While I could give you a shortened version of my highly edited personal statement explaining how and why I chose pediatrics as my specialty, I feel like it can all be summed up with the following: My pediatric clerkship was the only rotation where I smiled every day. This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy my other rotations, but my pediatric clerkship ignited a passion I hadn’t felt with other specialties. I felt deep empathy for my patients, and was genuinely excited to learn about their diagnoses and treatments. I realized I could be a pediatrician for a very long time, be happy, and also be challenged.
Fast forward a year or so after finding “my specialty” and completing various fourth year rotations, and I had finally entered the elusive residency interview process. The stereotypes I’d heard turned out to be very true. All programs blended together, all hospitals looked alike, many programs said the same things, and I countlessly swore to friends, “If one more person asks if I have any more questions, I’m going to scream.” While the generalities of interviewing made it difficult to decide where I wanted to go, this strange whirlwind of a process taught me quite a bit. From pre-med to fourth year of medical school, our professional lives and a significant portion of our personal lives have been consumed by medical education. Much is already decided for us – our length of training, career options and even our schedules, including pre-scheduled vacations. In the fourth year, particularly during the interview season and the couple of months afterward while waiting to submit rank lists, rotations are generally lighter (reading and research months galore), which leaves us with an unsettling amount of time to think and endlessly analyze our career goals, personal lives and unclear futures. This is the first time in a while that we have a choice, and a seemingly huge choice at that.
As I approached the end of interviews, I was facing infinite unknowns and drowning in emotional turmoil trying to decide where I wanted to go. Thankfully, one of my good friends gave me some life advice: Be selfish. With family, friends and others pulling me in various directions, I had to shut down and isolate myself to figure out what I truly wanted. Not what my parents think is best or what looks great on paper or what is most comfortable, but where I really wanted to go in order to push myself to be the best pediatrician I could be, and where I’d be as happy as possible during such a strenuous process. In the end, I went in a completely different direction than I’d planned. I don’t think I comprehended how much I’d changed and grown throughout medical school until interview season when I had time to think. The future I had envisioned three and a half years ago when starting medical school was no longer my reality. This change isn’t necessarily negative, but it does feel both exhilarating and unnerving.
So what advice can I give to you rising fourth years? Honestly, nothing I write can really prepare you for this odd, upcoming time of uncertainty, but here’s my attempt. While this decision is ultimately up to you (because you will be living the life as a resident at XYZ program), your family and friends can provide some great insight. My mother played a huge role in my decision when she commented on how happy I looked after seeing certain programs. Additionally, when in doubt, always feel comfortable reaching out to alumni. They’ve seen the programs from the inside in a way you never can on one interview day. Aside from interviews, try to travel, make new friends, and visit family and old friends. All the while, take advantage of the time to interact with classmates! You’re all in this together and I’ve made some of my best friends of medical school during this last year. Just know that it’s okay to be unsure; it’s okay to struggle with this decision, and it’s okay to be excited for a new future. You are most certainly not alone in feeling this way. Fourth year can be as great as you’ve heard, but it can also be difficult and isolating. Having survived interviews like thousands of fourth years before me, I’m ultimately in a good place and excited for a new adventure called residency – and I’m confident you will be too!