So, why do you want to be a doctor?
Don't know yet? Find an answer. Because you are not getting into medical school without a good one.
And more importantly, you don't even want to go to medical school without a good answer.
Some of you might think that being in medical school is totally glamorous. And sometimes, when we have those parties with red carpets and Cristal water fountains inside the Davison Building, it totally is. But usually med school (at least the first year of it) is a whole lot of lectures, dead bodies and other things that stink. (Thanks, guys, I'll be here all week. Tip your waitresses.)
I spent upwards of 70 hours per week in class and studying last year. And this year, I'll spend close to 80 hours per week in the hospital. Then I'll study. When I was an undergrad at this very same institution, there were weeks when I'd barely spend 80 hours per semester in class and studying. If you're a whiny pre-med who already "works soooo hard," you're probably going to find yourself in a world of hurt when you get to med school. (Also, chill out. No one likes a whiny pre-med.)
I'm telling you how much I studied not because I want you to think I'm working soooo much harder than you are-I wasn't a pre-med; I was an English major-but because my life is going to be your life assuming you're lucky enough and you've worked hard enough to get into med school. And without a good answer to the "Why Do I Want To Be A Doctor" question, you're not going to be happy.
Do you want to be a doctor because doctors make a lot of money? There are easier ways to make a lot of money than spending four years learning about obscure diseases and then working as a glorified indentured servant for up to 12 more years. Go to law school or become an I-banker.
Do you want to be a doctor because doctors are well-respected members of the community? So are rabbis and pastors and paleontologists.
Do you want to be a doctor because doctors help people? So do bankers; they give people their money. So do grocers; they sell people their food. So do trashmen; they pick up the trash so that people don't have to take it to the dump. Unless your dream job is "hermit" or "Paris Hilton," you're going to help people.
Do you want to be a doctor because you like science? Science teachers like science. Scientists like science. Paleontologists like science.
Do you want to be a doctor because it'll make your Mom/Dad/Grandma happy? Mom and Dad and Grandma will love you whether or not you're a doctor, and if you're not doing this for yourself, you'll never get it done.
And that's kind of the point. It's not why every member of every admissions committee you ever meet will ask you why you want to be a doctor-that's because they're sadists, obvi-but it is why you need a real, true answer for yourself. You can make up some kind of lie, and if your grades and scores are good enough, you'll fool an admissions committee into letting you in. But if you can't answer the question truthfully, you'll hate med school.
So think about it. Ask yourself: Why do I want to be a doctor and not anything else in the world?
It's not that being a doctor is some sort of special calling; it's just that becoming one is going to cost you a whole lot of work and a whole lot of money. If you think you might want to be a computer programmer, you can get a job the day after you graduate with Google or something. If you don't like it there, then you can leave. No harm, no foul, and you've probably made yourself a couple bucks. If you think you might want to be a doctor, and you go to medical school and then you decide that you don't like it, you've just flushed four years and $160,000 (plus living expenses) down the toilet and subjected yourself to a lot of unnecessary work and stress. (That's not entirely true. I'm not trying to scare you. An M.D. is always worth having even if you decide you don't want to be a doctor. It's just that there are probably easier ways to get where you want to go.)
As for me, I went to med school because my dream of becoming a Major League baseball player crashed and burned when my second grade coach put me 15th in the batting order and because David Bowie made being an astronaut seem boring. Also, my first favorite toy was the Fisher Price doctor set. (Come on, you think I'd give you all the answers?)
Serious advice: Spend some time thinking about what it means to be sick and what being a doctor means. Take a class or two that looks into medicine or sickness from an unconventional angle. Read a book-like "On Doctoring" by Richard Reynolds and John Stone-to get a sense of what doctors mean to patients. Think about what makes your desire to be a doctor unique.
Alex Fanaroff, Trinity '07, is a second-year medical student. His column runs every other Thursday.