Commentary: Dropping out of medical school

 

HOST: When reporter Juliette Jabkhiro was 17, she thought she wanted to be a doctor. Or, actually, her father told her she did. Almost a decade after, she reflects on her decision to give up medicine.

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Growing up in France as the daughter of a Moroccan immigrant, there were certain things expected of me. My family had made sacrifices to give me a comfortable, Western life. My grandparents were farmers. My dad is a Science teacher. And for him, the next step in the social ladder was to be a doctor. He wished he was a doctor – but he never had the chance. So when I was 11 and told him I wanted to be a journalist, he spent years convincing me that what I really wanted was not to be a poor or jobless reporter, but a doctor – someone who could help people everyday, and support their family.

 

My dad is very, very convincing. I’ve always admired his resilience. In France, you more or less have to choose what you want to do right after high school. So, 2 months after my graduation, I went to med school. I was one of more than 3 thousand students in that first year. Only 4 hundred and fifty would make it to the second year. After that, they’d be in for a decade of sleepless nights, studying for exams and working shifts at the hospital. And if I made it through, I’d get to be a doctor – my dad’s holy Grail.

 

Of course, I didn’t make it. I would not be telling you this story if I did – because, you know, I would be busy saving lives. I was confused when I found myself uninterested in my classes that first year of med school. I tried to focus on learning the names of all the human body’s vessels and nerves, drawn in blue and yellow in my notebooks. But I started feeling deeply sad. So sad, I didn’t want to get out of bed anymore. One day, I realized I’d been living off chocolate bars for an entire week. And I hadn’t opened the curtains for several days. I laid in bed. Crying. Stuffing my face with sugar, staring at the pale blue light of the laptop playing Smallville.

 

I wanted so badly to want to be a doctor  – but it didn’t feel right. I had to do something about it. I had to tell my dad. So over the weekend, I went to my parents’ home. On the train I was nervously biting my nails. When I got home, my dad was watching the evening news in the living room. I stood there, waiting for him to acknowledge me. I was so scared, my stomach hurt. When I managed to whisper “Dad, I’m going to quit medicine”, my voice was so strangled with tears he couldn’t understand. I had to say it another time. And then I burst into tears, as my dad’s face distorted.

 

It felt like I was letting him down. It still does sometimes. Years after, he still says “if you had wanted to, you could have been a doctor.” It used to upset me. But now, I’m about to graduate from journalism school. I’m going to be a reporter. That 11 year-old kid I used to be, she gets to live her dreams.  It wasn’t easy – it took time, and fights, and tears. But now, instead of feeling sorry for myself, I feel sorry for my father. After all, he’s the one who didn’t get to live his dream.

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