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Penicillin For Your Thoughts

Meditations from a pre-med student

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Going the pre-med route at the UW is reliable and very doable: few surprises, little to no risk, and a massive amount of respect if you make it to graduation. 

Perhaps like many other students, pre-med has been my default answer whenever the question of what I’m doing with my life comes up. But only recently have I stopped to ask myself if I liked the course my life had taken. My problem, which seems obvious now, was that I was relying on the school to shape me into who I envisioned rather than deliberately building my path forward from the provided resources.

I collected stellar grades like I was picking apples, danced my way through four years of varsity tennis, and devoted all my social energy to orchestra. I got recognition I didn’t have to work hard for and basked in the thrill of being impressed by my peers.

Freshman year I continued, oblivious, as a “pedestrian pre-med,” worried about grades and struggling to find a research lab. I had my list of medical school requirements carved in my heart and sought the most efficient ways to check them off.

Then one day during summer quarter, I sat in my apartment, pulled out my physics homework, and realized I had absolutely no motivation to complete it. 

Despair drowned me for days as I found myself asking, for the first time in my student career, why good grades mattered at all. What was I doing at school? I called myself a pre-med not because I knew what that meant, but because it kept me busy, gave me a sense of purpose. But where is purpose without desire? Who had told me it was the path for me? Did I even want to become a doctor?

Becoming a good physician requires a kind of dedication I’ve never shown anything, a kind of no regrets, burn-the-bridge-behind-you tenacity fueled by passion and an unfairly perfect work ethic. 

It’s not a half-hearted, “default” career to fall back on.

This column is dedicated to the process of self-discovery that accompanies my decision to attend medical school, along the way seeking different perspectives on one of the most ubiquitous undergraduate paths.

I was inspired by a few podcasts, namely Dear Premed and The Undifferentiated Medical Student, which are made by medical students to offer guidance for their peers. I was tired of doing the right things for the wrong reasons, tired of living a life that didn’t feel like my own. I wanted to see if I could make the medical school dream that’s been thrust upon me mine.

But then there’s the matter of my other interests and goals. I know I’ll also want to travel and have a family; enjoy Friday nights, national parks, and non-hospital food, too. Can I trust my other necessities to slot in harmoniously around a career that dominates my life?

In the upcoming weeks, I will be uncovering the truths about medical school, among them myths and misconceptions, interviewing students and professionals at various stages in their careers to understand exactly what medical school entails. 

As I stand on the brink of turning 20, I am especially interested in student perspectives on committing their 20s, some of the liveliest and best years of life, to school. I’m curious if it’s possible to balance rigorous hours and personal relationships. I’m curious how patient and far-sighted you must be to watch your friends become successful while you continue paying loans. I’m curious about the mindset that guides a medical student to arrive at the decision of forgoing all other careers for medicine. Most importantly, I hope to reveal why it’s worth it in the end.

Reach columnist Theresa Li at science@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @lithere_sa

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