Passion vs. Regret

It’s the middle of summer. I have about seven weeks until I go back to school. I can’t say I’m excited. For my chemistry major that I’m not even sure I want, I am signed up to take Calculus III and Physics I. I’m also signed up for Organic Chemistry II but I will probably drop it. Honestly, I still have no idea what I want to do with my life. At the beginning of this year, I thought, surely, by the middle of summer, I would know what I wanted. I based this goal off the fact that I would be shadowing a doctor this summer. I have shadowed for approximately 22 hours, at the beginning of summer. I worked with a pulmonologist and a primary care physician.

My very first day, I was absolutely fascinated. The pulmonologist had so much information in his head and I wondered how he could pull diagnosis so quickly once patients stated symptoms. I loved the mystery of it. You were presented with a set of symptoms and you had to diagnose it. The patients all loved the pulmonologist because of his “bedside manner”. I really liked him too because he was a great mentor. But after the first day, I was bored. Since he was a specialty physician, he saw the same cases every day. Everyone either had COPD or sleep apnea. There were a few rare cases that were different but mostly, it was older patients. The number one recommendation I heard come out of his mouth was to quit smoking and to lose weight. I quickly bored of his patients as they were all the same and I couldn’t participate in the daily happenings.

Then, I went to the primary care physician’s office. I hoped, prayed, for something better. She was really sweet, stylish, and a mother of two young kids. She had become a doctor much earlier than was possible in the USA because she had done her studies overseas. Then she got married, and had kids during residency. She loved her job. But she only saw her patients for about 10 minutes each and then she was back to her office, typing away notes, referrals, etc. She was part of a private practice. I only got to spend one day with her but she was really interested in what I was interested in. I told her that I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a doctor but that I had wanted to be a pediatrician my whole life. “What changed your mind?” she asked me. I told her I was worried about money, student loans, and the time commitment. I wanted to be able to spend time with my future children and as a working mother, most probably completing my residency, that would just be impossible. “What other careers are you considering?” she replied. I told her how I was interested in public health, hospital management, something in the healthcare field. Maybe dentistry or optometry. She told me to stop beating around the bush. Why not just become a doctor? I clearly wanted a career through which I could make a difference in people’s lives and physicians do it everyday. I still wasn’t sure, I mumbled.

I shadowed one other primary care physician. She had also studied overseas and now owned her own private practice. Her husband owned a practice too, right next door. They had connected buildings. How cute. She was really nice, I met her for the first time on my first day shadowing. I had been referred to her by the two other physicians I shadowed. She went from room to room, listening to patient grievances. Many were overweight and that was the root cause of many of their health issues. Others were diabetic. Majority were both obese and diabetic. In spite of all this, I still enjoyed the mystery aspect of it all. Patients would come in and present a series of symptoms and the physician would have to take a look at past medical history, other symptoms, potential causes of stress/anxiety, and more. I couldn’t believe that primary care physicians were paid so little when their jobs seemed harder than that of specialists. Where specialists only take care of one part of the body, primary care physicians take care of the whole body. But I didn’t really like the patients. They were old and their health problems were their own fault. Smoking, overweight, no physical exercise. Did they expect to be healthy?! What bothered me the most was when patients came in and reported that they had not been following the doctor’s orders from the last visit. They came in there demanding to know why they weren’t better when they hadn’t even been keeping up with their medication.

Eventually, I found a web-design internship at a non-profit organization and that was the end of my shadowing. I’ve been working here for 2.5 weeks now. With that much experience and 22 hours of shadowing, here’s what I’ve learned about myself:

  • Specialty medicine doesn’t quite appeal to me because it quite repetitive. Perhaps it’s the pulmonology/sleep medicine that I don’t like. Or the older patients. Not sure, but I couldn’t see my self doing that everyday.
  • Primary care isn’t my forte either. I think I just don’t like older patients. They are responsible for their current state of health and I cant do anything to help them if they don’t help themselves first. Ideally by losing weight and quitting smoking.
  • Sitting behind a computer with no tangible end is no fun. I went through a phase when I was really interested in computer science. I thought about web design, programming, and maybe computational media. But currently, at this internship, I don’t really enjoy it. Now, that maybe largely due the fact that I haven’t even started on the actual website yet. The only thing that keeps me going is knowing that I am working for a non-profit and that my end outcome will greatly benefit many people.

So there you have it. I think the one thing I have realized is that I want to do social good with my career. But what that career is, I have absolutely no idea. I almost want to cry by how scared I am of the future. I’m scared of falling into a degree that I have to complete because I owe it to my parents/their money. I’m scared of ending up in a 9-5 job that I hate but can’t leave due to overwhelming student loans. I’m scared of dying without having made a change in this world. I’m terrified of regret.

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