I remember when I was in elementary school I had this tendency to not follow instructions. My teachers viewed it as an act of rebellion and early signs of delinquency; I thought it was harmless, as I was merely synthesizing the main objective of my endeavor and tailoring it to my comfort level with the standards I set for myself. For example, when I was learning how to write the English alphabet, the general outline of each letter had already been immaculately arranged with dotted lines, clearing serving as the foundational path before you write solo. However, rather than mimicking the instructions laid out for me, I internalized the basic structure and experimented with different styles of the alphabet that would be aesthetically pleasing to my eyes.
Sadly, while I was appeased with the freedom I had imposed on myself, my teachers were not. I ended up being subjugated to the tyranny of elementary school teachers through imprisonment (i.e. no recess) until I had followed the instructions perfectly. All my peers—even those outside of the classroom—felt that the instructions were necessary, while I viewed it as the indoctrination of thought—and I did not like it.
But as a pre-med student, I’ll admit that life feels very much like having to follow the lines set by our advisors and mediums we read online. We are told that if we want to become doctors we must take all the pre-medical requirements (Gen Chem, Orgo, Math, Biochem, etc.). We are told that we must maintain a high G.P.A. despite the detrimental sacrifices that must be made to realistically maintain it that high, especially for us P.O.C.s, first-gen, and low-income students that may not have the rigorous preparation to receive such high grades. We are told we must do research in a lab. We are told to publish. We are told to volunteer (in a hospital). Our path is laid out, and if anyone has the audacity to diverge from the path, they will not be successful in admission to medical school, or at the very least will struggle more than everyone else.
I reject this mindset. I do not agree that there is a particular standard for us to become doctors. A student who chooses to focus on a humanities curriculum vs. a rigorous science training is not any less competent to become a doctor than a neuroscience/biology/chemistry/S.T.E.M. concentrator. Especially because for many of us, medicine is far more than fashioning a white lab coat or scrubs with a stethoscope. Interpersonal skills needed to connect with patients can be taught from an eclectic variety of occupations and experiences, and are not discredited simply because said experiences were not in a clinic or hospital. Critical thinking necessary to answer difficult questions can extend outside medical environments, and individuals who pursue unorthodox avenues can become wiser, smarter scientists through the experiences they feel will be fruitful to their growth.
In fact, one of the most terrifying consequences of indoctrinating thought through this fear of disobeying obedience is its ability to extinguish innovation. By rejecting this established pre-medical framework, I was inspired to utilize my medical training in settings outside a hospital. Because I did an internship my freshman summer for a nonprofit instead of research, I was able to work with communities that motivated me to become a physician and an educator because of the lack of empathy in medical spaces representing and speaking for these communities. Inspiration cannot happen with limitations. If so, we lose that natural passion—that grit—pivotal for someone to endure the arduous years ahead to become a doctor, or any profession for that matter.
For all of you entering college—or even those currently in school or in high school—please, please, please follow your own path. There is nothing wrong with asking for perspective, but do not be afraid to challenge those who stand in the way of your learning and passion. It’s okay to go outside the lines—you ended up doing that anyway (no one has the same handwriting as it was initially imposed on us in elementary). My advice is never to do anything if it means to appear an outside party. Get an A in your courses not so medical schools will look at you, but because you worked hard to earn that grade. Go ahead and say yes to that internship even if everyone else in your career path is doing the exact opposite—how you choose to be productive during your breaks is up to you! A genuine desire for a discipline will make it much easier to achieve such a profession in the future. Just make sure you do not lose yourself in the process.
This blog was previously posted on the I’m First! Scholarship Blog Series and recently migrated here to my personal site.