Jonathan Adelstein, MD
Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
Choosing a specialty is often an intellectual decision: You weigh your priorities, various pros and cons, and imagine yourself in the shoes of your peers.
Throughout my first three years in medical school, I attempted to do this, but it just didn’t work for me. I was frustrated, confused, unhappy at times; I liked certain aspects of each specialty, but I was unable to conceive of a lasting career as an internist, an obstetrician, a dermatologist, a radiation oncologist. It just didn’t feel right. I wondered if becoming a physician was the right choice for me at all, that is, until I found psychiatry. This was not really a "Pollyanna" moment; I am not spinning a fairy tale. But I did finally feel excited to wake up in the morning, found myself thinking deeply about my patients when I came home, reading more and more in my spare time, and felt naturally comfortable and at ease on the wards. I can rationalize and tell you reasons why I found this specialty exciting — the brain as the final frontier; the illness narrative and our attempts to decipher where person ends and disease begins; weighty questions involving morality, ethics, philosophy, science; you are encouraged to spend prolonged time with your patients; I relish complexity and uncertainty, and there is plenty of it in psychiatry — but in truth it was the qualitative, emotional change that I noticed in myself when I spent time around psychiatrists that really drove me.
Do not misunderstand: Not everyone stumbles upon a path that immediately stirs their soul. I was very lucky. You can still build a satisfying, rewarding, deeply meaningful career when you make a choice based on pros and cons; many of us do, and in fact, as you work and live in the profession and it becomes ever more a part of you, the soul stirring ultimately will come. But if you are so fortunate as to discover something that truly excites your passions or even just puts a bigger spring in your step, then I suggest you listen to those instincts and see where they lead you. The rest will follow. And if you need any help discovering those drives or listening to and understanding them in yourself, I can recommend plenty of good psychiatrists.