Nina Nguyen is a medical student at the University of Sherbrooke, Quebec; Matthew To is a medical student at Dalhousie University in Halifax.
Dear Aspiring Medical Student,
As some have said, congratulations on making it to this point. It’s okay if you’re not perfect: none of us are. Most of us didn’t have a 4.0 GPA or a 45T MCAT score when we applied. Medical schools figured out a long time ago that grades alone don’t turn a pre-med student into a full-fledged health care professional, and this is why you have to write those personal statements and endure those nerve-wracking interviews, surrounded by physicians who have practiced longer than you are old.
Even though you’re aware that schools may not ask the typical interview questions, you realize that these are important to reflect on and you’ve probably repeated in your sleep many times why you wanted to become a doctor, but every time words flow out of your mouth, it doesn’t sound sincere enough for these people who decide on your future career. You’ve thought about this over and over again when you sealed your documents, but have you really considered other healthcare professions that are just as important?
You’ve worked so hard over the past few years, balancing school, work, and family life in order to pursue your ambitions. Everyone has a different reason for medicine, but you know yours.
It’s not about the money.
It’s not about the prestige.
It’s not about the security.
I’m sure you know that medical school is not the easy answer. Once you are in, you’ll encounter challenges and failures. And you probably won’t ever forget them – like that first night of clerkship in third year, when your heart almost stops when you can’t save that lady who comes into the ER with acute chest pain. It was a textbook case, but you failed. Nobody said the F word to you, but deep inside you knew. You’ll make mistakes and feel extremely embarrassed, but you’ll also learn and grow from these experiences. And you may have already thought about the fact that you’ll still be in school when your friends tell you about their children or wondered how many years it will take to repay your $100,000 student loan. And who knew it’d be such a struggle to find a job after graduation? In some fields of medicine, one out of six doctors can’t find employment.
This doesn’t deter you though. You may have waited tables at that shady sushi restaurant in high school, been a TA for pre-med students, and sacrificed your summers doing research, but you’re ready for more challenges. You already knew that those two letters after your name wouldn’t come easy: You’ll pull all-nighters trying to memorize all 206 bones of the body, grab coffee for that attending physician who dislikes you, and spend less time with friends and family to take care of others. You’ll work 24-hour shifts and you’re aware that burnout is common. It can happen even to the best of doctors. Sadly, you will see your patients die too. In those moments, you’ll be reminded that you, too, are human, and terribly fragile.
Journeying with those who are sick is an incredible privilege. If you know this is how you want to spend the rest of your life, don’t give up – even if you’ve encountered failure.
We almost gave up when we received the fourteenth medical school rejection letter; We almost gave up when we had to take antidepressants; We almost gave up when we had to repeat the year.
But we didn’t and we are thankful to be here. Our patients help us see every day that being in medicine is a truly wonderful gift.
Good luck with your interviews and don’t forget to thank those who have brought you to where you are today.