In high school, I aspired to be a pulmonologist for obvious reasons: I wanted to aid the CF community by directly helping patients. It seemed logical. I dreamed of becoming a pulmonologist because my CF doctors had been some of my greatest role models. They were quite literally keeping me alive and I was immensely grateful.
I believed that having CF meant that my life experiences didn’t look like those of the majority of others, especially people who want to practice medicine. I believed that leading a life accustomed to doctors, needles, treatments, and other medical procedures led me to the inside track on a medical career. I hoped that cramming my nose to the grindstone and diligent studying would make my dream of being a good doctor an inevitable achievement.
Had I followed through on my dream to pursue medicine, I could have been a skilled and empathetic pulmonologist, oncologist, family doctor, or a couple of other specialists. Ultimately, I decided against a career in medicine. Two moments became inflection points for my burgeoning (and dying) medical dreams.
The first occurred in mid-August 2015, which coincided with me beginning Orkambi (lumacaftor/ivacaftor). I had taken the MCAT a month prior. Every single day spent waiting for the score that month was hell.
I don’t feel this is a good spot to wax on about why pre-medical (and medical) culture can be so damaging to a student’s psyche, but my entire collegiate career felt like it hung in the air until I learned my score. The feeling of that semester predicated on whether I’d earn a score that would get me into med school. The day I was about to drive down to Kentucky to begin my senior year of college, I opened the awaited email: 48th percentile. Nowhere near good enough.
My world shattered. It was one of the first times I felt totally incompetent. I felt as if my future died that day. I had two options: I could give up on medical school. Or, I could take a gap year to commit to researching or volunteering while studying harder to achieve a much higher score. I decided on the latter and tried to reframe my perspective on how beneficial a gap year could be.
Fast-forward six months to the end of February 2016, and I was four months (of six) deep into studying for the MCAT again. I had the end of February marked on my calendar because it was the last day to get any money refunded if I chose to cancel my seat. I had spent all of January and February seriously thinking about whether medical school was my best route.
There are many reasons to abandon pursuing medicine. Eight to 10 years until one can independently practice medicine, plus the constant stress of medical school, residency, and more that never really ends — many hobbies and lifestyle patterns fall to the wayside. Plus, well, I didn’t even know if I would get into a college.
CF presented other issues. Waiting eight to 10 years is nothing to scoff at. At the time, I was 22. Assuming I’d be healthy enough to pursue medicine for the next several years was absolutely not a given. I worried that medical school would directly shorten my life through the combination of sleepless nights, unrelenting stress, and constant exposure to hospital environments that could all cause exacerbations and infections. What would happen if I reach residency and I’m only sort of healthy? Would I be OK with committing so much time to medicine only for it to have to rapidly end? I wanted to make a difference in the CF community while also maintaining my sanity and my happiness.
I decided on Feb. 28 to cancel my MCAT seat. That was not an easy decision, and I spent a lot of time considering it deeply. I woke up the following day blissfully unaware of what my future looked like. I walked to class on a beautiful spring morning, frightened but excited about a wide-open path that lay in front of me for the first time in nearly 10 years. Three years later, I think I made the right choice.
Follow along with Tré’s other writings on his humbly named site, www.trelarosa.com.
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