It’s close to midnight. I’m walking to the only coffee shop on campus that’s open past 9 pm during the summer. I’m not really paying attention to what’s going on around me, so when I see a guy rolling toward me on his bike, I wordlessly move to other side of the sidewalk so he can pass by. He’s a big guy, blond and fratty. I glance at him as he passes.
“How you doin’ hun?” His voice is low and confident and it chills me to the bone.
I felt violated. He clearly had no intention of actually talking to me. He wasn’t interested in how I was doing. He just wanted to make his presence known. As much as that rankled me, his comment also terrified me. There was no one else in sight. No one would notice if he turned around and came back toward me.
I didn’t run, but I did walk as fast as I possibly could, looking over my shoulder every few steps to make sure that he continued to glide away. I turned on the next street and practically ran two blocks to the coffee shop. Once I was within the warm golden lights of the café, with an iced coffee in hand, I felt safe.
It really shouldn’t be this way. A random guy biking down the street shouldn’t be able to scare me as much as this one did. Even if he didn’t actually mean any harm, there was a chance that he did. Because I’m female, I have been trained to always be careful. I’ve been told that I need to be wary, that I have to watch out, that I’m a potential victim. Last night, I was walking back to my apartment from a friend’s place at around 2:45 in the morning. Despite the fact that I didn’t see a single person, I practically ran home.
I want to be free from all of this. I want to be able to take midnight walks when I need to clear my head. I would love to feel the cool air of early morning without that constant, niggling concern for my safety. I’d rather not constantly eye my fellow travelers when I walk through town after 10 pm.
I want to be free to wander.
There are certain things expected of the students who announce that they are “pre-med” in undergrad. You are supposed to be frighteningly intelligent. When I go to parties or bars and mention the fact that I’m pre-med, guys tend to have the same response. It tends to involve something like this: “oh, you must be smart” and slowly backing away, searching for a more appropriately ditzy girl to dance with.
You’re also expected to have research experience, despite the fact that research has little to nothing to do with clinical medicine. However, because the majority of premeds think that they need research experience, it’s become something that’s expected of us, yet another item to check off the list. You will never get nearly as many weird looks as when you tell a group of pre-med biology majors that you are hoping to go to medical school but that you’re not a biology major and that you’re not working in anyone’s lab this semester.
That brings me to another expectation that straight up bothers me. We’re actually not all majoring in biology and minoring in chemistry. I spent my first three semesters of college studying “Earth, Society and the Environment” and taking pre-med classes on the side. If you’re planning on going to medical school, your major in undergrad really doesn’t matter that much. So many people decide to study biology just because that’s ‘what you do’ if you want to be a doctor. I came into college studying environmental science because I loved it. Of course, once I got to college and started taking the biology classes that I would need to apply to medical school, I realized that I really enjoy as well. After looking at my four-year plan earlier this semester, I realized that I could easily fit in a biology major as well, so I decided to double major. Even with the added validation of a biology major, I still get funny looks when I tell people that I’m studying environmental science as well.
I’ve taken to telling people that, if you’re going to grad school, undergrad isn’t about what you want to do, it’s about figuring out who you want to be. After graduation, if you’ve planned well enough, you can focus on what you want to do with your life, but college gives you a chance to sort out who exactly you are.
After I’ve told everyone that I’m premed, not doing research, and majoring in biology and environmental science, they ask which hospital I’m volunteering at. This is one that I actually think is pretty important. I’ve been volunteering for two semesters at a hospital near campus, and it has definitely been an experience. I’ve given people baths, dealt with patients who are literally crazy, and have tiptoed around family members grieving for their dying relatives. A hospital is not an easy place to be. Almost no one actually wants to be there, and you know that the people you are taking care of are sick in some way. It’s difficult, as a healthy young girl, to stand in front of a patient who can’t walk and ask if there’s anything you can do for them. If I can’t give them their health back, what really matters?
Giving people back their health, or at least doing my very best to do so, is the reason that I want to go into medicine. It’s a very tangible way to make the world a better place, at least for the patients that I’ll be helping. I’m not in it for the money, or the prestige. I just want to end up where I can make a difference in people’s lives. I don’t know where that’ll be, but I really hope it happens. Unfortunately, I’m going to have to get through another two years of nosy questions and silent sizing-ups until I get to med school. I guess there’s some sacrifice involved in everything, right?