I feel like I have been pre-med forever. Ever since middle school, I’ve answered the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” with a definitive answer. “A doctor,” I’d say, and when pushed for a specialty — “a cardiologist.”
Even in high school, when I discovered how much I loved public health, this plan didn’t change much. I still wanted to be a cardiologist, but one who also graduated with a master’s in public health.
I had blindly committed to being a doctor and rarely took the opportunity to question what I wanted. But earlier this month when I checked classes off my academic worksheet during advanced registration, I was forced to confront the fact that I would have to take the oh-so-dreaded organic chemistry course next academic year.
Orgo is infamous for its rigor and has a reputation for eating away large chunks of students’ time. I thought hard about whether I wanted to go to medical school badly enough to put up with it, and I realized I didn’t.
I may change my mind down the road, but for now, I won’t be taking orgo next year and I don’t plan on going to medical school. Instead, I hope to devote more of my time to public health. I’ve realized that this is my true passion, in which I hope to receive a Ph.D. one day.
I’ve been reflecting a lot on how I convinced myself that I wanted to be a cardiologist for so long without truly wanting it. So I’ve borrowed an idea from a fellow Daily Pennsylvanian columnist, College senior Lauren Agresti, who wrote a letter to her body last month. Here’s what I have to say to the 18-year-old future Dr. Robert Hsu —
Dear Dr. Hsu,
Just because you have always liked science (except for physics), that doesn’t mean you have to be a doctor.
Our society has put the idea of being a doctor on a pedestal by presenting it as the best way to help people and give back. But there are other ways to serve the community, which you will eventually realize.
You’re about to enter freshman year. College is going to be an exciting and fulfilling time, but just remember one thing: you were born to do public health.
Remember how, in elementary school, you plastered “no smoking” signs fashioned from sticky notes around your uncle’s house to get him to quit? Remember, in high school, how much you enjoyed teaching younger kids about proper nutrition and physical activity? What about all the effort you put into making your school a healthier place?
Remember how you felt as you struggled to sew up a pig’s leg at summer medical camp between sophomore and junior years of high school? It’s OK if you still feel a little squeamish as you dissect a rat the size of a six-inch sub and peel back layers of an earthworm’s body during biology lab. You don’t have to keep pretending you are completely comfortable with scalpels, blood and the idea of cutting into people. There’s no need to lie to yourself.
There is a difference between liking a career because it sounds good and having a passion that you love in itself. You’ll know when you truly care about something. It will wake you up when you’re feeling sleepy, it will distract you from your schoolwork, it will make you more talkative than usual and, most of all, it will feel right.
As you commit to the idea of being a doctor, don’t forget that you’ve changed your mind many times before. In second grade, you wanted to be an automotive engineer. Then, in third grade, you fell in love with airplanes and decided that you wanted to be an aerospace engineer, a flight attendant and a pilot — all at once. It’s okay to change your mind — you’re only 18.
Most importantly, Robert, never forget to constantly challenge your own beliefs about yourself because sometimes, you will be wrong. Just because you have believed in an idea of yourself for seven years doesn’t mean it will hold true for the next seven.
So don’t study too much.
Robert Hsu, a College and Wharton sophomore from Novi, Mich. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @mrroberthsu. “The Casual Observer” appears every other Friday.
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