Accepted to medical school AND Peace Corps - burn out - need advice

Thank you in advance for any insight you can provide. I have been “pre-med” for a long time, approximately 8 years. A brief history: After my BS degree, I worked for a year, then proceeded to finish my MS, postbacc studies, and a second MS to improve as a re-applicant. I worked for a few years in between. I am very fortunate to have been accepted to medical school. I have also always wished to serve in the Peace Corps. Last year, when I reapplied to medical school, I also applied to PC. I have been accepted to serve in the PC beginning in August of this year.

There is a lot more to this story, but I will try to keep it simple. I know there is a huge risk in not pursuing my medical degree now at age 32. I know I may never be accepted to medical school again. However, many other factor are involved. I have had serious personal life issues within the last few years that have taken a much greater toll mentally/emotionally than anticipated. I am so concerned of feeling this exhausted even before medical school begins. I am deeply concerned that it will impact my care to patients. I want to avoid early or any burn out at all costs. I am also very concerned about my own long term health.

I am hoping that serving in the PC will be a way for me to serve in a capacity that I love (psychosocial and resource outreach), but give me enough of a break from school so that I return, refreshed and ready to begin school (if accepted of course).

I have sought advice from mentors, counselors, and friends. The great majority are supportive, but understandably outline the risk if I give up this chance of medicine. I would greatly appreciate your advice. Please be kind with your feedback, this is a very difficult decision and I feel like I am asking for feedback from a source that may identify with a lot of these issues. Thank you!

Thank you for the recommendation. The issue there is, since it is a 27 month term of service, I would actually be away for 3 years before reapplying. Most schools, including mine, are not able to grant such a lengthy leave of absence. There are extenuating circumstances such as if I were to have applied and been accepted while in the PC.

Maybe you could ask for a 1 year deferral to med school? I believe terra_incognita was able to swing this. Try checking out her blog & maybe go on the school’s website to see if this issue is addressed?

Good luck,


There are some practical considerations I’d have (you’ll probably have to take the MCAT again since the scores tend to expire after a certain number of years, how would this affect finances for school, etc.) but it all comes down to what you can live with and only you can answer that.

If you knew without a doubt you wouldn’t be a doctor if you join PC, that going means you’ll have to find another career path after your service, would you still join? Could you be at peace with that? If yes, go to PC. If you know you’d never be happy unless you’re a doctor, go to medical school. That’s what I’d ask myself, and force honesty from myself on what I want, not what I should do. But no one can answer those questions truthfully except you.

From what you wrote, I’ll say you don’t sound mentally ready to go to medical school right now. Maybe it’s just a particularly bad time, but your tone suggests you’re not feeling the onslaught of challenges medical school brings right now. There’s nothing wrong with that, and in fact everything right in recognizing it.

Not to throw another wrench into play or be a Debbie Downer, but many friends have come back from Peace Corps a bit … defeated might be a strong word. But service is certainly no walk in the park. It can be a constant uphill battle to get projects implemented, handle culture shock, feel like you’re making any bit of difference, etc. If you’re exhausted now, is there a way to request a one-year deferral from the medical school and Peace Corps, stay where you are, recover emotionally and see where you stand in a year?

A couple of comments.

Yes, I did get a one-year deferral from medical school. Most schools will do this if you show good reason, but from what I’ve seen, only for one year. So I doubt that’s an option for you, unfortunately.

I do agree with what Tallulah Philange said previously – I don’t exactly see either medical school OR the Peace Corps as a refuge. That’s something to consider.

Third, and you alluded to this, reapplying to medical school after having been accepted (and not gone) once puts up a big red flag, from what I’ve read. So if you decline now, you have to accept the possibility of not going at all. If you do, that’s fine – nothing wrong with making that choice. But it’s a reality you need to be prepared for.

You have some tough decisions to make. I wish you the best as you do so.

You could always go to med school in a third world country. It would feel like the peace corp. Treating malaria patients on the weekends.

@OldRedneck wrote:

You could always go to med school in a third world country. It would feel like the peace corp. Treating malaria patients on the weekends.

I’m not sure if this was said in seriousness. If it was, I have to disagree completely. Going to a U.S. medical school puts you in a MUCH better position in terms of residency later on. The school resources are better, living conditions are much more conducive to studying, and so on. I realize that’s not an option for everyone, but if a U.S. medical school IS an option, it’s undoubtedly the way to go.

I actually know someone who was able to defer for several years. However, I think that happened because this person’s boss at the time was some dude named Barack Obama… So yeah, you can always give it a try, but I’m doubtful that you’ll get more than a year unless your reason involves your med school potentially committing some light treason if they deny your request… :wink:

But in all seriousness, as a returned Peace Corps Volunteer myself, I can say that serving as a PCV can be emotionally tough, socially isolating, and mentally draining. I am incredibly thankful for my experience, which absolutely shaped who I am and how I want to live my life. But that being said, there is a reason why 1/3 to 1/2 of all volunteers don’t complete their service. You are basically thrown into a new culture with few supports, very little direction, and rudimentary communication skills. It’s like a fun adventure for a few months, but if you’re not mentally prepared for the challenge, chances are you’ll quickly find yourself on a plane back to the states, which means wasted time/resources for you, PC, and worst of all, for your host community – who can ill-afford any squandering of resources to start with.

As others have suggested, if you’re tired and burned out, and are using PC as an “escape,” I would urge you to find something else to do. I can honestly say that in terms of being “hard,” my first two years in med school have been a much easier adjustment than my two years as a PCV (the confounder being that my tolerance for stress definitely increased as a PCV!)

Congrats on both acceptances and good luck with your decision!

@Tallulah Philange wrote:

If you’re exhausted now, is there a way to request a one-year deferral from the medical school and Peace Corps, stay where you are, recover emotionally and see where you stand in a year?

As a person also considering opportunities to work overseas before med school, my “vote” goes to this response.

I appreciate your feedback everyone. I also understand that I haven’t provided a lot of information for you. Both medicine and PC have been major goals in my life. I was first accepted to medical school. When accepted to PC, two months later,I was thrilled. The decision has been unexpectedly difficult. It’s not one of those situations where I have to ask whether I still want to pursue medicine. I don’t look at the two experiences like, “if I choose one, I can’t choose the other”. I know medicine is a highly competitive field. However, I think I would be a better candidate upon reapplication. My love is community, preventative medicine and public health. I’ve had plenty of experiences to inform what I’d like to do in medicine. I understand the assumption of using the PC as an “escape”, but this is not the case at all. I’m not looking for an easier life. I am noting signs of fatigue and depression, and I think a change of pace would help. It’s not that I don’t want the course work; I actually loved my Masters program I recently finished which was filled with medical school courses. I performed well in these courses too. I’m not looking to jump ship, or question my commitment. I just know that the field of medicine has a very high rate of burn out, depression, and other tragic life events. I am also a mental health professional by training and monitor these issues on my radar a lot. I have tried to think about what I would direct another patient or student in this case. I think, in our society and other fast-paced cultures, while we promote life changes in accordance with mental health, I think it is all too easy to “just keep going” and ignore when we need a change. It does not at all mean that we are any less committed or passionate. It means that something is happening, let’s address it. And it’s different for us all. Maybe once I begin medical school, I’ll be “too busy” to forget. However, I don’t want to neglect this now, and not address it when it really counts in school and in patient care. Hope this makes more sense. Thank you.

@ncl7665 wrote:

I know medicine is a highly competitive field. However, I think I would be a better candidate upon reapplication. My love is community, preventative medicine and public health.

I should also mention that I passed on med school (MD/PhD) after my father became terminally ill many years ago. And while I never officially reapplied, no school has ever told me that I blew my only shot at med school. In fact, I’m a much better candidate now (grades, MCATs, medical experiences) than I was then, which also helps.

All that said, go with what feels right for you because if you’re meant to become a Physician, it will happen.

PS- I’m also interested in Preventative Medicine/Public Health too. :wink:

Doc201X, I am so sorry to learn of your father. I appreciate your feedback, it gives me a lot of hope regarding this decision. I wish you the best of luck :slight_smile: Thank you.

I look back on even just the terminal part of med school applications (MCAT Plus actually applying) and am not sure I have the resiliency to go through all that again at this point. After deferring for a year, I look at MCAT style questions and know that a lot of the knowledge I re-learned as a non trad has atrophied. Not to mention they have added topics to the new test. I’m not 100% sure I could put myself and my family back through it all just to end up in the same situation I’m in now.

In my view, the PC will still have openings after you graduate, and you may even be more desirable with your skills (though the debt from school will be there too). There’s also docs without borders if you want to do international health opportunities.