MSW to MD (fingers crossed)

What a time to be alive! I love that spaces like this exist, and that we are able to access support and information with such ease. This entire process seems so much more feasible because of communities like this, and the amazing podcasts that MSHQ produces.

I’m a 31 year old mom of four (ages 2-7) with a masters degree in social work. I’m currently a crisis worker in an emergency department, which is one of the best jobs a person could ever have. I love the work I do, and it’s always exciting. As much as I love it, I know I would love the medical role more, and I crave understanding everything that is going on physically with the patients I get to help. I have the massive fortune of working closely with psychiatrists and emergency room attending physicians, and I’m eager to sit on their side of the table.

It has been a dream of mine for a long time, but was sidelined in college when I was enrolled in my pre-reqs and experienced my first loss-- a close friend died in a car accident. I didn’t have the emotional intelligence to put words on my grief, and ended up really struggling academically for the first time in my life. It was through that pain and trying to understand my experience that I ended up becoming a social worker, and now am skilled at helping others through their own emotional hardships. I genuinely believe this will be an asset as a physician, and I’m excited about what I can bring to the profession.

I’m so thankful for all of you and for the encouragement you are all willing to bring to the table for others pursuing this endeavor later in the game. The mentality of MSHQ, of collaborating and not competing, is absolute music to this social worker’s heart. When working to help those at their most vulnerable, it is imperative that we offer the best, rather than trying to prove that we are individually the best.

I’m excited to be here, and thank you for having me!

Oh how I wish I could transfer some of your emotional intelligence to myself. Your strengths are what I fear I will struggle with most throughout this journey. How do you learn a restrained empathy? There is no college course designed to specifically teach you when to listen and what to say in difficult times. How do I even start to learn these skills?

As an LVN, I have shared some pretty traumatic experiences with my patients. I work in a corrections environment, so my responses to individuals in these circumstances must be even more restricted, but even prior to this job, I struggled. What do you say to a mother whose son is brain dead following a suicide attempt? How do I acknowledge her pain without feeling it so deeply that it brings me to tears?

When I was in high school, I knew this would be an issue for me if I pursued healthcare, so I intended to go to veterinary school instead. Life happened and here I am at 40, having been an LVN for a little more than 3.5 years, still dealing with the emotional aspect of care, although not as fearful of it as I was at 17. Are there any suggestions you can give that may help?

It’s okay to have emotions. Physical expression of empathy isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and it can actually help further strengthen some patient/family-physician relationships. The trick is to not let those emotions impair or shape your treatment plan away from the “right” thing. I think suppression is a learned skill, and releasing those bottled up emotions in the right setting (ie to a colleague/therapist/family member/dog/yourself in the car) can help you alleviate some of what leads to emotional burnout.

Before med school, I think it’s important for self-reflection about how you deal with your own emotions. Medical school will teach you how to develop and work within the constraints of a healthy patient relationship. Personal experience thereafter and more reflection is really the only way to “learn” empathetic skills. It’s probably very similar to you learning how to work in the corrections environment, doing your job while hearing the painful stories of your patients and any fear in the back of your mind that the client/patient may be a little dangerous.

And yes, medical school will teach you some canned responses as tools to respond in situations where you’re at a loss for words. But sometimes, the truth is painful and you can’t sugar coat it, and studies have shown that patients appreciate straight forward answers.

Self care, self care, self care. Remember that your mental and emotional health are just as important as any clinical information you might have stored in your brain. If you’re feeling anxious or depressed, your ability to recall information is negatively impacted, so figuring out what keeps you at your baseline is incredibly important. Also know what it looks like when you’re feeling burnout, and intervene early.

When it comes to those hard situations, it is really about not saying the wrong things and embracing that there isn’t anything that can be said that will take away pain. Grief is meant to be acute. A loss is devestating, and trying to magic wand it away for someone else with cliche phrases doesn’t help their heartache, and instead communicates that their pain and experience aren’t valid or real. Sometimes the best thing you can say is, “this is awful, and I don’t know what to say.” As a helping professional, then, in those moments what matters is pointing them in the direction where they can get help. We don’t have to always know what to say or what to do, but knowing how to find them someone who will is a big part of the gig.

Also, consider it a strength that you care so much. And again, self care, because compassion can be the greatest fatigue. Surround yourself with people who support you and can tell when you’re struggling, and know the signs in yourself when that extra support is needed.

Thank you both for your responses. I do have a wonderfully supportive best friend/boyfriend to come home and vent to and, at least during my undergrad education, I’ll have access to trained psych staff at my university… and an egg chair :smiley:

Here, maybe, is where spending as much time as possible shadowing physicians might really be helpful for me. The doctors and NPs at my work tend to be a little less than friendly. It would be good to see physician/patient interaction in a “normal” environment.


Wow it is great to see another MSW!!! I am too an MSW and I too work as crisis worker for a psychiatric ED. My inspiration to become an MD has blossomed from my experiences working as part as an interdisciplinary team in psychiatric inpatient hospitals and emergency departments.

I am 30yrs and also suffered academic hardship while in undergrad, so I am trying to clean up my undergrad past right now.

Thank you for sharing and good luck to you.


Yaaaay! We got this, Monet882!

Hi all! I’m so glad I stumbled upon this thread. I’m currently completing my MSW in San Francisco and am about to start taking premed classes through the UCB Extension post-bac program.

I loved reading about your background as a crisis worker and how much you enjoyed it. Gives me hope that my MSW education will serve me well as a physician!!

Thank you for sharing.