Why You Should Probably Quit Pre-Med
Recently, I listened to a podcast that told the story of Sean Cole. At age 14, Sean Cole entered a new school and found himself among a group of very eccentric classmates. With an honest desire to set himself apart, on the very first day of classes, he began speaking with a British accent. First, it was just for a day. But one day turned into one week and then one month and, unable to turn back, Sean Cole spoke with a British accent for two whole years until switching schools.
Many YU pre-med students are like Sean Cole. They enter college with noble desires. They want to challenge themselves, make their families proud and do something fulfilling, so they sign up for the pre-med route, because it checks all those boxes.
And they don’t get found out. Nobody realizes their British accent is fake. They don’t get weeded out of Biology. They ace General Chemistry. During the semester they shadow a cardiologist. During summer break they do clinical research at a prestigious hospital. They do their homework before registration and get into the right classes. All their boxes are checked. Their British accent is impeccable. Nobody picks up on it.
But the only person they’ve fooled is themselves.
They aren’t meant to be pre-med. But this is no easy thing for them to realize. The pre-med route demands an intense single-minded focus; it can’t handle deviation. It sucks you in almost like quicksand, engaging you in a time-consuming cycle of planning and execution. Between four-year course schedules on Excel, registration, lab reports and internship applications, pre-med students have little headspace to think about anything else. As a result, they oftentimes completely forgo thinking about divergent career paths.
But dear reader, there are other compounding causes for this myopic vision. The pre-med allure is forceful; the path to becoming a doctor provides so much financial promise, social prestige and certainty of execution (especially for someone as smart as you) that in the process you’ve ignored the reservations tugging at your sleeve. After all, you're pretty good at this pre-med stuff. So, why give it up? Besides, what else would you do?
I want to tell you about an old friend of mine named Josh Goldstein. I once observed Josh during my General Chemistry final exam. I watched as Josh handed in his exam 30 minutes early and remarked to the professor: “Thanks for a great semester. I don’t think I’ll be seeing you next semester.” I remember wondering in disbelief why this fellow honors student couldn’t hack the class. Three long years later, while perusing the YU’s News website, his image popped up. The caption read: “YU Grad Josh Goldstein headed to Yale Law.” I was astonished. Josh Goldstein showed me that the choice to quit pre-med meant far from failing. It meant choosing to have faith in one’s ability to succeed on another path. Josh taught me the vital lesson that you can be radically good at something, but to find that out you must let go of one thing and try something new.
If you’re reading this, it might be time to step back from the checklist hoopla and consider three things. Firstly, consider that you could be really good at a lot of other things and start exploring some of those things. Lao Tse once said that “a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Take that one step. Take a class in Syms, shadow a lawyer, intern at a real estate company or pursue that side hustle you’ve been thinking about. Most of all realize that if you can get by in pre-med, you can likely do exceptionally well in other fields.
After you’ve considered that there are, indeed, other paths that you could successfully pursue, face your doubts about becoming a doctor head-on — by now you’ve probably noticed that your reservations haven’t gone away simply because you’ve ignored them. If you feel awfully uninspired when shadowing a doctor, don’t like the sciences or are having trouble with the idea of years of delayed satisfaction, explore these issues now instead of pushing them away because of the anxiety they cause. Remember: everyone gets anxious about their career path at one point or another. It’s totally normal and it’s better to have it now than 10 years from now. So, take the time to tune into your soul to ensure that you pursue a career that’s right for you.
Lastly, more generally speaking, it may be wise to examine the core beliefs you have about careers. Perhaps, it’s time to start questioning your belief that you can’t support a Jewish family as anything else but a doctor (maybe you can’t, I don’t know), that you are a failure if you become a lawyer (maybe you are, ask your Jewish mother) or that you must help people to have a fulfilling career. Only you can answer these questions for yourself.
The good news is that the sooner you face your doubts and address the questions that have been lingering in your mind, the sooner you can go on to live the rest of your life — whether in medicine or in another field.
If you’ve fallen prey to the sunk costs fallacy, recognize it as such and acknowledge the truism that it’s never too late to switch paths to something better. And if pre-med has become your identity, if your dreams have been wrapped up in pre-med packaging, note this: you’re not giving up on your dreams, you’re just redefining the means to accomplishing them. After all, you’ve always dreamt of being happy and successful. Pivoting to a different path is simply a way to make that happen.
Photo Credit: Michael Shavolian