If you’re a pre-med reading this, I want you to repeat after me: I love my classes. I love my major. I love my classmates. I love my career path.
If you felt uncomfortable at any point in that mantra, I have news for you: You’re normal. You’re one of hundreds at Yale and around the country. It is healthy and valid to question your decisions and to think critically about your premedical future. In fact, I would venture to say the same for all career paths and all majors at Yale.
However, there is one distinction between premeds and other Yalies — the amount of time we spend complaining, loudly and with abandon. There are times, like right now at the beginning of the year, when those complaints — about chemistry, labs, problem sets and the general state of premedical studies in the United States — pile on to the point where the entire community seems to be babbling toxic waste. Toxic in the sense that our words are no longer productive, constructive or analytical.
We vent about how much premed life sucks without talking about why we’re even trying to get into med school; we whine yet make no effort to understand ourselves. If biology, chemistry and physics are all so reprehensible, perhaps medicine just isn’t the way to go. After all, there are other ways to help people and much faster ways to make money. Not to sound like a med school app, but why does it have to be medicine, really? There is no correct answer to that question, but somewhere at the core there should be genuine interest.
While I trust everyone is doing their best to succeed, I don’t believe our efforts are consistently driven by deep self-reflection or passion. And what is the point in coming to Yale, an institution known for its traditional strengths in the humanities, if we don’t even stop to consider our true interests?
Here’s another problem. I call pre-meds a “community,” but that exaggerates our level of connection. I may have wonderful friends in my major and incredible study groups to thank, but can that be said for every pre-med on campus? The answer is no, and it would be foolish for me to ignore the competitive nature of being a pre-med.
Part of the problem is the way we talk amongst ourselves — which is to say, how we complain amongst ourselves. Mutual suffering brings people together, yes — but it does not unite us or inform us about each other’s passions. To have a community, there must be a personal connection. And if the only conversations we ever have consist of shameless griping, there is no room for “Game of Thrones” discussions or late-nights chats about life, or any sort of real friendship. Instead we self-perpetuate our pre-med stereotypes, snaring ourselves in a never-ending cycle of shallow banter and misery.
The most frustrating aspect of being a part of this pre-med culture is the fact that I truly love my major. I am excited for my future and all of the options in it, and every pre-med class I’ve taken at Yale has solidified this passion — even the tough ones. Despite all of my excitement, I too have fallen into the habit of speaking as if I have been subjected to this by some greater power, as if I have no agency in my life to pick my career path and go some other way. I am failing, more often than not, to articulate my experience accurately. I am far from the only pre-med who feels this way — if we spoke up more, perhaps we could change the stereotype at Yale. After all, pre-meds do not exist to be pitied, and we certainly do not exist to pity ourselves.
I invite premeds to doubt themselves, especially first years and sophomores. I invite us to question why we’re here, at an institution that offers access to nearly every path, to stare stubbornly down the road of medicine. If not medicine, what else? If not biology or chemistry, what else? As my friend always says, the best way to pick the right class is to ask: Does it spark joy? Do any of your classes? If not, why medicine? If those questions make you uncomfortable, maybe you have some work to do — and I don’t mean that orgo problem set due next Friday.
Repeat after me, regardless of whether you are or have ever been or will ever be a pre-med: I love my classes. I love my major. I love my classmates. I love my career path.
And if these things do not ring true, it is time to think about my options, to find others things that bring joy to my life. After all, there’s more to life than understanding the lecture slides — I have myself to figure out, too.
Catherine Yang is a junior in Trumbull College. Her column runs on alternate Thursdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .