Welcome back to Asclepius! I’m excited to share the story of a young woman’s journey into the medical field. She was gracious enough to open up about her personal history with the field, her thoughts and struggles, and ultimately her decision to pursue the goal of becoming a Doctor.
Meet Syeda! She is 27 years old, from Salem, MA living in Somerville, MA. She’s a Nontraditional premed post-bac student at Harvard University, full time infectious disease clinical research coordinator II at Massachusetts General Hospital, part time emergency medicine scribe at Lahey Hospital and Medical Center, and Freelance graphic designer at Calibr Creative. Scroll down to see her photos and see how you can connect with her!
Her interview is very personal and allows a unique look into the heart and mind of a person who chooses to pursue medicine. It’s easy to get people to talk about their choice to go into a career in medicine on the blog, but Syeda disclosed why she chose this life. So I’m turning the conversation over to her. Enjoy!
Her story begins with her answer to the over-arching question, “Why medicine?”
Both of my parents wanted to become doctors, but they grew up in Bangladesh with very few opportunities to pursue their professional ambitions. Very much in line with the Asian stereotype, they hoped that their children would use the opportunities afforded them in the United States to pursue MD degrees. I have always valued a career in medicine, but I didn’t think it was for me.
For most of my life I have been the rebel in my family when it comes to professional pursuits, in that I have wanted to be creative in my career, always working to incorporate creativity in ways that have also allowed me to be practical and support myself. One year after graduating from Northeastern University with a BA in communications and fine art, I was hired as a medical graphic designer at Biogen. I was over the moon about this opportunity, as it was my “dream job” at the time, and there weren’t many roles as uniquely perfect for me as this one.
However, during the next two years I would discover parts of myself that I hadn’t had time to explore in my experiences beforehand. I was so happy working in this environment and doing this work, but I couldn’t help but feel something was missing. After the first year, I started to feel anxious at baseline, and wondered what it was that I should be dedicating my life to. I took a few months to soul search in my spare time, and pour my energy into barre classes and half marathons, to work off some of the anxiety, but I only found short term relief. During a sprint workout with a friend on a 97 degree August day, I complained I did not want to finish the workout. My friend responded by telling me I had gotten too comfortable. I’m sure he didn’t mean it on the deep level on which it resonated with me, but I am so grateful he said it, because it drove me to ask myself, “what would I do if I weren’t so worried about being comfortable?”
On that day, August 8th, 2015, I decided I wanted to go to medical school. In working with team members at Biogen who had MD, PhD, and PharmD degrees, I had realized over time that I wanted to be doing the work that they were doing, and I wanted to make this kind of a difference for patients. But I had not considered that it was something I could do at this point in my life, because it was too risky to leave a comfortable lifestyle to commit to years of extreme stress for something that was not a guarantee. But that dialogue at the track told me I needed to stop making excuses.
Why MD over other medical professions?
By changing careers in my mid twenties, I gave up my place on the path toward making further design contributions in favor of delayed gratification in medicine. I’m convinced this was the right decision, but I don’t plan to keep going back to school every time I change my mind. If I pursued a PA or NP degree, which may be sufficient in some ways for my current goals, I would likely need to pursue further education or training to achieve new goals that will inevitably surface in the future. I like to have as many options open as possible, and I feel much better going for a degree that will allow me to change my mind every so often as I grow as a person and in my career.
Though my commitment to patient care is unwavering, what I choose to do within the field may change now and again. In addition to the clinical aspects, I also like the business side of medicine and like to know that I can explore this more in the future with an MD.
Talk about how you are finding purpose in life by pursuing your personally meaningful goal of becoming a doctor:
To start off sounding extremely naive, I feel like I have finally woken up as a person as a result of all these experiences; my old baseline anxiety is completely gone. I feel grounded for the first time in my life as of January 2017, and feel capable of being the person I have always wanted to be. It would be nice to say there was a concrete event to point to that suddenly allowed me to start feeling this way, but I think it has happened gradually over the last year, in transitions from one medical experience to the next, meeting so many inspiring and supportive people along the way.
When I started this journey I did not have much of a safety net; I needed to take a leap of faith. Even with the faith though, the first few weeks after leaving Biogen were difficult. During this time it was invaluable to have the stability that therapy, journaling, and emotional support from my parents and a handful of close friends provided me. This stability was fleeting however, and overall I felt very alone in my journey, and needed to push myself every day to keep going.
It helped to start volunteering at Brigham and Women’s Hospital twice a week soon after I left Biogen. This was my first experience in a clinical setting, involving a tiny bit of patient interaction, which was rewarding enough to reassure me that I had made the right decision.
When my intensive summer chemistry class started, as I began the postbac program, I once again had the structure I desperately craved, and met new friends who would help me stay grounded for the rest of the academically challenging summer. During this class, my eyes were opened to new ways of learning, thinking, collaborating, appreciation for it all, and an overwhelming sense of peace.
That summer I took on a position as a patient observer on Saturdays in the emergency department at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital and inpatient floors at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), where I monitored at risk suicidal patients. This role gave me a window into caring for psychiatric patients, and was ultimately another step in reaffirming my goals in medicine.
The beginning of the fall semester that followed was the most difficult time for me in this journey. Without the structure that the intensive summer semester provided, I struggled with anxiety surrounding the thought that I wasn’t doing enough, while also needing to dedicate much of my time to physical therapy an other health related appointments.
By November, I am grateful to say things started turning around, with the beginning of my next medical experience, scribing in the emergency department at Lahey Hospital and Medical Center, Burlington, MA. The physicians here, whom I so greatly admired as I observed their interactions with patients, became a new source of inspiration, and I wanted to help them in any way I could. Seeing how grateful most patients were, and being allowed to see into their lives for a brief moment has humbled me time and again and has helped me remember to be grateful in everything I do.
These kinds of moments, the challenge of the experience, and learning from the physicians really helped to bring me out of the difficult time I was having. All these pieces restored my faith in this path and myself, and gave me significant purpose.
At the beginning of the spring 2017 semester I was in good health again, was becoming confident in my abilities as a scribe, and was enrolled in organic chemistry 2 and biochemistry in the post bac program, while continuing to freelance as a graphic designer which I had started to do in the fall. All the pieces of my life suddenly started to fit together.
Not having all my eggs in one basket gave me perspective, taking away a lot of the space for negative thinking or unproductiveness. If something went wrong in one part of my work, there were so many other parts to focus on while I figured out how to resolve the issue. Diversifying what I worked on during this semester allowed me to stay detached enough from all the separate areas to be able to make rational decisions rather than emotional ones (for the most part!).
Don’t get me wrong, it was a rough semester, and I felt beat up more often than not, but it forced me to find new ways to solve problems. I was lucky to have an orgo 2 professor who was very dedicated and willing to counsel students, a supportive group of friends in the program, and several study groups without whom I am convinced I would not have made it out alive. I think it’s so important to build these kinds of relationships on this journey so that we can make each other’s experiences richer and learn from each other as we go.
In my new role as clinical research coordinator at MGH, I am working on a new personal goal: to be someone who jumps at the chance to support others, unconditionally, with patience and compassion, and a little less concern for self preservation.
At this point, medical school is the only path I can see for myself, but I fully acknowledge that this could change at any moment for any reason. I am only doing the best I can, learning as much as I can along the way, in hopes that I will become part of an environment that values and welcomes my personal contribution, where I can achieve my own goals as well. Living with this intention in this mindset based on a set of values which is true to my core has given me more peace and purpose than I ever thought I would have.
Right now I really like the quote “Travel light, live light, spread the light, be the light.” To bring this story full circle, I think this quote adequately describes the way my parents have tried to live their lives, and after so many years of rebelling, I am finding my purpose by striving to live the same way.
Thank you for taking time to read this post, please give it a like and leave a comment below- especially if you have questions for Syeda or me! Please connect with this awesome girl on Instagram @calibrcreative She’s an artist as well and you can appreciate her art on IG @calibrgallery Go show her some support! Also visit Syeda’s website to learn more about her creative work. Women like her are an inspiration, and I’m glad to stand alongside her in this wonderful field. I’d love to hear from more women in medicine! If that’s you, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, contact me through the blog’s contact page, or find me on instagram @asclepius_blog