By: Aaron Gale, MD
“Where do you see yourself in ten years?” I’m pretty sure I’ve been asked this question at every interview I’ve ever had. It’s a great question, and it’s certainly one we ask of applicants to our residency program. Yet, thinking about where I am right now and thinking back on the last ten years it seems every response I’ve given to this question has been just plain wrong. Right now, I’m three quarters of the way through my first year of residency in the best program I can imagine. I’m surrounded by an amazing cohort of residents and faculty. I’m providing full spectrum family medicine to a diverse population that I didn’t know existed in Utah. But when asked ten years ago, I couldn’t have imagined any of this.
I didn’t get here because it was the plan all along, but rather because I stayed true to myself and my values, and always stayed open to whatever crazy opportunities knocked on my door. In other words, the reason I am here is because I didn’t follow a plan. Ten years ago, I was heading into my senior year of college with no idea where I’d be in one year, let alone ten. I knew my values of service, family, culture, education, and my passion for meeting new people, seeing new places, and bearing witness to the life stories of others. I bet on these values and passions taking me somewhere meaningful.
As college graduation approached and my friends applied to med school, law school, consulting jobs, and all the like, I moved to Israel and took a random internship with a tech company in Tel Aviv. Following this experience, I ended up back home in Los Angeles to work in biomedical research. Soon after that, I was off to graduate school studying global health. My degree then opened opportunities working in global health development in locales ranging from Boston to Haiti to Nairobi and back. Then, as fate would allow, I was somehow back in Israel for four more years of medical school before finally landing here at the U for residency.
Along the way I met so many people I can’t imagine crossing paths with on any other journey. These are people whose thirst for life helped shaped who I am today. For instance, the Israeli and Palestinian doctors I worked with in the West Bank at Physicians for Human Rights who showed me how to fight for what is right even in the face of thousands of years of conflict. Or the Eritrean twenty-something I befriended in Tel Aviv who was kidnapped in front of the American embassy in Asmara the day before receiving his visa to study in the US. He has one of the saddest stories, yet in the face of it the most resilience I’ve ever seen. Then there was the Kenyan pop star/architect/entrepreneur I lived with in Boston who once so eloquently told me that, “I want to spend my life doing things; it’s much more interesting than it is not doing things.” Even now, my current co-residents, who show me every day that it’s possible to spend 300+ days a year outside even while in residency. I wouldn’t have met a single one of these amazing people if I’d stayed on the straight and narrow path at the end of college. Which is to say that, if I had stuck with the plan, I wouldn’t be anywhere near the doctor and person I am right now.
So no, I can’t tell you where I’ll be in another ten years. All I can tell you is that I’ll be saying “YES!” and letting the happenstance opportunities continue taking me to unexpected places. Like many of my colleagues in family medicine, I fell in love with this field for the diversity of options it keeps open. Even more so during residency, when time is short and energy is shorter, I relish being around incredible people who pursue such diverse career options every day. We exist in a field of medicine that conditions us towards delayed gratification, so I don’t write this to discourage anyone from setting goals or making plans. Rather, while pursuing those 10-year goals, I want to acknowledge the benefits of staying true to yourself, and saying “YES!” to opportunity.
Aaron Gale, MD, is a first year resident in the Division of Family Medicine at the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, UT. His medical areas of interest include global health and development, geriatrics, palliative care, behavioral health, and medical education.