A love-hate relationship with the resume-guided voice

In medical school, I’m having a hard time choosing among extracurricular activities. Some of the difficulty comes from the fact that our mandatory classes are hard enough for me to manage. On top of managing coursework, I feel an enormous pressure to question what I should and shouldn’t do to best plan for my future. A little voice inside my head always asks, “How will this look on my resume?”

I have a love-hate relationship with that voice.

Listening to that voice brought me to where I am today, but I don’t want it to consume me going forward. When the time comes to apply to residency programs, much like when we applied to medical school, we’re expected to put forth an application that checks the boxes: excellence in research, outstanding clinical performance, top Boards scores, marvelous letters of recommendation, and exemplary leadership.

While I bet that focusing my efforts on checking these boxes will help me match with a respected residency in the end, I’m becoming less concerned only with the end. I’ve started to care a lot more about the means to the end. In practice I’m learning to reframe the resume voice to ask, “What matters to me, and why?”

When dealing with that resume-guided voice, it also helps to turn to my peers. For example, I recently sought the mentorship of second-year MD student Arifeen Rahman, who shared that “medical school has finally given me a bit of the freedom to be like, ‘We’re too far into this to be doing things just for the sake of doing them.’”

One year ago, Arifeen decided to volunteer as a clinic manager at Pacific Free Clinic, one of Stanford’s Cardinal Free Clinics. The clinics serve every patient that walks through the door, free of charge. Managing the clinic isn’t just another job, and she’s found meaning in her role. Her time spent in clinic directly impacts patient access to health care services.

Reflecting on a full year of managing a clinic, Arifeen said, “Waking up at 6:00 a.m. on our Saturday mornings to go down to clinic and open things up can sometimes sound brutal. But, also … nothing feels better than when you’re managing. I don’t think there’s anything else that I could have done here that could make me feel the same way.”

Arifeen added this parting advice, “Follow your emotions or don’t. You can also use a checklist. That works for some people. It’s a personal preference.” Her words echoed the ubiquitous Stanford sentiment, “You do you.”

Another clinic manager, first-year MD student Jason Gomez shared a story about his parents, who immigrated to the United States and faced many challenges trying to access our health care system and said: “The seed that health care is a fundamental human right was implanted in me, and it has been the impetus for me being here at medical school … I knew going into Stanford I wanted to work in the free clinics. And now that I’m doing it, I think it’s one of my main drives.”

Both Arifeen and Jason shared personal motivations to work at the clinics in a role far too large to choose only for the sake of building a resume. While in no way does working at the free clinics looks bad on paper, Jason and Arifeen are two of the many examples of students who have chosen extracurriculars based on a deeper sense of purpose.

Regardless of whether I answer my existential questions, checking in with peers helps me find my center. I’m reminded of how honored I am to learn the practice and science of medicine among people who inspire me to care and to put in hard work. More importantly, when I’m struggling to make decisions, my peers remind me to seek joy and meaning along the way, resume-building or not.

Lauren Joseph is a medical student who blogs at Scope, where this article originally appeared.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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