It was January 4th, 2021. I had just had two great weeks of vacation. I had the blessing of seeing my parents and siblings on Christmas day during a pandemic, spend my second Christmas with my Fiancé, spend our first Christmas with our dogs and most of all, spend it healthy. I had it good. Then why did I cry the morning of Jan 4th, 2021? Because I realized I was burned out, exhausted and unhappy.
I have known since I was a young girl that I wanted to be a doctor, or so I told myself. With my sister having Autism and Epilepsy, doctor visits were frequent. This is where I was exposed to medicine, and saw the good, the bad and the ugly, and it was actually the ugly that drove me to go into medicine. It was how they judged my mother and I for only speaking Spanish, it was how they denied us care or treatment options because according to them we just wouldn’t understand it, it was how we had to travel 4 hours up to 3 times a month because we lived in a small rural town, Yuma, AZ, where certain medical specialties are non-existent. It was the ugly that drove me to want to be a doctor because I told myself, nobody should go through these barriers simply to get healthcare, a human right.
And thus, at a mere age of 10, my voyage to become a doctor started. After high school I started my prerequisites for medical school. I wasn’t doing well. No matter how much I studied, I just couldn’t seem to do well. I met with my advisor multiple times to get help but the only response I would get is that I should try something else, or that “woman like me” didn’t do this, whatever that meant. With my grades slipping and nobody to help teach me how to study, I left back home to Yuma, AZ where I finished my Bachelors and recuperated part of my grades. During this time I studied for the MCAT, and again, I didn’t do well. Through these ups and downs, I eventually retook the MCAT, moved to Phoenix and started my Master’s in Public Health, and eventually learned, by myself, how to study. Now, I was set, I thought to myself. I know how to study and graduated with an almost 4.0 during my Masters, I got this. I then got into Midwestern University for their MBS program that was linked with their DO program.
At last, I thought to myself, I am in, I just need to survive 6 more years of school. Just 6 more years.
The first quarter of the first year started and it was brutal, probably the most brutal quarter in my whole academic career, but I did well. As first quarter was about to be done, and a well deserved two week vacation was right around the corner, I received an email. The email was from school mentioning that 2 students on campus had committed suicide.
This email soon triggered me to ask myself one question those whole two weeks of vacation prior to Jan 4th, can I do this for 6 more years? And if so, will I make it out or will I be part of another email from school about a student who committed suicide?
During those two weeks of vacation prior to Jan 4th, I did some soul searching as they would say, soul searching I didn’t have time to do during my first quarter because of so much studying, and reflected upon my first quarter to soon realize that I was very unhappy. The comparison I would use to describe my feelings, is that I was going to work to a job I didn’t like, and evidently I was unhappy. In the past few months I realized that I developed anxiety and rarely slept because of the anxiety and pressure of studying and thinking what I could have done better or should have. I soon entered this cycle of I should’ve, could’ve, would’ve.
That Monday morning, Jan 4th, 2021, after two weeks of vacation and soul searching, I woke up at my regular 5am time, got coffee ready and at 530am, I was studying. But, as I studied physiology, the renal system to be exact, I started crying. I tried to ignore my crying, like in other times, because I knew I had 2 exams that week and didn’t have time to have many breaks, but I couldn’t. I realized that morning after two weeks of soul searching, the answer to the question. Yes I can do this, but no, I don't want too. I am exhausted, I am burned out, and I am unhappy.
That day Jan 4th, 2021, I decided to quit medicine.
But, if I didn’t like this career of being a doctor, a career I have married myself to for the past 7 years +, then the next question became, what do I like in medicine? I asked myself this question several times. What PART of medicine do I really like, do I even like medicine, or do I like another field in healthcare that isn’t medicine? I have realized the simple answer to that question is yes, I like something else, I like public health. When I reflected upon my reason for being a doctor I was reminded that I went in to fix the ugly, like systemic bias in medicine and the healthcare system, inequities in medicine, lack of access to care, and other ugly parts of medicine, but these aren’t issues medical doctors fix, these are issues public health experts fix.
Now you may ask, how did I NOT realize that I liked public health that much when I myself have an MPH? There are many reasons for that. As a first generation student, we don’t have any fountain of information besides our advisors, and sometimes they make things worse because their bias towards our gender, race or status interferes. I also coded in my system a phrase that everyone will tell every med student at some point, that eventually it gets better. That I just had to endure those 2 brutal years of studying in undergrad and medical school, and then I was living the dream. For me though, I had to do a postbacc and had a masters already, so I was doing 4 years extra than your typical med student. I was exhausted, I was burned out, and I was done.
This was a very emotional decision to say the least. After 7+ years of being married to this mindset of being a medical doctor and deciding now to divorce myself from this thought had made me question what I could have done differently. Maybe if I wouldn’t known how to study sooner I could’ve endured another 4–6 years of education, or maybe if I had better mentors who instead of telling me I wasn’t meant for this career would have motivated me and helped me, maybe I could’ve made it. Maybe if the medical educational system didn’t create these additional barriers for first generation students and and I didn’t have these barriers that many first generation and minority students have, maybe I could have done it. I could’ve, I should’ve, I would’ve. But, after really thinking about it, maybe I was in love with another field in medicine, and I didn’t even know it.