Ever since I decided to switch gears from ophthalmology and fully commit to a career in pediatrics halfway through my third year in medical school, I've been regularly asked by countless individuals how and why I decided to pursue this field of medicine. My decision came as a complete shock to about half the people I knew, while the other half told me that my decision didn't really surprise them and that they had a feeling that I would ultimately choose to pursue this career path. As a matter of fact, some of them actually hit me with an emphatic “Duh!!” 😂
While the responses were split pretty evenly, the vast majority of everyone I told admitted that they could clearly see me flourishing as a pediatrician and that it was an excellent fit for someone like me.
And then ALL of the sentiments started to roll in.
I was told that I would be great with kids and that they would be so lucky to have me as their physician. I was told that I would change so many lives and that I would be on TV one day. I was told that I wouldn't make any money as a pediatrician and that I would be missing out on being paid a ton of money as an ophthalmologist. I was told that I would be paying off loans for the rest of my life with my low salary. I was told to sub-specialize and to not become a general pediatrician. I was told that becoming a general pediatrician and owning my own practice was the way to go. I was told that there was a desperate need for Black men in pediatrics. I was told that I would inspire generations of children. The list goes on and on.
As you can see, people had a lot of things to say about my career decision. I truly do appreciate each and every sentiment that was shared with me because it only reaffirmed my decision to pursue this career path. Plus, I know that they were all shared with me with my best interests at heart. When I've been asked how and why I decided to make this decision, I've always given variations of the same answer. I've given the same answer to residency interviewers, my mentors and mentees, my friends and family members, various medical students and pre-medical students, both middle and high school students, and to anyone else who asked.
Finally, someone gave me the bright idea of just writing a post about it so that it would be there for everyone to see. Yeah, you would think that I would've thought about doing that from the get-go. But I didn't. So here we are. 😊
In this post, you will find all the factors that led me to my ultimate decision. There were six big reasons that convinced me to become a pediatrician, those of which I go into great detail below. To all of you out there who are thinking about going into this field of medicine, I hope that this post helps in your decision-making! To those of you who have wondered what compelled me to go into pediatrics, I hope what you read here will satisfy your curiosity once and for all! And to those of you who just stumbled across this post and would like to keep on reading for the heck of it, I hope that you enjoy what I have to say and are able to take something useful away from this post!
Wide Breadth of Opportunities
First off, you wouldn't believe the amount of opportunities that are made available to you as a pediatrician. The endless possibilities blew me away as a third-year medical student as I began to seriously consider a future in pediatrics. Not only could I choose to either work as a general pediatrician or as one specialized in a specific field of pediatric medicine (cardiology, nephrology, oncology, sports medicine, etc.), but I could also choose to work in public policy where I could serve as a vocal advocate for the health of children on multiple governmental levels, serve as a community leader where I could serve my patients in other avenues of advocacy that doesn't directly involve the government, serve as a leader in various organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Medical Association and/or the American Medical Association (just to name a few), practice medicine in either a private or academic setting, conduct quality research; I could go on and on.
While I know that you could do most of these things in a good amount of specialties out there, I found that I would be most likely to push myself to take advantage of these opportunities if I were to become a pediatrician. Plus, I have such a wide variety of personal interests that harmonize beautifully with this field of medicine. For example, I've always wanted to make an effort to interact with kids, teenagers and college students on a regular basis and to inspire them to be the best versions of themselves that they could be, whether it be at speaking engagements at their schools, in the community, in the clinic or the hospital, at service events, or via other avenues. This is something that I had always planned on doing, regardless of the specialty I ultimately decided to build a career in.
I've also wanted to be able to create scholarships to distribute to students, and to use media and technology to connect with the youth in positive ways because as I've matured over the years, I've realized just how much of an impact these entities have had on my own upbringing as well as the upbringings of countless other people around me. It only made sense to blend all of these interests into a career that directly caters to this audience!
Strong Foundation of General Pediatrics
As I briefly touched on earlier, choosing this career path would grant me a strong foundation in general medicine, regardless if I decided to sub-specialize or not. I personally felt that I would feel more complete as a doctor if I were able to treat a wide variety of ailments brought to my attention as opposed to only being able to confidently handle an ailment involving a specific organ system. Yes I'm aware that if I decide to sub-specialize, it's very likely that I will grow to only be comfortable with treating the organ system I end up specializing in. However, I'm also confident that I will retain some important information from my three years in general pediatrics residency. Plus, in specialized fields like ophthalmology or dermatology, I would only get one year in either general medicine or surgery before dedicating my studies to the organ system I would spend the rest of my life focusing on. Yes, I also understand that there's a huge income trade-off with this; more on that later. (Or jump to Fulfillment for income discussion.)
I really only came to the conclusion that I wanted to have a better understanding of how to adequately treat the human body after spending my first couple years of medical school learning all about the wonders of the vessel in which we experience this world in. In addition, my experience in my internal medicine rotation (my first rotation of third-year) left me wanting to discover more about the organ systems of the body and to acquire a strong knowledge base of how to diagnose and treat the various conditions & illnesses that afflict all kinds of people on a daily basis. Then I eventually realized that I had much more fun working with a younger population and that I could still fulfill my desire to learn more about the human body as a whole in pediatrics! Which leads me to my next big reason…
A Ton of Fun
This was a HUGE reason as to why I ultimately decided on pediatrics! I found that I was having a lot of fun interacting with the youth as opposed to an older population, especially while I was on my pediatrics rotation (my third rotation of third-year). I first realized I was drawn to a younger population while I was on my internal medicine rotation, where I would literally get excited whenever I was assigned to a patient below the age of 25. While I didn't have any problems interacting with patients across the age spectrum, I found that I was particularly fond of my younger patients. My interactions with them would be both effortless and natural, and I would always marvel at how much life they had ahead of them.
This sentiment only intensified during my pediatrics rotation, where literally all of my patients were 21 or under. It was never a hassle to check in on any of my patients during this rotation. As a matter of fact, I would actually look forward to checking in on them in the afternoon to either chat with them or play whatever games they wanted to play with me. I was having such a good time on this rotation that I caught myself not really caring that I was waking up at 4:45 AM every morning to go to the hospital to help care for them. Like, I really didn't mind waking up that early as much as I did in other rotations before and after that one. Yeah, I know it sounds crazy. I couldn't believe it either.
Outside of having fun with my patients, I also had a blast working with the pediatric attendings and residents during my time on that rotation. Just about everyone was incredibly positive, had great personalities, and was fun to work with. Plus, it seemed like they all genuinely enjoyed what they were doing, even on the really busy days. This was all coupled with the fact that the vast majority of them were fantastic teachers, meaning that I got a lot of high-quality education from them. And finally, I found myself wanting to emulate many of the positive qualities that a good amount of them naturally possessed. With all of that said, you can see how hard it was for me not to give this specialty some serious thought!
Passion For The Youth
Not only did I have fun working with a younger population of patients during my pediatric rotation, I also quickly began to develop a real passion for helping this same population, that of which continued to linger even after I completed my rotation and moved on to others. This passion eventually became so great that it ultimately transcended any appetite I may have had for potentially bigger financial gains in other more lucrative specialties.
This passion has become a powerful one for numerous reasons. One had to do with the fact that the specialty of pediatrics as a whole caters to a very vulnerable population who need strong advocates to represent them, since the vast majority of these children are not able to effectively advocate for themselves. Serving as an advocate for these children would allow me to help them secure a fair shot at growing into the best versions of themselves that they can be in life, something that I firmly believe every single child deserves. As an advocate, I will also be placed in a position to help children and adolescents find the hope and courage they need in order to stay resilient in the face of medical adversity.
My passion also stems from the fact that young people tend to have a revitalizing mentality and incredible amounts of resilience and energy that inspire me and will continue to inspire me as I become older and more established in my career. I'm sure that their palpable energy will work to keep me actively engaged in their care and in advocating for them in various capacities. It also will make it much harder for me to ever get jaded as a pediatrician, something that I pray will never happen to me. I've seen how jaded some physicians can get, and I'm happy to say that I haven't met a jaded pediatrician yet!
Another reason as to why my passion runs so deep is that I truly feel that I can make a bigger difference in the lives of the youth as opposed to older patients, many of whom I would have been treating in just about every other specialty. With many children having the potential to live long and fruitful lives, it is much more likely that performing an intervention (or series of interventions) earlier in their lives can have a much more profound impact on how they live the rest of their lives. This isn't to say that the same thing can't happen to older adults. It's just harder and less likely to happen.
I've mentioned several times in this post that I want to be able to inspire the people in younger generations to be the best versions of themselves that they can be. I felt that the best and most effective place to do so in medicine was to become, well, a doctor who serves these very people. Unlike ophthalmology or many other specialties, I would be much more visible to the younger population in pediatrics, especially to minority children. There are so many minorities who grow up without ever seeing a minority physician, which can unfortunately result in them believing that a future in medicine simply isn't attainable to them.
I WANT TO DESTROY THAT BELIEF.
I want to show them just how possible it is to become a physician, lawyer, entrepreneur, investor, business executive, tech CEO, or just about anything outside of what society conditions them to believe that they can achieve. I intend to use my platform to mentor and inspire underrepresented minorites (URM) to pursue a career in healthcare in order to continue increasing the number of URM healthcare providers, those of whom future generations will look up to and hopefully aspire to be. I also intend to help guide URMs not interested in a career in healthcare to other paths that will lead them to success in whatever fields they choose.
I'm sure that you are now well aware of just how fulfilling I find this specialty. But in case you still aren't aware for whatever reason, maybe this section will make it undeniably clear.
It took me a while to make the definitive switch from ophthalmology to pediatrics. I talked to a good amount of people about it, those of whom included both ophthalmologists and pediatricians. I received quality advice, a lot of which has already been subtly shared throughout this post. When it came down to weighing the pros and cons of pursuing each specialty, I concluded that I would personally be more fulfilled in the long run as a pediatrician than I would have been as an ophthalmologist, even though the latter is associated with a higher average salary and I still have love for the field of ophthalmology. I came to realize that even though I could see myself pursuing either one of these career paths, I would have had more regret venturing into ophthalmology and wondering what life would have been like as a pediatrician as opposed to the other way around.
Plus, it just made more sense to me to pursue a career in pediatrics because it fit my personality and my personal interests a lot more. Things just seemed to click for me much faster and easier once I committed to this path, unlike when I was on the optho path. I didn't want to admit it to myself at the time, but I definitely felt like I was trying to force a way to blend my interests with ophthalmology during college and my first two years of medical school. I got myself marginally involved on an optho research project in college, shadowed various optometrists, became a leader in the ophthalmology interest group at my medical school, coordinated glaucoma screenings through my medical school's SNMA chapter, established relationships with various ophthalmologists at my institution and in my community, and tried to get plugged into some research projects with limited success.
To be honest, I did most of that stuff because I thought that I had to do them in order to become a more competitive applicant for residency. (If you didn't already know, optho is a VERY competitive specialty to match into. I actually didn't even realize this until after I got into medical school. 😅) The only things that I truly enjoyed doing were shadowing optometrists and peforming glaucoma screenings in my community, that of which I had tried to make an even bigger initiative at my school. I eventually had to come face-to-face with the fact that, over time, I had lost that invigorating spark I had for ophthalmology back when I was a college student. I still found it pretty cool; I just wasn't really passionate about it. However with peds, I found that there was a much higher chance of me feeling compelled to perform research and to pursue activities within the field out of true passion and interest. There's no feeling like doing the things that set your soul on fire.
I also considered the financial impact that my decision would make on my future earnings. I knew that I was much more likely to make less money as a pediatrician than as an ophthalmologist based on the current payment models in place, even if I were to pursue the pediatric sub-specialties with higher average salaries. I also knew that I would have an insane amount of loans to repay the government once I graduated from medical school. Looking at this from a financial perspective, the clear choice would have been to pick optho over peds.
However, my decision to pursue medicine wasn't guided by finances in the first place. I always figured that I would be able to effectively work with whatever financial situation I was given, especially since I had dedicated myself to improving my financial literacy. When it came to choosing a career, I was more concerned with making sure that I would be both happy and fulfilled, considering the fact that it was highly likely I would be spending the rest of my professional life on that career path. Plus, there was no telling what the payment models would like in the future. So it made more sense to choose a career that I thoroughly enjoyed.
The decision became even clearer once I took money out of the equation. When I thought about how fulfilled I would be if I were to either make no money doing either specialty, make $150,000 doing either specialty, or make $350,000 doing either specialty, pediatrics won every time. Also, I told myself that if I really wanted to make more money later in life, there were so many other ways to do so outside of my salary such as engaging in all sorts of side hustles and investing in a variety of things. And if I wanted to increase my salary, I could get in contact with and learn from the pediatricians doing things like becoming professors, entrepreneurs, department chairs, business executives, etc. Those things are far from easy, but they are all entirely possible. This specialty is incredibly diverse and there's definitely more to it than meets the eye! (No pun intended.)
As I went back and forth between the two specialties, I couldn't help but realize just how many of my life experiences naturally pointed towards a career in pediatrics. For as long as I could remember, I had to directly deal with children in some sort of capacity. When I looked back on my life, I realized that most of my experiences with pediatric populations had been positive, from growing up in a community where there were an abundance of kids and having to babysit my younger siblings as a teenager (I'll admit, I did hate doing this at times) all the way up to the experiences I had throughout my pediatric rotation. Even after I decided on peds, I continued to have pleasant experiences in all of my fourth-year pediatric rotations, in my community service activities, and even now as a practicing physician tending to the medical needs of children.
Many of the experiences I had with young people throughout my life were organic ones that I didn't really think twice about participating in. For example, some of the things I did in college and in medical school include volunteering to routinely tutor students in grades K-12, serving as a mentor to numerous high school and college students, serving as an student academic advisor to college students, serving as a teaching assistant to students in educational summer programs, traveling to grade schools in my community to get them thinking about pursuing a career in healthcare, organizing toy drives during the winter holiday season for kids afflicted with sickle-cell disease, routinely volunteering in a Ronald McDonald Family Room, creating a scholarship for high school students and serving on numerous student-leader panels.
As you can see, I spent so much of my free time engaging in activities that allowed me to interact with the youth on a regular basis. As I actively reflected on all of this, I was eventually led to the question that ultimately determined my fate:
If I loved interacting and dealing with the youth so much, why not make a career out of it?
So that's what I did, and I haven't looked back since.