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How the Pandemic
Influenced our Decision to go into Medicine

by Emily & Maddy McCarthy


Emily McCarthy is a 17 year old in her final year of high school and her younger sister Maddy is 14 and has just entered grade 9 in Cobourg, Ontario. The sisters hope to pursue careers in Medicine but realize they have a long road ahead of them! They strive to help other students, especially girls, who are interested in pursuing careers in STEM by documenting their journey on their Instagram blog, @priortopremed

As teens, we definitely know how hard it can be to choose a career, especially now with the additional complication of COVID-19. It can be very stressful with university applications fast approaching and the uncertainty due to the pandemic. It can be extremely challenging if you have always pictured post-secondary options unfolding a certain way, only to find that now, because of COVID-19, things are not going exactly as you might have planned.

It can be overwhelming to think about careers while juggling the countless challenges that accompany the transition back to school after spending months at home due to the pandemic. For many, returning to school, whether online or in-person, can be quite an adjustment. So much has changed, and for people who struggle to “go with the flow,” it can be paralyzing to realize that things are going to look very different for the indefinite future, let alone to be making important, potentially life-changing decisions such as choosing a career path.

For a few years now, we have known that we want to be doctors. What initially drew us to the field of Medicine was our love of Science. We know that there is a need for more women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) and we really want to play a role in broadening the representation of women in these careers! However, as like many other teens, the global pandemic of COVID-19 has given us a lot of time to deeply reflect on what we want from a career, and think about whether or not we will be able to find that in Medicine.

Doctor's Desk

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, we only just assumed that becoming doctors would have nothing but a positive impact on others. However, the pandemic has made us aware of the fact that being frontline healthcare workers can put not only us at risk, but also our loved ones. As we have watched doctors, nurses and other frontline workers work around the clock or leave their families to go help harder-hit communities because of the intense need, risking their own safety to help others, it has made us aware of the personal dangers involved in a medical career, something we had not really considered before.

"Now more than ever, we realize how important it is to choose a career that will allow us to be resilient, flexible, and responsive to events and world situations that may be beyond our control."

Having said all that, this global pandemic has also served to affirm our decision to pursue a career in Medicine because of the profound impact we could have on others during a crisis such as this. We have seen how the outbreak has been a detriment to the health and safety of those all around the world, including developing countries who were already struggling prior to the pandemic, and we can now envision ourselves helping these struggling communities as physicians. We have always been very interested in pursuing a career which would allow us to travel and help developing countries. The COVID-19 pandemic has really shone a light on how a global health crisis hits countries very differently, and we would really like to play a role in ensuring equal access to healthcare and support worldwide. We can definitely envision ourselves doing this through Doctors Without Borders, the world’s leading independent humanitarian medical relief organization.

Image by National Cancer Institute

Now more than ever, we realize how important it is to choose a career that will allow us to be resilient, flexible, and responsive to events and world situations that may be beyond our control. People around the world have found themselves working from home, educating their children, and caring for neighbours. Having a career that affords us the opportunity to meet these new challenges while providing for our families is critically important to us. Like many young people, we are learning how important it is to pursue careers that are not only rewarding financially, but also personally. We want nothing more than to make a difference in the lives of others, and COVID-19 has definitely solidified our desire to be doctors as we are seeing just how much people rely on healthcare workers in times of uncertainty during a global health crisis. We most definitely were not expecting anything like COVID-19 in our lifetime, but we feel as though it will ultimately help us to be better physicians! 

It is certain that many careers have been altered and continue to change due to COVID-19, making it very difficult to know what a particular career path might look like in the years to come. However, we think that it is very important to remember that the decisions you make now concerning your career path are not final. Things don’t need to be set in stone. In fact, it is almost better to keep your options open as we are seeing that things are constantly changing, and it can be very helpful to remain open-minded, flexible, and understand that everything will work out in the end! 

Our advice to anyone thinking about choosing careers during COVID-19 is to reflect on what you have learned from the pandemic. Perhaps there is an issue that you have become aware of during the pandemic, and we suggest you use this as an opportunity to think about how you can make a career of improving said issue. Perhaps the pandemic has reminded you of global issues such as poverty or inequality? We think this is a great opportunity to truly find the things that you are passionate about, ultimately making for a rewarding career!

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