When I grow up I want to be… not a doctor

I wanted to be many things growing up as a child. Journalist, lawyer, author, university lecturer, television presenter, veterinarian, I flirted with many ideas. I have since crossed off several of these from the list, however for some the infamous phrase “never say never,” still applies (looking at you author and lecturer).

It was halfway through high school when I realised in a few years I would need to make a decision that would alter the course of my entire life. I started thinking about what I could seriously pursue as a career, and options such as law and veterinary science were lined up at the top. There was nothing I felt truly passionate and certain about, but I believed I could find myself enjoying them. However, as with every decision I’ve made in my life, it was not without doubt and apprehension. My parents were fairly convinced I didn’t have the moral fluidity to become a barrister, that I would struggle to navigate the perilous tightrope that is involved in manipulating the law. And although I adored animals and saving their lives would bring me much happiness, I wasn’t sure their salaries justified the years of study and toil that came with a seven year degree (sorry my fellow vets). My fantasy job was (and still is) to become an actor, but I was pragmatic enough to know how unlikely it’d be to succeed and that it was not a smart choice. By the time I was in my final year and it came around to submitting preferences, my list was an absolute mess.

At this point you may be wondering, isn’t she a medical student? When is medicine coming into the discussion? The truth of the matter is, it was never something I truly considered until I was well into my Bachelor’s degree and realised I had the capability of doing it. In some ways you could say I ‘fell’ into medicine. Sound extremely pretentious and arrogant doesn’t it? I have always been a high achiever throughout my entire life, having never gone through a year without being one of the top students in my grade. Science and maths were my forte, and I enjoyed excelling in difficult subjects. I thrived during tests. Chemistry and biology were among my most enjoyable subjects. I was a typical nerd. But not only did I not consider medicine as a pathway whilst choosing university courses, I avoided it. I didn’t have a real reason as to why I ignored it, and told my parents it was because I was grossed out by cadavers. What a stupid excuse. It was not until meeting with my school’s career counsellor did I have to confront the obvious question.

“Why aren’t you considering medicine?”

I didn’t want her to know I was as clueless as she was. I ended up stammering out the same excuse about seeing corpses and she scoffed at me, calling me out on my bullshit. Apparently it was clear that according to my academic record and excellence, I should be striving to become a doctor. She was more certain about my future than I was, and today I wish I could let her know she should have pursued fortune telling. I went home deep in thought and eventually decided that since I did not know what I was interested in, it would be prudent to reach as high as I could and work my way down. I had already sat the compulsory entrance exam required for medicine earlier in the year to keep my options open, but because of a lack of interest and study my marks were not outstanding. Nonetheless, it was worth a try and so an undergraduate medical degree became my top preference and everything else shifted down one spot.

I didn’t get in. My ATAR was high enough but the combination of my entrance exam and interview was not enough. I was a little disappointed at the time but not that upset. In hindsight, I see it as a blessing because I was nowhere near mentally prepared enough to take on a five year medical degree and survive. I needed a few more years to mature, but at least I knew it was a tangible achievement. I was slowly inching towards embracing medicine, and I am still on that long journey today. Therefore, due to a fortunate scholarship offer I found myself undertaking a Bachelor of Biomedicine at the University of Melbourne.

Now, anyone studying at this university can tell you that the basic undergraduate degree does not give you many job prospects. Many students choose to study on, and so in three years time I was once at the same fork in the road deciding what I would become. This time round, I was more prepared. I studied for the postgraduate entrance exams, I submitted my preferences with a little bit more confidence and I knew what to expect in the interviews. Well, we all know what happened next don’t we? Here I am another three years later, twelve months away from finally earning that title. What a ride. I enjoy it, I love my patients and I still thrive (somewhat) in my exams.

Sometimes I still worry that I am not passionate enough about this career choice. I’ve met many colleagues who tell tales of becoming certain they would be a doctor from a young age, or heartbreaking stories of loss and death that led to their desire to help others. Unfortunately I have no story. I only have a feeling, a feeling that I may find some joy, purpose and satisfaction in this job. A feeling that one day, all these years of study and work may pay-off and I’ll look back on my life with contentment and pride. I have no certainty in this hunch, and there are definitely days where I believe I have made the wrong choice. Days where everything has gone wrong and I cannot imagine sitting exams for the next ten years to finally become a consultant. Days where the thought of fifteen hour shifts without toilet breaks makes me dread graduating. Days where I just wish I could have be something else. I hope I don’t sound like I’m whining and ungrateful for this opportunity, but it is daunting to think of all the responsibility we will be burdened with and the hard work that is yet to come. Being a doctor is not as glamorous of a profession as some may think. I remember once speaking to an anaesthetist, and he said, “If you asked whether I would go back and do it all again, I probably wouldn’t.” Words of encouragement hey?

But I like to think that there is a reason I am here today, that the universe knew I had to be in this very spot. Despite not having come into this field with a fiery passion and eagerness, I like what I do and I cannot see myself doing anything else. Medicine has already given me great joy and a sense of achievement, and I haven’t even started yet. If anything, medicine chose me.

25 thoughts on “When I grow up I want to be… not a doctor

  1. Good luck with your medical career.

    I sort of fell into studying Philosophy.

    I wanted to be a Philosophy professor.

    My mother wanted me to be a lawyer.

    We fought a lot in my last year of Undergraduate studies.

    I ended up becoming a journalist and a reporter.

    A job I didn’t really like.

    I do enjoy being a writer and author however.


    1. Sometimes things don’t always go our way, but I am glad you enjoy writing. I hope that you may still find some joy and sense of achievement in your career, and I wish you the very best in all your future endeavours.


  2. This is really quite interesting. While in college I worked in the University Developmental Center, administering various tests to students. One of these was the Strong (name of developer) Personality Indicator. Not meant as a predictor of success, it was an exhaustive survey of the people who had entered and succeeded in various fields. It presented a meta-analysis of the persons in each field and prompted the student taking the inventory to ask himself whether he was compatible with the profile for that field. I have no idea if the test, or any like it, is still in use.

    Later, as a college instructor I had many conversations with students regarding their reasons for being in college, their chosen major (if they had one), and their long term vision. Many of the first and second year students had little or no concrete ideas; they only knew they “should” be in college. Many of them said their major, or field of interest, was chosen by their parents – who were paying the bills. And, there were some who said they had long had a conviction they they would some day be a (fill in the blank). Of course, I asked the latter what understanding they actually had of what it would be like in their chosen field. The answers were often not encouraging.

    The saddest cases were those in which finances and/or the military draft, hung over the student, forcing him or her to complete a degree in one field while having discovered their real vocation was in an entirely different field.

    I’ve long thought there should be a mandatory break between high school and college. During that break, perhaps a year in public service, the prospective students would be required to take a course exposing them to the realities of a wide variety of fields. Even in the 1970’s there were several excellent studies indicating that by the time a person completes their degree the field would have changed dramatically, perhaps leaving them quite unprepared although degreed.

    Thanks for providing this very thought provoking piece.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I think doing something that brings you joy on a day to day basis is far more important that being passionate about a career and then suffering a disappointment. As is said, life is what happens to do when you’re busy making other plans.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think those are very wise words. Overall I like what I do, and cannot see myself doing anything else. Sometimes things just happen, and we have to go along for the ride before we know whether we enjoy it or not.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I really appreciate the insights you are sharing from your medical experience. I’m retired now. Two careers complete. I liked law because it was very challenging for my mind and I was able to do a lot of research and writing. I disliked law because the system, like many, doesn’t work like it should. It is a legal system, not a justice system. But I was blessed to hold a number of different positions and learned a great deal. I also learned that despite one’s accomplishments, we have very limited control. My career in law was brought to an early conclusion by what some would characterize as my employer’s betrayal in a political year. Yet, even that turned out to be a blessing in disguise ๐Ÿ™‚ Oh, and by the way, my original career goal was to become a veterinarian – funny how things work out. ๐Ÿ™‚ Best wishes for you as your career progresses. I look forward to reading more.


      2. I am glad that you still had a rewarding and fruitful career, it sounds like you were very good at what you did and was extremely diligent and talented. I agree that despite putting so much of our life and efforts into our jobs, many things will always be outside our control. I am sorry your journey was cut short in such a way, but it still sounds like you had an amazing experience. A veterinarian! Look at us, twinning! Thanks so much for the kind words, I wish you the very best for future ๐Ÿ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve always wondered at the pressure to choose a life-long career when one is twenty-ish. People live longer now, and there are fewer jobs, companies or careers that offer (let alone guarantee) employment throughout the decades one plans to work before retiring. Even retirement as most think of it needs a re-do. It seems perfectly reasonable to me to start down a particular path with the expectation that you’ll change at a later point as you grow and learn what interests you and as your priorities evolve. I spent 33 years as an attorney, loving it for maybe the first ten, trying to figure out how to escape and what else I could/should do for the last twenty-three. Along the way I discovered writing, eventually freelancing for magazines and publishing a book (and planning more). I could say I wish I’d discovered writing in some form as a career back in college, but the truth is I had no interest then, and it was later life events that caused me to pursue it.

    The wife of a friend wrote a book, published in hardback in 2004, about her medical school experience: What Patients Taught Me – A Medical Student’s Journey, by Audrey Young, MD. Turns out she’s a gifted writer in addition to being a compassionate doctor. You might enjoy her book. I have a feeling you may be writing one (or more) of your own someday.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It sounds like you have had a very rich and colourful career journey, and I am glad you have pursued things that bring you joy. I will have to try and read that book, thank you for the recommendation! I really enjoy writing and it would be an absolute dream to one day publish something. But I think that is way in the future for me, I am currently trying to finish off this degree!


  5. Thanks for visiting my blog. I stopped in here to see what you write, and this post is pretty interesting. Good Luck. I am finished with my career now, and one of my posts, I reflected on some of the things I’d done with my life, and why perhaps, I did something good. It’s an oddly named post: “Contemplating Death Again, With Photos” (Sept 9, 2109), but it’s not morbid — it’s just what I was thinking about as I started writing, but I went somewhere else by the time I finished it. I think the post would have been better titled: Contemplating Life, in Retrospect, Again.
    My life did not always go the way I thought, but I enjoyed it, and stay busy still.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello, thank you so much for reading. I really enjoyed your post, it certainly sounds like you have had many interesting things happen along the way. I can’t believe you have done so many different things! From research to acting and owning a winery, it sounds like you have done more than “something good.” I wish you the very best in everything that you do, hope that you remain in good health and continue to do those hikes and all the things you enjoy ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Hello , glad somehow I came to your blog. I had the same thought when I first started medical career. I am on my residency specialty now. Do you have something in mind what specialty do you want to be ?


    1. I am very open-minded to most specialties, I did a radiology elective recently and enjoyed it, but there isn’t a field I am committed to yet, how about you?


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