Question of the Week: Is HPA telling me not to be premed?

Jan. 21, 2022

Q: I had a first meeting with HPA and was advised to shadow physicians as well as other health professionals. Is this a subtle way of telling me that they don’t think I should be a doctor and should look at other careers?
A: Not at all! We want you to pursue what best matches your interests, values, skills, and professional goals. We just find that students often default to medicine without exploring the numerous options out there.

We’ll sometimes suggest learning about a certain career based on what you’ve told us about your motivations because other health careers share common characteristics with medicine. For example, if you talk about a passion for chemistry and problem solving, becoming an expert and advising patients, we might suggest talking with a pharmacist; or if you’ve discovered a love for SPIA and a desire to care for your community, then we may recommend learning more about public health. Sometimes learning about other professions can help you think more concretely about why you’d prefer medicine; sometimes you’ll discover something that may be an even better fit.
In some industries, it’s easy to “try out” a career for a few years and then shift easily to another. Your liberal arts education is preparing you to make these shifts since you’re gaining a broad foundation and learning to think critically—a skill that’s applicable and valuable in any industry. In healthcare, the initial outlay in terms of time and money to pursue a career is high. You have to pay thousands of dollars to apply, hundreds of thousands and years beyond undergrad to train, before you can actually do medicine. If chatting with a physician assistant or optometrist or genetic counselor sparks an interest and leads you toward a career other than medicine, you could save yourself a lot of time, stress, and money.
So, our advice to learn about other careers is more about encouraging you to consider options (in and outside of healthcare) than it is passing any judgment on whether or not you’re cut out to become a doctor. We think everyone who gets into Princeton has what it takes to become a doctor—but just because you can doesn’t mean that you need to feel like you should or have to become a doctor. Given the pressure, debt, paperwork, policy restrictions, high level of burnout, and other challenges, doctors will tell you to pursue medicine only if you can’t be happy doing anything else. But they will also tell you that if it is the best fit for you and you find that internal motivation and love for the profession, it can be extremely rewarding and fulfilling.

QOTW 2021: How many internships should I apply to?
QOTW 2020: Ghostwriting a Recommendation Letter