How Do I Make Such An Important Decision?

As a fresh first year medical student, every upperclassman I talked to said the same thing: “Don’t worry about Step 1 and residency right now. You still have a long way to go. Just enjoy your life right now!”


Finally looking forward to wrapping up my first year in a few weeks, the feeling of impending doom is slowly encroaching on me. In exactly a year from now, I will be taking probably the most important exam of my life. And in 2 years from that point, I will know where I will be going for the next phase of my training – residency. So the most obvious question is – what do I want to do with the rest of my life? Let’s try to break down this complex, loaded question into a few basic steps.


1. Medicine or surgery?


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As a growing medical student, this is the first question you need to ask yourself. Medicine and surgery are the two prongs of the medical field. Are you the kind of person who loves the operating room and cannot imagine living outside it or can you survive without ever operating?


It goes without saying that this is a hard decision to make so early on in your career. You have barely stepped into the medical community and you are already expected to know something about the various specialties and subspecialties of medicine. But fear not! Contrary to popular belief, there is a systematic way to make this decision. It goes back to what every pre-medical student did to show their commitment to medicine and find out more about it – shadowing.


First year is your chance to take advantage of all the (relatively) free time you have and utilize it to shadow with physicians in one of numerous specialties. As a medical student, you will have the unique opportunity to take part in patient care and experience firsthand what it takes to work in that field. This is your chance to explore each area of medicine with an open mind and take it all in as you make your broad decision between medicine and surgery.


2. Am I a research fanatic?


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If you are a medical student at one of the many institutions around the United States, it goes without saying that you are at a place that values medical research. However, not every student who graduates yearns to do research. However, in order to find out whether you want scientific investigation to be a part of your future career, you need to give it a try. And the key word here is “try.”


Don’t be afraid to contribute to a project and then switch to a completely different field. This is your opportunity to explore the different kinds of research (basic, translational, or clinical) and figure out what fits your bill. In the process, you may even find out that you love taking care of patients too much and would rather just follow-up with research that others do rather than take the mantle yourself. And this is something definitely not out of the question for young physicians. However, it is crucial to be exposed to it in order to determine your interest and learn to critically evaluate research as a way to becoming a more experienced as well as evolving health care provider.


3. What kind of personal life do I want?


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Believe it or not, we all need a life outside the hospital. Whenever I say this, I can immediately see my neurosurgery friends defiantly nodding in the background, proclaiming their unconditional love for a good ol’ craniotomy.


When making a career decision, consider what your personal goals are and how they complement with your professional goals. Do you want a job that allows you regular working hours or one that is kind of unpredictable? Do you want to be in a highly specialized field that takes long years of training before you can settle down or do you want to start working right away to do what you love? And like all things in life, financial factors play a huge role. At the end of the day, you want to be to make a living.


When you put these three questions together, there are multiple others that you will come across specific to your individual situation. This is simply a starting point for especially the young medical students who are at the start of a rewarding career.


So what are you waiting for? Let the thinking and exploring commence!


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Yash Pandya

Yash Pandya is a science writer at The "Almost" Doctor's Channel. He is a rising third-year student at the University of Pittsburgh, majoring in Emergency Medicine with minors in Neuroscience and Chemistry. Yash plans on attending the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in Fall 2016 with guaranteed admission. In addition to the usual humdrum of academic involvement, Yash loves to play Ping Pong, catch up on the latest "Big Bang Theory," and travel. Having lived in India for half his lifetime, Yash aspires to expand his horizons into international healthcare by practicing medicine globally.