The road to medical school is an arduous one, even when not in the middle of a pandemic. Students are focused on getting better grades, gaining clinical experience and properly setting themselves up for their “ultimate” goal of medical school all while trying to better themselves as individuals. With this mission also comes a constant sense of uncertainty, with questions like “Am I doing enough?” and “Will the things that I’m doing right now pay off in the end?” becoming guiding concerns. Being a premed student myself, these questions are often at the forefront of my mind, and with COVID-19 holistically adding onto the stressors of everyday life, getting into medical school feels even more elusive. I sat down with Dr. Gregory Polites to get his thoughts on the stressors of medical students, understand his journey to becoming an Emergency Medicine Physician at Barnes-Jewish and hear his advice for pre-med students.
“A lot of students…can get caught up in the pressure of performance and excelling,” Polites said. “There are different kinds of pressures that will impact you along the way: the pressure to always excel, [the pressure that] you don’t feel like you’re doing as well as you could or you need to know more, then the pressure that you have to meet everyone’s expectations, time expectations, and then the pressure to stay the course.”
Polites’ pursuit of a medical career was unique. He started as a pre-med student at WashU but soon shifted to a business major with the intent to join his father at his company. Although he soon realized that business was not as interesting to him, the pressure to stay consistent led him to graduate as a business major. It wasn’t until he had a conversation with an Emergency Medicine doctor after graduation that he was inspired to pursue a post-baccalaureate degree and apply to medical school. After medical school, he later matched into radiology for residency. However, after two years, Dr. Polites considered another route.
“I liked radiology a lot,” Polites said. “But I had a vision for what it is I wanted to know and do as a physician, and that’s how I gravitated towards Emergency Medicine. I never liked being in uncomfortable situations, so that’s why I gravitated towards what I was afraid of.”
Polites’ journey to and through medicine was not straightforward. He hit many roadblocks and he even changed his goals multiple times. However, throughout his journey, he never let these obstacles dictate his ability to do what he wanted to do. Rather, he embraced them.
“I believe that every challenge you face in life should be viewed as an opportunity – an opportunity to grow, to become stronger, more patient, more kind and more compassionate,” Polites said. “Difficult times CAN and DO make you stronger if you recognize them as opportunities for growth. ”
Polites’ unconventional journey to medicine can serve as an example for many students. Reflecting on what you want to do and how you want to do it can make us more sure of our decisions and more determined to pursue them, regardless of the barriers we may encounter. Additionally, it is not always the most straightforward path that leads to the greatest success or the greatest happiness. Rather, the effort and determination that we put into doing what we set our minds to is what helps us develop an appreciation for our efforts and become more confident in ourselves.
“Everything [you’ve] done in the past [has] worked out,” Dr. Polites said. “So why is this going to be any different? Trust the process…if you stick with it and always come back to why you chose to do this, I think you’ll realize how fulfilling it is. At this point in my life, I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
“Realize that this is a great path — that’s something you have to keep in mind — that it’s worth it. If it was easy, everyone would do it.”
Edited by: Ryan Chang
Illustrated by: Clair Huang