Moving away from med
Contributor Vivian Cheng
When I was in my second year in Western medical sciences, I registered to write my MCAT. Most people in the program had already done so — spots were filling up quickly — but I couldn’t shake the feeling that medicine wasn’t right for me.
I loved to read, write and debate, but I didn’t see many opportunities to do so in medicine. Having to accept residency programs outside of my city of choice also depressed me — I wanted to stay close to my family or thrive in a city that never sleeps, not settle in a rural area to learn my area of expertise. Finally, on top of it all, working with patients in a clinical setting didn’t appeal to me as much as it perhaps should.
While I loved learning about the human body and loved the rigorous job demands that came with a medical career, I didn’t see myself healing what ailed a person, at least not directly.
With all these doubts in mind, I requested a refund for my MCAT ten days after my registration. My parents were angry, my relatives were disappointed and my friends (at least some of them) were confused.
I was terrified. If not medicine, then what?
For third parties, many believed that my undergraduate degree should culminate in a doctorate in medicine. I even followed this widespread train of thought initially, applying to the medsci program because I had medical school ambitions.
But there had to be more to my science degree than medicine. I couldn’t dedicate my life to a career I didn’t want. This cued a tumultuous journey of self-exploration.
I researched alternative career paths (e.g., healthcare, business, education), talked to professionals in various industries and volunteered for organizations in different fields — all while considering my own skills, interests and goals. With so many of my peers gunning for medicine, this period of self-doubt was frustrating and downright discouraging at times. I didn’t seem to like a lot of things, and I began bitterly accepting that I would be trapped in a menial nine to five upon graduation.
But hey, the soul searching paid off. I reached out to a lawyer (now my mentor) one day, asking about volunteer opportunities in his firm and received an interview. With all the free time from not studying for the MCAT and for all the allure that Suits gives the legal profession, I thought “Hey, why not?”.
Obviously, I knew that being a lawyer was going to be nothing like Suits, but it would be a good experience nonetheless. At the firm, I evaluated real-world cases and helped draft letters to the government on behalf of clients. Every word I wrote had an impact on someone’s life, and it was both terrifying and exhilarating. This experience echoed a sentiment I always held to be true: words offer a powerful tool to tackle contemporary or personal issues.
After my first few weeks at the firm, everything seemed to click — all the writing and advocacy I did throughout university could now translate into a career that wasn’t journalism or public relations. As well, the analytical skills I had developed through my science degree could help me succeed in law.
From that summer onwards, I did more research on the legal profession: talking to lawyers, competing in Moot Court and so on. Now, I’m happy to be attending law school next year. For me, law represents vast opportunity, and my career ambitions are to pursue health policy or innovation law.
This isn’t to say that you should all up and switch into law. It’s to say that it’s okay to have doubts about medical school. It’s to say that it’s okay to stop and reflect for a moment, even amidst a student culture that dictates that everyone aspire to the same goals. It’s to say that it’s okay to change career paths.
For all of you that feel lost and uncertain about your future, know that I was in the same boat. Embrace the uncertainty and be honest with yourself.