There are, I’ve realized, at least two types of medical student. The first, and rarest, breed are the ‘sorted-outs’ – who, quite simply, have their lives completely sorted out from start to finish. Every medical school cohort has them – the ones who’ve wanted to become a doctor since they were young, know exactly what specialty and sub-specialty they’re going to enter, always has the answer to the guess-what-I’m-thinking ward-round quizzes, holds executive position on five different committees runs marathons in their spare time has published in five different high-impact journals co-founded a charity in their third year…and can still pull off first-class honors without breaking too much of a sweat.
The rest of us, though, are only human. We may have drifted into medicine because we didn’t really like anything else, or perhaps we were curious but unsure or maybe because everyone told us it would be a good career. At times we’ve spent our degree ‘getting-by’ – attending lectures because they were timetabled, going to ward rounds because everyone else did, and squeaking by with marks just good enough to avoid re-sitting. It’s fine, really, it doesn’t really matter, we tell ourselves, because medicine is a good, stable career – it puts food on the table and it should be all alright.
Then, of course, comes the inevitable sweaty-palms of internship applications – and suddenly, ‘getting-by’ isn’t enough. Everything’s getting more competitive, we’re told. You need some research or leadership on your CV, we’re told. You’d better not get rural, or you’re never coming back, we’re told, somewhat incorrectly and ominously. Everything becomes one mad scramble for CV-fillers, and we pique up at the slightest mention of “certificate” or “letter of reference”.
Even after graduation, the boulder keeps on rolling. Applications for residency, applications for training programs, FRACP exams, squeezing research between shifts, applications for specialty training, applications for sub-specialty training, applications for PhD positions, applications for registrar positions, applications for consultancy positions. Does it ever end? Probably not.
There are, of course, better questions to ask. Why do we do it? Is it the money? Well, the pay’s pretty good, but it ain’t enough to make up for the rest of your life. Is it the respect from society? Well, fair ‘nuff, but you’ll spend most of your career pottering around the dregs of the hospital hierarchy. Is it, god forbid the cliché, to help people?
The hardest part of the entry interview for medicine, in my view, is trying to figure out a way to slip, “I want to help people”, into your motivation statement without sounding fake or clichéd. Of course, there are probably some ‘sorted-outs’ who said it, meant it, and knew exactly what it involved. As for the rest of us, we were less certain but we said it anyway.
I, myself, am currently in my penultimate year, and looking towards the scary spectre of internship applications and the long, long road that lies ahead. So scary, in fact, that I seriously considered dropping it all and going into a less demanding career, like investment banking or management consulting. But, like a moth to the flame, I find myself drawn back to medicine once again. And why, you might ask? Because, without an ounce of cliché or pretension, I’ve decided that I want to help people. Somewhere, along the line, I’ve grown to actually love medicine. I love the sheer richness and depth of learning. I love all the traditions and little quirks. I love being able to justify walking around with a white coat and a stethoscope on my neck. But most of all, I love being able to make a difference. I love that I can brighten up someone’s day just by sitting down to chat with them, and remind them that they’ve not been forgotten. I love the look when you tell someone that it’s all good, and they can go home today. And I love that, occasionally, once in a while, I can say that I’ve saved a life.
So yes, maybe I could make more of a difference as an engineer, a social worker, or (god forbid) a politician. But few careers are as rewarding and gratifying as medicine, and few careers let you know, immediately and first-hand, that you’ve made someone’s life a little bit better.
So yes, maybe it’s a little selfish. Maybe it’s a little bit selfish to love medicine, because it makes you feel good to know that you’ve made other feel good. But I damn well love it, and I’ll do my best to become someone deserving of such a privileged profession.
After all, as someone, somewhere once put it:
“Any career’s a balance. Artists and creative-types get fulfillment and fun, but no security or stability. White-collar workers, on the other hand, get security and stability, but no fulfillment or fun. Any career’s a balance. Except for doctors. Those bloody bastards get the best of both.”
Author Christopher Zhou
Medical Student, Monash University