumbled over some non-conventional roles that PCPs could play outside of being the go-to-doc for bumps, bruises and colds. I was on the defense. I didn’t want to take what they said to heart, but I couldn’t help but feel as if I needed to safeguard an area of medicine that many already believe is “under attack”. Honestly, I was hurt, but this wasn’t the first time I’d heard comments like this. They usually came from people in the field and other students. I just chalked them up to misguided stereotypes perpetuated within the profession about the level of intelligence and motivation of primary care providers, limited earning potential and lifestyle; but these folks? No. They didn’t have the slightest idea of how hard I’ve been working to chase my dreams.

I dropped them off, and after grumbling over their comments, I found peace. I conceded that I actually couldn’t “do better for myself” at the moment. I had found a career path that truly invigorated me and a number of issues that upset me about the current state of health care for people like myself: an ideal recipe for staying motivated through the rigors of medical training. I’ve felt increasing pressure to specialize and get the “highest return” from the many years of training that I’ll undergo. But I can tell you now, that the idea of generous salary and some bragging rights are probably not enough to keep me or you energized through endless nights spent studying, stumbling through the wards running on “E” and missed engagements with family and friends. Keep in mind that the “highest return” may not always come in a very tangible format. It may sound cliché, but it is terribly easy to become distanced from your sense of self in pursuit of your career, distracted by promises of notoriety and prestige. So before you embark on your professional school journey, pray or meditate on that which motivates you, and seek, or better yet, create opportunities that will allow you to revisit those ideals often. Hopefully, you’ll find it easier to discern which path(s) best indulge your passion and ideals from what may only make you look good. And if you choose the former, you can certainly achieve both.

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