In December 2012, I almost quit pursuing medicine.
I was a sophomore in college and wrapping up the end of an unbelievably difficult and seemingly never-ending semester. I was taking 18.5 credits, which included Organic Chemistry and Calculus. I was getting over my first relationship. Hurricane Sandy had ripped through New York City less than two months earlier. Things just seemed to be falling apart all around me. The quote “When you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on” was on repeat in my head all semester.
I had five exams scheduled for that finals week, the last of which was on a Friday afternoon. It was the final that I dreaded the most. I had struggled in Orgo all semester and only figured out how to study for it towards the end when it was already too late. After getting through those first four finals, I buckled down and did a deep dive into Orgo in order to salvage my grade, but I still ended up leaving that final fearing I had failed it.
On the way out of the building, I saw my classmates, all of them smiling and excited for the upcoming holidays. I felt like sinking into the sidewalk. Outside, the New York night seemed straight out of a holiday movie, crisp with beautiful multicolored lights. But I was miserable.
I got on the train, and over the course of the ride home, I told myself that I was done with medicine. I was going to drop all of my pre-med classes for next semester, and become a librarian. Why a librarian? I’d loved libraries and books my entire life. To me, libraries provided a safe space for learning and exploration. In that moment, I needed to feel safe again. Over the course of that trip home to Brooklyn, I planned out the next few years. How I was going to finish off my undergrad classes, and then, pursue a masters in library science.
I got home, took a shower, and then, sat down to watch TV with my mom.
A few days later, I met with the head of a lab that I was interested in working in. I didn’t drop my spring semester classes. A couple of weeks later, I got back my Orgo I grade, a C+. I breathed a sigh of relief. It would end up being the worst grade on my transcript, but at least I hadn’t failed. Now, I needed to prove that I could do better. After going to TA office hours and changing how I studied, I finished Orgo II with an A-. Things were finally beginning to look up.
I didn’t think about the librarian option again. I’m not sure why. Why didn’t I give up and do something else? Maybe it was pure stubbornness. Maybe I had a revelation in that shower. I don’t know if I have a good answer. But over the years, I’ve realized that as difficult as this training is and as difficult as this career will be, there is truly nothing else that I want to do. I think deep down, I always knew that, even as I was trying to convince myself that I could do something else.
In December 2012, I almost quit pursuing medicine. I walked out of the last day of classes feeling like I had hit rock bottom.
But in December 2017, I wrapped up my third semester at my top choice med school. I walked out of my last day of classes in a very different place from five years ago. I had just finished a whirlwind semester filled with amazing opportunities. I was able to teach my own class. I was able to put together humanities-focused events and projects for my classmates. I learned a lot of complex pathophysiology. And sometimes, I was tired and unmotivated. But then, I would meet an incredible patient or finally understand a challenging concept, and I would come right back to what matters.
It hasn’t been easy to get here. There have been a number of challenging times since that semester. And I know that there are many more ahead. But I’m more committed than I’ve ever been.
I couldn’t enjoy that beautiful December night all of those years ago. But I’m happy to say that I enjoyed this latest one. Hot chocolate in hand with the lights just perfect and the snow coming down slow. I’m grateful that I made it here.
About Slavena Salve Nissan
Slavena Salve Nissan moved to Brooklyn, New York from Baku, Azerbaijan when she was 6-years-old and comes from an ethnic minority known as the Mountain Jews. She graduated with a major in biology from the Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College in 2015 and after graduation, worked as a medical receptionist. She’s currently a medical student at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai where she’s continuing to explore the intricacies of her two passions: healthcare and art.
You can find her poetry, photography, and thoughts on social media @slavenareina on Instagram and Twitter.