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Is Medicine Really My Passion?

Aaronsingh72x721Aaron Singh -- Do you love your job?

No, really. Do you? Is what you’re doing now exactly what you want to be doing for the rest of your life? Is it what, in the innocence of childhood, you saw yourself doing, in the rose-tinted FutureVision™ that we all see our future selves in?

No, this is not one of those self-help ads you see on TV. As I’m sure any one of you has discovered if you've ever been forced to sit down and spend ridiculously long hours concentrating on ingesting material (read: cramming), revising tends to make you all deep and introspective. Along with the “I’m-never-doing-this-last-minute-cramming-again” promises you make to yourself (promises that inevitably tend to last until 24 minutes after your final exam), you tend to start asking yourself whether it’s all worth it. With the increasingly difficult financial situations of medical students, the long hours of work, and the sheer agony of being forced to stay in and revise whilst your friends doing other courses are out playing Frisbee and chatting girls up on the University lawns with the spring flowers out in full bloom (not that I’m bitter or anything), doubts begin to creep up in your mind about whether you’re truly doing what you’re passionate about in life.

Donald Trump’s cardinal rule is “Love what you do”. Almost every self-help book written by successful people includes some variation of this. And the medical profession is no exception to this: there are many, many doctors, nurses, and medical students out there who are truly dedicated to their art. Some of them, including my fellow writers on this blog, are your dream doctors: kind, not money-minded, genuinely caring about their patients. They are missionary-like in their zeal (and some of them ARE missionary doctors, come to think of it). Whilst some of them might come off as being ultra-competitive nerds, like Cristina Yang on Grey’s Anatomy, underneath the whole must-win medical-junkie image is a true passion for what they do.

Then you have the other extreme: medics who got into medicine not because they wanted to. Some of them were forced in by their parents (“we know what’s best for you, honey” sound familiar?), some of them just didn’t know what else they wanted to do, some of them want the money, and some of them watched an episode of ER and went “Hey, that’s so cool!”

Then there are those of us in the middle. Those of us still going through the motions, still unsure of whether medicine is really right for us. Some of us stuck in this limbo will eventually come to our senses and leave for new pastures that really excite us (Jonathan Miller, Che Guevara, Deepak Chopra and Michael Crichton were all trained as doctors). Some of us will find something about medicine we love, and stay. Some of us, the really talented ones, will do both.

But for now I count myself in this limbo. I know I really like medicine, but I have other passions too. Maybe I can find a balance. Or maybe I should listen to my lecturer, who when consulted said “The more you do something, the more you realize if you like it or not. So shut up and get back to work, you lazy bum.”

Yes sir. I’m going, sir. Straight back to the library, sir. Please put that whip away, si— …ouchies!

April 22, 2007 | Permalink


I was browsing through the email from medscape and your post's tagline caught my attention and started to read it. It is interesting because I'm a second year medical student at Michigan State University in Lansing Michigan, USA. I am just currently finishing up my second year and getting ready for boards. It seems you are too. Recently, I have found myself wondering the same thing 'Is medicine something I really want to do?' I can't recall how many times I have asked myself this question but the answer is always the same--I don't see myself doing anything else. However, med school is consuming my life. I find myself studying for exams at 4am without sleeping a wink. I know about those 'I-will-not-do-last-minute-studying' promises which seem to be forgotten until 2 days before the exam over 30+ lectures. I would like to do something else but the daunting amount of loans I have are suggesting otherwise. I guess for now, its best to keep at it and hope that I do well on my boards to get into a decent residency in my 4th year and don't seem too stupid as I embark on the journey to the real world of medicine.

Posted by: Sheel | Apr 24, 2007 10:07:26 AM

I couldn't agree with you more. I had one of my, "Is this what I want to do?" crises last night. I do love medicine and learning about it. But I also worry about my future. I'm only in my first year, but I'm anxious about getting a good residency. It seems so unfair that you can work so hard for four years and not even do the speciality that you you want. I guess the important thing is to find a balance between studying and doing other things. Don't study so much that you come to resent medical school. I guess that's easier said than done because we always feel like we need to be studying. Any advice, anyone, for a confused first year?

Posted by: Heather | Apr 24, 2007 11:07:36 AM

I have had the exact same conversation with myself. Do I really want to be in medicine? Well, I really can't think of anything else I want to do. I have told friends that if I could think of anything else I would leave in a moment. I don't know if that comes from the hardships of the 1st two years. (I am just finishing my 1st.) Or if comes from some deep seated fear or even reality that I may not be cut out for it. How do you find clarity in this area? Do you really just have to hang on until you get into the clinic more? What then? I may have missed my chance to find an alternative path. Perhaps if I was excelling with my grades and did not have the stress that I do, I wouldn't be this worried. I'd like to meet someone who admits to being the stupid one from their med school class, yet they still made it, love what they do, and are good at it.

Posted by: Lindsey | Apr 24, 2007 11:09:01 AM

I'm glad to know that I am not the only medical student dealing with this dilemma. As I get ready to start my clinical rotations, I find myself getting scared again. I went through this before first year started, thinking maybe I'm not cut out for this, is this really what I want to do? Now that I've survived 2 years I worry that I will get out into the real world of medicine and realize that I don't enjoy it. But, I can't think of anything else I would rather do. That is what keeps me going.

Posted by: Marie | Apr 24, 2007 11:48:42 AM

What I read in all of your comments, is a fear and anxiety about grades and applications, as well as worrying that you won't be good enough, or a good doctor.

As an almost-fourth year, who has completed all the core clinical rotations, I can tell you that although I still have some of those fears, my experience with patients has shown me that I will in fact learn how to be a doctor, and I won't be bad at it either. I think a lot of the anxiety of a 1st/2nd year comes from worrying that you'll never know enough to be a good doctor. But I think you will. Just be patient.

In regards to deciding whether medicine is what you like or not, well, that's a very different concern. I would agree with your posts, that I also, "could not think of anything else." But maybe we're all just the types of people who worry and doubt, and we would feel that way about any profession or direction in life...

Posted by: Melanie | Apr 24, 2007 12:31:27 PM

As these responses meekly suggest, there are more people out there then are willing to admit it who have these doubts. First, doubts are a good thing (despite what the perfectionists we are surrounded by would have us believe); doing something blindly, without question, without ever even considering if it's right for you can't be a good thing. Good clinicians have to be able to look critically at themselves and the decisions they make. So, just because you have doubts, doesn't mean you shouldn't be here. I think it's just a matter of perspective: For most people, if they tried with any conviction, they could think of something else the would rather do; I wouldn't phrase it that way -- you're not in med school because you lack the creativity to think of something better to do with your life. Odds are if you're in med school, you're probably meant to be there, and more importantly, you want to be there. And when med school sucks, which is most of the time, just remember, we're not here to be med students, we're here to become doctors. Some day when we're residents and attendings and we're making the decisions (and making good ones), and actually doing something, then this will all be worth it. Just think of it as having something to look forward to!

Posted by: BD | Apr 24, 2007 12:34:01 PM

I'm a 3rd year. I still have doubts about whether medicine is the career for me. To the 1st and 2nd years, during your 3rd year you will feel much more like a doctor, but still it's not that close to being one. You're the lowest person in the pecking order and have to do what you're told. Complain in front of your superiors and you're toast.

I hear Sheel on the indebtedness problem. Med school shouldn't cost quite as much as it does. It's insane that students graduate with $200k debt. See why doctors worry about money?

It's all well and good to think you should pursue your dream career. But what if your dream is to be something that only a few lucky people get? Like Hollywood A-list star or a starter on a sports team? You have to be realistic too and have a backup plan, which for many people is medicine.

Posted by: Anon | Apr 24, 2007 2:31:26 PM

I'm just finishing up my second year in medical school and have been through all of the hardships that the first two years bring. My sister, who is four years younger than me is considering medicine and was asking for advice a few weeks ago, since she is at the point where she needs to really think about her major and what she needs to do if she does want to do med school. The advice I gave her was essentially that it was ok if she didn't "plan" for medical school, i.e. take pre-med courses and go to med school right after college. After speaking with her, I reflected on what I said and asked myself, "Does this mean I regret going to medical school straight out of college?" When people ask me if I hadn't gone to med school, what would I have done? I decidedly answer, Anthropology. It was my major in college and I'm still very much in love with it. Does it mean I should've done Anthropology? Should I have taken a few years off to do something else? (I ask myself these questions all the time) Maybe, but I also knew I wanted to do medicine. But it's still fun to think about my alternate lives; it's still fun to wonder where I would be now if I hadn't gone to med school. And I'm learning about the many ways I can incorporate my love for anthropology into my future medical career. And I'm sure that whatever the non-medical passion, there is a way to combine it with medicine--the many opportunities for dual degrees out there exemplify that. So, is this something you want to do? I agree with an earlier post: You're here already, so the answer is probably yes; maybe the question should be, is there a good reason why you don't want to be here?

Posted by: Lisa | Apr 24, 2007 3:08:34 PM

Ha! The title of this post has so been my mental state for sometime now. Though I'm still an undergraduate student, that's a question I've tumbled around in my head for a while now and still do. Perhaps uncertainty is a good thing;'I-will-not-do-last-minute-studying'is an impossible promise I've made at least a dozen times now. And I'm not even in med school yet! Whatever the eventual career path, a medical background is definitely invaluable in the long run, I think. Now if only it didn't take so darn long...

Posted by: | Apr 24, 2007 3:49:55 PM

I am in my senior year of undergrad at Xavier University of Louisiana and I've always wanted to be a doctor and thougt that I would go straight to Med school after undergrad and everything would work out because that was all I ever wanted to do. Recently however, I have hit many road blocks, such as finding out I won't be graduating on time and that I probably will not be able to go straight to medical school, but will have to do graduate school or a post-bac program. I am frustrated and my determination to be a doctor that I used to have is slowly fading away. In reading this I have a question that maybe someone can answer. Am I just feeling this way because things are getting difficult and my path has taken a curve or should I really consider something else because from what I understand medical school is far more difficult and stressful than my current situation?
Frustrated and Miserable

Posted by: Ashley R. Moore | Apr 24, 2007 5:27:29 PM

I'm pretty sure I'm the youngest person replying. Graduating senior in highschool, to be exact, but I've wanted to be a doctor since I was seven (I've been subscribing to medscape for 3 years now). I've had the plan in my head: Johns Hopkins undergrad which will hopefully translate into hopkins medical (the first part is done, at least) but some recent struggles with AP Chemistry (basic I know) have got me thinking. I'm certain I'm getting a 5 on the exam, but I have a B in the class- a highschool class. I keep reading about how stressful medschool is: first getting in, then keeping up with classes, and of course paying. I have to take out loans now, for freshman year of college. How did you all decide this is what you want to do?

Posted by: | Apr 24, 2007 5:51:43 PM

Oh Man...I am a SECOND YEAR RESIDENT! I am reading this because I have never un-subscribed after graduating from med school. Can I just say, this feeling has never really gone away for me. Though, it's had it's ups and downs. The worst was during my intern year - last year. I am a neurology resident and in my prelim medicine year. I was miserable. It was not my program, for sure...It is FANTASTIC. First of all, I have some medical issues of my own and not feeling well, I had a 9 month old, I was 1500 miles from any family besides my husband and daughter. I felt completely trapped. I was convinced that there was a conspiracy with medical schools and loan companies. I am still convinced that the only reason it is so expensive is that you HAVE to finish and work in this profession JUST to pay your debt back. I don't think there are too many other jobs we could just switch to and make enough to dig ourselvves out of this enormous debt. SO, what did I do? I finally talked to my director and told him I was afraid because I hated my job...not just the "being an intern" part, but medicine as a whole. Luckily he's been doing this job for a very long time and KNEW that I needed some time off, both physically AND mentally to get healthy and figure things out. I ended up being out for about 3 months, went back to work feeling well, very refreshed, my concentration was remarkable. I ended up really enjoying the rest of my internship, still occasionally questioning if I was good enough. After starting my neurology program it has become so much less of an issue. I really did some soul searching during my time off as well. I set some limits for myself. I knew I didn't want to be the "all-consumed", "gunner" doctor. I want to be good enough at what I do to help my patients, but also be humble enough to admit when I need to learn more and ask for help. I want to be a REAL PERSON, not just a medical machine. Once I let myself accept those things, I felt much better.
Now, I don't think this is an easy thing to do early on in a med-school career. You are always answering to someone, it's true, to some degree in residency as well, but at least you have just a sliver more control of your life and start developing who you are and want to be as a doctor. More of your own personal elements start to become a bigger part. I have grown so much this past year in my profession and much of it had to do with giving myself permission to be my own person instead of living up to some idealistic expectiations that I had placed on myself for a very long time. SO, we all have doubtfull moments and I think you should be wary of those who claim never to have them. Cheers!

Posted by: MSam | Apr 24, 2007 7:01:31 PM

I am so glad that someone decided to post this. I have been subscribed to Medscape for about a year now and this is the first article that has caught my eye like this. I am a RN, currently doing a bachelor's degree in biology and am still deciding if I really want to be a nurse, do I finish this degree and go to med school or do I switch and do something else? The answer, as per all your input is if I like what I do. And after everything the surprising answer is yes. So, I guess then that being confused/unsure will remain, as the remote (daily) struggles come up in our career.
Keep smiling..... ok, try harder then.

Posted by: tapskym | Apr 24, 2007 7:34:26 PM

MSIII ... our deans just had a meeting with my class to give us a general idea of what the whole matching to residency is like...it wouldn't have been so bad if I knew what I wanted to do. I'm almost done with my third year, loved OB/GYN then got burned out after surgery and now just want to have a "regular" job like other people. Meanwhile I have to get applications, recommendations, personal statements- to try to convince residency directors that this is what i want to do when i haven't fully convinced myself yet!!!! Hopefully this is a passing phase stemming from lack of sleep and being constantly asked questions that i'm clueless as to what the answer is...have no gems of wisdom except pray (which is what I'm doing!) and keep showing up...

Posted by: mari2381 | Apr 24, 2007 8:13:30 PM

Oh!My goodness! Everyone who has posted so far has the same tone to their comments and that is we all doubt ourselves and what we are in persuit of in our career goals. I think what I didn't realize is that this medical career, where instructors eat their young, can totally comsume your life and does most of the time. I dropped out for a while because of the doubts and then thought of nothing else until I went back! I just kept asking myself "what else would I be doing besides growing old?"

Posted by: tetoe | Apr 24, 2007 8:41:18 PM

Allow me to approach these queries from a completely different profession. I’m a 20 year retired vet of the USAF and now second year Pre-med. My job title was “Air Borne Weapons Director”. My duties were not unlike a civilian air traffic controller...only I was in a jet near the battle area and at times instead of separating traffic we brought air traffic together..with the intent to kill. We’re an elite group, top of our class, competitive (sound familiar?). We’re chosen from various fields to perform a special duty on board the AWACS early warning platform. When first informed that I was being considered for the position I worried I would not be good enough and would fail, losing face with my family, friends and peers (ego is a powerful enemy!) The first year of training is grueling as you come to realize you will be vectoring multimillion dollar aircraft loaded with live ordinance. This is nerve racking in itself, but add the concern for the life of the pilot and anxiety blossoms into full bore panic. You also learn that you’re not the sharpest troop on the base and that there is a stratified hierarchy always in flux to find out who’s the “best” (ringing bells ?). During this time and the years which followed I found myself in predicaments which always called upon my higher angels with the same questions you now ask yourselves.....WHAT AM I DOING HERE? Survival school/POW camp, freezing, naked and hungry? Twenty-nine thousand feet over Iraq on Christmas day...again? And if you’re thinking “well hey, at least it was all free training” think again. I had to give (X) number of years extended service commitment for the honor. Now here’s the point. The years passed and so did the anxiety of my rookie days. We had a saying that went “You’re only as good as your last mission” meaning, today your hot tomorrow someone else will be, but we always have each others back. We also used another expression which will serve well in the medical student community “Come to the debriefs with thick skin”. In other words, take your spears, owe-up to your mistakes and make yourself a better warrior for the next mission.
My last years were spent as an instructor/evaluator which allowed me to play witness to many a controllers anxieties and self-doubts. In this vantage I was better able to isolate the catalyst for the feelings we all experienced....and it is just that.....experience (or lack of). Experience bore wisdom, wisdom bore comfort and comfort bore joy. I grew to love the job and to realize just how honored I am to have performed it. The price you must pay for this level of peace is the same we ALL must pay and that is time. No short cuts, nobody is exempt! If you want joy and confidence in this profession you must first serve the time. Just hope yours is not served naked and freezing at twenty-nine thousand feet.
Thanks for taking the time to read all this,

Posted by: f9wdwkr | Apr 24, 2007 11:13:36 PM

I just read this last post and yes... It does sound familiar... I´m studying in Instituto de Ciências Biomédicas de Abel Salazar (ICBAS) in Oporto, Portugal. It´s in Europe next to Spain (not it´s province as some may think). Here we do have competition, but if you find the right partners they´ll cover and help you in every way. Here the course is different. After 12nd grade or high school, we go to college and have 6 years of med. As it is now, we have 2 and a half years of theory, another year and a half of theory plus practice and the 5th and 6th years are what we call professionalizing years (mainly the 6th). So I´m in the fifth and I must say that I don´t think about this so much.. It´s great to interact with patients and even when u don´t know exactly what he has we do know what he may have, so it´s fun to study afterwards and discuss it with colleagues... As for the rest... We have something called 'praxe'...can´t explain... And we struggle and I know that there are people going through the same thing and in worst case scenario, there is a law that states: If you are bad, remember, it could always be worse...

Have a nice day


Posted by: Sena | Apr 25, 2007 9:03:36 AM

I'm a 4th year medical student and still I can not say for sure if I made the right decision when I made my choice to become a doctor. I love what I do and my belief is that I will be a good doctor. But I can not help wondering what if.... sometimes I am under the impresion that the price we pay is to high. I remember someone saying that you get to the point where you feel safer inside (in the hospital) than outside. this is how I feel and I'm not to glad about it. I envy those who have the time to see their friend on a regular base, and those who have the time for themselfs to do whatever they feel like dooing, and those who didn't get "richer" with some diopters on their glasses. I stiill have 2 more years. Hopefully when I'll finish school I won't have these doubts anymore!!

Posted by: andreea | Apr 25, 2007 9:22:12 AM

I'm so glad I'm not the only one who has doubts!!! I am from a family of doctors and it was a pressure to become a doctor. I never had a chance to think about any other career options as my parents said that this would bring a good future and stability. I am now a final year medical student-exams soon!! I'm scared that I won't enjoy my career once I'm unleashed into the real world. Every year near exam times I'm doubting my career and wishing I had had just a regular life. I feel like its taking over me and I'm now stuck because I dont know what else I could have become. When is something too late to change??? I've invested in this so much so it does seem a waste but I'm filled with mixed emotions so I dont know if I could risk finding out. Please help!!!

Posted by: N | Apr 25, 2007 9:41:11 AM

Yah, its awesome. I read it.

Posted by: jude | Apr 25, 2007 9:44:41 AM

Ilove learning medicine and I would never choose anything else. But I doubt at times when the sistem just makes it so hard and filled with pressure where you cant even enjoy what you love to do. Especially when you are a foreing student and english is not you first language. But you live day to day chapter to chapter and test to test and hope it gets better and you don lose your soul.

Posted by: C. I. Avilés | Apr 25, 2007 9:52:18 AM

Hi...I'm in my final year. I've been asking myself this question thousands of times before and before this, all I can say is, I really hate to be a doctor. I hate to be a medical student. This is not the kind of life that I want. Not at all. With all the sleep deprivation and a lot of things to study and remember. I hate competition too. Luckily, it's not that competitive here.
But if you ask me this question now, my answer is "Yes, this is what I want to do". All those clinical years finally make me realize what I want to do with my life. I just want to help people and to see them smiling again is the greatest satisfaction one can have. Now, I don't really mind about all those sleepless nights anymore and I don't mind studying (which I really struggle to do, I'm not the bookworm type). I've made my choice and though I'm not very sure about that but deep inside my heart I know I started to love medicine even though I'm not as good as the others. It's hard and can make you really weary but just keep on moving.

Posted by: Vivera | Apr 25, 2007 10:01:42 AM

One thing I learnt from the burgeoning list of people who have had self-doubts at some points in their careers, is that I am not the only one with these thoughts on my mind. And boy, am I glad!

I am final yr medical student from India; Doing my internship, so practically a doctor according to standards here. And even now, I am not sure if this as what I wanted to do.

You've asked; what was it that made us take up medicine? For me, it was definitely all of the above... Parents, ER and dislike for my high school math. I never wanted to become a doctor. NEVER. I even got admited to one of best design schools in Asia. But a few days before my counselling, I decided to take the plunge and take up Medicine instead.
For many of you, it is the thought of repaying your loans that is holding you back (or atleast playing some part in it); I dont even have a loan!!

But somehow, I have this urge that maybe, there's something better at the end of the tunnel and I am hanging on. Maybe this is afterall what I've wanted to do...

Posted by: Anuja | Apr 25, 2007 10:56:31 AM

Hey there again! Well...it seems that this weeks post is pretty popular in here. Well Aaron, u've got a point actually. Today I was sitting at work at ambulance (otherwise I'm a 3rd yr med student in Estonia) and I was just wondering myself....is it really what i sooooo sooooo wanna do. Well....it is actually, but I think that at times we come to think of that kinda thing, coz we're tired, we think that there are so many other things out there what we might be missing.
But I truly believe that in the future we'll be very pleased of our choices and we thank ourselves that we didn't stop this journey, but we decided to go all the damn way. IT IS WORTH IT! And what gives me strengh and inspiration is reading the posts of all the medstudents here, kwoning that we're not alone!
Good luck to everyone!

Posted by: Eneli | Apr 25, 2007 11:34:30 AM

hi!! me a fresh medical graduate from Siddhartha medical college, AP, INDIA. My story is different from others that i have never thought Medicine as my careeer nor my parents forced me to get into this one.
After my +2 in biology I was get into the college of Commerse and felt that it is not related to my biology (and to some extent i was just wanted to prove my EFFICASY ? ). Then onwards some imaginative intense drive let me to get into my medical degree through the toughest and most competetive entrance examination in India and i had secured 900th rank among 74000 applicants.
rom then onwards i have to leave everything? for my Medicine like photography, poetry, literature, drawing... so all these hobbies i was forced to leave bcoz of long hours of postings n nightouts even upto 8am in the morning ( the exam time is 9 am) . so hardly i couldn't find any time and so many times I had a second thought that why i came to this profession ??????/
But when i get into my final year rotations, patient care, the clinical examinations n stepwise approaches to make a diagnosis by my Professor Dr.ESWAR once again createad a PASSION towars MEDICINE and now my biggest dream is to get into INTERNAL MEDICINE residency programme and to do felloship in Interventional Cardiology . now i have applied for bank loan and preparing for Step 1 to get into the system of MY DREAM WORLD.... ??

Posted by: imam | Apr 25, 2007 11:53:27 AM

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