Going through the third year of medical school–trying to choose a specialty–entails experiencing a year-long existential/quarter-life crisis, in the company of 100+ other students also doing the same. While the world right now seems so full of immeasurable opportunity, with every unfulfilled need in science and medicine calling out to the young, bold, and enthusiastic minds of my generation, this universe also at once seems to be closing in on each of us. From boundless to bounded. From Big Bang to Big Crunch. Making this decision is nothing short of cosmic claustrophobia.
Many of us have had a long-standing automatic answer to “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Doctor. But now that that’s a given, the question has become, “What tiny hole on this planet are you willing to climb into and fill with new knowledge from the inside out until you’re extruded?”
In the process of choosing a specialty, I have begun to feel that the lost medical student (including myself) has to put on some blinders, look strictly inward, and be a little tunnel-visioned. This choice has to be made based on what we’d be willing to do in the middle of nowhere, in the dead of night, with no resources except our own one mind and two hands. It is too easy to be influenced in this momentous decision by random external factors during any particular clerkship–the weather, rotation assignments, what your friends are doing, time left till the next holiday, a family member or friend in need, the commute to work, the physical environment of the hospital. I know that all of these factors are playing too much of a role, both positive and negative, in how I feel right now about myself and about my future, and I’m noticing the same in my classmates. While some factors do at least deserve some of the weight I give them, others shouldn’t take up the amount of mental and emotional real estate in the decision-making part of my brain that they have been allotted so far.
Of course it is impossible to be entirely objective, but in free moments these days, I try to picture myself in a “desert,” doing whatever it is I’m doing on the wards but now completely alone. No one evaluating me. No one helping me. No shelf exam to study for. No hunger or tiredness. Just me, the patient, and the problem.
So what’ll it be?