Student blog: Random occurrences changed my life

Even careful decisions do not always determine your academic or professional journey
February 10 2016

Is it possible to predict the future? This is the story about how I chose to study medicine, and how some random occurrences changed my life.

Right before finishing high school, I had decided to apply for university but did not really know what or where to study. So I wrote down six different alternatives, numbered them one to six and threw a die to decide. The die ended up showing number two – medicine – and from there it all started.

I have told this die story on numerous occasions, but few people who know me have ever believed it. They know too well that I cannot even decide what movie to watch without having solid background information. Why would I let a die make such a life-changing decision?

Obviously, the die story is a lie. Before applying for medical school, I had spent endless hours reading blogs, articles and consulting friends. I had considered almost every aspect of choosing a career. Still, none of that felt enough. I simply could not predict how my life would look like as a medical doctor, or an engineer, or any other profession. Choosing a career felt like a gamble.

I realised that there was no other way than following my intuition. After all, the thought of practising medicine had occupied my mind for a long time. I knew I had to give it a chance.

In medical school, I slowly understood more about life as a medical professional. It was stimulating to learn more about diagnosis and treatment of human disease. After exposure to unfamiliar situations, I also discovered more about my own strengths and weaknesses. I had the privilege to listen to patients’ inner thoughts, and it was altogether a very important time for my personal growth.

However, there were also negative aspects of medicine that made me question my career choice. For instance, I quickly realised that clinical decisions are heavily based on protocols and algorithms, leaving little room for individual reasoning. Moreover, the time with the patients seemed to be very limited, and the conversations almost always followed the same patterns. The monotonous work was in deep contrast to the adventurous job I had imagined.

To remain motivated, I had to answer the sensitive question that I had not previously addressed: what role, if any, do I want to have within this field?

Painful as it was realising that I did not have an answer, I continued my studies and soon discovered opportunities that I had never previously considered. First of all, I started to travel. Within two years, I managed to travel abroad four times as a medical student, including one field trip to Uganda and a research rotation in the US. Apart from being fantastic experiences, these trips gave me new ideas and time to set up new visions.

Once back home, I decided to conduct research beside my medical studies. I had become curious about diagnostic imaging, as I was excited about finding concrete explanations for people’s symptoms. By chance, I heard about a research group that was trying to revolutionise diagnostics by using real-time imaging and new micro-devices (a field known as interventional radiology). I managed to get in touch with the group leader and was invited to learn more about their work.

After a couple of weeks observing their live experiments, I was thrilled. I was fascinated by the advanced methods that were used with the aim of developing safe procedures with minimal discomfort for the patients. I was also inspired by the doctors who were combining clinical work with innovative research.

Paradoxically, neither radiology nor research were fields I had given a single thought to prior to starting medical school. What months of sleepless nights had failed to provide suddenly came to me out of nowhere.

Now, in my last year in medical school, I do not even want to guess what the future will bring. Priorities and interests change with time, sometimes in unexpected ways. I chose medicine after extensive considerations, but could never have imagined the opportunities and challenges I would encounter. I believe that curiosity, or passion, is a necessary starting point to any career, but that an open mind and a positive mindset is even more important.

With the right mentality, as well as a good portion of luck, even dice players can succeed.

Arvin is a last year medical student at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden. He started his studies aiming at a clinical career, but became increasingly involved in medical research. Now, his ambition is to combine both.

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