- On March 8, 2019
- March / April 2019
Hitting the pause button
Sometimes you have to see it to believe it, but your journey through medicine doesn’t have to be a straight line, writes Dr Ashna Basu.
As my cohort – the class of 2018 – started their first day as new interns, I felt trepidation, nerves, and excitement. But while they felt those emotions as they stepped into their new hospitals for the first time, I felt them vicariously, sympathetically, from home.
For as long as I can remember, I did things... ASAP. I got my learner licence as soon as I was of age, sat my restricted licence test the very day I became eligible, and even got an age exemption to get my full licence six months early. I never took a gap year and, to be honest, I rarely took a break.
I’ve loved medical school and the opportunities I’ve had throughout university. I spent six years training to be a doctor, led the NSW Medical Students’ Council, spent two years as a board director at Arc, sat on AMA (NSW)’s Council and performed in myriad shows.
I wouldn’t change a thing. But, at the end of six years, I was tired. It’s often remarked that medical training feels like a conveyor belt. You finish medical school, do your internship, spend time as an RMO, and then commence a training program. I stepped off the conveyor belt.
In 2018, I spent some time working with McKinsey & Company in management consulting and absolutely loved it. But, I still loved medicine and hadn’t lost my zeal for being a doctor. I had no idea what 2019 would look like – I had a guaranteed JMO spot in NSW, a grad offer from McKinsey and... no idea which one I would choose.
So, I chose neither. I’d been eyeing up UNSW’s Master of Health Management program for months and had initially assumed I would do it during my internship year. But then I remembered someone a few years above me had taken a year off between medical school and internship and did an MPH in the interim. The power of role modelling is immense. I knew that – in theory – it could be done, but these things still feel impossible until you see someone else do them. Everything clicked. I needed a break, I needed a year off.
When the HETI internship deadline passed and I told McKinsey I couldn’t take up their offer yet, I felt relieved. I needed a year without structure, without morning alarms, and with different projects that excite me.
So, I enrolled in my Master of Health Management by distance, continued my role as a staff member within UNSW Colleges, and took up a flexible, independent consulting position with UNSW. At first, I thought I was choosing neither medicine nor consulting. But, in helping the university improve its health and mental health services, I’ll be able to enjoy both – in a role where I define my hours.
What will 2019 look like? Flexible. Fun. A lot of learning, about literally anything that takes my fancy. I want to learn about dinosaurs – previously thought to be the domain of palaeontologists, four year olds, and the parents of four year olds. And after that, 2020 and beyond? Who knows! I want to complete my internship and pursue psychiatry. I want to be a wonderful doctor, and I’ll be at my best after I take a break.
Medical school is a long journey, especially when you consider the hard slog at high school just to get in. We’ve normalised the gap year between school and university, but there are so many other stages where you can hit pause – before internship, before training, or even during. I only realised these options were available when I saw senior peers take them, so I’m determined to publicise their existence. I’m aware that my ‘gap year’ is quite full, and still contains both study and work. Some people might want to spend that time travelling – there are any number of options. But that’s just it: we have options. In the grand scheme of things, a year is nothing. But when you’re tired and need a break, that year is everything.