Last week, during my cell biology lab, we did an experiment that involved staining actin in cells with a fluorescent dye and visualizing the cells under a special type of microscope. A few hours ago, the TA for the class sent out some of the images that were taken during the lab. Call me crazy, but I think fluorescent microscopy is an art form. The intricate beauty of cells and proteins and tissues is on display, set apart from the background in bright, vibrant hues.
The images themselves end up being surreal, hazy compositions. The cells turn into translucent, amorphous balloons floating through the pitch-black night. Cells are huge, dominating, in these images. It’s hard to believe that each cell is only 10-15 microns across, about 1/5 the width of a hair.
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?