“What Am I Doing with My Life?” That Is the Question

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“What am I doing with my life?” It’s a question that every medical student asks themselves at some point in their training. Asked after a long day in the library or a rotation full of “scut work” and little learning, the question embodies the difficult and unrewarding elements required for physicians in training. Though often enjoyable and fulfilling, a lot of times medical school just kind of sucks.

We all entered medical school full of expectations to learn and heal, and sometimes the day to day does not quite live up to them. As medical students, our future dreams of becoming a doctor are often lost in the daily grind of achieving them. Amidst the studying and tests, it is easy to forget the joy and passion that motivated us to go to medical school in the first place.

Doubting our career decisions frequently come when comparing our lives to our non-medical friends. While we pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to be in the library or hospital, they are making money and taking vacations. Social media amplifies the comparison (generally out of proportion) as every weekend we see posts highlighting the relaxation and travel that comes with disposable incomes. Even during our time off we always have the next test, rotation, or research project looming over our heads.

Though starting in similar places to our peers in college, our lives have diverged drastically since then. It is only natural to compare and think, “is all this effort worth it?” The work and intellect required to get into medical school would certainly bode well in other fields with more immediate pay off. Given the minimum seven years of training, medicine is a career embodying delayed gratification. Wouldn’t it be easier to become gainfully employed and avoid all that time spent training?

But then it happens. You grasp that concept, you deliver a baby, you take part in saving a life. You experience one of the unique moments that only medical students are privileged to have — one of the moments that forces one to look up from the daily grind and admire all the wonder that goes on in our lives as medical student. It is truly a gift to impact the defining moments of people’s lives every day. Whether it be as drastic as a birth or a death, or mundane as chronic disease, medical students get to take part in people’s most important events. It is in these moments that the answer to the question of “what am I doing with my life?” is a resounding, “living the dream I worked incredibly hard for.” We then ask, “what are they doing with their lives?”

The fact is most of our non-medical friends spend most of their lives sitting at a desk, staring at a computer screen. Compared to medicine, it can be difficult to find purpose and fulfillment in their work. This is not to reduce the obvious value non-medical work brings to society, nor the joy and purpose found in those fields. This highlights the incredible value the medical field brings to its practitioners. At its best, medicine is the most rewarding career out there.

Medical school is difficult. Amidst the daily routine, it is easy to forget what a special experience it is. When the days are long and the work is hard, it is always helpful to remember the moments that remind us why we do what we do. To say that becoming a physician involves delayed gratification is an understatement, but it is certainly not without some extraordinarily gratifying moments along the way.

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