To most people a career in medicine conjures up visions of Grays Anatomy – doctors in scrubs saying intelligent sounding words, using defibrillators, driving BMWs and saving lives all before lunch. But before we can become Dr Shepherd (a.k.a. McDreamy) or develop the next bionic ear, there is a little hurdle that we must jump; and that hurdle is called med school.
The most common question I am asked is, “Why did you choose med school?” and to be honest I never feel like my answer is a great one. For me, medicine was the logical choice. It was like choosing salad over cake. Your heart wants the cake but your head goes with the wiser choice – salad. While a chasing a career in performing arts is what I would love to do, becoming a doctor is the more practical option; job security, good pay, helping people, accumulating knowledge (and the list goes on). While this end goal seems great, no one ever tells you just how torturous the insane obstacle course to get there really is. As the Tumblr saying goes “Med school is like a walk in the park, but the grass is on fire, the trees are on fire, you’re on fire, everything is on fire. Welcome to Hell”. You are constantly surrounded by hundreds of over achievers who will do anything to be the best. The few normal people will inevitably be converted into nervous wrecks over the next five years of slavery (aka our degree). Hours and hours will be spent slaving over textbooks to learn facts real doctors could not care less about. You feel like you are constantly drowning and your peers are the only ones there to help you – but chances are they suck at swimming just as much as you do.
For me, it is often difficult to remember why I started the whole journey in the first place – especially when you are perpetually surrounded by paper work, empty coffee cups and bright pink histology images (all of which look the same because I have no idea what’s happening). It’s hard to see when or even if any of this will be worth it in the end. I often find myself in tears asking, “Why can’t I just give up on the salad of a choice that is med school and eat my cake?” Even if performing isn’t a stable career at least I’ll enjoy it right? When I reach this place, I remind myself of the things that performing can never give me. The things that never fail to turn me around from my storm of self-pity. It is these things that make all the hard work and sacrifice worthwhile.
The feeling of fulfilment I get when looking into a patient’s eyes and knowing that I made a difference is one that cannot be emulated by any audience. And it’s not just how I can help patients – oh no! The feeling I get when a patient believes in me and is thankful for the job I have is one that cannot be paralleled by any amount of stage time. I still remember an 80 year old lady who so kindly let me suture her nose up after a particularly tricky biopsy. I was nervous, I was scared and I was apologetic. However, most of all I was astounded that she even let me near her after I had almost fainted at the sight of her blood, dropped the forceps (that were attached to her nose) and failed to stop the fountain of blood coming from the incision. Nonetheless, when it came to suturing, she calmed me down and told me that she believed that I could do it. In fact, once I had finished she proudly announced to the whole treatment room that I had done a wonderful job and she couldn’t wait to show her grandson her sutures. Even though the procedure had gone far from planned (and the doctor was not impressed by me), I felt so proud and happy that a patient believed in me and was happy with the effort I had put in. A week later when the patient returned to get the sutures removed, she brought me a box of chocolates and a card – that was my round of applause!
Ultimately, I know I need performance and medicine in my life. So, I have made a promise to myself: throughout medical school I will endeavour to satisfy my cravings for performance but stay true to my desire to help those in need. I choreograph Bollywood dances while studying muscle physiology. I learn about haemolytic anaemias during the day and transform into Shakespearian characters at night. It’s hard work and takes blood sweat and tears (sometimes literally) but I do this in the hope that someday I am be able to devour my life’s cake while enjoying the salad too. But for now, I’m only in my third year of med school, so guess I’ll have to keep munching on that lettuce.