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When my husband left his job as an engineer at a locomotive supply company over a year ago to pursue a career in medicine, everyone wanted to know why. Why leave a good job? Why be a doctor? Aren’t you an engineer? Aren’t you happy?
We’ve never been so surrounded by the same litany of questions. Family, friends, colleagues, everyone just wanted to know what the driving force was behind an apparently unprovoked about-face in career. And for the simplicity of the question “Why do you want to be a doctor?” the answer has been curiously complicated.
Were we romantic idealists, I’d love to tell the story of how Ivan grew up always knowing that he wanted to be a doctor. That’s not the case, though. Ivan decided he wanted to enter the medical field about five years ago. As to why he made that decision—where do I start?
I guess I’ll start five years ago. Ivan’s employer laid off an unprecedented amount of employees—its impetus: The Great Recession. Ivan was unemployed. We lived in a blue-collar city that had few significant job opportunities and was wilting in the decaying economy. With his engineering degree, we could have moved to a more prosperous city; instead, Ivan decided to take this chance to rethink his life’s momentum. He didn’t actually enjoy engineering; it was mostly paper work with lots of travel and little personal interaction. He was working for a greedy corporation, helping other greedy corporations.
So he set his sights on a more altruistic path. He wanted to make a difference in the lives around him (please excuse the cliché) and be challenged mentally and physically.
He began looking into medical careers. To prepare for the MCAT, he went back to school. He found an academic adviser and, under his tutelage, narrowed his interest in medical careers to specify physician.
A little over two and a half years ago, Ivan took his MCAT. He began volunteering at the local hospital and job-shadowing a doctor there. He narrowed his interests even further: he wanted to work in emergency medicine.
Throughout the years, he’s pushed himself towards his goal and along the way, refined that goal. Ivan has seen some of the best the medical realm has to offer, and also some of the worst. From those experiences, he’s shaping his medical avatar.
Ten years ago, I was unceremoniously diagnosed with MS by a prickly doctor with an utter lack of bedside manner. During a very emotional and unexpected trial, I was being treated by the embodiment of callousness in a white coat. The impression he made was—put mildly—lasting. Since beginning his medical training, Ivan has made several remarks about the quality of professionalism displayed (or, perhaps, not displayed) by my doctor and we’ve used him as an example of what to avoid when Ivan’s practicing. Emotional detachment may sometimes play an important role in a doctor’s responsibilities, but it’s not something anyone should get too good at.
One year after taking his MCAT, Ivan was offered a position back at the locomotive supply company. He took it and we were faced with the dilemma of pursuing medical schools (an uncertain future) or settling back into an unrewarding (yet financially stable) career. Assuming a nothing-to-lose attitude, Ivan sent out his applications. He was accepted and we decided to take the dive. He quit his job and we sold all but a few of our belongings before moving out of our hometown and onto the path of medicine.
Every time I unravel the steps we took to get where we are now, I have a new answer for our curious friends and family. Ivan wants to be a doctor because he found nothing but an unrewarding dead end in engineering. We faced a harsh reality during The Great Recession. He lost his job and we knew we had to find a career that offered a more stable climate during economic hardships.
If anyone comes to their own conclusion as to why Ivan is choosing to become a doctor, it’s monetary. While financial stability is a reassurance, it’s something we won’t taste for many years to come. In fact, we left a debt-free life behind to plunge into a whirlpool of debt. But to claim that the eventual income wasn’t a factor in our decision would be a blatant lie.
He wants to enter the medical field to keep his mind sharp and constantly stimulated and challenged. His life as an engineer was already settling into a stagnant routine and he felt trapped by it. He longs for a dynamic career.
Those are the most pragmatic reason for choosing this career path. And now, the idealistic reasons: Ivan wants to make a positive impact on his patients and his community. He wants to be in a position where his influence changes lives for the better. He wants to grow as a professional and reach (and someday surpass) the distinctive achievements of doctors he admires, while eschewing the negative habits of doctors without integrity.
Today’s reasons may be entirely different from the reasons we generate in two more years. As long as we keep moving forward, we’ll continue to add reasons to our growing stack. Maybe our explanation for this great undertaking is anything but straightforward, but it is strong in our minds and I know we made the right decision.