Mouth Shut. Mind Open.

It’s been my experience that the number one question that anyone even clandestinely thinking about medical school gets asked is “what kind of doctor do you want to be?” Not “why do you want to be a doctor?” or even “what area are you interested in?”  The person asking always wants specifics; other questions often fall to the wayside.  And generally, there’s always two types of physician hopefuls: The kind that brazenly state they have no idea and the kind that knew from birth what specialty and subspecialty they were going to choose after medical school. Being someone of the latter category who was hugely unaware of what a pretentious idiot I must’ve looked like as a twelve-year old telling people I was interested in cardiothoraic surgery, my answer to that question today has changed immensely. I’m merely a drifter; I wander whichever wind catches my sails first on any particular day.

As a pre-teen, I always said “cardiothoracic surgery” because of my grandmother who had been plagued with heart problems for years and found herself in the cardiovascular recovery wing for months on end. Aside from being a cool word to say over and over, it was also fun to light people’s faces up from so unexpected an answer from a  12-year-old. Shadowing  physicians in the Psych ER in New York City one summer made me think I wanted to be a psychiatrist. Afterwards, passing out in a urological surgeon’s operating room as I was supposed to observing, I crossed off both general surgery and urology. Working as a research tech at a gastroenterology lab after college made me reconsider doing something in the GI field. Now as I’ve completed my graduate thesis on pain and palliative care on sickle-cell disease, both anesthesiology and hematology have caught my fancy. Nevertheless, over the years, as I’ve accumulated more experiences,  I’ve tried to shy away from any exact answers. Any time I’ve filled out a medical school application or been asked in an interview what specialty I’m interested in, it’s like the medical school committees are asking me to humor them with my tenderfooted answers. After all, if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.

Don’t get me wrong. Many of us have steadfast, concrete, plausible reasons why we choose the specialties we do but can we ever really know prior to doing our third year rotations? Until then, aren’t they simply inclinations–often times whimsical? Whatever algorithm or specialty aptitude test you take, nothing can have as much weight as your third year rotations. Even though, I like the feeling and freedom of being inspired, even if it is all too frequent, picking a specialty is much too important a decision to base upon one feeling, one shadow experience, or one research project. It’s for this reason, when I’m so often asked what type of doctor I want to be, I keep my mouth shout and my mind open. Otherwise on the path of narrowing in on your true specialty, you mistakenly just become narrow-minded…

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