Currently, my schedule in quarantine involves reading heartbreaking stories about COVID-19 and then switching to Instagram, seeing another pre-med having a party at the few locations that are still open. Doctors are putting their lives on the line, and pre-meds can’t follow simple stay-at-home instructions. Reading about being a doctor at this time is scary. Not only because of the pandemic, but also because the need for empathy is glaringly evident. I worry that pre-meds at Yale often fail to prioritize this characteristic.
A pattern of two extremes has plagued my experiences with pre-med culture at Yale: the fear of failure and the feeling of invincibility.
After spending considerable amounts of time talking to my pre-med friends about authoring publications or getting a perfect score on the MCAT, I too started to believe that medical schools only valued the sheer volume of activities we put on our resume. Pre-meds are so afraid of not having the perfect application to medical school that we forget the humanity that the profession requires.
There’s more to medicine than getting into medical school. If we take the time to think about what this profession represents beyond the schooling itself, we can start cultivating the empathy this field deserves. While we meticulously plan which “prestigious” internship to take, we need to remember that we’ll be treating patients whose lives have suddenly spun out of their control.
A few years ago, my grandmother passed away in India because of a misdiagnosis. Two weeks before, the doctor had said she probably just had high blood pressure and that it would go away. After she passed away, my family went back to the same doctor, and he said it was my aunt’s fault for not knowing that my grandmother had “clearly” suffered from a heart attack.
The doctor in India wasn’t a rare occurrence. Sometimes, it feels like doctors around the world only got where they did through their cold calculations — their apathy towards those they’re tasked to care about.
My grandmother’s doctor let us down. His disregard for his patient led to nothing but pain. I was left thinking about the many more years I could’ve spent with her, knowing her death was preventable. We had lost someone so valuable to us.
Striving to be perfect leads us to hide our flaws. We need to acknowledge our shortcomings, not hide them — otherwise, as doctors, we can ruin someone’s life. Having empathy for yourself is just as important as having it for others — one can’t happen without the other.
None of us are perfect people. We aren’t superior to each other based on our GPAs, and our classmates aren’t “incompetent” if they ask for help in class. We toxically compare who was more impressive in high school, valuing someone for their plethora of extracurriculars over their kindness. We shape entire friend groups around the extensiveness of our resumes. We need to support and help each other, not tear each other down. Without empathy for our own peers, how can we be expected to show the same, if not more, care for our patients?
Looking at the actions of Yale’s leading STEM educators and mentors, it’s clear why pre-meds no longer value care and collaboration. Students actively take as few STEM classes as possible to finish their major, avoiding the ill-taught curriculum and haunting experiences in oversubscribed classes full of pre-meds.
Pre-meds fight to get into labs with clout, and researchers have competitions to see who can handle the largest workload, subsequently picking the winner as their chosen heir.
STEM at Yale thrives on the unhealthy competition of pre-meds. Although this ruthlessness and lack of regard for each other may provide us with success in the short-term, in the long term, we will never be able to address the needs of a patient without compassion. Without taking the time to work on our character, we may one day find ourselves unable to do the jobs we’ve trained for.
For all the pre-meds struggling to craft their perfect resume, here’s some advice: Without the emotional intelligence required of a doctor, your straight-A record and three research publications mean nothing to a patient.
Right now, we’re all on the same playing field. But as doctors, there will be an inherent power dynamic between us and our patients. We will have the responsibility to those patients to bridge the gap and make them feel respected and heard.
When asked the question, “Why medicine?” if you don’t have an answer, if it’s because the profession is “respectable and makes good money” or even if it’s because you think you’re smarter than the rest of the crowd — you should either rethink your intentions or your career path altogether.
Reassessing our career paths is scary when we’ve committed to do so much. But, we have opportunities now to trip, fall and make mistakes. We can’t do that once someone’s life in our hands.
NISHITA AMANCHARLA is a sophomore in Saybrook College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .