By Chris Ertel
After starting her professional career as a chemist, Dr. Anita Sargent, PhD '00, risked everything to go to medical school when she realized she wouldn't be happy unless she was helping people.
"As I got older, I realized I needed to work with people and help them," Sargent said. "I knew I loved science, but I didn't want to spend my life writing grants and publishing things feeling like I'm not helping people right away."
Sargent, whose OB/GYN private practice is in Binghamton, spoke to Harpur College students on Feb. 22 as part of the Harpur College Physician Alumni Lecture Series. The goal of the lecture series is to give aspiring medical school students an impression of the day-to-day life of doctors as well as the preparation necessary to become a doctor.
Sargent's lecture took on a personal tone as she told students the story of her path to becoming a doctor. She emphasized the importance of family and helping others when it comes to a career in medicine, showing pictures of her children and frequently reiterating the value of connecting with patients.
"It means a lot to me to have relationships with my patients," she said, especially as an obstetrician and gynecologist whose patients become "patients for life."
Though she stressed how difficult it has been to achieve her dream job as an OB/GYN, the Harpur alumna told students that she is happier than ever and has no regrets about the challenges she has faced.
"Overall, [becoming a doctor] is really hard work, but no matter how hard it is, it's worth it to me and I'm happy I'm here where I am," Sargent said.
Sargent was offered a job as a chemist at IBM immediately after earning her Ph.D. in 2000 from Binghamton University. After working at IBM for three years, she enrolled at SUNY Upstate Medical School, where she balanced her life as a mother and wife with her goal of becoming a doctor.
"Sometimes I got the feeling that I couldn't do well because of all my commitments, but when you're in it, you know you can do it," she said. "No matter how much you guys think you may not make it, don't worry. Just stick with it. Sometimes it's so hard you want to quit, but I knew if I quit I would lose everything I had worked for."
Although she said it was worth the effort, Sargent didn't shy away from telling students how difficult it is to become a doctor.
"It's not 'Grey's Anatomy,'" she said. "It's never what you see on TV."
Sargent warned students that medical school often requires significantly more effort than undergraduate studies.
"It's much harder to do well in medical school than in college," Sargent said. "I was the kind of person that didn't have to study much. When I got my first 72, I was devastated, but that's not a bad score for medical school. You're going to be with a lot of bright people just like you and the information is different, so you really have to study."
Sargent also advised students to find the medical specialty that suits them best.
"It's better to decide late than to go into a specialty you hate and be miserable for the rest of your life," Sargent said. "The third year is what really matters because you do rotations and you figure out what meshes with your personality and what you could see yourself doing for the rest of your life."
After discussing the challenges of becoming a doctor, Sargent shared her day-to-day experiences as a private practice OB/GYN. She told students that having their own practice requires more business-related work, but emphasized how much she enjoys interacting with her patients on a daily basis.
"Being an OB/GYN is a great mix of surgery and medicine," she said. "There's nothing I don't love about my job. It makes my day when a patient thanks me."
Peppered with practical advice about pursuing research opportunities and finding a medical niche that fits them, Sargent's personal account of becoming a doctor left students with the message that "everybody has a different pathway."
Sargent made it clear that this path to becoming a doctor is far from easy, but told students if they want to help people and are willing to put in the work, the effort is
"You have to be happy doing what you're doing if you're going to be a doctor because it's a lot of work," Sargent said. "I have no regrets. This is the happiest time of my life."
Last Updated: 9/9/16