blue stethoscope

Dream On: A med student hits the reset button


"Just show your passions on your residency applications and everything else will work out," my mentor said.

I sat there and realized, “holy crap...I have not shown my passions these past three years. Hell, I don't even know if I have had any.” Having always thought my actions were driven by my passions, I was pretty shaken up at that moment. My mentor appeared unfazed.

My goal and dream for the longest time was to become a doctor. That was a big deal. It is a big deal. Passion was what got me into medical school. But once I got here, I stopped dreaming. I stopped looking forward. I stopped being the goal-driven person that once defined me.

A part of me faults just being too busy — I was just trying to keep my head above water. Perhaps a bigger part of me faults my self-esteem. Returned to being a little fish in a big ocean filled with sharks, I felt insignificant and incapable. Many opportunities came up, and I just brushed them off, thinking I wasn't worthy, that there were so many other classmates who could do it better, or deserved it more.

And another part of me thought, "I just want to be a doctor. Isn't that enough?" Daughter of parents who emigrated from China — who weren't even college educated and had to start their lives over from scratch — makes it to "the big leagues" and becomes a health care professional. Shoot, isn't that the American Dream?

Being a doctor is still a big deal. But at UCSF, is being JUST a doctor enough? All my peers are doing ground-breaking research, or starting and nurturing organizations to change the world. I should have felt inspired by my peers and my environment to do more.

Looking back now, I wish I had changed my outlook during my first three years. I wish I had seen these people as amazing role models, but instead I viewed them as being way out of my league. (You know, like how you try to motivate yourself to work out, but you see Victoria’s Secret models and you know you'll never in any world look like them, and then get discouraged, throw up your hands and think "what's the point?")

While in medical school, I stopped being a leader. I stopped being a teacher. I stopped being a mentor — all things that I loved doing, and all things that made me a qualified medical school applicant. I'm writing this because I want to continue to dream, to set goals, to look forward. I want to stop just treading water, doggy-paddling and waiting for something to float by.

On the other hand, I don’t want only my profession to define me. I want to be a mother and a wife, and be the best I can be in those roles as well. In exploring these unresolved visions of myself, there has been a bit of clarity. I’m not happy unless I’m striving to be better. So I'm telling myself now, Dream On.