Part One: The Pre-Med Problem

by Julie Sloane | 11/18/97 6:00am

He flipped his Yankees cap to the back and flashed his post-orthodontia grin in cocky self-assurance. "Oh man, that's AWESOME!" he boomed unnecessarily to the Tommy Hilfiger poster boy sitting inches away. "You went up to that guy and told him Britain sucks?! You are the BOMB!" The final silent 'b' flew in shock waves around the London Underground, zinging painfully into the ears of everyone in the subway car. Standing nearby with my vinyl shoulder bag and urban "don't-mess-with-me" facial expression, my eyes did an amused pan of the nearby travelers.

Their gazes flicked up from the London Times to meet the eyes of other passengers. Though their faces showed only a hint of wry smile, the blank stare thrown across the car clearly meant one thing-- those Americans are so loud and crass!

With the politest of frustration, I wished those boys had never left New Jersey. There might have been a dozen Americans in that very car, but to the London natives, the obnoxious American stereotype was true.

I'm certainly proud to be American-- to be from a country where "late night shopping" doesn't mean that the store will stay open until the ungodly hour of 7pm. When my visa runs out in March, I'm heading straight for the States. Even Newark Airport will beam in a halcyon welcome.

But people will stereotype, sometimes over nothing more than a John Wayne movie showing on BBC 2 or a four-color clicky pen snapped from blue to red in the middle of a lecture. Ugh -- a premed!

She's one of THEM, riding the popular wave from Chem 5 to Chem 52, clawing tooth and nail for the grade. Perfectionist to the core, her "eau de type A personality" perfume reeks of eons spent in office hours with obvious questions invented to score professor brownie points. Everyone wants to be a doctor. Congratulations on climbing to the pinnacle of unoriginality. Only 12 more years down the trail, you'll finally reach your God complex and all the money that clearly motivated you in the first place. Bon voyage!

I never understood the stigma associated with wanting to be a doctor. For as long as I can remember, I couldn't imagine wanting to do anything else. Knowing enough to give sick people back their health, providing care with compassion-- these are the ideals I see in medicine and for the work required to get an MD, the negative stereotype of an overly-intense slave-to-the-sciences seems unfair.

Pre-law? "Oh wow. There's so much you can do with that." You want to go into business? "Good for you. Dartmouth alumni are so supportive." Premed? "Medical school is getting so hard to get into these days. But then you probably study 26 hours a day, so your chances are statistically, what, 70 percent?"

Especially brutal was freshman fall when everyone and their second cousin was premed. People were blatantly unsupportive. Of course it won't last. You'll soon be (cue eerie music) WEEDED OUT!

I shuddered at the thought. I would show them. This was something I wanted and, despite the general dislike for my type, I would stick it out to the last. For four terms and six science classes, I did.

And then my day came.

Frustrated with physics, I slammed the book shut and had a moment of clarity. Why was I premed? Did I still want to be a doctor? "Not really," cried out my inner child. The hormone unclinically known as fear surged through my veins. Was I giving up my childhood dream -- the one I'd invested countless hours in? Was I, a graduate of the Pennsylvania Governor's School for Health Care, weeded out?

As I've come to see it, I stopped pursuing the premed path because I couldn't work hard for a goal I didn't want. I know I could have taken Orgo and the MCATs, but then what? My heart would not have been in it. I know many brilliant premeds with a genuine passion for health care and, when I get sick, those are the people I want looking at me. Premed is not an easy path and I have a lot of respect for those who can complete it and enjoy it. They deserve more credit than they usually receive.

There's a subtle difficulty in pursuing a career goal that stereotypes you as "bloodsucking" and "competitive" and at the same time calls you "weak" if you in any way drop out. But having been in both positions, I discovered that a clicky pen is actually helpful in science classes and most premeds who use them don't warrant the premed caricature. I also realized that I wouldn't be happy in a career I disliked, and that was not an admission of weakness. Then again, it was much easier to stay on the beaten path ... Tune in next week for this tirade's exciting conclusion.