So you want to become a doctor

Simply ruminating and considering the salary that health professionals make won’t get you anywhere.

To go M.D. or not to go M.D., that is the question. For many students considering a career in health sciences, finding the answer to that question is an agonizing, back-and-forth proccess. Having suffered with that question on my brain for many years, let me suggest some “remedies” that may help one find an answer.

For starters, get as much information and experience in the field as possible – this includes getting information about one’s self. Avoid buying into statements from friends and family (“You’d make such a great doctor!”), as they will confuse an individual, rather than guide them.

From there, check out a copy of Atul Gawande’s “Complications.” It’s a must-read for anyone considering a career in health sciences. While you’re at it, snag a copy of “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down,” any Oliver Sacks book, and for the morbidly inclined, Mary Roach’s “Stiff.”

Working with clients can be very emotionally uplifting, draining and exhiliarating. Some health professionals blog very eloquently about it. My personal favorites include and Panda Bear, MD ( for no-holds-barred personal accounts of what it’s like to be a doctor or a nurse.

And if a career in health sciences still seems interesting after this bit of homework, check out some volunteer positions at local hospitals and clinics. The great thing about volunteer positions is that they are short, allow one to get “behind the scenes” without tremendous responsibility and do not have much ick factor. However, do not expect any hands-on experience. Most clinical volunteers are delegated to crowd management, clerical and light housekeeping tasks to minimize liability should any mishaps occur.

If one has done a stint as a volunteer and experienced a deep desire to do more with patient care than hand out magazines and crackers, consider getting certified as a nurse assistant.

Nurse assistant positions are great for any future health professional, not just prenursing students. Why? One gets to do hands-on patient care while gaining a much deeper insight into the healthcare system, illness, vulnerability and human compassion. It’s a big eye-opener and can fuel one’s drive or send one flying to another career choice. Not to mention that boots-on-ground experience is great to write about in personal statements.

Getting training as a nurse assistant is easy – simply contact the local Twin Cities’ American Red Cross ( or a local community college to learn more about course offerings held year-round. Some are held on Saturdays only, making it possible to go to school and work and get certified at the same time.

Hopefully at the end of this fact-finding process, one has the answer that one seeks. For some students, simply the prerequisites are enough of a turn-off to no longer consider a career in health sciences. For others, their passion is confirmed through direct patient care. Take the path and see where it leads you – simply ruminating and considering the salary that health professionals make won’t get you anywhere.

Quynh Nguyen welcomes comments at [email protected]