The following article is cross-posted from MedHopeful.com - a blog with entertainment and advice for budding physicians.
When I think about the word “career” nowadays, I try to stray away from associating it with the idea of a “job”. Because the word “job” is usually concerned with the idea of “working for money”, which is a concept I am slowly moving away from. In that sense, I don’t ever want to get a “job”.
I’m not saying that having a stable source of financial income isn’t important. But I think there is a problem when you end up working solely for money instead of for the sake of the work. Either the problem is that you are in a truly unfortunate situation where you are forced into a survival mode and have no choice but to work for money, or the problem is that you have somehow entered survival mode even though you don’t necessarily have to.
When I think of a dream career, I think of being able to get paid for doing things that truly make me happy. And the fact is that not one type of work alone makes me happy. So if you were to ask me what I envision myself doing for a career, it would have to be many things. I would love to write - being able to publish a book would be amazing. I really enjoy teaching and speaking - so given the opportunity, I would jump at the chance to lecture a class or deliver a talk. I also like trying to solve challenging real world problems - I would be really interested in sitting on committees or boards that make crucial decisions concerning things like education.
So while I don’t see my “career” only encompassing medicine, I think being a physician would truly make my life happier than not. Like teaching, writing, and solving real world problems, I feel that medicine would be an important component to my long term happiness.
I have spent hours thinking about this - that is, whether or not medicine is right for me, and I for it. Although I have spent more time in reflection this past year than ever before, I feel more confused than ever. That being said, I think that truly understanding yourself, figuring out what really is best for you, and being able to see all the options available, provide enough pros to outweigh the cons of the confusion and more questions caused by self-reflection.
I think society has conditioned young people to do many things without thinking them through, despite the fact that decisions that are good for some people simply don’t make sense for others. I find this concept particularly prevalent when our youth are guided on career paths.
Society tells us that the smart and ideal students are the ones who know exactly what they want to be before they even finish high school, and those that still aren’t sure when they graduate, have wasted time. Society also tells us that certain jobs are “better”, “more important”, “more noble”, and should be strived for more than others. Forget the talents, gifts, and interests of the actual student - we tend to put that priority at the bottom of the list.
Whether you are interested in medicine or anything else, I really urge you to really think about what makes sense for you and what will make you happy.
I guess I might as well get to the meat of the article. Like I said, I have reflected long and hard, and while medicine is not completely perfect as a career, there are definitely some really good things about it that I like, and that make medicine a nice overall fit for me:
(1) It would force me to get up everyday and be productive
Although it may not seem like it, I am not the most productive or driven person by any means. Really, it’s not even close. I sort of do things in rushes - if I get this great idea or something really exciting comes up, I can work at something or be productive at it non-stop for a while. But for the most part, I would say I’m fairly unproductive in between.
I like the fact that being a physician gives me a scheduled time slot where I must be productive most days a week. So that at the end of the day, I rarely get that feeling where I completely wasted the past ten hours (yes this happens!). So while I often feel like I am an entrepreneur by nature, I still generally find it hard to be productive sometimes when I’m left to my own devices.
(2) As a physician, in general, my work would be positively and personally meaningful to others
As a physician, I’m helping to improve the quality of life for people. I might even save a life or many lives. In short, the work is positively meaningful, and I think that is something to be proud and happy about. Of course there are many careers that are positively meaningful, and this is just one in a long list, but this aspect is definitely very important to me.
But as an example to clarify, although I am very interested in business and entrepreneurship, I could never be happy working in one that was not significantly and positively improving the quality of life for its customers. I like helping people and seeing people do well, and you really can’t get that same sense of satisfaction in every single job. So while I love the television show The Office, I would not be happy working there (for those of you who have not seen the show, it is based on an office branch for a paper company). Okay I lie, I think it would be hilarious to work with the people on that show, but you get my point.
(3) I like the fast-paced environment
I think working in a dynamic, fast-paced environment is pretty exciting. I like the idea of having to see many cases, constantly being on my feet, and having to solve many different types of problems throughout a single day’s work. When I shadowed a neurosurgeon throughout a year in high school, although I was not able to observe him do surgery, even seeing patients in his clinic itself was pretty fast-paced.
(4) I actually like being under pressure, and having to make the “big decision”
I have always sort of enjoyed the thrill of being “in the moment” and the roller coaster ride that comes with having to perform under pressure. Whether it was playing in a sports tournament or interviewing for a major scholarship, I really just love the thrill that pressure brings. I really do feel that being under pressure brings out the best in me.
Some physicians deal with this kind of pressure on a regular basis, such as trauma surgeons who must come to quick decisions on how to treat patients who enter the emergency room. Personally, I would love to have a career where I am randomly put in spots where I initially have no clue what to do - I think having to come up with ways to solve new problems is kind of cool. Of course, being under this type of pressure can be quite stressful, and having to deal with stress is definitely a consideration of mine when thinking about different specialties.
(5) I have a strong interest in neurology and neuroscience
Because of some family history, I am really interested in neurology and neurological disorders - and well, there are so many careers where you can analyze these fields in depth.
(6) I like working with young people and children
I think I like working with youth partly because I like teaching, and it seems that young people are more optimistic about the future and are willing to accept less traditional ideas in general. Also, kids are a lot of fun and like to laugh a lot, and well I like to laugh. If I become a physician, I am pretty sure I will end up pursuing a pediatric specialty.
(7) A stable, good-paying income is always nice
Although I love to take risks in general, I would be lying if I didn’t say that the stable, really nice income of a physician was not attractive. Stability in itself is pretty attractive, but particularly when it comes to having a family, stability is even more important.
Personally, I don’t feel that I’m really that materialistic - I don’t really like shopping, and when it comes to buying items, I tend to be pretty cheap. I think that’s partly because I don’t really like change, and buying something new means having a change in my life. In any case, having a career where you don’t really have to worry too much about your finances (so long as you don’t severely overspend), and probably have the opportunity to have a few luxuries is kind of nice. I like the idea of being able to afford investing in new ideas, as well as being able to support my family/children in any way possible, and I think medicine obviously provides a good foundation for that.
There is no perfect profession - no matter how much you love your career, I’m sure there is something you don’t like about it. I feel I am realistic and honest with myself enough to understand there things I won’t like about medicine, but overall, I think I would be much happier being a physician than not.
JOSHUA LIU is currently a Biomedical Sciences student at York University. He is the founder of SMARTS: the Youth Science Foundation Canada's national youth science network, which connects over 300 young people and 200 schools today. He also currently sits on Shad International's Board of Directors. Joshua has spoken as a presenter, panelist, and keynote at numerous student conferences. He was named as one of Canada's "Top 20 Under 20" in 2005, and is a recipient of the TD Canada Trust Scholarship for Community Leadership.
For more articles like this one, check out Joshua's blog at MedHopeful.com