When you hear the word “doctor,” what is it that you think of? Who do you envision?
I anticipate that many of you, amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, imagine the medical doctor who is wearing the lab coat and personal protective equipment and running frantically from patient to patient in an attempt to combat this ruthless virus. Perhaps, you picture the pharmacist overseeing the life-saving medication you are about to receive. Maybe you’re even thinking about the veterinarian who provides comfort and critical care to your furry best friend. The limitations established in response to this pandemic, coupled with minimal use of healthy coping strategies, might contribute to poor mental health outcomes. Understanding this, you might even be envisioning the psychiatrists or psychologists who are working on the frontline to aide in mitigating mental health symptomology. If you are a college student, it might be commonplace for you to envision your professors who possess doctorate degrees.
You see, doctors come in many different forms and possess a variety of different titles, namely, M.D. (Doctor of Medicine), D.O. (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine), Pharm.D. (Doctor of Pharmacy), Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy), Psy.D. (Doctor of Psychology), Ed.D. (Doctor of Education), DVM (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine), DSocSci (Doctor of Social Science), etc. Each of the respective individuals play an integral part in our society. On the path toward attaining these advanced degrees, each doctoral candidate engages in remarkable research discoveries, meaningful self-discovery and exploration, and altruistic behaviors. Through education, training, and experience, they become equipped to critically analyze and develop solutions for complex phenomena. The goal for all of these individuals, however, is ultimately the same — to contribute to the enhancement of society.
So why does all this matter? Right now, there are thousands of doctoral candidates (and doctors, of course) working behind the scenes to research innovative strategies to combat issues, such as cancer, interpersonal violence, mental and physical illnesses, animal abuse, suicide, incarceration rates, oppression, and the list goes on…and on. These aspiring doctors often have to sacrifice important elements of their personal lives, including outings with friends and family, “normal” routines, leisure time, etc. When working in helping professions, in particular, the concept of self-care becomes eternally ingrained in you. Thus, opportunities for emotional and physical care are crucial and necessary components of your every day life. Often, for students, this involves balancing the demands of their personal, professional, and academic lives. In doing so, it is important to employ skills to help you establish boundaries, ask for support and assistance when needed, and ameliorate feelings of guilt and shame when it is truly in your best interest to say “no” to that social gathering. It is important to schedule opportunities for fun and play amidst the ongoing pressure of academic and work demands. If you enjoy reading, schedule time to read. If sitting in silence is comforting for you, give yourself that silent opportunity. If you are energized by creativity, don’t forget to integrate writing, drawing, coloring, and crafting into your self-care routine. If you enjoy cuddling with your dog (who doesn’t?), by all means, please cuddle with your dog!
If you have read up until this point, I wholeheartedly thank you. I thank you for your receptivity and willingness to open up your worldview about what it is like to be a student. Most importantly, I thank you for playing a crucial supportive role in my first steps toward becoming a doctor. By way of confession, I haven’t yet been entirely forthcoming to you, my reader, in this post. Truth be told, in just a few short years, I will officially possess the title of “Doctor.” No, I won’t be able to fix your broken bone or write you a prescription for your medication. Instead, my focus will be on developing preventative approaches to some of the aforementioned complex issues that face our nation’s society. Very recently, I was granted acceptance into a Doctor of Social Science in Prevention Science program. This degree will equip me to examine issues from a preventative lens as opposed to focusing solely on treatment approaches. For example, it will be my role as a social and preventative scientist to explore the underlying causes of animal abuse in an attempt to reduce its occurrence. Another crucial role of an individual possessing a Doctorate in Prevention Science is examining risk and protective factors for issues, such as suicidality. It is my professional goal to incorporate my knowledge of and passion for animals into my studies by formally examining the impact of pets on mitigating symptoms of mental illness, preventing decompensation, and promoting mental health and wellness.
This is undoubtedly an exciting opportunity for which I am eternally grateful to have been afforded. This post is ultimately an open letter to myself — my future self as a doctor. It is intended to serve as an ongoing reminder about why I am seeking an advanced doctorate degree as well as how to maintain balance between my personal, professional, and academic lives. It is a reminder to myself to utilize support and continue to ask for help, when needed.
There are many supportive individuals in my life who deserve a surplus of thank-yous! It is of particular importance, however, to extend my gratitude to the individuals who devoted their time and energy to writing a recommendation for me to pursue this degree. To protect their privacy, I will not share their names but instead highlight my relationship with them. So thank you to my wonderful mentor and graduate school professor, thank you to the director of my favorite nonprofit organization, and thank you to my clinical supervisor who offers relentless emotional and professional support!
I thank you for reading along, and I hope you will join me in supporting all of our doctors, regardless of their title, as we continue to navigate challenging circumstances in our society.
Until next time,
Future Dr. K.