Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Why MD/PhD?

Besides the fact that this question came up on every application I filled out, many people have asked why I decided to do a Physician Scientist Training Program (PSTP) instead of just going to a medical school or graduate program. The quick answer is that I really love school, and I'm not ready for a "real job." And hey, who doesn't love looking forward to eight more years of school?

The first time I ever remember being asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I was in first grade. My answer was "A house painter." Now, I didn't want to be someone who just painted siding, or the interior of a house. I wanted to be someone who painted art all over people's houses. Nevermind that I have absolutely no artistic talent. I then went through typically elementary school dreams--teacher, ballet dancer, veterinarian, etc. In high school, I started out planning to work in theater, and then discovered that I loved science more than anything. Somewhere in there I uncovered a love of all things relating to the brain, and decided to pursue medicine. I got a job in a pharmacy, and taught myself how various drugs worked. I applied to MIT because I knew I wanted to study the brain, knew I didn't want a traditional psychology degree, and knew that the Brain and Cognitive Sciences degree was interdisciplinary and very flexible.

I entered MIT thinking that in the end, I would still apply to medical school. But then the time came for me to get a job, and because MIT has a wonderful undergraduate research program, I was able to completely fund my MIT education by working in various labs. The summer after my freshman year, I worked at the NIH, where I had the opportunity to work along side many physician scientists. I loved working in an environment where clinical medicine and research were mixed, where researchers worked with interesting patient populations and were actually able to see the difference they made in these patients' day-to-day lives. And so I decided that I wanted to focus on research as well as medicine. I continued working in research (a topic perhaps for a future post), and applied, and was accepted to a PSTP program.

So here I am, in my first year of medical school, trying to remember that once I get past these pesky first few years I can start pursuing what I really love. Of course, I do find what i'm learning now to be interesting, and it's unfortunate that my life sort of got in the way of my dreams for awhile. But I will continue on the best I can, knowing that in eight or nine years I'll be out of school and ready to start a new chapter in my life.