I have a friend who left her profession and followed her dream of becoming a doctor. She went to medical school in her 30s with one child at home and recently had her second child while in medical school! I know! Amazing. She is coming to the end of her medical school training and now she is in the process of deciding which specialty to go into. This is a hard decision because once it is made, it can be difficult to change. And in J’s case, she has 3 other people who will be very much affected by her choices. I was honoured when she asked for my advice. But I realized, I am definitely not qualified to give her advice. All I can do is share my own story of how I decided what to be “when I grew up”. This is a long one, so be prepared (or click on another website now :))

I am one of those (annoying) people who always knew I wanted to be a doctor. I grew up accompanying my dad (a rural pediatrician) on rounds at the hospital and hearing about interesting cases over supper. I thought my father had THE most amazing and interesting job in the world. I could not (can’t) imagine a more interesting profession. So my goal was always to go to medical school and become a pediatrician and go work with my dad. As you know, that is not exactly what happened.

I was lucky enough to get in to medical school and have opportunity to realize my dream. When I was accepted to medical school, I felt like the luckiest girl in the world. To be honest, I still have those feelings when I am reflecting on the blessings of my life. I proceeded through medical school and found many things interesting.

Medical school for me was divided into the “pre-clinical” and “clinical” years. The first 2 years were mainly in the classroom, small groups, labs, and some introduction to clinical skills. The latter 2 years were spent as a “clinical clerk”. Clerkship is the phase where you rotate through the different specialties, working with and learning from the residents and staff doctors. My plan was to be a pediatrician, and I assumed that I would hate surgery, so I requested to do my surgical rotations first.

A funny thing happened. I discovered that I LOVED being in the operating room. I loved everything about it. I love the sterile environment, the precision of how things were run, the intensity of the people working there. And I really LOVED doing procedures. This came as a big surprise to me. And then I discovered that I HATED internal medicine (I won’t go in to why, let’s just say that the obsession with esoteric details got to me. I am so happy there are other people who loved that field as much as I love mine). Pediatrics is basically internal medicine for children. I knew I didn’t have it in me to spend so much time each day thinking and talking and not “doing”.

Now I had to reexamine my plans. My obstetrical/gynecological rotation came next and I thought “Ooooo, I love this!”. It was a wonderful mix of surgery and medicine. You were looking after women, mostly women who having babies. And I discovered a love of ultrasound. I mean, who doesn’t find obstetrical ultrasound completely magical! It is a window into the secret world of a developing baby – incredible! I love, love, loved it.

And so I set out setting up electives in OB/GYN. As I spent more time in that field, I began to notice a sad and scary trend. Many of the people who were training in OB/GYN were becoming hardened by the experience. It is such a difficult, demanding residency. And I knew I was very susceptible to those external factors. I began to worry about what might happen to my personality if put under such pressures.

Then about one-third of the way into my 4th year (getting late in the game here, folks) I decided I should get some useful “skills” like intubating and starting intravenous lines. And I managed to set up a 2 week elective in my home town with the department of anesthesia. I discovered a whole world I did not know existed. It was a world primarily based in the operating room. There were a lot of procedures. The patients were varied: old, young, women, men, children, and babies. It seemed like the best of all worlds to me. But I still felt really passionate about about obstetrics. To be on the safe side, I quickly added another anesthesia elective to my plan.

Some soul searching came next. And after much discussion with myself and with Tim (we were dating at the time), I finally decided that although I truly loved the field of obstetrics, I may not love my future life in that speciaty. And I love anesthesia and I knew that I would very likely love the life I could have within that specialty. And my decision was made.

This sounds easier that it was. I was 26 and trying to imagine my life at 40. It was very hard to think about a balanced life when prior to that time my goals were all about academics and medicine and career. But looking back, it was wise. Because my prediction was right. The balance and structure in my life is closer to my ideal than if I had chosen OB.

Anesthesia has allowed for me to more easily work part-time. This is very important to me, especially since Tim has a pretty big, time-consuming career. Anesthesia as a specialty is very well remunerated (pediatrics, for example, is very unfairly poorly paid). There is very little need for continuity of care and handover in anesthesia. When I finish my day of work in the OR, it is finished. Most patients go home, there is rarely a need for me to be involved after that point. Which means that it is easy to get time off – I don’t need to arrange coverage for my patients. Also important to me, is anonymity. Anesthesiologist are fairly anonymous: patients rarely remember them. I am OK with that. I like it. It means I don’t run into patients when I am out with my family (this used to happen with my dad all the time).

I didn’t end up back in my home town as a pediatrician. But I did sub specialize in pediatric anesthesia, and do further training in ultrasound guided nerve blocks. So I have managed to incorporate all of my loves into one field: anesthesia, children, and ultrasound. I am one very lucky girl!

So I guess the moral of this story is to really try to imagine what you want your life to look like in 10 or 15 years. That image should help guide the decisions you make today.

J- whatever you choose, you will be amazing. SO choose well for you and your family.