I’ve known I wanted to be a doctor for a long time. And in college I developed the desire to work somewhere in the underdeveloped world, combatting some of the health inequalities that are unfortunately all too common. To me, medicine seems like the most tangible way to help people of those communities. While a lot of international development work is slow-moving, with goals that are difficult measure or quantify, treating someone’s health frequently has a tangible, obvious result. I love that.
I’ve known that is my ultimate goal, but in the midst of undergrad and premed, I got super burnt out. It just felt like I was jumping through a lot of prerequisite hoops that rarely seemed relevant to my future career as a doctor. And those “hoops” were slowly eating away at my personal life. The idea of four more years of this type of education plus a residency, which would need to be in the States, seemed daunting. I decided I needed a break, which led me to defer my acceptance and take a year off between undergrad and medical school. It was a chance for me to travel, work with awesome organizations around the world, and focus on personal aspects of my life that had been sidelined during my busy undergrad schedule.
My year off was amazing. Honestly, there were times I considered not coming back to school. I met plenty of people who were working for churches or NGOs or non profits that were doing great work without a medical degree. Why couldn’t I? If I did that, I could start doing something globally now, instead of waiting seven more years caught up in the medical education system in the States.
But, in the end, medicine is my calling. I’ve been drawn to it for years and I know that is the sort of work I want to be doing globally. And in the grand scheme of things, seven years isn’t a super long time. Sure, it’s the rest of my 20s, but I have the rest of my life to go work in Latin America or Sub-Saharan Africa. It’s worth is to go back and get the medical education so that one day I could serve in the way I had always dreamed.
The transition back was hard, for sure. I think it was for all the students who had taken time off. But even though I was overwhelmed by the biochem that first week and had to really buckle down and remember how to study, something was different. This wasn’t like undergrad where nothing seemed to be relevant. On the contrary, almost everything was relevant (except maybe the details of the kreb cycle haha). I wasn’t just learning to do well on a test, anymore. I was learning so that one day I could treat my patients. And on top of the science lectures, we were learning how to interact with patients, and how to do the clinical encounters. We got to start taking vitals and medical histories of real patients in clinic. There have been so many days over the past three months that I have stopped and thought, dang, I’m finally getting to learn medicine.
On top of all of that, my year off taught me how much I value personal time for exercise, playing guitar, going to church, or hanging out with friends/family. I frequently had to sacrifice sleep to have those things in my life in undergrad, which led to a very worn out and drained KJ. I’ve made a significant effort to make time for those things over the past three months without sacrificing sleep, and I think it has had a huge impact on my emotional health compared to how I always felt in undergrad. Sure, I could be using that time to study, but I think the breaks are just as important. School is important, but I can’t let it take over my life. Over the coming months and years, I hope to get better and better at managing a personal life so that by the time I am done, it seems easy.
Not surprisingly, there are still days I miss traveling and the organizations I worked with last year. I think that is to be expected. But I haven’t once regretted my decision to come to medical school. Especially during the past unit of infectious diseases, I recognize more than ever how incredibly useful a medical education will be in serving around the world, and I am willing to put in the seven years of work to get there. It takes a while, but it is worth it for what I want to do.