Contemplating the Medical Specialties and Healthcare

Okay, so I have wanted to become a doctor since I was a freshman in high school. But my “goal medical specialty” has changed so many times in the past few months. At first, I thought I wanted to become a cardiac surgeon. Then I was just interested in becoming a cardiologist, without the surgical responsibilities. Then I became a freshman at Duke and started my research in the genetic and epigenetic factors of cancer, which made me consider becoming an oncologist. But at the same time, I was planning to major in psychology, since I was very passionate about learning how the human mind works. So I considered neurology and psychiatry as well.

Then I decided that I wanted to play an active role in healing patients. I wasn’t as interested in just diagnosing patients and prescribing medications; I feel like I wouldn’t be contributing as much as I would want to if I just told a patient what medications to take before they saw me again. I would like to play a more active role in treating my patients, and do more than just diagnose, prescribe medications, and then check-up on them again in the next few months or so. Therefore, doing hands-on procedures to improve someone’s condition would make me feel more like a doctor. It was then that I realized I do want to be a surgeon after all, because what excites me most about being a doctor is the ability to use my own bare hands to improve a patient’s condition.

But instead of regaining my interest in cardiac surgery, I found myself becoming interested in orthopedics. I’ve been reading a lot about the different medical specialties, so I’ve considered other factors I value in a medical specialty. I found that I was fascinated by the skeletal anatomy of humans, but the extra research I had done over the many medical specialties made me realize that the lifestyle and variety in orthopedics seemed to fit my interest.

I have realized that one of the most important factors in a specialty is the variety of tasks I can do. There are many things I’d like to do as a doctor, including seeing patients, performing surgeries, and doing research in the field of my profession. This is a little ironic, because I’m the type of person who likes to focus on one or two things. This is why I’d like to dedicate my life to medicine someday. However, there is just so much I’d like to do in medicine that I can’t think of what to focus on yet. I can’t decide whether I’d like to dedicate more time to research, clinical work, or the operating room. I’d like to be able to do it all…and do it all well. So judging by everything I’ve read about the different medical specialties, I’ve considered orthopedics and otolaryngology (or an ENT surgeon) as two specialties I am most interested in at the moment. Both seem to involve a great balance of medical and surgical responsibilities, and since I will be involved in stem cell research this fall, I can still stay involved with the research in my specialty. Stem cells seem applicable to almost any field of research.

I decided to shadow an orthopedic surgeon first, and then an ENT surgeon during Christmas break. In the last two months of my summer, I shadowed an orthopedic surgeon in my local county. I visited his clinic Tuesdays and Thursdays, and I’ve seen all kinds of different cases, including multiple carpal tunnel surgeries and a surgery involving the excision of pre-patellar bursa. But besides the surgeries I’ve seen, I would say my favorite experience was expanding my knowledge of our healthcare system and its effect on doctors. This ortho surgeon was also in law school, because he was fed up with the way our healthcare system was affecting his career and his patients’ opportunities for treatment. We’ve had some good conversations about these topics, which I will be eager to expand upon in future posts once I’m in the mood to share my opinions about healthcare!

Overall, it was a wonderful experience shadowing this surgeon. He was friendly, easy to talk to, and very passionate about helping people. Those are some of the most ideal qualities doctors should have. Once I become a doctor, it will be my goal to not only have an outstanding expertise in my specialty, but also to develop strong and genuine relationships with my patients. As I continue exploring my current interests in medicine, I’m sure these two goals will not change.

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