The short answer is, it is not the end of the world. But honestly hearing that answer would make me cringe because it does feel like the end of the world. To have someone say that it is not the end of the world when it feels like that is sort of a terrible feeling. Although it may not be the end of the world I want to help you understand why it is not.
Before we started medical school, there was a two week orientation where they told you about med school, you got your ID, how to get scrubs out of the scrub machine, etc. These two weeks were a lot of fun because you made tons of new friends and did not have any of the pressures associated with medical school. It was just plain old fun. During these two weeks I met a girl in my class who I will call Ashley. Ashley was super nice, fun to be around, and excited to start medical school. She was part of my new friend group. I remember it was the night before our first day of real class which was Anatomy and she seemed really nervous about the next day. I did not think anything of it because I knew I was nervous and anxious and many people around me also were. We jumped right into Anatomy the next day and there was no slowly getting accustomed to medical school… we really jumped in. Our schedule that first day -along with the rest of Anatomy- was the following:
- 8:00am – 10:30 am: Lectures in Anatomy. Each week had a theme such as “Head and Neck” or “Leg and Thigh” anatomy and we would focus on those structures that whole week. We learned about the muscles, nerve innervation, blood supply, and medical conditions that would result if there was a problem.
- 10:30 am – 12:00pm: Lectures in Embryology. This was one of the least favorite subjects by us medical students because it was really hard to understand these topics with no previous background.
- 12:00pm – 1:00pm: Lunch.
- 1:00pm – 5:00pm: Anatomy Lab. This was the time when we would go into the formaldehyde infested lab and actually dissect and apply what we learned that morning in lectures. This session could go longer if we did not get done with our dissection or did not understand it as well.
As you can tell from the schedule, it was not only a grueling first day but a grueling next couple of weeks. For my class, Anatomy was a long 12 weeks. After the first day of Anatomy, I saw my friend Ashley and the sparkle in her eyes from the excitement of starting medical school was no longer there. She was beyond overwhelmed and felt failure was imminent. I felt the same way as so many of us did after the first day but I decided to push through. The only thing that kept me going was that so many before me had felt the same way but were able to push through and I wanted to also push through. We all became absorbed in our Anatomy books and many of us battled with our own anxieties about upcoming exams. Most of us did not step out of our own comfort zones to ask if those around us were okay because we could barely decide if we were okay. But we all pushed on. Ashley decided a couple of weeks into the struggle that Medicine was not what she wanted to do. She struggled with her decision for weeks before she finally made that decision and all of her friends were shocked because none of us really knew. We all told her that we could be there for her and help her on this journey but she told us it was not the lack of camaraderie that caused her to make this decision but it was rather something she had realized on her own. Although she was really sad to end her journey so soon she was glad she realized she did not want this sooner rather than later. We all asked her if she had any plans for the future and she told us she did not have anything lined up which did worry her. She left medical school in the middle of Anatomy and some of us heard back from her a couple of months later. She had decided on another career path. Fast forward a year later and she was working at a place that was making her incredibly happy. She was excited to go to work every morning and was enjoying her relaxed lifestyle.
I remember Ashley after she made her decision and how preoccupied she was of her future because when she made her decision she said it felt like it was the end of the world. At the time, it may have definitely felt like that but with time and motivation she realized that Medicine was not what she wanted with her life. I actually called her up the other day to ask how she was doing and she is still working for the same company and was just promoted. She told me leaving medical school was one of the hardest decisions she made but she is so thankful to have had the courage to accept that Medicine was not what she wanted.
For many of us that decide to pursue Medicine, we do not have a back up plan because that would mean believing that we are not completely committed to our future in Medicine. Even if you do not have a back up plan just remember that it is okay to allow yourself to change your mind if that is what you think is best. It is better to figure it out now rather than years later.