Musing about taking a break

I’ve been up late tonight (I slept in very late due since I’ve been down a cold), and thinking lots about taking a break between undergrad and medical school. This is actually a recurring thought as of the past two years or so, and now that my wife and I are having our first baby soon (could be any week now, if she delivers early!!), it is surfacing in my mind again. Reading others’ posts about taking a break seems to have a recurring theme of “I got to enjoy my life and don’t regret it” as well as “adcoms didn’t mind the break at all.”

I do vividly remember how my life played out prior to enrolling in college. It was a magical time when I was on paid vacation for a month until I left the job (terminal leave in the Navy). It was great! We lived in a small studio apartment above an antique store, which was on the downtown strip of the small southern Orange county town of San Clemente, CA. I remember very well we had large bay window in the living area with a great view of the Dana Point peninsula jutting into the Pacific (we also had a great view of power lines and parking lots). During that time, I was searching for a temporary job to hold us over until leaving for college; I remember seeing an ad on Craigslist for a cashier position at a small gluten-free supermarket just caddy-corner to the building we lived in. I hesitated though and the position was snatched up quick, fast and in a hurry. Since then, I definitely regret not staying and working there - surely I would have been hired, and we could have some great memories and possibly a little more cash stashed away. Instead I hurried my way into the spring semester, and the rest is history.

In retrospect I can see that, if I would have taken my time and planned out my college career better, I would be in a better position than I am now, albeit possibly a year or two behind. I am wondering whether or not I should heed this in regard to going to medical school. I do want to get in, and it is true - the longer I wait, the longer it will take me to get started and thus done with it. However, I wonder if I should take a job teaching for a bit, or maybe working in a lab.

By the time I get my undergrad degree, our little baby will be just a hair over 2 years old - a good age for day care or babysitting, and surely my wife will be itching to get her degree done as well. Perhaps if I can score a decent job after undergrad, then we can afford to get her degree done and I can enjoy my family for a change.

Just a thought…

Taking a break between undergrad and med school is an excellent idea that helps give you some sanity, and some experience being a real world citizen and not just a student.

It sounds like you’ve had that experience though, so taking the break for you would be more for sanity, which is still a good reason.

The only thing to think about is how you explain your break, what you did in the interim, and you need to think about any grades or MCAT scores that will expire.

Good Luck!

  • Doc Gray Said:
It sounds like you've had that experience though

Sort of...being with the infantry gives you little chance to live as a free citizen. Basically I was on call 24/7, even during weekends, holidays and on leave. Most of that time was spent sitting around the barracks on standby, training in the field or on deployment.

You bring up a quesion I thought of after I posted last night: I know that generally medical schools take MCAT scores up to 3 exam cycles in the past, but what about undergraduate grades? What I have in mind is working for no longer than 5 years - enough time to save cash, bond with our child, and give my wife an opportunity to finish her degree. A search on SDN revealed no consensus on the age limit of pre-requisites within the time frame I am considering.

I disagree. Keep moving forward. You’re not talking about taking a year or two but five and at that point I opine that is too much time. Life has a way of getting in the way and five years leaves way too much. Now if your wife is getting a degree in nursing or something like that then I could see that. However it still leaves a lot of room for “life” to get in the way.

Most schools have a 5 year limit on prereqs, so you would be starting from scratch depending on where you apply.

What if she gets pregnant during her undergrad? What if she decides on graduate school?

For those who were traditional students taking a few years off before med school I can see. For you I would say keep it moving. One thing to consider is if your time off is really a break or fear of moving forward. I’m not accusing you of anything, I just know that for me it has been. Losing my job has helped me get my goal in laser sharp focus and helped to eliminate most of the fear.

I think you’ll make the right decision for you and your family whichever route you choose.

  • croooz Said:
What if she gets pregnant during her undergrad? What if she decides on graduate school?

That is where we are at right now - she is about two courses away from a degree in early childhood education.

Moving forward is the default option here; I just know from my own life experiences that, in the end, one of the only difference between those who waited and those who didn't is age. Maturity is another difference.

I know I can push through and get it done, but I am egocentric if I do not consider my family. Financially I have no way to support my family during medical school aside from a scholarship that provides a stipend, which pretty much realistically narrows that down to HPSP (which I have also considered). In regard to raising my child, I pretty much wont be course loads now are lite relative to med curriculum, even with 21-unit semesters.

I do agree that life has a way of getting in the way, but that isn't something I can build a plan upon. When I spoke with my best buddy about my recent used vehicle purchase, he piped in with "Well, what are you going to do if you buy the truck and afterward something breaks on it? Then what?" I told him "That is an inherent risk in buying a used car. We need it, but I can't NOT buy it on the premise that something MIGHT happen, that doesn't make any sense." Turns out he was right - I've recently had to overhaul the rear axle, and I did all the work myself. It took a big bite out of our budget, and it was the first time I've ever done axle work. Life got in the way, but we managed just fine. Besides, I could easily apply that argument in a reverse fashion - i.e., I could reason that, because life could get in the way (incapacitating accident, child #2, financial ruin) I should take a break in my undergrad and enjoy my un-interupted life as it is now. I do see your point of view, and it is valid, no questions there...I just think we differ in worldview.

Some wise folks whom I greatly respect have suggested to me, over the past few years, that it's not a bad thing to explore options and give myself breathing room. The more I proceed down the path I am on, the more I agree. I do not deny the possibility (emphasis on possibility), though I think it improbable to a great degree, that I could, say, pursue a master's degree in microbiology, work as a microbiologist, get comfortable in the middle class, and then put off med school indefinitely. I don't see a route like that as a deviation, or even a delay, with respect to med school - I see it as part of the monumental journey to becoming a physician. I've already missed the boat on the shortest track that would get me there; I'm quickly approaching 30. So why set it on hyperdrive now? What benefits me the most, and what benefits my family the most? Does this proposed plan keep me moving in the direction of becoming a physician? These are some of the questions that I subject this plan to. It is still tentative - it's all tentative, except becoming a doctor. That will happen, it's just a matter of how I will get there.

  • croooz Said:

I think you'll make the right decision for you and your family whichever route you choose.

I thank you for that thought.

Hmm. This is definitely one of those “no one is really going to know the right answer for your family but you and your spouse” kinds of issues. Lots of what ifs, lots of soul searching… but it’s good discussion, because as OPMers, we all have to ask these difficult questions–for me, the main ones come within the context of parenting.

I struggle with “is this the right decision for my girls?” and “how will they feel about this in 10 years?” and “how do I make them an active part of this process?” And I have to admit that, at times, the Mommy Guilt runs hard and fast. Finding out that I was pregnant in June (we call her our “little deployment surprise”) threw a whole new spin on things…and honestly? I almost quit altogether. (How can I do this with a baby? My kids are more important than my dream. etc. etc. I realize now, though, that my kids are a very important PART of that dream, and honestly one of my strongest motivations.)

But it’s never clear cut, is it? Taking a break or quitting would allow me more time to spend with my family now. But spin it the other way. My girls see me, modeling for them as young women, the idea that you don’t have to settle. You can get out of your comfort zone and run hard after a dream as a family. You can work hard and love harder, and jump with both feet. You don’t have to be afraid or think that something is impossible just because it’s hard.

My oldest daughter is 15. She is technically my “step daughter” but we’ve never used the ‘step’ title. I just inherited her when I married her Daddy. Last year, she had to write an essay about someone she most admired. She wrote about me. Said I was the smartest, bravest woman she’d ever known. Whaaaaa?

Taking a leap, doing something radical, giving everything you have to your education? It doesn’t have to fracture your family. It does mean you have to be intentional about involving them and making the time you have with them high quality time. It does mean you have to get creative about time with your spouse. It does mean you have to have very regular conversations where you take everyone’s pulse on how things are going, and address any concerns or fears they may have.

I used to get this idea that if I sell out to school, I’m sacrificing my family. But my husband beautifully pointed out that I already give most of my time to an entity outside the home. I’m already gone from about 7am until 7pm every day, because I have a job. When I was doing pre-reqs, I was gone from 7am until about 10pm Mon-Thursday. Did we all enjoy that? Nope. And yet, my daughter writes what she writes… And even though I’m gone all that time? I may be biased, but I happen to think my family is pretty damn amazing…and we all agree that this process has actually made us stronger.

There is no wrong/right global answer to fit everyone with this question of timing and taking breaks. But Jfowler? There is a wrong/right answer for you and your family specifically. (As there was for me, and for the rest of this forum). Everyone’s marriage, job, finances, age, etc. are different. It’s such valuable discussion…because I would wager that it’s one of the things that we are most concerned about as OPMers. (Timing, Family, Finance.) Every one of us, from our most frequent posters to the lurkers in the shadows, have asked these questions in one context or another.

So while I don’t have an answer for you? I wish you the best of luck as you navigate through that question, collectively with your family. And hopefully, all the dialogue on this amazing forum can help you come up with the questions that will personally lead you to your right choice.

carrieliz, thank you for a very informed response. I appreciate your perspective, and actually your closing remark is the reason that I dialouge about decisions like this on OPM. Congrats your little one coming, by the way! We are due in a matter of weeks now, it certainly is a game changer!

When I say “life gets in the way” I don’t mean that you try to see every variable that can happen and come up with a plan addressing each. No one can do that. I mean that you already have a plan and you keep moving forward. Life will get in the way regardless of our plans. My friend had his two sons while in medical school, his daughter, the eldest, was a sophomore in college when her brothers came along. They were never supposed to have any more kids, that’s what the doctors told them and then kid #2, and a year later #3. Med school was extended due to illness of one and in the end it took my friend 11 years to get his MD and finish his Internal Medicine residency. Heck if you include the prereqs and times he applied it took him 18 years from the time he started (4 prereqs + 3 application cycles + 6 MD + 5 residency) Life got in the way, as he pursued the dream for his family. That’s my point, is that there are enough things that will get in the way that I don’t see the need to prolong it even further.

I guess I’m confused about egotism. I would not pursue this if it were merely my dream, that would definitely be egotistical… It is my wife’s dream as well. There’s no other way that this works unless both of us are onboard so it’s as much her degree as it is mine. We’ve both sacrificed. Thanks to being “let go” from work last week our future has been altered quite significantly. For one thing the money we had saved for adoption is now going to sustain us while I finish the DIY postbacc and formal postbacc. It completely sucks because the only thing we ever wanted to be were parents but thanks to a surgeon’s scalpel he ruined our chances of natural birth. At 40 & 42 it doesn’t look like we will ever adopt. Life gets in the way.

I also don’t see where you are going into hyperdrive. You are cruising at normal speed for a nontrad. Financing med school is all of our concerns or at least the majority of us. As long as your credit is okay there is plenty of money for school. I would not pursue the HPSP, simply because of the limits it places on your specialty. Best to look into FAP or wait until after you’re an attending and then go in. The advantages to the latter are you have picked your residency and now are in the driver’s seat with the military and they will entice you with rather large signing bonuses. EM is at $400k.

In the end I’m sure you’ll make the right decision for your family. My point is taking some time off is great but I equate “some time” to 1-3 years.

Croooz, thank you for dialoguing with me. I appreciate you probing my responses, as it helps me to think through my own thoughts.

In saying egotistic, I speak of my own thought process on decision making. My father once told me, many years ago, that my wife is the kind of person who will (within reason) agree with whatever plan I make, and therefore I cannot only take her consesnus at face value because it is based purely on loyalty. What that means is, because she is such an awesome wife she’ll support whatever decision I make regardless of what it means for her, so of course she supports me going to medical school. So I have to take it upon myself to critically question whether or not this benefits her or me. Of course salary will increase in the future, and she will undoubtedly benefit from a higher standard of living, but my wife isn’t the kind of person that finds prupose in that, and neither am I. She has her own dreams and aspirations, and just by virtue that she is a person I must consider whether or not the path that I am leading us on is worth putting her aspirations aside so we can all focus on mine. Yes, it is a team decision, but it is ultimately my decision, i.e., it is not her that wanted me to become a doctor but me. The end benefit to us all does not justify the means that took to get there, especially now that a child is going to be intimately involved.

When I talk about saving cash for med school this is what I mean. My veteran’s scholarship will run dry right before I get my BS, and so will the stipend that scholarship provides. We need money, and soon we will need more money. Living off of med school loans (which, anecdotally, I find is common) only means that we will have even more debt to pay back later, and nothing is worse than throwing money away at interest (although I understand that, in some circumstances, it is a necessity)…we work hard to have a minimal amount of debt, we own all of our vehicles, we don’t finance anything, we pay off credit balances each statement, etc. Again, the ultimate financial concern is how much I am willing to subject my wife to on my way to an MD/DO.

I am terribly upset, I say this with honesty, at the surgeon’s hand that ruined you and your wife’s chance to have a child. Thank you for sharing that, it helps me to understand where you are coming from.

The hyperdrive comment comes from previous planning for breaking between college and medical school. The way that I see it, taking a break is part of my plan already. Even if I were to be accepted in my first round of apps I would defer my enrollment if possible. The reason for this is because of my childhood memories - I would like to teach my child the things that I love to do, and pass on the invaluable lessons that I have learned along the way. The thing is, this takes time, it cannot be scheduled in between exams or on breaks. I understand that plenty of good parents raise good kids, all while in medical school and after becoming a doctor. But I find it difficult to believe that I would ever have the kind of availability that I would have if I was wokring a set schedule in a job that has far less responsibility.

All that to say, if I take the break out of my plans, I would be lessening the med timline. I honestly see no reason to do that.

Along the same lines, I have personality issues that I would like to iron out…and it takes a lot of time to undo things you learned as a kid. I’m still not even that far removed from some of the stuff that I would like to see changed in myself. I’m not talking about mental disorders or anything that serious or of that nature. I have a clear view of the kind of man that I need to be, based on certain standards and definitions, and I am now a long way from there. I find that it’s nearly impossible to adequately face these things while trying to earn a bio degree. Perhaps if I were an art major only taking 13 unit semesters, then maybe (no offense to art majors, in fact I envy them sometimes). But self reflection, and the subsequent action that it prompts me to take, requries much more mental capacity and devotion to the cause than school lends to me.

My fundamental defining agent lies outside of my occupation. I am who I am whether or not I am doctor, and I will become who I desire to become not by vocation - sorry for the philisophical deviation. Suffice to say, my goal is to become a doctor, but that is not what defines me (though I understand that in this half of the world I am defined in that way by others), so if it takes longer to get there than if I just jumped right in, that is part of the journey. I don’t see it as an extension, deviation, prolonging, delaying, etc. I see it as part of the journey that encompasses my entire life; I find that when I do not view my plans through the lens of my entire life, I tend to be less responsible.

I could really relate to Tom Scholz, via “Peace of Mind.” Great song…

I’m still not sold. I would think that going into medicine while your kids are too young to even remember would be far better than once they’re older. There is never going to be a perfect time. There’s also more money available the more broke you guys are.

I’m no different in that becoming a doctor in the end is just a job. I know that upsets those who’ve romanticized this whole thing but in the end that’s what it is. It has to become the only profession one can see being fulfilled in but in the end it’s a job. That reality becomes very real when the hospital administrator makes it clear what it’s all about and it’s not patient safety or treatment but I digress.

Trust me I understand about debt. The only thing we owe is our mortgage and I’m upset because the plan was to have it paid down/off before we started med school. So in that regard I can see your point but with the combination of the kids then being older I don’t see the connection. I would assume with your focus on family that you would then also focus on those specialties which would allow more family time…at least theoritically. Those who A.D.O.R.E. their families… I’ve made it very clear to my wife and myself that surgery, ortho or anything that is going to have ridiculous hours is out. Ideally it would be a dual of FM/EM with the plans of working locum tenens positions to then finance medical mission trips either domestically or internationally. Of course if God sees fit to bless us with adopting a child or children then things will change. Life happens.

Your personal issues…well I can’t help you there. I have plenty I’m not happy with. However taking more time off to discover myself didn’t work for me. Neither did a degree in divinity and actually currently in licensure/ordination internship to become a pastor. What changed me the most has been sacrificing for others…and being accused of insidious motives. Life happens. “Live and learn…then use Luvs!”

I agree it’s a journey. The one thing I’ve never heard a nontrad say is “I’m glad I waited this long.” Every nontrad I’ve spoken to has said if they had the chance to do it over, they would have knocked out med school as soon as possible and get on with life. That was the one piece of advice that I disagreed with my mentor about. He suggested I take the slow route. Now that’s he’s on the other side that is the one piece of advice he regrets having given me and that I listened to. He now advises people to just get it done. There are enough worries about tomorrow so just work on getting to the end of all this training so that you can have a life with your family.

I am a bit confused because it doesn’t seem as if you’re musing; it reads as though your mind is made up. The piece of advice I’ve gotten from the most awesomest nontrad I know who spoke at the first OPM conference was “If you can see yourself happy doing anything besides medicine…do that.”

Have a great night! I’m off to sleep it’s waaay past my bedtime.

A great night indeed, I got news that my best friend just got baptized!

I do have my mind made up, but it is tentative. I’ll take the MCAT and apply to med schools before graduating because I realize that my chances of finding employment are not as good as they were a number of years ago, and in the case that I don’t apply to med school and cannot find work, then I give myself no options at all except to hang out and wait for the next year.

I see your point about banging out med school while the kid(s) are younger…admittedly that is not a consideration I realized. Thanks for that thought.

I’ll be stewing on this for a while, that’s for sure.

Amen on the baptism!

Good to read that while your posts lean one way your actual actions are lined up with moving forward. My mentor and a professor (who was younger than I) in seminary were the ones who suggested the kids during school not after. They both had kids during school and now that they’re done with school and training they are spending great time with their kids.

Keep moving forward and events will dictate what you’ll do. Just don’t make the mistake of assuming an event is “confirmation” from God for the good or bad.