There was a moment in high school where I questioned if being fascinated with medicine was enough to actually pursue it. I decided it was not, and confidently announced to my parents at 16 years old that I would not become a doctor under any circumstance. My parents were rare angels among most South Asian parents because they merely nodded and said, “Okay.” It was the same answer I had gotten when I initially told them I wanted to pursue medicine a few years prior. “Okay,” was a common response in my family. For example, flash forward four years later to me telling my Mom I got into med school. Her response? “Okay.”
My decision did not change because I wanted a job people would always be in need of. Nor did it change because I felt an intense calling to help others. I was not pressured by circumstance or society. I was privileged and could have chosen to pursue just about anything I wanted. My senior year, I made the choice to go to Pace University in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The University offered just about every major you could think of. They had a well-known performing arts program. They were renowned for their school of business. Yet, I submitted my intended major as a Bachelor of Science in Biology.
Two things had changed. The first was exposure. After deciding not to pursue medicine, I volunteered at Bridgeport Hospital in Bridgeport, CT. I needed to ensure that I was making the right decision. My career choice could not be based on fantasies while watching Grey’s Anatomy or any other TV show. It could not be based upon the sole experiences of others, no matter how wise they might be. I needed to witness for myself what working alongside other doctors and nurses is like. For a year, I committed myself to the Post-Op (Operational) wing where patients remained once they came out of a surgical procedure to the time when they were discharged. I tended to their emotional and physical problems under supervision. I also brought food provided by the hospital to the patients and sometimes made them toast, tea or coffee depending on dietary restrictions.
My first day there, I was asked to make toast for a patient. I put the bread in the toaster and had begun to wait when a nurse came over and asked me to bring paperwork to a doctor. I told her I would go, as long as she kept an eye on the toast. My supervisor had specifically instructed me not to turn the dial on the toaster past the number 4/6. I thought my supervisor had instructed EVERYONE on the floor that as I was NOT the only person with access to the toaster. I was wrong. As soon as I stepped foot back into the wing, the fire alarm went off. There was smoke everywhere. Patients were coughing, confused and distraught. The nurse had turned the dial on the toaster to 6/6 thinking the toast would be done faster and she would not have to wait as long. Instead, the toast caught on fire and the fire department showed up. While I helped the others clean up, the nurse went around telling everyone I was the one responsible for making toast. On the way out the door, a firefighter and surgeon suggested I pay attention to what I’m responsible for. I went home and cried.
I realized, while crying, what scared me was getting in trouble and losing the job. I cared enough to want to go back and continue interacting with patients and checking in on the ones I had already met. I had become friends with a female surgeon and asked her questions frequently. My curiosity led me to YouTube, where I watched endless procedures. People inserting chest tubes, delivering babies, and performing organ transplants, to name a few.
My obsession grew and led to the second factor: stepping into the labs at Pace University. During my accepted students tour, we visited a section designated for students studying science. The home for Biology, Physics and Chemistry majors. Meeting the professors, viewing the labs and hearing from other science students speak on their research and coursework ignited my fascination further. I was handed a list of all the courses Biology majors could take, some were required and part of the major but others were electives. I remember thinking I could not choose between electives when I read they offered reproductive biology, virology, microbiology and an intro to neuroscience course. I wanted to take all of them.
In the time between that visit and my first day of classes, I was sure I wanted to pursue the sciences. My insatiable curiosity geared me towards becoming a physician over conducting research. I found myself wanting to know more and more about the human body and its intricate workings. The causes behind diseases and the interactions between pathogens and pharmaceutical drugs. How to deliver someone’s baby. My path to med school has been anything but easy. There were difficulties I encountered that I was not sure I would overcome. I questioned myself and my abilities to stay on this track multiple times. But I did and now I’m able to write this entry awaiting my first day of orientation for medical school.
*My next post will explain some of these obstacles and how I handled them to get to where I am now. Thank you for reading!