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Chasing Dreams is a multi-part series chronicling my thoughts, dreams & changing ideals over the years (since 2018), including burnout, quitting the rat race, migration and trying to find my path in life
One of my dearest long-time friends told me that ‘not all who wander are lost’ is the quote that best represents me, and I couldn’t help but agree. I often mull over whether I made the right choice committing to Medicine at the tender age of 18, while also dreaming about (and working towards) my other plans in life.
I’ve been wanting to write about this for the longest time, but never had the courage to, since most of my peers seem to be extremely passionate and committed to pursuing Medicine, and most people in Med school (in Singapore at least) end up staying in the medical field for their entire professional lives, which could easily span 5 decades or longer (we have 80 y/o professors still gainfully employed in hospitals). I’ve always felt like the odd-one-out when I voiced my opinion that “Hey, maybe Medicine isn’t going to be the only career I pursue in my lifetime. I still want to try other gigs. Maybe I’ll practise medicine overseas!”
I’ll admit, when I applied for med school fresh out of JC/high school, I was really idealistic and excited at the prospect of being a doctor for the rest of my life and touching the lives of those around me, as cliched as it may sound. I believe most of us would have started our journey in Med school with stars in our eyes, with grand ambitions of becoming good, kind and holistic doctors, and that we would leave our mark on the world, no matter how small or big.
But now I’m just over 2 years into this 5-year course (started my 3rd year exactly on my 21st birthday), the stars have long faded and been replaced by those
tacky glow-in-the-dark plastic stars that you used to love as a kid. What I’m trying to say, is that while I still love Medicine very much and enjoy the nature of the job, the idealism has been replaced by the scary and looming reality that I might spend decades stuck in a job that I ‘like’ but don’t ‘love’ with every fibre of my being. I haven’t started working yet, so I can’t say for sure whether ‘doctor-ing’ will be just another job to me, or if I’ll suddenly find a fiery passion for it (I sure hope I do…).
Hindsight is 20/20, and committing to this lifelong career at the age of 19 was not exactly the wisest decision, but I understand why my younger self eagerly signed a full 11 years of her life away. Back then, I had a one-track mind and had my heart set on Medicine since I was a tween. I never really bothered exploring my non-academic passions, and while I would love to unfairly blame Singapore’s achievement-oriented education system, I can’t. It’s my own fault for not embracing my passion for the arts until it was far too late and I was too deeply embedded in the Science stream
aka the kids who were gunning for Med school.
My point is, if you’re still undecided and are flirting with the idea of joining Med school, please explore other options first and strive to learn more about yourself – and what you expect from your career: is it just a job or must it be your calling? – so you can enter without any regrets or ‘what ifs’. If you want time to explore other options and enjoy your twenties, why not do a science-based degree (so you’ll still be eligible to apply for postgrad medicine if you decide to commit to med school ultimately)?
I say this because going to med school is a massive commitment in more ways than one. It’s 5 years of studying, then another 6 years of being bonded to MOH: that’s 11 years of your life. It’s an awfully long time commitment, and an even longer time if you don’t at least enjoy the nature of the studying/work a little. And it only gets worse once you start work proper, cos your first year spent as a House Officer will be utterly brutal, from what I’ve heard from my HO friends/seniors. You’ll have to sacrifice a lot of things along the way, like family time, weekends, nights (overnight calls will be frequent in your first few years of work), time spent pursuing your other passions, etc.
Your twenties are truly the most important years of your life; they’re the foundation for the rest of your life, so I implore you to take the time to go out into the world and find something that makes you feel alive or that fills you with a huge sense of purpose, because life should be so much more than just toiling away endlessly till death comes knocking…or maybe I’m being over-idealistic or just another ‘entitled millennial’?
I always knew I loved writing, but I never had the guts to pursue it as a standalone career; I rationalised it as being too risky, and I still maintain that viewpoint. I’m a creature of
comfort job stability, because having a secure job is a privilege that not everyone has, especially not freelance writers. As much as I would love to drop everything and write for a living, I have to be practical and dedicate my youth to something that will actually pay the bills in the long-term, which is why Medicine will always be my second best option, and I would choose it again in a heartbeat even if I could turn back the clock. Job security + a meaningful job is something that I’m extremely privileged to have, and even if I move on to a new career in future (in a few decades’ time?), I’ll always be thankful for having been given the sacred opportunity to heal people and take care of them during their darkest days.
I’m a passion and purpose-driven person, so I’ve felt a fair amount of cognitive dissonance between doing Medicine, a very meaningful career that I enjoy & which pays the bills, or trying an alternative career that sets my heart on fire and fills me with excitement.
Sorry, as interesting and mentally stimulating as studying Medicine is, it doesn’t make my heart flutter. My closest friends can attest to my struggles (thank you for putting up with me), and I’ll admit that I still struggle with reconciling those two highly contrasting desires, but I’ve decided that being slightly lost at 21 isn’t a bad thing; I still have most of my life ahead of me to explore other options, but for now, pragmatically-speaking, I’m going to settle for getting a good degree and having a secure job.
I’m having an Orthopaedics OSCE exam this weekend, as my first 8-week posting draws to an end, so it’s back to Netflix (I’m currently watching Luke Cage) and the *Land of Procrastination*.
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If you’re interested in exploring my blog, click here for an index of all the posts I’ve ever written (travel, musings, doctoring), or check out my most read series below:
- the Chasing Dreams series: a multi-part series chronicling my thoughts, dreams & changing ideals over the years (since 2018), including burnout, quitting the rat race, migration and trying to find my path in life
- the (not-so-definitive) guide to doctoring: Getting into Med School & FAQs | Surviving your Clinical Years | MBBS Tips | Life as a M1 // M2 // M3 // M4 // M5 during COVID // Life as a Doctor (monthly series) | Chasing Careers series
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