The following article originally appeared on the Association of American Medical Colleges Aspiring Docs Diaries blog:
By Mugdha (Maggie) Joshi
Photos by David Dalton
I wanted to be a doctor for as long as I can remember. I always loved visiting the doctor (although in retrospect, it was probably the lollipops that my pediatrician gave after shots that made me like him so much) and helping others has always been something I enjoy. When I started learning and appreciating the hard sciences, it became clear that medicine was the best way to combine hard science and community service. I chose Wayne State University School of Medicine for its emphasis on community service and the unique clinical opportunities the city of Detroit had to offer. I confirmed my enrollment one fateful day in April 2018.
As much as I was thrilled to be starting medical school, it was by no means effortless. The first time I ever felt sad and lonely was during my gap year after college. The second time was during medical school. The common factor was the absence of music in my life and the companionship that came with it.
From the time I was six years old until my senior year of high school, I don’t think there was a single day I didn’t practice singing. Between the choirs, orchestras, private lessons, and all the performances that lined up as a result, I always had something to practice for, and something to work toward. Once college was over, there were no more daily rehearsals, and no excuse to see my music friends anymore—especially once we all moved to different cities around the world.
My sadness was caused by a combination of dealing with my mother falling ill abroad, the difficulty of learning how to navigate the world outside of school as I worked as a medical assistant, the lack of everyday camaraderie from being at a large university, and most importantly, the loss of music. It didn’t feel that bad at first; I’d sing in my car on the way to work, meet up with old high school friends, and relax after work (with a sprinkle of Pokémon Go that forced me to interact with new people). But it slowly started to take its toll.. I was left completely alone, letting my worries spiral and my everyday complacency fade.
A few months later, I had saved up enough money (after paying my parents back for my medical application fees, yikes!) to start private lessons again. I signed up half-heartedly, fully expecting to only stay in the studio for a month or two before school started in July. I didn’t even notice the change in myself until my father pointed it out. Of course, I was still worried about my mother (even to the point of considering delaying my matriculation to medical school) and about how my father was going to handle everything on his own. But I was no longer dreading Mondays and it was easier to get out of bed in the mornings.
It became clear then: I missed music and I missed my friends. Although I figured that companionship would come once I started school again, I knew it would be important to find a way to keep music in my life so I wouldn’t slip back into sadness again.
Surprisingly, music was the easy part. I received an invitation from an international choir (with whom I had previously performed with in high school at Carnegie Hall,) to audition for their new young adult choir, and they were slated to perform at the Sydney Opera House. I was thrilled and sent in my audition. In the few months between my audition and the choir’s decision, I started medical school at Wayne State University and joined their a cappella group, the Ultrasounds. Months later, after I had completely forgotten about my audition, I received my acceptance letter. After some back-and-forth with administration excusing required school activities, I confirmed my attendance.
While music came effortlessly, companionship was not as easy. This came as a crushing blow, as I like to think of myself a very gregarious person. I’ve always been active in plenty of extracurricular activities. I joined our student senate, volunteered at Wayne State’s student-run free clinic and became a campus tour guide, and served as a teaching assistant for our curriculum. While I saw plenty of people daily and got along with everyone, the stress of studying got us down. People stopped wanting to hang out other than to study, but even then, many turned to solo studying in the dark, window-less confines of the library.
Music was probably my savior. When I could, I would sneak off from study sessions to go plunk on the piano in our music room, sing whenever I was alone in my apartment, and I looked forward to rehearsals. I’ve also found companionship with fellow members on the choir’s Facebook page, including one woman I performed with in high school and a man I worked with in undergrad through a STEM organization. We recently received our performance repertoire and are now eagerly awaiting the arrival of our sheet music so we can start practicing.
As for me, I’m still studying about eight to 10 hours a day. I miss my friends from college. I miss living in California and studying on the beach. But it’s not all bad. I’ve managed to keep music a part of my life, and my mom’s health continues to improve. Keeping music has definitely helped with the efficiency of my studying as well: a quick 10-minute singing break is all I need to revitalize myself for the next few hours of studying. The biggest thing I’ve taken away from this past year of school (other than the citric acid cycle) is that it is completely doable to continue pursuing your passions while in med school—and I 100% encourage it.
Medical school tries everyone in myriad different ways: academically, socially, physically and emotionally. It’s exhausting. It’s easy to lose yourself in the stressors of medical school, but it’s important to hold on to the things that make you, you. It’s a lesson I’ve learned the hard way. I plan on holding on to my music, my hobby, my passion throughout my life. Maybe I’ll even learn a new instrument, once I’ve paid off my tuition.
About Mugdha Joshi
Mugdha (Maggie) Joshi is a second-year medical student at Wayne State University School of Medicine who is originally from Irvine, Calif. She attended UC San Diego, where she received a degree with research distinction in Human Biology and double minored in both Latin Literature and Music. When she isn’t studying, she likes to sing, procrasti-bake, and play video games.