Discovering my unique path: A medical student’s story

Medical student Rebecca shares her story on how time away from medical school helped her reconnect with herself and rediscover her unique path.

Discovering my unique path

A degree in science opens doors 

As you evolve, it is only natural that your dreams will evolve as well. And it is okay to question the path you are on and rediscover yourself along the way

These are words, which I wish would have made sense to me years ago. Instead, the phrase that stuck with me early on in high school was: “A degree in science opens doors”. As I had a general interest in science, I decided it was a sensible decision to get cracking on a Bachelor’s in Biology and later, a Master’s in Molecular Medicine. My excitement for medicine and the fact that I enjoy working with people, made a graduate entry programme in medicine still sound like a logical next step and one that I was very much looking forward to. 

After a few months in medical school however, I realized that I had been on autopilot for some time, pursuing a career plan that my sixteen-year-old self set out for. Naturally, we all change a lot between our teens and mid-twenties and so did I, but my goals stayed the same. Therefore, what seemed like a picture-perfect career unfolding on my CV suddenly felt like someone else’s path.

Discovering my unique path

The challenges that no one really talks about   

Anytime you put the words “medical school” in any context into a search engine you will be bombarded with countless articles of how to get into medical school, but little about what it is like once you are in. Before medical school, it is all about grades, standardized tests, application processes, and fierce competition with little time to ponder your decisions. After all, “you have already invested too much!”. Then, when you are finally there, the things that will challenge you might not be the things you were worried about in the first place.

It is the experiences like when you meet your first patient and they immediately put all their hopes in you, despite the fact that you told them that you are only practising taking their history and not at all qualified to give advice. Or what happens to your mental state when you casually learn about a hundred different ways of dying during an afternoon of pathology lectures. Or when you wonder how one would balance a much more demanding schedule than ever before, with a physical ailment that needs a lot of attention. Or how the company of already highly-achieving humans drives you to think that you must become at least a neurosurgeon to be considered successful. 

I started questioning whether I was right for this degree and the career that typically follows, if I could not naturally find myself in the role of the classical medical student or a clinical setting a few years later. And despite my love for medicine, I also was not willing to put my health and wellbeing second.

Rediscovering my path in medical school 

Discovering my unique path

I have always been a creative spirit and have found joy in a variety of creative activities like writing, drawing, acting and most recently some filmmaking. I try to fit these in during every spare minute. Hence, during that first year of medical school I often played with the thought of dedicating my life to a creative career rather than medicine, which suddenly felt so ill-fitting for a number of reasons.  

Finally, deciding to take some time away from medical school was one of the most tormenting decisions of my life. But I now know that if I had not stepped back, rediscovered my love for medicine, engaged with those difficult questions and put my own wellbeing first, I might have left all together a few years later. Instead, I can wholeheartedly say that it has been one of the best and most rewarding steps of my life

While I have kept busy, taking care of my health and exploring alternative careers, an incredibly valuable experience has been adapting my career plan to serve the person I am today, and waving goodbye to the outdated plan from high school and the idea of having to fit the standard. 

 Looking outwards for inspiration 

Once I started looking outwards for input, there were many incredibly inspirational people out there who could share advice from their own experiences of wrestling with the same questions and challenges I encountered. People who have been brave to protest the norms and go their own unique way. Not only do I not feel alone anymore in my challenges, I know that having faced the difficult questions, will only make me a better medical student and a more authentic artist. 

I also learned that I do not have to decide between my two passions. In fact, so many exciting new avenues can open up with a powerful union like medicine and a creative aptitude. Through the Medic Footprints community and encouraging stories from doctor-actors, doctor-journalists, doctor-filmmakers etc, I learned that it absolutely is possible to combine a career in medicine with other passions. The portfolio career rules (if there are any) absolutely do apply to medicine as well! 

You can be sure someone else has a similar question 

I have received plenty of critique for my decision to re-evaluate the path I am on. To me however, it was 100% the right thing to do and a step in the direction of going my unique way. I aim to be driven by passion and purpose in a healthy way, rather than forcefully trying to cast myself into the role of the classical medical student in order to fit the norm. 

Remember when an instructor would say “if you have a question, you can be sure someone else has a similar one and will thank you that you asked yours”. This is exactly what I found to be true – many medical students facing the same questions and challenges, but only few talking openly about them. Medicine is undoubtedly a challenging career to go into. But by sharing our stories and knowing that it is okay to take a step back, question the path we are on and adjust where necessary, we can only benefit, and hopefully transition into a more accepting environment; one where doubts are not taboo and we are fuelled by a career that fulfils us. Sometimes we just need to be told that “it’s okay” by someone who already went through something similar. 

While I do not know what the future holds for me beyond medical school, I know that having asked the hard questions and having actively decided to return to medicine with a fresh outlook, makes me all the more “right” for this degree. What used to be a torment turned into something I enjoy wrestling with. I am determined to have fun finding my authentic path, continue to prioritize my own health before attempting to aid others and share my story, which hopefully encourages others to tweak and rediscover their own paths.  

Are you feeling a bit lost and looking for some guidance? Do you have a story to share? Get in touch!

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Rebecca Mortensen

Rebecca is a graduate entry medical student in Ireland. She is passionate about medical students’ wellbeing, encouraging people to find their unique career paths and enjoys every opportunity to be creative.