My love affair with white coats began when I was a teenager. I was obsessed with medical dramas like “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Untold Stories of the E.R.” Although “Grey’s Anatomy” was a fictional dream world of high-powered careers and attractive doctors, I couldn’t help but long for the glamorous life of surgeons portrayed on the screen. The blue scrubs, driven women and intense surgeries were enough to make me consider medicine as a career path.
At the time, I was a 17-year-old soon-to-be college student, grasping for anything that made me feel like I had a concrete plan for my future. So, in high school, I accompanied my interest in the medical field with a course load dominated by STEM classes and the biological sciences, later applying to schools as a pre-med major to fulfill my younger dreams. What I didn’t know then was that my path into studying medicine would be brought to a halt; the COVID-19 pandemic created a new kind of medical drama that fractured dreams of my own.
As cases grew and panic rose, hospitals and medical offices altered their practices of standard care. I witnessed this firsthand when working at the front desk at a doctor’s office — we used plexiglass to separate ourselves from patients and were required to wear masks for the entirety of each shift, which was typically not an expectation for front desk personnel before March 2020. While these protective barriers may become unnecessary in the future, masks are an essential accessory in most healthcare professions.
As a person who experiences degenerative hearing loss, masks eliminate one of my most valuable tools: lip reading. Although I managed to work with patients as a receptionist for three summers, I struggled exponentially as my hearing worsened over that time — making safe communication with patients in my last months at the front desk nearly impossible. I soon realized that if I wished to pursue a career as a doctor or surgeon, I needed to sacrifice my familiar lifestyle.
In my professional future, I would require accommodations, like a personal sign language translator, to allow me to converse with patients and other professionals in hospital settings. While inconvenient, it’s not impossible. However, the realization pushed me to adjust my expectations of the future and question my priorities as a student. My dream of becoming a doctor was in its final season (unlike the never-ending “Grey’s Anatomy” series), creating a new academic reality that is anything but isolated.
College (in the most philosophical and cliché sense) is a journey of self-discovery and individuality — a journey that is subject to change that may or may not be within one’s control. Like most freshmen, I explored a variety of subjects in the first semester of my freshman year: language, foreign studies, writing, English literature and, of course, biology.
The pre-med identity I once envisioned for myself no longer fit the person I was becoming — the wide breadth of classes I was taking provided that much-needed affirmation. The forever-changing reality of my hearing loss was an element of my life I had difficulty accepting.
However, amid my budding adulthood as a college student, I’ve taken on the philosophy that my hearing loss can be part of me without becoming the defining factor of my personality. Accepting my condition as an element of my identity allowed me to more deeply explore my long-standing passion for writing and literature.
Now, as a former pre-med student turned English and economics major, I have a unique understanding of the notorious, indecisive college student. In my personal experience, my external and internal identities are closely intertwined with my preferred major. My fondness for English is undoubtedly a derivative of my learning style — visual and textual information rather than auditory presentation. And my willingness to learn about economics likely stems from my father’s professional interest in finance. Yet, the two subjects also cater to my personality as someone who longs for a creative outlet but also values logic and reasoning.
And while it’s true that many of us are in constant limbo when facing career-related decisions, some undergraduates have continued to pursue the dreams they chose for themselves as high school students. I decided to search out these undergraduates, to hear more about how they clasped onto the teenage ambitions I grew out of years ago.
Business sophomore Dominic Lucido described the childhood experiences that led to him pursuing an undergraduate business degree.
“Growing up, I was always around business,” Lucido said. “My dad owns a small real estate company, and my mom is in advertising and sales. So, from a young age, I was ingrained in a business mentality, and I feel like that’s what originally set me on a path to the Ross School of Business.”
When coming to campus, Lucido was surrounded by other like-minded students. He described how his expectations and professional aspirations soon aligned.
“Seeing my interest extend beyond my own goals and desires assured me that business was the right path,” Lucido said. “It would, one day, allow me to make a positive impact, bigger than myself.”
Though Lucido was secure in his passion for business, he still faced moments of doubt that made him question his place at the Business School, and consequently, his identity as a student.
“As a junior and senior in high school, it feels like you’re pigeonholed into narrowing down one career path or major early on,” Lucido explained. “They want you to have it all figured out before you’re even there. I realized that you can’t spend your whole college experience with your head down, worrying about your grades and future. It’s important to meet other people and have new experiences.”
Engineering sophomore Susan Xi, a biomedical engineering student at the University of Michigan, has also experienced moments within her discipline that challenged her understanding of her identity.
As a kid, Xi always enjoyed her math and science classes. From a young age, she knew she wanted to study engineering, along with other courses in STEM subjects. As a freshman, she was curious about the different career possibilities a degree from the school of engineering could offer.
“Coming into college, I thought I was going to pursue a Ph.D., staying within academia and doing research,” Xi said. “That’s what my parents did, and what I always planned to do. But after looking into different opportunities and clubs, I realized that there was a lot of industry work out there that would better suit my interests.”
Once Xi learned more about her passions and alternate career paths, she could see herself potentially veering from her original plans and exploring other options within biomedical engineering.
“I kind of want to look into the business side of biomedical engineering,” Xi said. “There is a lot of start-up culture in this industry, and I want to learn a little more about that … But in terms of my passions, biology, tissue engineering and regenerative medicine are definitely my focus.”
From leaving home for the first time to making it out of freshman year alive, we’ve all experienced different moments of assurance, curiosity and doubt during this monumental time in our personal and professional lives. Changing identities affect our passions, and passion is essential to understanding our evolving identities.
I know my fellow “Grey’s Anatomy” fans were pulling their hair out each time Dr. Ben Warren (Dr. Bailey’s husband) changed his career from anesthesiologist to surgeon to firefighter. But there’s something to be said about this fictional character’s bravery. I encourage each of us to be brave in this life and honor the newest versions of ourselves.
Statement Columnist Reese Martin can be reached at email@example.com.