Pursuing My Passions: Why I Didn't Do Residency After Medical School


                                                            By Navid R. Ghaffari, MD 

"Why did you decide not to do residency?"

Whether from family, friends, or strangers, this is by far the most common question I've been asked in the past year. This decision, which I made at the end of my third year at Harvard Medical School, was not something I took lightly. After much reflection and deliberation, I realized that clinical medicine was not the right path for me.

Ultimately, my biggest deciding factor was how I felt during clinical rotations. Most days, I looked forward to going home and felt dread about going in the next day. Experiencing these feelings day after day gave me pause, so I set out to dissect where they were coming from.

There were certainly elements of the day that brought me up, such as learning from the team, interacting with patients, and presenting on rounds. Reflecting on the elements that brought me down, I felt sadness for my patients' health, particularly when it seemed their condition could not be cured or treated effectively; disappointment over the influence of insurance coverage in determining which treatments patients received; frustration at the amount of documentation, which seemed to take precedence over time spent with patients; and discouraged by the overall environment where it seemed hospital personnel did not feel valued or happy to be there.

The elements that pulled me down unfortunately eclipsed the elements that lifted me up. Consistently experiencing this feeling, especially as a highly positive and optimistic person, became too much. I felt there were two options: continue in clinical medicine and desensitize myself to what weighed me down, or walk away. This decision was both professional and personal, as I am surrounded by many family and friends who find enjoyment and fulfillment in their medical careers. Though I too was searching for a fulfilling medical career, I ultimately knew that being a practicing physician wouldn't be the right fit.

So, what next?

This question immediately began running through my mind once I made my decision not to do a residency. I went into medicine to help others. That desire was still front and center; I just had to find a different outlet. I didn't know much about other career paths, so I began by reaching out to medical students in the class above who had decided not to do a residency.

These initial conversations kicked off an exploration of various career trajectories and deep self-reflection on my interests and traits. My curiosity to learn more led me to talk to folks in a variety of fields including consulting, venture capital, research, entrepreneurship, education, and entertainment.

A highlight of this exploration period during my last year of medical school was diving deep into my interest in humor. I love to make people laugh, which led me to organize and perform in my first ever comedy show. What began as me asking two classmates if they would come to a 15-minute show quickly evolved into a 1-hour show attended by 45 medical and dental school friends. I centered the show on stories from my hospital rotations, finding humor in challenging moments. I had such a blast. This experience affirmed my joy for being in front of an audience and bringing people together.

Inspired by the feedback I received, I founded the Harvard Medical School Comedy Club and, after performing a second comedy show a few months later, wrote a paper titled, "Utilizing Humor to Promote Medical Student Wellness and Resilience." My main takeaway is that humor is uniquely versatile in fostering levity, processing, and connection. While I am still navigating the role humor will play in my professional life, all I can say now is that it is time to take humor more seriously.

The opportunity to decide how to spend my time and discover what to do with my future has been incredibly exciting and daunting. I am currently investing my time in several new ventures. In serving on the national board of directors for the Trauma Intervention Program, a non-profit organization I volunteered for in undergrad, I focus on education and outreach. I am also a medical school application advisor for AcceptMed. Additionally, I have engaged in healthcare communication projects with Randy Olson, PhD, and had the opportunity to help write a recently published book.

Over the past several months, I spent the majority of my time as a medical affairs consultant at Tarsus Pharmaceuticals. I met wonderful people, learned more about the pharmaceutical industry, and realized what really lights my fire. At the time of this writing, I am building on my passion for making an impact through humor by pursuing speaking and coaching opportunities in "edutainment," the intersection of education and entertainment. My overarching goal is to bring a smile to people's faces -- through edutainment, I can do this by making learning fun, clear, and memorable.

My journey has been a whirlwind. Trying to find the right outlet to positively impact the lives of others has not been easy, but it's definitely worth it. Although the uncertainty has been unsettling at times, I am pursuing my passions with determination and am excited for all that is to come.

Navid R. Ghaffari, MD,opens in a new tab or window is a recent graduate of Harvard Medical School. He is a curious learner who is passionate about public speaking, effective communication, and relationship building. Navid is currently pursuing edutainment (education + entertainment) speaking and coaching opportunities.


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