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Sunday, September 26, 2021

Column: Dear hot-shots…

To every hot-shot that wants to be a doctor but complains about having to take introductory chemistry, congratulations! You are many things: smart, ambitious and compassionate to name a few.

Another thing you’ve got going for you is that you have the fortune to be learning basic scientific proficiencies from one of the best universities in the world. This is a university at which research is being conducted not only to improve the efficacy of procedures within your practice, but in many cases, to reshape the way the academic and professional communities around the world view the human body.

I’ll be honest, I’m not the perfect student. I enjoy my recreational time a little too much and my books a bit too little, and I always find a way to spend an extra hour or two more than I should watching internet television instead of doing practice problems. Fortunately for anybody who may need medical care in the future, I have no definite plans of becoming a professional with a license to practice medicine.

If I’m being perfectly honest again, there’s a troubling trend in students who are a lot like me except for an important distinction. They don’t plan on being journalists. Walking around campus, I love to eavesdrop. When I pass through the opening corridor for Shields Library, I’ll see students crowded around desks with computers and textbooks open but they’ll have their eyes trained on the one that brings up funny pictures of cats. There’s also usually something along the lines of, “Why am I even taking this class?” asked rhetorically.

And it’s not really the distractions that are the problem. It’s perfectly fine, and it’s encouraged to take a few minutes’ intellectual rest to let study materials sink in, but the break is just that … a brief respite from the actually important work. The lessons come with a point, and while the knowledge that some of the first camera flashes used magnesium because it burned particularly bright might not save anyone’s life, it is important to realize that understanding something like Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectroscopy could actually help save a life.

Being a physician is a career contingent upon trust. Doctors aren’t just entrusted with prestige, a fancy coat and a big paycheck. People’s lives are literally in the hands of our many competent — and sometimes less competent — doctors, nurses, therapists, pharmacists and many other kinds of -ists. It would be difficult to imagine trusting a doctor who lacks a basic understanding of cell division. It would be seemingly absurd to trust a pharmacist who was unsure of what a lone pair was.

(For all you non-scientists: Cell division is the very controlled and structured means by which one cell in the body becomes two. A failure to regulate cell division is sometimes known as cancer. Furthermore, lone pairs are particularly important in activities like determining the shape of a molecule and how that molecule plays with others. A great deal of a pharmacist’s body of knowledge depends on what molecules look like and what they do around other molecules. I’m not poking fun and don’t mean to be rude, I’m just highlighting examples of things I’d expect people in charge of my physical well-being to know).

So even if it’s elementary and basic, the body of knowledge presented in introductory classes still serves as essential and everybody needs to start off on the same page. And though I’m as guilty as the next hot-shot who would complain that I had to study what an adiabatic reaction was for a midterm, it’s necessary to learn this stuff.

Introductory and organic chemistry are hard. Cell biology is hard. UWP 142F: Writing in Professions: Health is also hard. So what? Diagnosing a patient presenting chest pain is hard too; so is telling someone with ALS that their nervous system is deteriorating. Careers in health are hard. This is what thousands of students sign up for every year.

And even if it’s difficult, take pride in what you’re doing. Remember that you’re learning from leading professionals in their fields. Be proud that you’re getting the best. And maybe if it’s not what you’re looking for, what better time than now to think about what you really want?

This isn’t to discourage any budding scientists either. Much of the best science has a hearty and full history in failure. The point is: Love what you do and do it well. If you don’t know what you’re doing yet, don’t worry; there’s still time. But there’s no reason to make things worse than they have to be. Nobody’s asking anybody to force somebody to do something they’re not meant to.

ALAN LIN once thought of being a doctor, but can now be reached at
science@theaggie.org.

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