When Breath Becomes Air: Inspo for my Fellow PreMeds

If I am like the average premed student, I know that we are constantly stressing over the prospect of becoming a doctor. Do I really want to go through another 4 years of school and 3 years of residency? How does being a woman who wants a family change my career prospects? How the hell am I going to pay for close to half a million dollars in tuition? Is all the stress even worth it? Should I just throw in the towel and transfer my talents to Mendoza? 

The endless boxes you need to check before you can even apply to medical school is enough to make a sane person seriously reconsider what they want to do with their life. I have had many discussions with my friends about becoming a doctor and it seems like every conversation ends in a downwards spiral of anxiety. Despite the immense pressure I feel and have probably put on myself, the words of Dr. Paul Kalanithi have given me new hope. 

Anna Schultz-Girl On Computer Stress

Dr. Kalanithi was a neurosurgeon just on the edge of finishing his surgical education and securing a job at Stanford before he was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic lung cancer. He did so much work to reach a point where he could enjoy his life and start a family, but he never got to enjoy the fruits of his labor. His book When Breath Becomes Air is one of the most moving and inspiring books I have ever read. I got butterflies in my chest while reading and was constantly in a puddle of tears. His words filled me with awe and I want to share with you my favorite quotes from Dr. Kalanithi: 

“The cost of my dedication to succeed was high, and the ineluctable failures brought me nearly unbearable guilt. Those burdens are what make medicine holy and wholly impossible: in taking up another’s cross, one must sometimes get crushed by the weight.”

“Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still it is never complete.”

“Putting lifestyle first is how you find a job—not a calling.”

“Science may provide the most useful way to organize empirical, reproducible data, but its power to do so is predicated on its inability to grasp the most central aspects of human life: hope, fear, love, hate, beauty, envy, honor, weakness, striving, suffering, virtue.”

“Even if you are perfect, the world isn't. The secret is to know that the deck is stacked, that you will lose, that your hands or judgment will slip, and yet still struggle to win for your patients. You can't ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.”

“If you believe that science provides no basis for God, then you are almost obligated to conclude that science provides no basis for meaning and, therefore, life itself doesn't have any.”

“We all have a notion of what it means to be good, and we can’t live up to it all the time.”

“Getting too deeply into statistics is like trying to quench a thirst with salty water.”

“Surely intelligence wasn't enough; moral clarity was needed as well.”

“The heroic spirit of responsibility amid blood and failure. This struck me as the true image of a doctor.” 

Dr. Kalanithi has taught me that if you really want to do something, and I mean really want to become a doctor, that life will work itself out. It won’t be easy, but that’s the point. Being a doctor is not supposed to be easy, but it is not impossible either. You have to “ceaselessly strive” and depend on others to help you reach whatever goal you desire. I don't know about you guys, but despite the nagging stress and anxiety that being premed brings, there is a part of me that's always excited for the future. Don't let your passion be worn down because the work is difficult.