Why It’s Okay to Start Over: My Journey from Medicine to UX Design

Ana Zelaya
March 28, 2023
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If I could go back in time and tell my 18-year-old self what I’m up to now at 22, she’d be totally shocked. Yes, 22 is young, but I think a lot of us in our early 20s feel like we’re aging at warp speed. Being a post-grad student constantly feels like you’re on top of the world while it simultaneously crumbles down around you. It’s easy to get caught up in negative thinking and feel like everyone else has their life together except for you. You might find yourself asking “why me?” and “what am I not doing that they are?”. But the truth is, it’s so beautifully normal not to have your whole life mapped out right after college.

Not all of us have a six-figure job lined up right away like that one friend who graduated with a computer science degree and landed a gig at Microsoft. If you can start to shift the way you think about things, you might realize how lucky you are to be exploring what you’re truly passionate about, what ignites a fire in your chest. This is my story about how I followed my gut and dove into UX design after convincing myself I was destined to be a doctor. My aim is to motivate others to follow their passions as well and to embrace the fact that starting from the beginning is amazingly normal.

Struggling to Find My Path

Going into college, I didn’t have a solid idea of what I wanted to study or who I wanted to be. I knew that I excelled in science and math and that I wanted a career where I could help others, but that was about it. I thought being a doctor was the only career that could fulfill these needs because I didn’t know of much else. Admittedly, I was also only going this route because I wanted to appear impressive to others by pursuing such a lucrative career path (silly me). After this, I always felt like I was going through the motions without any real intention or meaning. I was a good student but I didn’t feel inspired by my courses.

I eventually forgot that college was about learning and not simply passing my courses and maintaining my GPA. I also held numerous part-time jobs in the healthcare space since this experience was required for admittance into professional schools. I did not enjoy it, and I ended up incredibly drained and unmotivated. To be honest, I still enjoyed delving into the intricacies of medicine and understanding how public health disparities and outcomes play into it. However, I was torn because I couldn’t quite put my finger on where my lack of enthusiasm for the field was coming from.

From Confusion to Clarity

It wasn’t until the COVID pandemic hit in 2020 that I really took a step back to evaluate what I was doing. At this point, I was entering my junior year of college. A lot of my friends were applying to professional schools, studying for the MCAT, and working hard to obtain research experience and patient-care hours. With all of the solitude we had during lockdown, I was forced to sit with myself and ask myself if I truly wanted to continue on the path that I was on. The answer was so obviously no, but I was terrified. I had spent the majority of college pursuing one thing, and the idea of starting from scratch again made me feel like I had completely wasted my time.

After discovering the sunk-cost fallacy, I came to the realization that the advantages of pursuing a different career outweighed the drawbacks for me. I was in limbo for a while, but I learned to embrace the beauty of self-discovery and appreciate the journey for what it was. During the fall semester of my senior year, a good friend of mine invited me to a hackathon where she was leading an Introduction to UX/UI design workshop. This was the first thing in a long time to spark my curiosity, and the more I learned about the field, the more excited I became.

After sitting through countless hard science lectures, I was reinspired by how UX blends creativity and research to make things that truly make a difference. I’ve always been fascinated by technology as well. We live in an almost completely digital world, and I knew I wanted to find a career where I could make a positive impact on it. The best thing about UX though is that I get to solve real-life problems that actually make people’s lives better. It’s exactly what I’ve always wanted to do.

I came to the realization that medicine itself was not the problem, but rather, I couldn’t imagine myself actually practicing it. I’ve always been concerned about the state of the U.S. healthcare system and the unequal access to quality care that many face. The medical professionals I encountered were often burdened by the restrictive policies and shortcomings of the system, despite their best efforts to provide the best care possible. I didn’t feel like I could make a difference from the inside, but now as a UX designer, I feel I can. I’m excited to pursue this path and tackle issues that I’ve been passionate about for a long time. As healthcare evolves alongside technology, I’m hoping to use design to improve patient outcomes and make a positive impact on the healthcare industry as a whole.

Where I Am Now

Since this moment of clarity, I spent a lot of time teaching myself all about UX design. It was a pretty lonely journey since I didn’t know anyone else doing the same thing, so I didn’t have many people to turn to for advice or support. I made a lot of progress on my own, but eventually hit a roadblock where I felt like I needed more structure and guidance. Plus, I was struggling with heavy feelings of imposter syndrome and feeling unsure about my place in the design world. That’s when I found Mento Design Academy, which came into my life at just the right time. As a current student at Mento, I’m excited to see where this journey continues to take me. I’m not putting too much pressure on myself, but rather going with the flow and embracing the fact that things are always changing. As long as I’m learning from and bettering myself for the communities I design for, that’s all that matters.

Transitioning into UX design can be a challenging and isolating experience. In fact, it can be downright overwhelming to navigate the learning curve and develop the skills necessary to succeed in the field. Even though my journey is far from over, I want to emphasize that you are not alone. I’m always here to offer my advice, talk more about my experiences, and share the resources that have helped me along the way. You’re welcome to connect with me on LinkedIn or follow my Medium page — you are going to do such great things!

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