I almost became anything but a doctor.
I rarely mention this fact—once even sidestepping the conversation on a recorded interview—but my last year of college was spent anxiously exploring other careers. This development was far from where I expected my undergraduate journey would end. I had become interested in medicine as a child, even writing my college admissions personal statement on becoming a doctor. I had my whole life planned out: major in biomedical engineering, minor in global health, jump straight from college into an MD/PhD program. But what I didn’t realize was that my vision for myself did not match my heart.
College became a mess. I prioritized other interests—journalism, dance, a minor in film and visual studies—even as I forced myself into my initial plans. I failed. Brutally so. Granted, I had a pre-med advisor who encouraged me to pursue my passions. And many moments, I was confident with my decisions. But whenever I looked at my current medical school’s admission requirements or saw my peers effortlessly fit into the “pre-med box,” I felt out of place.
I ended up graduating with a part-time internship at a local contemporary art museum back in my hometown. It was everything I wanted to do if I pursued a career in the arts, yet still unfulfilling. My pre-med advisor suggested that I try volunteering in a hospital one more time. As I saw the joy and peace that medicine could bring to its patients and families, I fell in love with the field (again). Now as an MS2, I sometimes think about my post-graduate existential crisis. Throughout my conversations with mentees and medical school friends, the recurring theme—particularly when you are from a marginalized community or do not have family in medicine—is that the field does not feel like home. And the truth is that looking at the long list of checkmarks required to apply, I almost quit because I felt that I needed to lose myself to be in medicine.
So, to the struggling pre-med, I encourage you: embrace who you are and what is most important to you.
Medical school admissions might ask students to meet certain categories—community service, research, clinical exposure, and leadership—but you shouldn’t box yourself into a certain brand. Bring your interests into those expectations even if they seem unconventional. One of my college roommates (now an MS2) found leadership and community work in politics, business, and education, using her time in those fields to better understand healthcare and why medicine interested her.
What if you don’t know what are your passions? A friend, entering medical school this fall, once told me that she liked to spend at least one year at a volunteer or work experience before trying something new. She saw each experience as an opportunity for growth, learning from each experience and using it to guide the next activity she joined.
Making space for your passions can also benefit you during the application cycle. As I have edited personal statements and helped with the mock interviews, my most memorable interactions have been with the applicants who stayed true to themselves. These applicants are the ones who don’t struggle in describing their path toward medicine because it has naturally arisen from their experiences.
But most importantly, embracing your true self can be empowering. I am almost halfway done with medical school, and though my time has had its surprises, I am pursuing work that fills my cup. Now more than ever, I feel grounded because I am striving toward authenticity. And I hope you’ll be able to try the same too.