To a great extent, music has been my life. Since earning a degree in music composition from Chapman University in 2014, I’ve written scores for independent film and TV while moonlighting at a mountain bike shop to get sweet discounts that feed my trail-riding addiction. It’s been a great life. I’ve spent tons of time outdoors near my home in Seattle, created lots of new music, and even saved enough money to buy a house.
But for a couple of years, I’ve had a nagging notion that writing music for projects other than my own was not my passion. Everything I was doing in life was good for me and me alone. It didn’t feel like it would leave a lasting impact if I died the next day.
So I had a long talk with family members and close friends – several of them firefighters who talked about the rewards of their careers. I thought long and hard before deciding to pursue firefighting and ultimately paramedicine, the career path my dad had followed.
As I made plans to enroll at the fire academy, I also harbored fleeting thoughts about medical school – thoughts I dismissed because, at age 23, it was just too late to become a doctor. At least that’s what I told myself and friends, who eventually called me out. “Why do you think it’s too late?” they asked. I really didn’t have a good answer. The more I thought about it, age didn’t seem like a barrier to a career change – even one as profound as I was considering.
Days later, I called a family friend who’s a doctor and said, “I’m thinking of doing something rather rash. Do you have any advice?” She told me to buy a plane ticket to Denver and spend a week shadowing her and other physicians. She said that by the end of the week I would know if it was something I wanted.
Within 15 minutes of touching down and arriving at the hospital, I was rushed into an operating room, where I scrubbed in and spent the next four hours watching cardiothoracic surgeons perform open-heart surgery on a 3-week-old infant. Minutes after the surgery, I realized this was the “something more” I was missing in my life. The rest of the week included observing 10 other procedures and surgeries, which only reinforced my new resolve. I was ready to make a radical new commitment in my life.
Now I’m two years into this new and challenging adventure. I’m charting patients for a physician who practices internal medicine as I also take premed courses in preparation for starting medical school. I’ve navigated the initial excitement of such a huge transition in my life, and still no self-doubt has crept in. Instead, I get almost daily confirmation that I made the right choice.
Not long ago, during the height of cold season, a patient presented to our hospital clinic with symptoms similar to those of so many others. As the doctor asked questions, I started pulling in another diagnosis for sinusitis. But this time the doctor heard something different in the patient’s wheezing, and a chest X-ray was ordered to see if it might be pneumonia. The X-ray revealed a 6-centimeter mass in the left lung that turned out to be malignant. In such moments I learn that with medicine, there’s no room for complacency. I’m also reminded that the opportunity for life-changing impact is as close as the next diagnosis.
As I think about my new academic and professional journey, it’s hard to compare what lies ahead to the professional path I’m leaving behind.
I’ve certainly faced challenges before, such as when I was composing and orchestrating my senior thesis at Chapman. More than a year of planning and writing went into that concert, for which I wrote and performed a concerto for piano and orchestra. I learned so much working with my faculty mentors in the College of Performing Arts – professors Sean Heim, Janice Park, Amy Graziano and the late Shaun Naidoo. I also developed indispensable friendships with fellow students who helped me realize my vision. The process was so creative and collaborative – it felt like I was juggling a thousand things, and all were critical.
Now my goal is to become a surgeon. Balancing 28 units of coursework with working in a hospital and studying for the MCAT is just the beginning. I’m looking wide-eyed down a road of medical education, residency, testing, etc., that stretches more than a decade into the future.
It’s premature to think about residency. However, in my classes so far, I’ve been obsessed with neuroanatomy. It will be interesting to see where that obsession leads as I move into clinical rotations and start thinking about choosing a subspecialty.
For me, college was not about finding a career. It was about finding myself. I’m not sure exactly how I acquired the confidence to take these steps in a completely new direction, but I know I didn’t get to this place on my own. I will lean on countless people – old friends and new mentors – during the journey ahead.
As I think about it, I’ve always been naturally good at music. From this leap, I’ve learned that I love science and medicine precisely because there is nothing easy about them. There’s just something extra fulfilling about choosing a life rather than letting it choose you.