I told everyone that I wanted to be a pediatrician since I was around five years old. Of course then I had little idea about how hard it would be or how long it would take to reach that goal. Once in college, I started tackling the academic prerequisites and making many sacrifices along the way. By the time my dream came to fruition thirteen years (4 years college + research year + 4 yrs medical school + 3 yrs residency + 1 chief year) later, I had spent so long focused on the journey that I hadn’t thought much beyond it.
Although I earned my MD degree in 2008, it didn’t feel fully real until I completed residency and started my first job in 2012, where I would make decisions independently without direct supervision. There are still many days that I have to pinch myself. I love being a pediatrician and feel so fortunate to have a career that is emotionally and academically challenging and rewarding on a daily basis.
Children often tell me that they want to be a pediatrician when they grow up. In my jokey manner I usually pretend that they are just trying to butter me up so they don’t get shots and then they laugh and insist, “no I reaaaaallllly do, Dr. Lockwood.” I know though that for every five-year old like me who says this, there will be many more who will eventually chose another path. I am usually encouraging though because it is a great dream to have, even if only temporarily. One day a twelve-year old straight A student told me that she planned to be a pediatrician and I really believed her. My advice: many will tell you that you won’t be a doctor, but if you really want to, don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. Why would I say that people will tell her this? There were so many naysayers on my journey, whether a brief encounter or an ongoing mentor. One of the biggest was the pre-medical dean of my undergraduate college. This was the hardest to hear. I don’t think that this dean meant that I couldn’t or shouldn’t be a doctor, but rather that she had seen so many like me fail and wanted me to be realistic about having a back-up plan. I didn’t want to hear that though. I had a secret back-up plan, but giving it any real consideration felt like I was admitting failure and I wanted to spend all my energy toward reaching my goal. With every stumble though, I thought of her doubts and it pushed me to prove her wrong, do better, work harder.
So I told the hopeful twelve-year-old on my exam table that she should use the naysayer’s doubt to fuel her toward her goal. She confided that someone had already told her she probably couldn’t do it and appreciated that I told her to ignore them. Why would anyone doubt this little girl’s intentions? Many people think that a child can’t make such a serious decision. Others have a notion of what a doctor looks like that might not include a girl/woman, an African-American, or a child coming from a family living below the poverty line. She might be the first doctor in her family. Maybe she got a poor grade, and maybe it was in a science (gasp!). For any of these reasons, her road will not be easy, but if she feels called to medicine the way I was, it will be worth it.
Per aspera ad astra
(“through hardships to the stars“)