Ten Years of Making Unconventional Career Decisions & Starting A New Public Health Journey

Ten years ago, to this day, much to the consternation and befuddlement of some of my friends and well-wishers, I chose to pursue my MD training in Preventive and Social Medicine, ahead of more conventional career pathways in surgery, anesthesia, or other clinical subjects. Since then, I have wondered many times, what the counterfactual would look like… but, on reflecting on my eclectic, meandering pathways over the years, I cannot say I have too many regrets with the road I chose to traverse. After all, I have always been a bit of a gadfly, so why be anything else when it came to choosing career trajectories?

Looking back, there are so many things in life that have been linked to this career decision, that I am eternally grateful for. Prime amongst them has been the privilege to meet my significant other, with whom I would have never connected had it not been for my career choice. There are so many friendships and associations that would not have blossomed but for this career decision. I seriously doubt if I would have been able to train at the world’s premier institute had it not been for this career choice. I would not have been able to indulge the inner infectious diseases nerd in me, work in close approximation with the highest levels of policymaking in the nation, work on research projects that changed policies, and learn a million and one lessons about life, the world, and the universe.

Sometimes, I indulge in wondering what I would tell my ten-year younger self, were I to talk to him today. And then I wonder, given how hard-headed I am, would I have listened to the (surely) cynical advice grizzled old me would be giving out? I would have perhaps used some of the time I whiled away a little better. Invested in learning some of the core skills areas that I am still struggling with. Played the “game” a little more carefully, taking care to be a little less cavalier about ticking people off (or not!). I am immensely grateful to be standing where I am today, and I realize that this is a sum total of all the decisions I made, all the right choices, the wrong choices, the choices never made, and the choices that were ignored. Each and every one of these steps has taken me towards becoming the person and professional that I am today. I cannot say that I am all the more enriched for it.

Knowing what I do about the futility of a large proportion of my MD training, I sometimes debate if I still would make the same career choice were I to go back in time and redo this decision. Given how public health and clinical medicine are divergent career choices, it is entirely possible that had I chosen a different career pathway, I would not have arrived at this junction today. Also, given that public health skills are not the forte of Preventive and Social Medicine graduates only, it is also possible that I could have retrained myself, and found a very different niche in this professional space.

Photo by James Wheeler on Pexels.com

Given my personal, political, moral, and policy convictions, one thing that is clear to me is that, whatever career pathway I had chosen ten years ago, I would have ended up doing public health work in some shape, form or fashion. I have always been convinced of the power of preventive care over curative care, comprehensive primary health approaches over tertiary centers of excellence, and the need to address population health needs to ameliorate the health conundrums facing the nation.

One thing that I look back and identify, almost always, is the serious lack of role models most MD graduates in Preventive and Social Medicine experience. I was in a uniquely empowered position, and went to a training program with multiple incredible individuals, both in the personal and professional spaces. When I look around, however, I see most PSM MD graduates are far from being that fortunate. This drove me to start writing the Careers in PSM series on this blog, and eventually, led me to consider the idea of consolidating these experiences and anecdotes about public health careers to enable and empower the next generation of public health students. With that in mind, I decided to work with a friend to launch a website dedicated to providing not just MD students, but a broader swathe of students, both from medical and non-medical backgrounds, with real life evidence and role models to emulate and build their public health careers. This is still a very nascent idea and I am still working the rough edges out, but I hope that within the next month or so, I shall be able to announce the launch of this website.

The last decade has seen me take a long and tortuous road in my career pathway. From being a somewhat lost MD student, to being a somewhat lost PhD student, somehow ten years slipped by. And you know what, despite everything I feel on the rare “off” day, I would not have it any other way. “The record shows, I took the blows,/ And did it my way.”

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