I’ve recently been given the same piece of advice from three different physicians, so I feel it is worth reflecting upon. And—because three people with three completely different backgrounds suggested the same thing, maybe this simple notion is true and ought to be shared. The advice a general surgeon, pulmonologist, and cardiothoracic surgeon all shared with me was, “Do what you love.”
This advice first came from a very busy physician during a bedside procedure with a room full of medical professionals present. He was asked how he continued to survive during a chaotic few weeks of cases and critically ill patients. He replied that what he does is fun, and that money doesn’t matter as long as you have fun each day at work. It was a great moment for me to observe. This physician’s colleagues expected him to agree with how busy the past few weeks had been or how tired he was from the recent middle-of-the-night cases, but instead he simply called it all fun.
The next physician to echo this sentiment was one of my preceptors (a practicing physician who volunteers to give personal instruction, training, and supervision to a medical student). From just speaking with him, one can tell that he loves his profession and that he thrives from teaching medical students and residents. I could see the joy he exuded when a resident’s confidence grew following the successful completion of a difficult procedure. This preceptor pointed out to me the difference between a current infatuation and a true love of a specialty. For example, it is easy to get caught up in the moment of a trauma case or the experience of several consecutive chronic care visits that result in dramatic health changes, and while these experiences may prompt a student to want to go into a particular specialty, a broader understanding of the positives and negatives of a specialty should be considered before a student chooses his or her field. We talked about the different third year clerkships and the difficulty associated with picking a specialty before one has experienced all of the clinical rotations. I had been given the advice to go through each six to eight-week rotation as if it would be the specialty I would ultimately choose. Trying to get the most out of each experience truly does help me learn not only the material but also the clinical management and procedures associated with each specialty. But, like my preceptor discussed, only hindsight can help one determine if an interest in a specialty is just a passing infatuation or true love for the field.
Finally, and most recently, a physician I had never met before looked up from his computer and started talking to me. He expressed the joy that he gets from having medical students rotate through the hospital. He said that he never feels old because he goes to work each day and does what he loves. He did express that the medical students and residents look “so young,” and only then does he notice his gray hairs. He then said, “I want to give you one piece of advice, do what you love, and you will never go wrong.”
Advice in medical school is tricky. I’ve found that many people want to give advice, and sometimes this advice can be more about the one giving advice than the student to whom the advice is meant to help. When several different people give the same advice, though, it is worth listening to. As I witnessed from these few physicians in the past two weeks, doing what you love is key. As I approach the middle of my third year it is crazy to think about how fast time is passing. Right now, the fourth year students are going on residency interviews, and next year that will be me and my class. While many of us still are undecided about our specialty choice, it is important to reflect on our clinical experiences to help make our decisions. I will certainly keep this advice at the forefront of my thoughts as I continue to search for a specialty where I can do what I love.
About Lindsey McAlarnen
Lindsey McAlarnen is a third year medical student at the Florida State University College of Medicine. Born and raised in a small town in Florida, Lindsey grew up in a service-oriented family. She attended the University of Notre Dame majoring in Science PreProfessional Studies and Sociology. Lindsey earned her Master’s of Science in Global Health from Notre Dame, studying global infectious disease surveillance and reporting policy. Experiences as a student athletic trainer, research assistant in an aquatic ecology lab, and volunteer at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, along with travel to Kkindu, Uganda, and Port-au-Prince, Haiti, have profoundly impacted Lindsey’s motivation to pursue a vocation in medicine. Lindsey is interested in primary care, sports medicine, medical education, and organized medicine, and hopes to pay forward the mentoring she received during her education to future students pursuing careers in medicine.