Tania Heller is an MD and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, educated in South Africa and trained at Georgetown. She has worked in a variety of types of medicine and has more than 20 years of experience as a doctor. She lives and practices in Bethesda, Maryland.
On Becoming a Doctor: Everything You Need to Know about Medical School, Residency, Specialization, and Practiceby Tania Heller
On Becoming a Doctor covers everything you need to know about medical school, residency, specialization, and practice.See more details below
On Becoming a Doctor covers everything you need to know about medical school, residency, specialization, and practice.
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Excerpt from Chapter 1: Introduction
As a student planning to enter medical school, you probably expect to take subjects that are at a far greater level of difficulty and intensity than those you took in college. However, some aspects of medical training, such as the dissection of human bodies, are a departure from anything that you faced as an undergraduate. Medical school will challenge you in many different ways-both intellectually and emotionally. "You're expected to know a lot and do a lot," said pediatrician Dr. Bertha Koomson. "You only appreciate the hard work and what you've learned later." My goal in writing this book is to provide you with information on the process of becoming a doctor, including medical school requirements and ways to finance your studies. you'll receive valuable tips and how-to advice from real doctors and medical students as well as other qualified individuals. you will have an inside look at the practice of medicine through interviews with specialists who describe their own exciting and varied experiences. Here, we will also examine the business side of a career in medicine. Numerous resources are included to help you navigate the process from start to finish.
WHAT INSPIRES YOUNG PEOPLE TO GO INTO MEDICINE?
My father taught me that our purpose in life is to leave the world a better place. Although I believe that to be true, I have asked myself, "What can one person do to make a difference?" As a physician, I think of famous people in the medical field-people like Drs. Salk and Sabin, who both discovered polio vaccines, and the cardiac surgeon Dr. Christiaan Barnard, who performed the first heart transplant. Clearly, they made a difference, but can and should each one of us hope to achieve something as significant? Yes, as a physician you will be able to make a contribution and influence people's lives, even if your name doesn't go down in the history books.
There are doctors who have had a big impact on my life, people who have touched my heart, even though they may not know it. I'll always remember the emergency room doctor who treated my son's elbow injury with great skill and the internist who showed compassion when my grandmother was hospitalized. I'll never forget the neurologist who offered reassurance and support when I worried unnecessarily about a symptom I had. In every field and every walk of life, there are ways that each one of us can make a difference. The practice of medicine is one of those fields in which we have enormous opportunity to do just that.
When I was sixteen years old, I considered a future in either science or education. Many years later I was able to combine the two by pursuing a medical career and becoming a physician. I now enjoy practicing clinical medicine as well as lecturing on medical topics. I attended the University of Cape Town in South Africa and did clinical rounds at Groote Schuur Hospital, where the famous cardiac surgeons, the Barnard brothers, operated. I intended to practice medicine in that region.
However, life takes many interesting turns. Because of the political climate, our family immigrated to the United States, and I did my residency training in pediatrics at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C. Somehow, things seemed to work out, and I've never looked back. I've always appreciated the fact that I had exposure to "third world" medicine and the medical needs in Africa, an experience that has served me well. For example, when one of my first young patients in the United States had tuberculosis, I was able to recognize his clinical symptoms and radiological findings more readily.
Next, several others will speak about their own reasons for choosing a medical career.
Wanting to Make a Discovery
"I was always interested in trying to discover things," said Dr. Roscoe Brady, who became a world-renowned scientist at the National Institutes of Health. "As a child, Edison was my hero, and my favorite book was The Life of Thomas Edison." Dr. Brady was the first of several people I interviewed about their choice to pursue a medical career. He told me that his father had been a pharmacist who made remedies and that some of his father's remedies are actually still in use to this day.
Wanting to Make a Difference in People's Lives
"I don't know if I could do it all over again," said Dr. Marc Simon, a cardiologist at a large academic medical center in Pittsburgh. "In other words, if I knew then, going forward, that I'd have to commit to so many years of training, I might not have made the decision to go into medicine. Now that I have completed my training, I am happy that I did."
Dr. Simon wanted to go into "the sciences" but didn't know whether he would proceed into the medical field. "I studied bioengineering in undergraduate school at the University of Pennsylvania," he told me. "My parents encouraged me to explore the medical field. During the summers, I worked in a lab with an oncologist (cancer specialist) who became my role model and was the greatest influence on my career choice. While that mentor ran a basic research laboratory in which I and so many other students worked, he was incredibly dedicated to his patients. I saw this firsthand on clinical rounds with him and in one-on-one discussions we would have both at work and at times when he would drive me home. We would discuss ethics, biology, and, occasionally, science. He was first and foremost a humanist. I discovered that I enjoyed going on clinical rounds, so I applied to medical school and was accepted to the University of Maryland."
Dr. Simon found that while science was a strong driving force, it was witnessing the tangible, positive effect on people's lives that he most enjoyed. "For me, medicine is both about the patients and the science of improving their-and future patients'-lives," he said. "It is a special privilege and honor to be involved in both clinical medicine and research that took me many extra years of training." He then told me that despite difficult years, he made the right career choice in academic medicine. "I can't imagine doing anything else."
Interest in Science as Well as Personal Interaction
Ari Kestler, a second-year medical student, recounted his experience to me.
Like his father, he was fascinated by science, and in high school he considered pursuing a medical degree. "I played hockey and my coach was a senior at [the University of] Maryland planning to go to medical school. He became my mentor in high school and college."
As a biochemistry major at the University of Michigan, Ari found his professors to be passionate and supportive of his interest, encouraging him to study hard and do research. At that time he considered pursuing a PhD, but after two summers in the confinement of a laboratory, he soon realized he needed more personal contact and took the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) in the hopes of becoming a doctor.
Fascination with the Human Body
Avital Perry serves in the Israeli Defense Forces. She completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Maryland and has been accepted to an Ivy League medical school. "I considered law," she said. "I was argumentative and loved debating issues. Then, in high school, I studied biology, and the more I learned, the more I wanted to know. Science and particularly the study of the human body were fascinating to me. I liked laboratory work and enjoyed critical thinking. To see if I was capable of working with sick patients, I volunteered to assist in hospitals, including an intensive care neurosurgery unit where the Israeli Prime Minister later became a patient. I got to observe great doctors and nurses and had exposure to really ill people."
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