“When did you get the call?” A hand shoots up near the back of the room. In seventh grade. And you? When I was a junior. Yes, you over there. About two years ago.
Walking into this conference room you might mistakenly believe this is some type of Pentecostal revival, but there was nothing religious about this particular event. I was here to listen to a sort of pep talk by a local family medicine practitioner/musician extraordinaire (he began his presentation with a bluesy harmonica and a soulful, toe-tapping, off-the-cuff song about personal responsibility). Dr. H was a guest speaker at the monthly staff meeting for my clinical internship. He began with a statement that I’ve since spent a lot of time dissecting:
“You don’t choose Medicine. Medicine chooses you.”
This is quite a bold idea–the thought that medicine, like some act of divine intervention, is a calling. Sure, becoming a physician is not your typical job. It requires at minimum 10 years of post-high school education and training, often closer to 15 years–and placing your patient’s health and needs above all else– before family, relationships, personal problems, sleep deprivation and vacation. Perhaps to be a good doctor, one that lives up to the sacrifice and responsibility required of the profession, one must feel a special calling to serve the sick. How else could you survive?
Indeed, research has found that doctors who view medicine as a calling are more satisfied.
I began to examine my own motives for entering the medical field. Could I think of a specific moment where I felt called to medicine. The truth of the matter is becoming a doctor is something that has interested me since I was a young kid. But how many kids play doctor growing up? Over the years, what began as a mere interest in medicine and the neat tools of the trade, grew into an inescapable feeling of somehow knowing that this is where I belonged–the only place I belong.
It’s tough to describe–but as I entered college to study Journalism, I kept having a gnawing feeling that I was studying the wrong major. I entered the University of Maryland as a sophomore, having taken mainly college coursework during my senior year of high school, which meant I only had three years before I would earn my undergraduate degree. My mind perpetually pondered if I should switch majors to biology. It seemed the universe was trying to send me similar signals. I remember one day walking to class, deep in thought weighing the pros/cons of switching to a pre-medicine major in my Junior year, only to find a flyer on my desk for the Pre-Med Society. I attended the meeting and decided to make an appointment in the Office of Health and Sciences.
The following week, as I sat waiting for my appointment, it was cancelled by the academic advisor. Instead of speaking to someone about the educational path towards medical school acceptance, I grabbed a flyer listing the required pre-med coursework. My mind fixated on the then required calculus. I hated math. That little course was enough to dissuade me from re-scheduling the visit.
However, medicine continued to stay on my mind. In my dorm, we had weekly Greys Anatomy viewing parties (yes, this show was once watchable!). The biology, chemistry majors and me would religiously watch the show together, dreaming about life as a doctor. I was secretly jealous when they returned to their organic chemistry homework. One of the girls who used to watch with us just matched in an Internal Medicine Residency.
Although I came close to switching majors several more times, I graduated in three years and went on to graduate studies in Public Policy, focusing on International Development. My course work introduced a new concept to me– the idea that health was a fundamental human right. I spent two years studying the idea of health– its inexplicable link to poverty, health disparities, health policy and economics, ethics, philosophy and Africa as a setting for great opportunities and needs in health.
By the time I was in my final semester of graduate school, the feeling that started as a small nagging thought–I think I want to be a doctor– ignited into a burning desire. I realized my passion for medicine and the profession was not going to go away. Instead, it kept me up at night. At a time when it became even more impractical for me to now not only switch majors, but careers, I decided to finally pursue a pre-med education.
Interestingly, around the same time as this crazy idea that I could actually become a doctor came to a boil, I became sick. Really sick, with a chronic illness that required frequent visits with cardiologists, neurologists and even emergency rooms. Whether I wanted to or not, I was around medicine all the time. It was enough to help me decide to pursue a post-bac program at night.
With each successfully completed science course, the desire to enter the medical profession grew stronger. Eventually, I could no longer think of any other alternative for my future. This was what I was meant to do. I would do whatever it took to get me to medical school.
Although there was no single “ah ha” moment to reflect on–I can’t help but feel that medicine has been a calling I simply couldn’t ignore — as much as I tried. Perhaps, medicine simply chose me. The universe, my genetics, the medical drama ER, my husband’s belief that my dream was not indeed crazy, opportunities to spend time in health clinics in Africa, my own failing health, all moved me towards where I am today–about to start my first year in medical school.