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Thanks to my parents, I can venture on, alone

In this Stanford Medicine Unplugged feature, second-year medical student Tasnim Ahmed reflects on how her education separates her from her parents.

Despite growing older, the contents of my phone calls back home have remained the same. However, the contents of my life have not.

Conversations with my parents consist of what I plan to cook that week or how I'm feeling about my workload, but rarely do I share the details of my research project or my struggle to conceptualize the nephron. This is not because I don't want to share these details with my parents, but because I know that there will be very little for them to contribute to those particular discussions.

Neither of my parents has an educational background in the sciences, much less medicine. They are satisfied with knowing that I am happy with what I have chosen to do, acknowledging that the gap between our expertise will only widen.

Yet this leaves me feeling very alone as I traverse the unknown of my education and career.

Perhaps this is just an artifact of growing up -- the career equivalent of realizing the arms encircling you on a bike have let go. But I have been riding this bike myself for a long time now; as immigrants, my parents let go of the handlebars, unable to steer me on where to go to school or what projects to take on when they never had to make these decisions themselves.

I do yearn for more guidance, but what I miss the most is feeling close, sharing the details of our experiences. I want to be able to ask my mother about how to go about recruiting patients for a study the same way that I can ask her how to choose a car. The farther I've gotten in my career trajectory, the more disconnected I have felt with my parents.

This has forced me to search elsewhere for mentorship, trying to replace the parental support with the professional. As I navigate the professional networks that I am lucky to have at my fingertips, I find myself once again in unknown territory that others have already seemingly picked up the map to before entering.

Who knew that finding a mentor would need a mentor in itself?

I often run into the issue of the minority tax: I finally find a mentor with whom I share a similar upbringing, similar background, and similar interests, but they themselves are one of only a handful of mentors with those attributes and thus must serve a disproportionate number of students. Spread thin by a generational gap that results when disparities are ignored, these mentors have assumed the responsibility of guiding the unguided while learning to be pioneers themselves. 

However, I know that finding a mentor will never replace the comfort I once had in knowing less than my parents.

As the roles have switched, and they come to me seeking advice, I try to remind myself that this is the way it should be. I am reminded of a time when I was just a kid in school asking my mom for help on my homework, annoyed that I couldn't do it myself and even more annoyed that all the other kids could.

She told me that I would need to stand tall otherwise I'd never see past the crowd. Today, I can see above the crowd because I stand on my parents' shoulders. 

Stanford Medicine Unplugged is a forum for students to chronicle their experiences in medical school. The student-penned entries appear on Scope once a week during the academic year; the entire blog series can be found in the Stanford Medicine Unplugged category

Tasnim Ahmed is a second-year medical student from Bangladesh and Queens, New York. She has a background in cognitive neuroscience and education. Her interests include global health, women's health, and embroidery (for her own health). 

Photo by Jahangeer Bm

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