Easier said than done.

So I implied a couple of days ago that it would be my last post before going on vacation and then starting medical school, but I realized this is probably also my last chance to honestly write about how I am still scared that this isn’t the right choice for me. Amongst apartment hunting and packing for vacation (and watching reruns on the WB), I’ve pretty much managed to avoid thinking about it as much as possible, but I finally brought it up with Guy a few nights ago.

Me: So, I know neither of us really has a cemented place to live yet and you don’t have a job or anything, but I’m still really worried about medical school.

Guy: What do you mean? You don’t mean the work, right?

Me: No, I mean clearly the classes will be hard, and I might not be in the right mindset about it so it might be difficult to study at first and I’ll probably do horribly on the first set of exams or something like that — but whatever, I can always pull that back up if that’s the case.

Guy: So you’re still worried that this isn’t the right choice.

Me: Well, yeah. And what with making you move down here and everything, and getting my parents’ hopes up …

Guy: Don’t worry about me. I mean, yeah, you made me quit my job a little earlier than I’d planned, but I’m going to get a better one, so that’s fine. And your parents would rather you be happy than be a doctor, unless those two coincide.

Me: I know. It’s just that it’s really coming down to it now. I really am going, and it really might not be right for me.

Guy: Well, you’re lucky enough that it doesn’t matter that much. You want to explore your options, so you’re doing so, and that’s good. And if you hate it and we get to move from Home State after only a year, so much the better. … Kidding.

Me: Ha. Ha. But if I figure out this isn’t right for me … if I realize that I don’t really want to be a doctor …

Guy: You’ll have no idea what else to do.

Me: Yes, that would be an accurate assessment of the situation.

Guy: Well, don’t worry about that until you get there.

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Perceived, or imagined, pressure.

I’ve mentioned before that I can be over-sensitive. I think that’s why I felt like I was being pressured, from all sides, to apply to medical school. I don’t think all of this pressure was imagined, but a lot of it probably was.

For one thing, there were my parents. I’ve discussed my dad’s opinion in some length: basically, he has always thought my attending medical school would be a good idea, if for no other reason than to get some more higher education.

My mom similarly feels that higher education is always valuable. But more than that, she always wanted to be a doctor herself. Now, I would never become a doctor just to fulfill someone else’s dream, even my mom, to whom I owe more than anyone else I can think of. But she paints the medical profession in such a glowing light, as this ideal she could never quite reach herself, that it’s hard not to think she might be right and that being a doctor would be the best career for me, or for anyone for that matter.

My parents are my parents, and they’ve given me enough over the years that, while any pressure from them irked me, they kind of deserve that right. What bothered me more was the pressure (again, real or imaginary) I felt from people outside the family.

Like people within our community, family friends that I’ve grown up with for years. They always ask what I’m doing. A natural question, but for some reason I feel like they think that now that I’ve graduated I should have a magic formula for the rest of my days. If I tell them about my current job, which is not exactly challenging, they look at me like I’m a slacker. But if I add that I’m “taking a year off before I go to medical school,” they breathe a sigh of relief. Oh, medical school. That’s understandable. It’s as if they expect me to get my year of break over with as soon as possible, so I can get to my real career.

Sad to say, I always felt like my boyfriend of the time was pressuring me, too. The situation was more complicated because he began working in the summer, so he was definitely tied to his new location, whereas I was still deciding where to live in my year(s) off. A normal girlfriend — we had been dating for three years — would probably have lived with him, but I wasn’t ready for that. Nor was I ready for his steady stream of suggestions that I “volunteer at a hospital here,” or his suggesting I apply to the easy schools near him so I could up my chances of living there.

Re-reading this I sound kind of like a whiny little bitch. Oh, poor me, family friends ask what I’m doing and show an interest when I say I might pursue medicine. Poor me, my boyfriend wanted me to live with him. Like I said, a lot of this pressure was quite possibly all in my head.

But I think what bothered me was that nobody really encouraged me to take a break, or made me feel like it was okay to be indecisive about the future. I always came away from this type of conversation feeling guilty for taking a year off, as if I needed to get on with it already, as if choosing a career shouldn’t have been so difficult for me.

I shouldn’t have cared what those other people thought. Or should I have? They were important people in my life, should I have taken their feelings, their opinions into account? Or should I have said no, my career is just for me, and I’ll take just as long deciding about it as I need, thanks?

Whether right or wrong, I think I ended up choosing (am still choosing) the latter.

Something else to ponder.

My boss at my last job resigned a few weeks before I did. She’s much older than I am, and had been working at our company for over twenty years. During her last week, a group of coworkers who had worked under her took her out for lunch, and I went along.

Somehow I ended up sitting across from her. The small talk, obviously, turned to her job experience: why she was leaving the company after so many years, and how much she’d impacted the company, and what she’d done beforehand.

I said, a little surprised, “Oh, I didn’t know you worked somewhere else. What did you do?”

“Well, a few things,” she said with a little smile. “I was a nurse for a couple years.”

“Oh, really?” I was even more surprised now. Nurses, in my mind, have an extremely dynamic job, with tons of patient interaction (which is the part of medicine I’m most looking forward to). Our then-jobs were pretty much the opposite: we very seldom interacted with people other than each other, and it was very much a daily grind made up of the exact same things every day. “What made you switch careers and start working here?”

Another coworker, whose spouse is a nurse, suggested, “Was it the hours? That’s my biggest complaint about the nursing career …” (I’m not completely sure why. One of my friends is a nurse and, though she works 12-hour shifts, she only does so three days a week. It’s also very easy for her to move her schedule around so she can get two or three weeks off at a time.)

“No, it wasn’t that,” my boss confirmed. “Really, it was the sense of responsibility. Obviously doctors were the ones who were diagnosing the patients, but as a nurse it was my duty to make sure the patients got all their medications, and just to watch out for their overall health, really. Sometimes I would go home and lie awake worrying, what if I missed something? What if someone died because of something I’d inadvertently skipped over during the day?”

Then she glanced my way and added, “Of course, some people can handle that! It just wasn’t for me.”

I double-checked my work at my old job all the time, but there was nothing time-sensitive involved, and really nothing overly important either — certainly nothing that would determine if someone lived or died. But in reference to my becoming a doctor, this was something I’d never really considered before. If I could deal with the constant feeling of responsibility, the urge to double-check my work without (probably) the time to do so. Or if it would keep me up at night, like it had my former boss. If it would ever affect me so much that I would prefer a quiet, even boring, office job, to avoid the weight of caring for other people’s lives.

Something else to ponder when deciding to be a doctor, I guess.

The July conversation.

By July I had had my undergraduate degree for two months, and lacked a job for just as long.  I felt like a failure because of it, but that’s a topic for another post.

I was living at home, spending my days looking for a job, attempting to write, and just watching TV.  I should’ve been feverishly filling out medical school applications, but I wasn’t.  My dad is retired, so he was home too, and we spent a lot of time together, usually in companionable silence.

We don’t talk about serious things all that often, but I’m lucky enough to know both my parents are always there to listen and, more often than not, offer their advice.  So I had no qualms telling him, “You know, I don’t know if I want to apply to medical school this year.”  (In order to enroll in the fall of 2006, the application process can begin as early as the summer of 2005 — a.k.a. right at that time — and no later than that fall.)  “I’m thinking of applying next summer, and starting in 2007 instead.”

My dad stopped multi-tasking and said, not unkindly, “That doesn’t make any sense.”

In reality, he probably didn’t say anything that harsh, but it sounded that way to me.  I am self-admittedly over-sensitive.

“If you’re certain you want to go to medical school,” he said, “you should go, as soon as possible.  It’s four years.  It’s a long time.  You should be eager to complete it while you’re young.”

I was still stuck on that first part.  “But I’m not certain I want to go to medical school,” I said.  “That’s the whole point.”

“I thought after our last discussion, you’d decided you were going to go.”

Consider my mind officially boggled.  “Wha — you really thought that?” I said, no trace of anger in my voice (well, not intentionally at least), just honestly surprised.  “I was clearly upset about the whole thing.  I called solely to say I wasn’t sure it was the right decision.  I listened to your reasons for it being a good idea, but I don’t think I ever verbally agreed with them.  I have never been certain that I want to go to med school.”

My dad shrugged.  “That’s not the impression that I got,” he said.

Don’t get the idea that my dad is uncaring, because he’s definitely not.  He cares.  Which may be why it’s even more surprising to me that we came away from that April conversation with entirely different opinions of what happened.

I have no conclusions to draw from this, except maybe people hear what they want to hear.

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