The One Where I Wasn’t Pre-med

I swore I would NEVER be a doctor.

Fall 2006: Clueless, sheltered me strikes out on my own, moving from my small town to a bustling urban campus in Boston. Despite lacking even the slightest idea what “biochemistry” and “molecular biology” are (one’s just biology and chemistry together, and the other one just comes with it, right?!), I sign up for the long hours and intense curriculum of a Biochemistry and Molecular Biology major. So do 100-and-some odd pre-medical students.

But I am NOT pre-med, but that is inevitably be the question I receive from EVERYONE I meet. I grow tired of the assumption, to the point that I scare the dentist, barking a forceful NO to his question through the 45 metal tools he’s shoved in my mouth. I’m going to RESEARCH, I insist.

Ask me again, punk!

 ———

Winter 2007: I’m rocking the swollen wisdom-tooth-extraction look that would be desirable only if auditioning for Alvin and the Chipmunks Live, and the incessant, loopy giggles of a first-time Vicodin prescription. I’ve spent an indeterminate amount of time sipping on milkshakes, snuggling with frozen vegetable bags, and watching episode after episode of House.

“You know, being a doctor kind of looks like fun,” I announce to a friend. “But I could never do it.”

“Why?” he responded.

I can’t answer that question. Even in my floaty Vicodin state, I know I’m caught: I have no real reason to believe I wouldn’t make a good doctor.

———-

Summer 2008: I’m working in a neuroscience research lab, population: me, a middle-aged Indian woman, and a young Greek MD/PhD in dark jeans and Converse sneakers. I get to perform surgeries on mice, which is awesome, and I’m learning boatloads about lab techniques. The research itself is fascinating, but I’m kind of a nightmare in the lab: dropping bottles, accidentally leaving the sample refrigerator door open until the alarm goes off, and my results just never seem to turn out right.

These guys are kind of cute when you’re not discovering them munching the food in your pantry…

But the worst part is the isolation. Every day, while I wait for my tests to run, I develop both my love for web comics and my realization that I need something with more personal interaction. No offense, Jeph Jacques, but a girl can only read the entire archive of Questionable Content so many times.

 ———-

Summer 2009: I make one of the toughest decisions of my life to turn down a summer research position with Dr. Melton at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and accept a job with completely undefined roles through a dialysis center in the south.

I spend a week working at a camp for kids with kidney disease, though I have no doubt the kids changed my life way more than I impacted theirs. I watch in awe of these amazing young people, popping handfuls of pills each meal and informing me what foods are not allowed in their diet.

Decorations from “Prom”

Then, I head to Memphis for the following eight weeks, where I spend every single day working in a pediatric hospital, following all different specialties and absorbing the day-to-day life of a physician. I’m captivated by the science and the connections the physicians have made with their patients, including one girl who’s brought a wedding invitation to her oncologist at St. Jude. I’m infuriated by the social determinants that prevent some of my patients from receiving the care they require.

The funny thing about this summer is that I’m more socially isolated than the one before, but I can’t imagine being happier doing anything else. It’s in this moment that I know I absolutely HAVE to be a doctor, and conveniently, my crazy choice to major in BMB has me already on track to apply.

But I swear, I’ll NEVER be a surgeon.

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