My Experience as a Pre-Med Student

“Why don’t you just marry a doctor instead?” Well, let me tell you, Mrs. X, whomever I marry has nothing to do with my anticipated career. Marrying a doctor isn’t the point — being one is. Yet, people still seem to almost undoubtedly question why I want to be a physician.

Flashback to the dreaded Thanksgiving of high school senior year. We all remember the incessant prying of your college decision by family and friends. Aunty Karen compares you to her son who just went through the same process last year, and Grandpa Jo can’t stop asking you to apply to his alma mater. Now imagine that, except worse. They aren’t analyzing your college decision anymore, they are ripping apart your career ambitions — something that’s a core component of my identity.

Being a college student means people ask you what you’re studying. It’s a compulsive need of theirs, driven by politeness, nostalgia and curiosity. However, more often than not, people seem incredibly taken aback that I am on the pre-med track. They probe — questions originating from challenge, doubt and undermining rather than genuine interest. The biggest response is: “Are you sure you want to do that?” which really means they don’t think I’m cut out for it. I’m also often met with suggested alternatives, like why I haven’t considered PA, OT or PT. I’ve never seen a marketing major be asked why they didn’t go with advertising, or witness someone inquire a journalist on why he/she isn’t a news anchor.

It’s not that PA, OT or PT are bad professions. Rather, they are incredibly noble paths that require a lot of intellect, dedication and heart. It’s just that they are different — and that’s the point. Those careers are not my aspirations, yet I’m regularly pitted against them. So then I go back, and I wonder if it is the practice of medicine that makes people question those choosing to pursue it. Or is it me?

Assumptions are an instinctual part of human behavior. From an evolutionary perspective, we needed to make snap judgments to survive. Like dude, don’t eat that berry, or you’ll die. We don’t live in that world anymore, but our impulsive presumptions haven’t faded. As a young, blonde female, I fall directly into a stereotype — you know that girl I’m describing (all superficial looks with no brains). So people’s shocked and confused reactions to pre-med don’t entirely surprise me. I like to think that box hasn’t hindered me; it’s aided me. It’s given me a new appreciation for the mold I’m actively breaking.

My inquisitions of peoples’ questions has lead to me to do some investigating of my own. Medicine has been a boys' club for a long time. No surprise there. Women were systematically excluded from education, leaving a set precedent. Men have had a monopoly on practicing medicine for centuries.

Historically, but more notably ironically, women have been rendered better healers. They played a stellar role in the Middle ages as healing was naturally regarded as mothers’ and wives’ responsibility. It was their job to remedy injury. In the 4th to 12th centuries, before European universities, womens’ tricks and methods were passed on for generations. They were the core ‘doctors’ of their societies, considered wise, and trusted for their folk medicine and midwifery. But, once major medical institutions were established, women were barred from them because of their gender. Women were chastised and forbidden to contribute to scientific discovery. Those that attempted to continue practicing were charged for witchcraft and exiled — completely extinguishing any female association to medicine.

Then, I began to think about it. Biologically, men and women are different. Women are designed to carry children and care for them. So, then I considered an anthropological paradigm. Are women intrinsically more apt to heal? A 2014 study published by Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews looked at gender effects in brain and behavior. It explains how as primary caregivers, women have evolved adaptations to be sensitive to infants’ signals. Is there something in female biology that was married with human history that draws females to nurture? If that’s the case, isn’t it ironic that we are shut out of the very practice that we are built for?

For the first time in history, women in United States medical schools outnumber men. In 2017, the Association of American Medical Colleges reported that 50.7% of new enrollees are women. The polarization of sexes has appeared to mitigate, and in some ways it has. Statistically we are even. But that doesn’t mean centuries of misogyny suddenly evaporated. Strides have been taken to diversify, but perpetuation of stereotype hinders any numerical proof. That’s why we need boss a** bit***s to keep getting sh** done.

My attraction to science is almost compulsive. I am endlessly fascinated and bewildered by anatomy, biology, and organic chemistry. My love for science paired with my desire to help people is why I want to be a physician. Being a female pre-med student has taught me to truly find love in my studies. These naive backhanded questions do not discourage me, but rather make me think about the history of medicine. And that reminded me of how important and insightful history is, because now I feel as though I can connect with women from centuries ago and honor them by carrying out the work they couldn’t.

Images courtesy of: BuzzFeed