How did you decide to become a doctor?

I am considering applying to medical school, but want to feel reasonably sure, total certainty being an impossibility, that this is the right career for me before I do. I wonder if any of you have any stories to share about how you made the decision, how you knew that this was the right move, your “aha!” moments and/or epiphanies, if any. Perhaps you can even relate anecdotes of those you knew who looked into the field but were able to decide that medicine was not for them.
I volunteered for a brief time in an ambulatory care unit at a hospital, but during “off-peak” hours, so I didn’t see many staff members or patients and feel I didn’t experience much, not enough to make an informed decision at least. Any suggestions on types of experiences I should seek out to help me make one?
Many thanks in advance for sharing!

If you haven’t been exposed to much or any medicine then first get that exposure. I was a corpsman (medic) in the Navy for 10 years. I worked in sickcall (family practise), ER/ambulance (EMED), transplant surgery, research, immunizations, records, and currently I’m a program administrator. I’ve been working for or with doctors since 1990 and know that medicine is what I want.
I’m not recommending that you get all this experience but the more you can shadow the better. Shadow as many doctors in as many fields as you can. If your interested in something then find a few doctors that are in your area of interest and ask if you can shadow. Medicine is not something you want to sacrifice for and realize that you don’t like it. This isn’t a job and more than just a career so shop wisely and keep doing what your doing…asking questions.
Be leery of too rosy a picture but also too bleak a picture. Some things to keep in mind…
1. Malpractice premiums are real and painful.
2. Your not going to be a millionaire.
3. If you do make boatloads of money then your significant other will enjoy it but not you because of #1 and you will be working hard for that money.
4. I have yet to see other professionals as passionate as some doctors.
5. I have yet to see other professionals as miserable as some doctors.
I could go on and on but ultimately you have to count the cost and see if this is right for you. You will get many responses and some will surprise especially coming from doctors. I’ve been told not to pursue medicine and go into business or law. This guy complained about everything from undergrad all the way to being an attending. He’s a pediatrician…
I know a transplant surgeon who works 16-18 hour days 6-7 days a week. Spends as much time in the OR as he does on the research bench…absolutely loves his life. He does not care for the bureaucracy, paperwork, politics but that’s everywhere and a part of being a doctor. The first doctor sees patients for 4 hours a day and tries hard to get out of work…he’s miserable but more than that he’s lazy.
So take the advice that a disgruntled or overzealous doctor gives you with a grain of salt.

Hi. I gave up a then-lucrative career in project management, so I understand your needing to make the right decision.
For me, medicine is the logical extension of who I am, although I don’t think I would have said that when I started the process. I have volunteered & done overseas med volunteering even though I had no intention, at that time, of going to med school.
I wanted to go to med school when I was in high school, but in my family women didn’t become docs, & I was barely able to go to college. Medicine was out of the question.
I had 3 epiphanies: one when I spent 10 yrs in my career, and wondered if I wanted to spend 10 more (No!); the second, after an overseas med experience to get med out of my system & I realized it didn’t work; the third, in wondering what career to move to (still thinking girls don’t go to medical school) I picked up Zen and the Art of Making a Living (GREAT BOOK). After the 1st chapter, I realized I must try medicine or I wouldn’t die happy.
Best of luck.

Hi there,
The decision to attempt medical school was pretty simple for me. I was going to give it one shot as it was a natural extension of my research and teaching. If that one shot was not successful, I was going to spend the rest of my career researching and teaching with a Ph.D.
Medicine has given me experiences that I would not trade for anything and has “fleshed” out many things that I just studied as a graduate student. I love to operate and surgery has been totally absorbing both mentally and physically. Surgery beyond other specialties is 100% or nothing but it was my choice and my greatest love.
The practice of medicine is undegoing lots of change. Even the manner in which I practice today as a resident physician is going to be drastically different from the manner in which I will practice as an attending physician. Malpractice is through the roof and financial compensation is at an all-time low. I don’t forsee any ot these things changing in the next ten years but having the opportunity to do a good gallbladder is worth the headaches.

Hey there! This thread called to me since I feel that I am the poster child for “undecided”.

I was one of those people who was curious about medicine since about age 4. Though I hated getting a shot, I still loved going to the doctors because I could “study” his anatomy charts while in the waiting area. I even liked the smell of his office. At around age 8 I taught myself to read in Spanish so that I could understand some medical books that my Dad had bought. I was fascinated by all the diseases described in it. I did well in school and got into good colleges. When I started there was no question that I would be pre-med since it was all I ever really considered up until then.

1992 - First year (G. Chem, Calculus, Calc-based physics) went pretty well. Then came second year. For some reason I started really questioning my drive. What was I getting myself into? Did I really want to be in training for so long? Why am I doing this? Organic didn’t help matters. I wasn’t enjoying the class and wasn’t doing well either. Overwhelmed by emotional issues at that point in time I decided I needed some time to focus on getting to know myself. At the beginning of my second semester I dropped pre-med. It was a terribly difficult decision for me and I even had recurring nightmares about it. I decided to switch into Computer Science since it was becoming the next big thing. I also double majored in Music which is the only other thing I might love as much as medicine. I figured I’d graduate, work a few years, play a few gigs, and then revisit the medicine thing.

I got a pseudo-programming job after college which I started hating after just a few months. I left it after a year and went to teach 2nd grade at my old grammar school for a year. I enjoyed teaching MUCH more than the corporate job, but (1) I felt inadequate due to not having any education background whatsoever (2) it was a private school and the money was pitiful. Since I was trying to get my own place I decided to go back to my original job for a year until I could get things settled. So I came back here in 1998, knowing that I hated it, but defeated because my attempts at interviewing for other places had gone very badly. A lot of financial issues presented themselves during the next few years so I kept plugging along saying to myself “just 6 more months, just one more year, etc.”

1999 was probably the first time when, on a whim, I requested information from Columbia’s post-bacc program. I read through it and decided I was too old and it was too hard. I couldn’t even think of what I would write the essay about. Instead I toyed around with getting a CS master’s for a while and even took some courses as a non-degree student. Much as I tried I couldn’t get into them. I decided to focus on my wedding for a while instead. A few months before the event I attended an information session at the post-bacc program. I wasn’t sure why I kept getting drawn to it. I came out thinking that it was an interesting concept but that it was still too hard. Why would people do this to themselves? Are they all crazy?

After that I started getting intrusive thoughts at work. Why hadn’t I gone into medicine? What would I be doing now? What would it be like? I started surfing the web and reading pre-med sites. I started calling old friends who had kept going. Most painted a very bleak picture of things. One person, a distant cousin, told me flat out “Hilda, don’t do it!” He was adamant about it. When I called back another time he gave me the “only do it if this is the only thing that will make you happy” line. I was a bit angry because I kept asking specific questions and he only responded in general terms. The discouragement I received confused me more. It was evident that I was still drawn to the idea of medicine but I just couldn’t justify it. I realized that while I knew I would like the work, I wasn’t sure if I would like the lifestyle (a debate I still struggle with today).

Around the beginning of 2002 the intrusive thoughts at work were at an all-time high. A few months later I found the OPM site. I started reading everyone’s stories and was amazed. People did do this as older students. People with mortgages and families. With bad undergraduate grades. For every hardship in my own life that I could think of, there was someone who had gone through more and had made it. I knew then that being “too old” was no longer an excuse. I remained a lurker for a while.

I attended the 2003 OPM conference in DC. I felt like I was the only undecided person there. Everyone was so gung-ho; it was amazing! I wanted so desperately to be like them. To be so sure about the path they were taking. However, I still had my doubts. By this point I knew that I liked the science but I was still unsure about whether I wanted to do clinical medicine. But I was starting to see that there were many options available out there.

The fall following the conference I decided I couldn’t spend the rest of my life wondering what if. I knew without a doubt that I did not want to spend the rest of my career here at this job or in this field at all. I still have another 30 years or so of working, so I better find something I am truly engaged in. I didn’t want to turn 30 and still be going nowhere in terms of my career. Anytime I thought this way the only thing that would come to mind is medicine (oh, and music occasionally too). I had wanted to be 100% sure before going into the post-bacc program, but I realized that may never happen (sort of like when people describe being ready to be parents). I went ahead and requested yet another application. This time the little essay no longer seemed like an insurmountable task. I whipped it up in no time along with the rest of the application and sent it in.

I was pretty much ecstatic when I got the acceptance. It felt like the beginning of a new life. I was apprehensive about attending orientation though, because I feared finding out that my colleagues would be ultra cut-throat and snotty. I was pleasantly surprised. From the first day I met several wonderful people who later went on to attend Physics with me. My colleagues come from a variety of background and are open-minded, intelligent, and friendly. What a difference from my workplace. I was in love with school! And now I even sit next to a fellow OPMer in class.

And so here I am today. Have completed my two semesters of physics and lab and am taking general chemistry now. Am still loving my classes. Am continuing to meet the kind of people I’d love to work with some day. I am getting more and more motivated to go down this path, though I still must admit that there are some doubts as to where I will end up in the end. I’ve attended training to become a volunteer interpreter and am really looking forward to the exposure. I am also looking into summer research programs because I intend to quit my full-time job, finally, next May.

For whatever reason once I started down the path, I’ve been able to focus on things in a step-by-step manner and not get overwhelmed by the entire long process (which was part of what held me back before). I am trying to cherish each phase of this because this, right now, is my life. I have to enjoy the journey. I am also giving myself ample opportunities to challenge my decision and turn back if necessary. I am planning on delaying my application year so that I can spend more time getting exposure to both clinical and research medicine among other things. Now that I’ve decided to quit my job suddenly I am allowing myself to think of other alternatives as well (dentistry, public health, etc.). I intend to explore those all AFTER I am finished with my coursework and MCAT in 2006. But for now this path feels very right. And after struggling with this decision for 10 years (ever since I dropped pre-med) I can’t be

gin to explain how good it feels.

Best wishes to you in your decision. And if you decide to go ahead at anything less than 100% certainty, remember that you’re not alone.

For me, the decision to become a doctor was a long-delayed dream. I had wanted to do that when I was younger, but my parents had little education and saw no reason for a further education for me. I paid for the ACT myself, and got myself there to take the test. I was part of the pilot gifted program in my school, but still my parents were not willing. Like a co-worker of mine, whose parents said “secretarial school or nothing”, mine said “LPN school or nothing” I chose LPN school rather than continuing to make burritos (Taco Bell) As much as the rewards have been from working as a nurse (at least on the patient care side), I never got rid of the feeling of wanting to be a doctor, however life seemed to keep getting in the way. Finally, I got back into school and found that the subjects energized me in a way my current career does not, especially as they began to correlate the subject to medicine (in some of my upper division UG classes).

Alas, I’m not really sure what discussion board protocol entails, but wanted to say thank you to all who have responded, and those who may yet, to my query about how you decided to enter the field of medicine. I appreciate the honesty of your replies, the details and the sharing of your experiences; this is providing me with a much clearer picture of what I need to do to make my own decision. Thank you so very much.