Abi’s Story

In high school I knew I would go to college right away and I was confident I wanted to be a scientist! I spend several summers doing research camps to get ready. I planned for and applied to college and wanted to go to the University of Washington, which I did. I worked various jobs in retail and food service in summers in high school to help save money for college. My family helped me get ready during the summer before college and plan for things I needed living in the dorms.

When I entered college, I majored in Biochemistry and took multiple research jobs. As I began to understand the financial landscape of research, and the importance of being able to get grant funding, I decided to pursue an MD/PhD. I had seen that dually-degreed researchers seemed to have an easier time getting funding. 

I took a class in “Human Consciousness” in college – unrelated to any of my actual future work. It was the first time that the teacher and students were all so excited about learning that we met several times a week extra, in coffee shops and parks, to design a “bonus curriculum” of extra books to read and discuss just for the love of learning! This learning group continued for a full year after the class ended, and it was the first time that I felt so joyful to be learning on my own. 

After I graduated with my degree in Biochemistry, I took a year off and did full-time research in Cardiology, then entered medical school at the University of Washington. 

Once I began to work with real people (rather than research), I realized that I was passionate about working with people that had complex problems who weren’t served well by the existing structures of care. I dropped my goal of a PhD, and focused on Family Medicine and then Addiction Medicine as medical specialties. 

Along the way I had jobs teaching pottery, teaching sailing, tutoring summer school, breeding mice, making sandwiches, cleaning laboratories and now being a doctor.

I found my current field of work by accident! I vividly recall getting reprimanded for saying something unintentionally judgmental to a patient in a vulnerable situation – and it opened my eyes to the power of words, empathy, and understanding in medicine. My “failure” in connecting with a patient while I was in training resulted in discovering the area of work I love. 

How many jobs have you had since you graduated from high school? 7 (at least)! I have had so many jobs: teaching pottery, tutoring summer school, breeding mice, making sandwiches, cleaning laboratories, teaching sailing, and being a doctor. 

My favorite project in my career so far has been working to open an addiction treatment center for pregnant women in our hospital, a place that had never tried to provide a service like this. The project has allowed me to learn from the community, clients, my colleagues, and has taught me administrative, financial, organizational, and a variety of other skills I never expected to learn. The project isn’t done, but it has already taught me so much! Advancing your career as a physician comes with taking on extra responsibility and demonstrating that you can do it well, and also getting to know people who are involved in decision making within the institution. 

What do you wish you had known when you were a high school senior? 

How to organize my goals and tasks better. I am much happier and find it easier to get things done when I am organized! Instead of relying on external structure (like how teachers or the school organized the year), I wish I had developed my own way of keeping track of what I needed to do. 

What is your favorite thing about being an adult? 

Getting to eat whatever and whenever I want. 

What’s the best thing about your job? 

Getting to learn a lot of different things and interact with a lot of different people every day – it is never boring and never lonely!

Read more real stories about adulting here!