Starting at the University of Pittsburgh my first year, I thought I had it all figured out. I was going to apply my long love of the brain to a study of neuroscience. I knew I wanted to pursue medicine, but admittedly, my reasons at the time were unclear. I loved working with people and I loved the opportunities medicine afforded to provide support to others. But how did that make medicine (or, specifically, being a physician) different than any other role? I didn’t really know at the time; I just knew I was drawn to it.
I followed the prescribed courses for these paths precisely my first semester, but in my second semester I decided to dip my toes in new waters. Motivated to push outside of my comfort zone, I took a course entitled Morality and Medicine, one of the many gems of the Department of History and Philosophy of Science (HPS). The course centers around ethical issues faced in the research and clinical contexts of medicine, and it presents dilemmas not through their distinct solutions but rather through the various perspectives that can interact with them. Unexpectedly, I fell in love with the philosophy of medicine.
As I progressed in my coursework, it became clear that what I thought was a love of the brain was actually an affection for what it represented. Several HPS courses reference mind-body dualism or ideas of how the body can be separated and distinguished philosophically from the mind. After three semesters in the department, I’m still unsure of my particular stance. What I do know, however, is that my fascination with medicine is less about the maintenance of the body and more about how that maintenance enables a person to live a life of meaning, whatever that represents to them. As a field of central existence and supportive force, I feel medicine is uniquely positioned to empower this process and physicians are thus uniquely positioned to guide it.
Although my excitement toward neuroscience remains, I declared a psychology major in the fall of my sophomore year, now accompanied by a certificate in the Conceptual Foundations of Medicine. This combination allows me to devote time to pre-medical requirements and to embrace the application of these requirements to real human beings worthy of care and sustained quality of life. In the future, I hope to pursue a Bachelor of Philosophy within the University Honors College and dedicate myself to research encompassing psychology, philosophy, and medicine. It is a fulfilling pathway in that I now understand how to apply my studies to developing and participating in a greater perspective.
My plans now as a sophomore are very different than they were when I first stepped foot on campus, but they’re different in that they’re more focused. I can see a clearer vision of how to relate my psychology major, certificates in American Sign Language and the Conceptual Foundations of Medicine, and pre-med requisites to a more informed and directed future as a physician. I have both led and experienced a lot of change as a result of opportunities I would have never considered without the Honors College’s motto pushing me to “cross boundaries.” Even in programs not moderated by the Honors College, I feel more empowered to forge my own path.