I was wondering how people decided or “knew” medical school was the right decision.
By way of background, I am considering medicine as a second career. I am one of those people who probably tends to “overthink” decisions and has pretty high standards for job satisfaction. Anyway, in thinking about medicine: I find biology interesting (though, to be honest, I find lots of other things equally interesting) and think that patient practice would be very rewarding - - the one-on-one problem solving aspect seems pretty unique. I know I would find medicine considerably more interesting than my current work, but I am not sure that I have such a “passion” or “calling” as to justify the additional training. I have job shadowed some doctors and my conclusions were that I liked the patient contact, the one-on-one interaction, the problem-solving - - but every doc I shadowed worked a long and tiring day and had a significant amount of repitition/monotony to their practice. To me, these elements of job stress and repitition were not negligible matters. I was also in the middle in terms of my level of comfort with the physicality and touching required by some types of practice - - I am not incredibly squeamish but I am also not drawn to the physical contact of an exam. So, my conclusion was that medicine was interesting, rewarding, certainly would provide more current job satisfaction than my current career - - but was not such an earth-moving and -changing experience that I felt “certain” about a decision to pursue training. I am concerned that I have too high standards of “perfection” or “certainty” in evaluating medicine, but on the other hand I think the training is so grueling that you really have to be clear that you will love practice. Any opinions, experiences, or stories out there?
Thanks. BTW, I am posting this in general rather than premed because I would like experiences not only of premeds but of people in training/practice who have had time to compare their initial impressions to reality.
You are really asking two questions:
1. Is medical school right for you?
2. Is being a doctor right for you?
Given the huge range of options available to people with MDs–private practice doctoring with repetitive days is only one of them–you would probably do well simply to answer question 1 and then figure out question 2 separately. I say that because especially being a little older, it's just as important to like the process as it is to like the product–actually, I don't believe anyone should ever put their lives on hold but that's especially true the older you get. So, I personally think you have to like the idea that it's going to be a little grueling–you have to want to be really absorbed in something, and appreciate that for its own sake. If not, then there are other ways to do patient care with a less grueling path to get there.
So, first answer question 1. If you think question 1 could be answered yes, then start looking at the range of doctors' experiences to really answer 2 more clearly.
It sounds like you are trying to be very rational about this process. You might want to consider what irrational things are drawing you to this idea. It might be that those things are actually more powerful and might be what gets you through. It also might be that they are reasons that are not really about medicine, and that examining them would make you realize that the things that make you think medicine would be a good idea are actually not about medicine at all (for instance, wanting professional validation, wanting to do something impressive, wanting more respect–the list of these kinds of reasons goes on and on).
PS–you also asked about stories. My incredibly tidy, well-packaged version which does not speak to the uncertainty I felt throughout the process–i.e., the story I told admissions committees–can be found at:
It is not a typical story, and comparisons are odious, so don’t compare. It’s just my story. I was not exactly called to medicine, but I was definitely called to health work–more like dragged into it against my instincts because I came to it in the midst of a severe health crisis in a community that had embraced me. Once I got in, medicine seemed like a sensible way to keep getting what I liked about health work more generally, while also feeling more expert, having more autonomy, getting more in the thick of things, and having lots of choices about what I would do since I’ve always got lots of simultaneous interests.
That was very helpful to read your story and hear about the experiences that motivated you. I think that what concerns me is that while I am drawn to careers that help others generally, I have never had a specific drive towards healthcare. What I have is a drive towards is engaging in problem-solving in a context that feels concrete and immediate, as well as personally meaningful and rewarding. Medicine, much more than other career changes I have considered, really fits the bill for this. But, I wonder if the people that are happiest as physicians are more oriented towards caring for their patients or physiology and health in general, rather than the intellectual aspects of problem-solving. I have been thinking about whether I am drawn to medicine for less than ideal reasons - - such as professional validation and respect, and while I think that may play a role, it also seems to me that medicine is such a beleaguered profession right now, with so many people disliking their doctor or criticizing physicians in general, that I cannot imagine that this is the primary draw for me. I think I may be drawn to the fact that it is so consuming and there are lots of options in terms of specialty so that most people seem to eventually find a good fit.
I guess in thinking about your post, it never occurred to me that one could enjoy medical school and residency. Of my many friends that have gone down this path, I would say at absolute most 1 in 10 found medical school and resdiency intrinsically enjoyable - - the attitude was always this is what I have to do to get from A to B. Even my best friend, who is passionate about medicine and a pretty perfect fit for his career, basically viewed medical school as 1 part interesting learning to 3 parts torture. Are you in medical school right now? Have you enjoyed it in and of itself?
as one of the oldest of the OPMs, I have a stock answer for the people who ask me if I am enjoying medical school: "Yes, I am. If this weren’t fun, it would be a very stupid thing to be doing!"
There is this sense out there that pre-med, medical school and residency should be just downright torture. Well, I just don’t buy it. I had fun with my prerequisite classes for lots of reasons. First of all, it was interesting. I had not cared nearly enough about my science classes in my first go-round through college, so going back to chemistry and physics was truly neat. I loved it. Besides, it was exhilarating to be at the top of the class when I was the same age as some of my classmates’ moms!
In medical school, the adventure continues. Yes, it’s a helluva lot of work, a ridiculous amount. But it’s COOL STUFF I am learning, and the opportunity to put that “stuff” to good use in working with other members of the team, and working FOR my patients, is also exhilarating.
Maybe I just have a quirky sense of adventure, I don’t know, but this has been a ton of fun for me. I am sure intern year will suck - everyone’s does - but I suspect that I will even be able to find the pony in that particular room. (you know the description of an optimist, someone who confronts a roomful of horse manure and says excitedly, “There’s a pony in here somewhere!”)
Bottom line for me, if it isn’t fun, it’s not worth doing.
Short answer: sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s not. This week kind of sucks. A lot of weeks are good. Almost every week (except this one) I can honestly say my stock answer: “It beats workin.” A more detailed answer will have to come later.
In my life at least, there is no way to avoid suffering; it’s a question of what kind of suffering you want in your life–what new form of suffering you’ll exchange for your current brand–and what kind of joy will compensate for it.
Thanks for your post. I mostly just read, but have posted on this board a little. You really encouraged me. I go back and forth between P.A. and MD. I really want the MD, but the time committment throws me.
As I get further down the road I'll make a definate decision.
I'm 4 years younger than you and if I do go for an MD I will graduate in 2009. Which will make me a year older than you when you graduate - if everything goes according to my plans.
Anyway I just wanted to say thanks for the encouraging post.