2:14 pm. “Why don’t you just get on out of here for the day, good job this week.” Taken slightly off-guard, I packed up my bag and said thank you to the four temporary coworkers that put up with my ineptitude for the past two weeks. On paper, it was a great day: Two cups of coffee before we ran the list, rounds that finished before 11 am, Chick-fil-a for lunch, and leaving early? Honestly maybe one of the better days of third year. I rode the escalator in silence and stepped outside to what was a beautiful day in mid-May. I paused for a moment in the outdated brick hallway, turned around, and thought to myself, “well, [expletive].”

That was it. The last day of third year. The year that you get to see and do a little bit behind almost every door of medicine. The year that you start seeing the possibility of actually becoming a doctor, and the year that you find your calling. Well, supposedly. Throughout the entirety of third year, I slowly saw my friends fall in love with a wide range of specialties. Someone who never thought they’d want to work with kids found out they can’t spend enough time with them. Another, who was insistent that internal was the best path, is now certain that they could never see themselves in a career in which they weren’t delivering babies. And the friend who discovered they’re ok with the 4 am wakeup call every day because the operating room just felt right, and they couldn’t imagine working anywhere else. As the year went on, a seemingly large number of classmates had their epiphanies regarding their calling in medicine. I can’t speak to how it felt seeing as it never happened to me, but I imagine it must’ve been the sky opening up one day and a voice just yelling “OBGYN!” similar to the tone of the sorting hat in Harry Potter. And while I was truly and genuinely happy for these people it left me wondering, did I miss my calling? Or even worse, was medicine the wrong calling for me altogether? It’s a question I asked myself every week when starting on a new service. Residents and attendings would fill the void of awkwardness with the initial conversations that contained your standard three medical small talk questions: 1.) What’s your name? Easy. 2.) Third or fourth year? They could probably answer that on their own just by the look of incompetence in my eyes, but another softball question. 3.)What do you want to go into? There it was, the pièce de résistance. I always replied, “Not sure, just leaving all of my options open.” It was my automated response since I came to learn it would end the conversation right there. It prompted no further questioning, and if there was a response it would most likely be, “don’t worry, you have time.” But as I stood outside the hospital on that last day of third year surrounded by honeysuckles and concrete, I realized they were wrong. I didn’t have time. I was supposed to know by now. The clouds should’ve opened up and I should’ve been sorted into something, right? I walked to my car in a strange mix of emotions and when I got home, I grabbed an age-appropriate beverage and reflected on the past year:

  • The relieved mom when she was told her son’s illness was nothing serious and it should resolve on its own.
  • The 86-year-old who was just thankful to see a familiar face at his annual PCP check-up after a year of social isolation and loneliness.
  • The homeless man with a myriad of complaints that were alleviated, and graciously appreciated, by a meal and a warm bed for a few hours.
  • The patient that overdosed on ethylene glycol, who handed over a homemade card to the MTS team that took care of him, both physically and emotionally, for the past 2 weeks.
  • A young man, hallucinating and acutely psychotic, received the medications and support that would help him maintain the ability to live a normal life.
  • The stroke patient, who was wheelchair bound a year ago, stand up to hug the neurologist.
  • The surgeon relaxing his shoulders and letting out a sigh of relief at 4am as he successfully sewed up a man’s ruptured aorta.
  • The mom who came in worrying since she hadn’t felt fetal movement in some time, only to be holding her healthy twins hours later.

I began to realize that maybe it’s ok to not have found a calling by the end of third year. Because while I didn’t feel as if I fit the mold of one specific specialty, I saw incredible things in every specialty. I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and life will work itself out one way or another. However, from 30,000 ft, I have to disagree with the “medicine is a calling” motto. I personally like to think that being a part of medicine is a privilege rather than a calling. A privilege in which you get to see humanity on its most raw level no matter what field you go into. So, if you find yourself in my shoes, first give them back – that’s weird you even took them in the first place. But then realize it’s ok if the clouds never opened up and showed you your predetermined destiny, like they never did for me. Just know that in whatever field of medicine you choose, you are bound to help someone in some way, and see some pretty amazing things. And at the end of the day, that’s enough for me.


About the Author:
Kyle Duke is a fourth-year medical student at the UofSC School of Medicine Greenville and volunteer in their community.