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I Guess I Never Really Wanted to Become a Doctor

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The tall, brunette 20-something stood up in the middle of the crowded audience and reluctantly approached the microphone. She began to chronicle the seemingly never-ending hours spent studying and interning and working in residency. It had been a long and arduous process to become a physician.

Then, she was asked the million dollar question: "What made you decide to become a doctor?" She hesitated. She looked perplexed. Slowly, a look of clarity filled her eyes as she gathered up the gumption to utter in a voice choking back the tears: "I guess it was what my parents always dreamed for me. I never questioned it. I was great at math and science. I aced the MCATs."

As she grew up, medical school was to be part of the destiny on her bright and promising horizon.

"But," she acknowledged, "I guess I never really wanted to become a doctor. I hate it. I'd like to do something else!"

The audience erupted in joyous applause as this lovely young woman had reached an epiphany. The camera moved to the triumphant talk show host. Her daytime program spotlighting career passion had helped this full-fledged physician to ditch her scrubs and figure out what she really wanted to do with her life.

I recall this episode from about 15 years ago. It was in the middle of one of those LONG, napless, baby-filled afternoons. The kids' pediatrician had wisely advised me that watching an hour of television was not going to cause any permanent developmental damage to my 3-month-old little wonder. I had been given permission to take a guilt-free daily breather by a highly respected medical expert. This chat show was my pre-dinner oasis of distraction from the career crisis I was living at that very moment.

For some reason, that episode and that miserable, young doctor have remained in my head for years. It is an idea that I just can't shake. How could a parent possibly guide a child into a career they never had a passion for in the first place?

Well, believe it or not, there actually exists a web page titled: "How to Gently Guide Your Child Toward Growing Up to Be a Doctor." The article offers tips for giving "gentle suggestions" to your offspring to steer him/her into the field of medicine. Thankfully, the article mentions that parents should really discover the career dreams a child has in mind. It is suggested that parents let him/her know that the child's happiness is what is really desired.

So, in this era of hyper-parenting, how do we prevent ourselves from turning our kids into trophy children who make us proud by their successful career paths? At the same time, how can we best support their search for a good fit in a career?

In 2011, the Parent Program at the University of Minnesota administered a questionnaire in which parents offered some wise advice on this same subject. The suggestions are as follows:

  • A parent should always encourage a child to live and work up to his full potential, guiding, suggesting, but not pushing. The decision has to be their own. I think this is determined by the student, not the parent.
  • We should have influence, but only in support of what career choice the student has. You can always suggest a career path, but accept what the student wants to do and support it. In the end you both will be happy!
  • As a parent I will gladly discuss my student's options, but ultimately it is my student's choice.
  • I think that parents should allow their student to decide on their own. However, I feel that parents should always be a positive influence on whatever choice that they make in a career.

Someone please tell me how I support my child if he decides he wants to be a "Dog Food Tester." (Yes, manufacturers actually hire people to taste dog food!)

Seriously, the good thing about the woman who decided in front of millions of viewers that being a doctor wasn't her passionate career path: she was only in her late 20s.

Thankfully, it's never too late to reinvent ourselves.