The Most Important Thing I’ve Learned in Medical School (and It’s Not Medicine)

Many nights, I would toss and turn on my bed wondering if I made the right decision by going to medical school.

Some nights, I would say it was. Other nights, I would say it wasn’t. To this very day, I am still not sure if I made the right decision or not.

The main things that bothered me was the insane amount of money and time I spent to pursue medicine. Don’t get me wrong. There were definitely good parts about medical school — wonderful experiences I could not have gotten anywhere else. For example:

  • I learned a whole lot about medicine. If I was not in medical school, I doubt I would have forced my butt onto the chair to memorize learn about all the diseases and their treatments. And when I graduate, at least I can call myself a doctor and command instant respect.

  • I met my best friend there. Good friends are hard to find. Great friends that you can trust are even rarer. I can count the number of great friends I have — people I can trust my life with — on only one hand. You really can’t put a price tag on great friends.

But the main benefit I got from medical school was …

Learning who I really am and finding my passion.

And guess what? I’m not that passionate about medicine. I don’t hate medicine, but I don’t exactly love it either.

I’ll spill my beans on what I truly love in a moment. But first, let’s talk about how the path of a well-lived life is never straight and easy.

Life Is Never a Straight Road

If you think about it, I spent 4 years and $200,000 to learn who I really am and what I am passionate about. Did I get ripped off, or what?

But you know … it could be worse. What if I never went to medical school … and never found my passion in life until 10 years, or even 20 years down the road. Sure, maybe I would have saved six-figures (the amount I spent to study medicine). But at what cost? I could have spent an insane amount of time lost — wandering here and wandering there.

Money is replaceable. But time isn’t.

Now that I put it that way, maybe medical school isn’t so bad after all.

So what does this mean for you?

Expect life to be a poorly-trodden and sometimes ambiguous road. You will zig to the right, and then zag to the left. You may have to backtrack. Or even jump down a cliff and be swept by the white rapids below.

I met many people who had a future planned out ever since childhood. (Some of them even wanted to be doctors! Talk about crazy … ) But when the time came for them to get a taste of their future, they woke up from their dreams and realized that they had to change course. They no longer wanted what they wanted as a child. (In my medical school class, there are people who dropped out — after realizing that being a doctor wasn’t what they expected it to be.)

And I just wanna say …

That’s ok! You are not a failure if you change plans.

The people who changed their plans because they were not happy are the brave ones. They are the ones who are true to themselves.

If that is what you are struggling with right now — to stay the course or to take a new road — you really have to look inward and see what you really want out of life. If you are not currently happy, do you really want to set your life on cruise control — to be safe, but miserable? Or do you want to take a risk, change what you are unhappy about, and find happiness?

If you answered that you want to take a risk and to be happy, I give you permission to change your plans. You only have one life. So why live a miserable existence?

If You Are an Unhappy Doctor or a Miserable Medical Student …

If you feel a sense of despair whenever you’re in medical school, hospital, or clinic … I specifically wrote this article for you.

There are countless people trapped in medicine. They are squares trying to force themselves into round holes. They all have their reasons for staying in the field, despite their misery:

  • They need the money. They are trapped a crushing amount of debt — handcuffed by the golden shackles. They got a family to feed.

  • They crave the prestige. They don’t want their peers, friends, and family to look down on them for quitting. They don’t want to walk away from the respect and admiration.
  • They need directions. They don’t know where to go if they leave. They are afraid of the unknown.

Maybe you are one of them. You feel like you’re stuck. You are not happy with medicine. And you ask yourself, “Is it ok to feel this way? To hate medicine?”

You know what? It is perfectly ok. There is no need to feel guilty. The culture of medicine seems very strange to me. For some reason, as a doctor, you’re supposed to dedicate your whole life to it … even at the expense of your own well-being. I don’t know where it came from. Maybe the old-time doctors really loved medicine that much. But you are you. You are not an old-time doctor. So why force yourself to be someone whom you’re not?

(I really dislike the stories that begin with “Back in my days … ” If we lived in in the old days, we’ll have crude treatments that killed more people than they saved. We’ll still be using the horse, buggy, and whip for transportation. Oh yea, you can kiss your Netflix and Internet goodbye.)

After you have accepted that medicine may not be for you, you may ask, “Should I stay, or should I go?”

That, my friend, is a decision only you can make. Leaving medicine does take a lot of courage, because it is rarely done. It is hard to leave what you’ve known, to leave the money, and to leave the prestige. It is especially hard if medicine was something you’ve wanted to do ever since you were a little kid. Just remember one thing. Money is replaceable in life. But you only have one life to live. So why not make it a happy one?

If you do not want to go to the extreme by completely leaving the field altogether, that’s ok too. Go find out what you are passionate about. Maybe you really love yoga. So why not combine yoga with medicine and create a new type of yoga-based treatment to cure back pains.

It won’t be easy. But nothing in life that is ever worth doing is easy.

The bottom line is that if you are not happy with the field, you can do something about it. If you choose, you can free yourself from the golden shackles. And who  knows? Maybe it is your destiny to stand out from the herd and to be more than a mere doctor.

What I Am Passionate About

As for me, even though traditional, conventional, Western medicine is not my first love, I don’t think I’m gonna leave the field. I’ll get into the reason why later on. First, lemme tell you how I figure out that I loved something else more than medicine …

While I was in medical school, I was feeling a bit restless. Sure, I was learning how to be a doctor. But I was not satisfied. The whole thing felt so … one-dimensional. I memorize and I regurgitate. Is this what medicine is all about? Is this my future? Is so, it was quite bleak.

Therefore, I have decided to do a bit of exploring — by doing something different from the average student. And from my exploration, I have found my passion in life — and it had little to do with medicine. Crazy, but true.

Alright … so what am I passionate about?

My passion is one thing, but consists of 3 parts:

  1. writing

  2. marketing / sales
  3. technology

And all those parts come together to form one passion: building and growing businesses.

So what does that mean for my future? Well obviously, I don’t need a medical license. I don’t need to practice medicine. But I’ll stay in the field and become a licensed physician. (So I can fulfill my promise to God.) The great thing about business is that I don’t have to give up medicine. I can merge my passion in business with my knowledge of medicine. And who knows? Maybe I may even enjoy being a doctor.

It is kind of crazy how I found what I love to do. And it all started with a little website called Medical School Success … Creating it taught me my most important lesson in medical school — what I am truly passionate about.

For more medical school stories, visit the About Alex section and look for “Blast from the Past (Stories of My Medical School Days).”

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