What influenced your decision to become a doctor? This is a common question that many medical schools ask medical students in their application interviews. A version of this question is asked to every child if they have ever encountered an adult. It is their imagination or the formative experiences they have at that age, that ultimately inspires the profession they choose. Likewise, choosing to become a doctor may depend heavily on your experiences, life events, or whether or not you looked up to any doctors you encountered. In my case, answering this question is multifaceted. Nonetheless, only one sentiment always rings true. I chose medicine because I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
At the tender age of 10, I decided to become a doctor. If you ask my parents, I made up my mind before this age because of my pediatrician, Dr. White, who I looked up to. However, I recall my first memory of actively deciding on this profession in 3rd grade. I remember so vividly the father of one of my classmates, presenting at parent’s day about his career as a cardiologist. That day I held a heart for the first time. Of course, it was a realistic heart model, not a real heart, but I don't think he or my teacher Ms. Jackson realized that they were deciding the trajectory of my life at that moment.
The discovery that the heart was not the shape we had imagined, learning that the heart is the vital organ that keeps us alive, and holding a realistic model of the heart sparked my intrigue in how the body works. Unexpectedly, a few years later, I found myself playing mini-heart doctor because my grandfather was diagnosed with heart disease, and I became the person he would trust to give him his medicine and check his blood pressure. In retrospect, it was almost as if the circumstance was preparing me in some ways to begin the journey to medicine.
From this point on, everything I did in prep school, high school, and then college, was in pursuit of a medical career. Everyone knew it about me, and it inherently became a part of my identity. I manifested myself as Dr. Brown. I solidified my decision when I began gaining exposure to public health. Choosing not to major in the physical sciences in college and instead learn about health on a global scale and staying connected to this area of medicine was the best decision I made. As a result, I ended up pursuing experiences that allowed me to gain exposure to some of the most vulnerable and economically disadvantaged populations in the world and to some of the most courageous and passionate medical personnel. It was during these times, I realized what it meant to be a doctor to the fullest extent. Having gained so much knowledge and insight into different areas of medicine, and realizing how much impact one profession has on a person or community, I felt even more inspired to pursue the profession. This is why I chose medicine.
In truth, my story is constantly evolving. It has been a long and winding road that has led me to pursue medicine, and so many moments have shaped my decision. No checklist describes all the things that you need experientially or personally to be a doctor. What I can say, however, is that coming up with your purpose for pursuing medicine requires deep self-reflection. Because this career path is not an easy one to walk away from, you must be sure that this is what you want for your future. No one can tell you your reason, however, I have listed a few self-reflecting questions that I used to confirm my decision to pursue medicine. Journal your answers to these questions and surely you will be well on your way to finding out why you choose medicine.
Tip: Copy and paste these questions into a document and write down your answer to every question. This can be helpful when you begin to apply to medical school.
What motivates you? At times when you have long study days, have to wake up early to get to the clinic, or even when you’re first starting the journey to getting into medicine, your higher purpose is what will help you to stay on track. Motivations must be strong enough to keep you committed. It must be something you can't imagine walking away from or something that means more to you than anything alternative.
What factors shaped who you are today? Early experiences shape your decisions, your interests, your personality, and your outlook on life. Are there any life experiences that shaped your journey through life? Have they aligned to lead you on a path to medicine?
What qualities would you bring to your role in the medical field? Consider the qualities that make you who you are and how these might fit into the qualities you hope a doctor possesses. Realistically, anyone can be a doctor, but not everyone is suited for the role. Are you patient? empathetic? Do you have diverse and unique views on life? Do you enjoy working with others? Do you prefer autonomy?
How do you know you like medicine? The key way to know if you even like medicine is to get exposure to the ins and outs of medicine. See different specialties, fields, and disciplines. Gathering as much information as you can get from each of these areas will help to decide if being a doctor is right for you.
If you pursued another career would you feel a sense of regret for not pursuing medicine? Have you considered alternative careers? Everyone can have plan A and plan B, but you really know that medicine is for you when plan B doesn’t sound as good as plan A. It's even better if there is no plan B.
What do you imagine your future to look like? This is a question that many people forget to answer when they choose to become a doctor. This is a question I think many people should know the answer to avoid the mishaps of choosing a career that doesn’t align with where they see themselves. Ex. If you can't imagine life without having children or sacrificing portions of your children's childhood to pursue a career, maybe being a doctor is not the right choice. This is not to say children are not possible when pursuing medicine, the key is that you should already understand the sacrifices that you may need to make to build your career. Luckily medicine has started to evolve to become more flexible and accommodating to family life, however, there is still a long way to go to enact institutional changes on this front.