Do what you love, love what you do

In Mentorship by Brent Thoma18 Comments

Junior medical students get a lot of information from senior medical students. They have just gone through the system so it makes sense that these students would seek out their advice on everything from how to study to how to prepare for residency match. Generally, that advice is good. However, there is one statement that drives me crazy no matter what it is about. It goes something like this:

You have to do THIS to get a good residency.

The implication that there is some magical activity that, if not completed, will doom you to being “unmatched” is wrong to the point of harm. “THIS” is generally replaced with things like “research,” but I have heard other variations including “attending conferences,” “getting the best marks,” “having connections” or “playing the game.” They are all variations on the same theme that are often consistent with exactly what that senior medical student did to prepare for their match. It may have worked for them, but it’s probably not right for you.

In general, I would recommend disregarding absolute advice from anyone (including me!). Just like on your multiple choice exams, answers with “always” and “never” in them are rarely correct because there are few absolutes in medicine or in life. Remember, only a Sith deals in absolutes. Err…

Sith Absolutes

Back to the rant. So what should you do to make yourself a great candidate for the match?

Do what you love

This advice was given to me by a very wise mentor many years ago, and I do my best to remember it – especially when I am overwhelmed. I find it elegant and profound in its simplicity. I’m sure some of the medical students reading this right now are giving their computer screens the skeptical face:

Skeptical baby

I mean really, what does “Do what you love” even mean!? Please, hear me out.

We are good at things we love. We can do them for hours on end and be energized rather than tired. They lead us to opportunities that we also end up loving. When we do things we love we are happier, more pleasant, and more interesting people. People that we want in our residency programs.

And so, doing what you love also make you an awesome candidate in the match. When I meet an applicant, their unique passions are the things that I remember. I think the trick for CaRMS is not in doing something in particular, but in finding a way to incorporate doing the other things we love into medicine. While I will admit that this may not always be possible, there’s a way to do it more often than we think. My next post will focus on a bunch of examples. To offer one from my own life:

I love emergency medicine, teaching, and writing. While I repressed my passion for writing for awhile because I was “too busy,” it came back like a hurricane when I found a way to combine it with emergency medicine and teaching by starting this blog. I write these posts at all hours of the day and night. I write them after long days at work. I post so much because doing so gives me energy rather than exhausting me. This blog has led me to meet people from around the world that are similarly passionate and, I am sure, they will lead to more exciting opportunities.

An anecdote from a medical student:

I’ve been competing in powerlifting competitions across Canada for a few years. It’s one of my passions, keeps me healthy, and gives me a chance to unwind from school. When I was applying to medical school, I entered a local competition and coincidentally met a physician who also competed. As luck would have it, I was accepted that year to the school that she was affiliated with. I kept in contact with her, and she was able to give me some guidance and early specialty advice, for which I will be forever grateful. Although keeping up with powerlifting in medical school was difficult, it gave me the opportunity to be involved in an interesting research project that I would never have been a part of otherwise. Like Dr. Thoma, doing the things that I am passionate about helped me – and I think it will help you too.

-Kelly Lien


“Do what you love” is pretty cryptic and philosophical as far as advice for medical school goes. Hopefully, medicine itself is something that you end up loving. However, I think that is more likely to happen if you’re able to combine medicine with your other passions. This picture from summarizes this entire post pretty nicely:

This post was peer reviewed by Eve Purdy and Danica Kindrachuk prior to its initial publication on April 12th, 2013. It was revised and reposted by Kelly Lien on July 29, 2017. For more CaRMS advice, check out the complete CaRMS Guide. The next post in the CaRMS Guide series is Choose your own Adventure.

Dr. Brent Thoma is a medical educator, blogging geek, and trauma/emergency physician who works at the University of Saskatchewan College of Medicine. He founded BoringEM and is the CEO of CanadiEM.