My three years in college have taught me that I do not have to have to embark on a journey across continents to experience moments of self-discovery and development. Like a lot of freshman, I came into college with a specific notion of who I am and who I want to be. In my mind the path was quite linear and led straight to medical school. I chose a STEM major, enrolled in classes and joined clubs that I thought would look the best on my medical school applications. Every moment was spent actively trying to be a better candidate, or so I thought.
As time progressed, my commitments started to frustrate me and I started to view them as obligations. The stress of my extracurriculars quickly compounded with the stress of academics. I was unhappy and unsatisfied. It was not until the second semester of my sophomore year that I realized that I was miserable when there was no need to be.
I started taking elective classes that interested me rather than those I thought would interest a medical school. In fact, I spent a semester taking an Italian class about magic, marvel, and monstrosity just because the course title and description seemed intriguing. I really enjoyed the class and it showed in my work and grades. My favorite “why not” class would have to be the social policy class that concentrated on Baltimore and homelessness. Before that class, I viewed politics as a realm completely separate from medicine. After the class, I realized that medical policy is an interesting field and is very important for all doctors. Additionally, the class taught me a lot about the city that I have called home for the past three years. Learning about Baltimore truly made me appreciate it and want to become a more involved citizen.
I also substituted the extracurriculars I did not particularly care for with activities that I truly enjoy. I have always loved to write. Unfortunately, I came into college with the incorrect impression that I would not be able to cultivate my writing skills as a doctor; however, I soon discovered that it is not so. I proceeded to take internships/jobs and join clubs that deal with medical writing. The Department of Scientific Publications at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center was my first foray in science writing. As part of the internship, I got to write blogs and articles. I also got the opportunity to help with research papers, book projects, and grants. I continue to utilize the skills I picked up during the internship, when I help write and edit journal articles for my lab. These experiences helped me realize that writing is an indispensable mode of communication in medicine. Indubitably, branching out and embracing writing allowed me to become a better communicator, a trait that I believe is necessary and useful for any one in the medical field.
I also changed the type of community service I was involved in. At the beginning of college I did a lot of fundraising for children at our local hospital. Over time I realized that I wanted to interact with children more and I became a pediatric emergency department volunteer. As a volunteer I get the chance to interact with the patients, their families, the doctors, and the nurses. Being a volunteer also allows me the opportunity to see the inner workings of an emergency department. Since starting at the emergency department, I have noticed that I am more excited to go and volunteer.
Now I also engage in extracurriculars that aren’t related to medicine at all, but these activities still help me grow as an individual. Previously, I would have considered such activities a waste of time, but now I see that these activities are necessary for me to be of sound mind and body. For instance, I recently learned how to play squash and have found that it relaxes me after a particularly challenging day. Conversely, I discovered that learning ballet at the age of 21 is no minor task and is a lot more intense than it looks.
While the changes I made may appear insignificant, they truly changed my overall demeanor and perspective. I am happier and I realize that my goal and the path towards it are not as rigid and linear as I originally perceived. I used to think that being a pre-med is all about mastering STEM. Today, I understand that it is more than that. A pre-med can be a scientist, a writer, a dancer, and a squash player.
Without a doubt, college is a learning experience and it is tempting to try and fit into the typical mold set forth for a pre-med. But I truly believe it is worth embarking on your own path on the journey of self-discovery instead. I believe that I will be a better physician because of it.
About Kasthuri Nair
Kasthuri is attending Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD. She is pursuing a Bachelors of Science in Molecular and Cellular Biology and is expected to graduate in May of 2018. Kasthuri has been involved in research since her freshman year of college and has been lucky enough to research in different countries. She has always had a passion for writing and aspires to be a doctor and a medical writer. While she has grown up all over the world, she considers her home base to be The Woodlands, TX.