For eight years of my life my answer to the common question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" has been simple. "A doctor," I reply confidently. I flirted with other career paths. Becoming a helicopter pilot was my ambition at age eight, and fourth grade was dominated by the desire to become a paleontologist. But combat fatigues and dinosaurs failed to hold my attention, so when I turned seventeen, I decided to announce my intention to become a physician. My declaration garnered two responses: pleasure at my noble goal or patronizing advice to consider other less strenuous fields of study. People either warned me against the difficulties of pursuing medicine, how there were quicker and easier ways to serve others, or smiled and patted me on the back wishing me luck. I used any perceived negativity to fuel my quest for medical school acceptance and all encouragement to justify hours of study.
In fact, I was so busy concentrating on qualifying for medical school, I forgot along the way to ask myself what I wanted to be when I grew up. Becoming a physician remains a worthy goal, but I've been wondering lately what it is that I am going to do each and every day when I finally graduate after twenty years of education. Undergraduate graduation was a wonderful experience, but I can vividly remember how happy my friends were to finish their schooling. I sat with my fellow biology graduates, quite a few of which would also enter medical training in the fall, realizing that I had four years of medical school and an undetermined number years of internship, residency, and fellowship training left. It made college commencement a bit anticlimactic to say the least. There's something a little bit depressing about daydreaming of your early thirties when you're only 22 years old.
The first two years of medical school involve surviving an academic barrage. I occasionally considered my career path, worrying more about being a miserable, incompetent failure than what would make me happy on a daily basis. I tried to remember what I said during my admissions interview about wanting to help people, because a heart of service is hard to develop after eighty pages of small print pathology text covering benign neoplasms of the female genital tract including condyloma acuminatum.
But third year has been more about actually practicing medicine. We rotate through the different areas of medicine, staying only long enough to begin to become comfortable before being sent off to try on another medical specialty on for size. I measure my preferences and aversions, hoping to hit the jackpot and discover my passion. I try to imagine myself as the doctors I work with on a daily basis. I ask myself if I favor hospital-based practice or clinics? Do I enjoy their patient population and lifestyle? What are the family and medicine-independent goals that I want to pursue in the future? I ask myself these questions subconsciously each day, hoping an epiphany will clarify my muddled ideas concerning my future career.
So I try to be helpful and kind, not get in the way, and see if I fit in any of the puzzle of medical professions. I collect my hunches and dislikes, ask my family and friends desperately for advice, and do my best to imagine what I want to do and what will make me happy to wake up for the rest of my life. You see, I don't just apply for jobs in a year-and-a-half when I'll finally be called doctor, I'll apply for residency in a system called "the match." Medical students across the country post their applications, send them to programs they're interested in, and interview throughout fall and winter. In February students and programs list their choices in order, and on the third Thursday in March, Match Day happens. Medical schools host parties where everyone stands up in front of their family and friends, and reads for the first time their fate for the next three to five years. It's a pressure-packed process, where you pray for your first choice and that you've made the right decision, because no one wants to discover that they're mediocre or miserable doing something they've spent their entire lives preparing to become.
Here I am, twenty-four and about to be married to a wonderful, beautiful fourth-year medical student named Mindy. She will match in a couple of weeks, we'll get married two days later, and the two of us have to find a way for me to finish medical school here in Dayton, Mindy to begin her training in pediatrics, and hopefully live together in the mean time. I'm that much closer to earning a steady paycheck for the first time in my life, and so much more afraid that I won't be a competent, content physician.
Andrew Jacques ('05)