Whenever I tell people that I am both a biomedical engineering and pre-medical student, they look at me like I’m absolutely crazy. Which, maybe I am…
The next question I get is why? The answer to this question is extremely nuanced, and before I go into my story, I want to share the different perspectives and profiles of BME/pre-med students I have encountered during my time here at USC.
Exhibit A: “I always knew that I wanted to be a doctor, but I was also interested in engineering and innovation. I wanted to see both sides of medicine: the clinic and biomedical research.”
Exhibit B: “I came into college passionate about medicine, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to channel that passion into a career as a doctor or a biomedical engineer. I did a summer internship at a medical device company the summer after my junior year and decided that industry wasn’t for me.”
Exhibit C: “I just wanted to challenge myself and learn how to find comfort in eternal stress.”
(Just kidding! I’ve never met someone like this.)
All jokes aside, picking between a career as an engineer or a doctor is actually a common struggle for students who are both BME and pre-med at some point during college. Being surrounded by engineering students who are motivated to solve our most pressing health challenges and professors who are currently solving them, it is tempting to just pursue engineering and forget the MCAT, the medical school admissions process, and 8+ years of education after college. Not to mention, the direction that biomedical engineering is headed is incredibly promising with medical devices, 3D bioprinters, and artificial intelligence.
My take on this whole BME/pre-med predicament is why not both. Why does choosing medical school have to compromise choosing a career of innovation? Why does choosing medical school limit one to a lifelong job as a practicing physician? One of the major influences in my decision to pursue medical school was a conversation I had with my father’s colleague. This past summer, when I expressed to him my dilemma of BME/pre-med, he told me that the possibilities are endless after medical school. Some of his medical school classmates went on to be investment bankers, entrepreneurs in the biotechnology industry, leaders in the Food and Drug Administration, professors at universities, and more.
Another person of influence in my decision was the current principal investigator of the lab I work in, Professor Zavaleta. She told me that there exists a disconnect between physicians who hold dear to old, reliable methods of treating patients and researchers who want to introduce new and potentially more effective strategies. There aren’t enough people who can straddle that rift and understand both the clinical need as well as the investment in improving current techniques. That’s where the doctors with a background in engineering and research come into play.
With the medical field transforming to include more and more advanced technology in patient care, I really want a career where I use a knowledge base of physiology and engineering. I don’t really know what that career is going to be exactly – I’ve been thinking about being a physician researcher or a physician that also works to invent new technologies. However, I do know that medical school is the right path for me. I have always been passionate about health and helping people get back to doing what they love after an unlucky injury or onset of disease. I believe that I can achieve that in more than one way.