overcoming doubt

Over the last few months I’ve been second-guessing my desire to become a doctor. I’ve thought very deeply over it. I’ve been asking myself: why do I want to do this? Do I really want to have no income for the next 10 years? What do I REALLY want out of life, and can I get that some easier way? Is there something wrong with me for wanting to be a doctor at my age? Is this some pathetic attempt to salvage wasted years, a way to somehow make up for my disappointments and “be somebody” before it is too late?

I don’t know what set these questions off, but I allowed them to percolate deeply - deep enough to knock me off my path for a moment. And when I steeped aside and looked at my situation from a different perspective – that of one who doesn’t believe that they can accomplish anything, that of one that is indifferent about what they want to do as long as it gets a paycheck, the perspective of those who have never had big ideas or dreams and were born ready to settle - I realized that being like everyone else sucks, and the reason I have never been satisfied is because I’m different. I have been unhappy all these years because I have intentionally minimizing my own potential so I could fit in with everyone around me. No wonder I’m not happy: I’m living at 5 percent and I’ve always know it, yet I somehow thought I was the one that had a problem for wanting more. I’ve been telling myself all these years to just take what I’ve got and make the best of it – that’s what everyone else does and they seem just fine. But I’m not fine.

It has occurred to me that the reasons other people don’t become doctors include: they aren’t interested in medicine, don’t like dealing with people, don’t want to sacrifice that many years, don’t like to study, don’t want the responsibility, don’t want to risk anything, don’t believe they could do it, or a hundred other reasons. I steeped off the path for a moment and became one of those other people, and I suddenly realized how lucky I was to not be one of them. Wanting to become a doctor is something rare and good and I’m exactly the right type of person for it and that’s exactly why I’ve been so unhappy. Becoming a doctor now, at age 35, is not pathetic, but is the result of me listening to everyone else for so long. I’ve been a square peg living in a round world. I’m not one of those other people and I’m tired of tying. I love medicine, I love people, I love school, I love responsibility, I love accomplishment, I love working hard and having people depend on me; and I won’t be giving up anything except a future that will never be satisfying. Going to medical school would not be a sacrifice in any sense to me, but the most exciting thing I can think of. I am lucky to have this attitude and I realize now that it would be insane for me to throw it away just to fit back in to what is familiar.

I don’t know what caused me to slip; I had an honest conversation with myself before making my original commitment, its not like I hadn’t thought about what I was getting into and why. Perhaps the realization that it was really going to happen made me lose my nerve, or maybe I just started to feel guilty for starting to have what I want. (Id ask my shrink if I had one – Ha!) In any case, I’m so glad that I was able to figure it out. Now I’ve got a renewed sense of certainty and I know I will do it. I steeped aside and looked at the other options and I can’t ever go back there. Its not me back there anymore. I’m going to where the square pegs live. I’m going to do what I want from now on and that’s all I have to do. And I’m not going to back down or apologize. My intentions are sound, I know. The decision is final now and that in its-self is a tremendous relief and totally invigorating. All I have to do now is the work.

Anyway, I just though I would share my thoughts in case anyone else is having doubts. I’m not here to teach any lessons or make anyone think – I’m still new here and in need of advice and inspiration myself. I do, however, think I’ve learned that some doubts might be helpful – when approached honestly they can lead to clarity and the powerful force of resolution. Everyone, of course has to ask and answer their own questions and maybe some will find that they really don’t need or want to become doctors, and that is just as valuable as becoming more certain. Or maybe they don’t need to – I don’t know. I only know what I needed. And now I’m done debating it. Ye Ha!

If I had to quote the parts of this that I need to hear SOOO badly this morning, (fall grades get posted today) I’d have to quote the entire thing.

You have no idea.

Thank you SOOO much!!

  • In reply to:
I’m not here to teach any lessons or make anyone think

But you do, and I thank you for it. I've got an exam in 3 hours. I'd say that's a time where some of those doubts tend to creep up on ya But you're right. There's a reason I'm on this path. And I really can do it. Doesn't mean I always put myself in the best position to do so... but hell, in the position that I'm in right this second, I can and I will do it.

Thank you for saying it, and helping me remember it.

This is a fantastic post. I’ve only had a few moments of doubt since making my decision to pursue medicine but a quick phone call with anyone from my support system or visions of getting to put on my first white coat keep me calm and determined.

that was some amazing insight into what you and hundreds of others are going thru i am sure… including me. i am a bit early on in this process…marathon if you will. the intellect of doctors and knowledge of medicine and helping to make lives better are some of the things that keep me thinking about it…great post!

I want to go where the square pegs live!I need a home too.

Welcome, back, Roo. IMHO we all need to spend some time on just that sort of reflection. When I showed up at last years OPM conference I was a bit dismayed to hear the doctors in attendance repeating the commandment, “If there is anything besides medical school that you can possibly do, then do that instead.” This was coming from men and women who had been so encouraging online. How dare they make such a suggestion? But, it’s just realistic. If you don’t possess the sort of commitment you describe, then this pursuit would be a sacrifice of monumental proportion. These years of your life would be better spent doing something, nearly anything else…unless you just absolutely have to become a physician. I wish you the very best.

As I was sitting here today studying for the MCAT, I sat up for a moment and looked around. Here I am on a Saturday afternoon studying while my friends (and husband) are out having fun. This can’t seriously be what I want to spend the next 10 years doing, can it? But it is. I read you post and it is amazing how much it echoed my own thoughts and feelings. Thank you for so eloquently reminding me that yes, this is exactly what I want to be doing on a Saturday afternoon. Now…back to the books.

Awesome post! Anytime I start to doubt myself like I do so often I am going to read it! And hey if we’re crazy then at least we’re all crazy together!

Being one of the aforementioned physicians from that conference - we meant every word. If you can get what you need, personally & professionally, from something else (esp if it is easier) then consider doing it. If being a physician is not your passion, the thing you cannot do without and does not make your eyes dance…and I mean dance when you’ve been up for 30hrs and have yet another admission…then seek to do something else.

I used to minimize the path I had traversed…in fact, all of us here used to minimize it - if ‘we’ could do this, so can anyone else who chooses to do it. We were all wrong in saying that, but just had the perspective on things to make a truly objective assessment. While embroiled in the process, it verges on impossible to raise your head & ‘see’ what is going on around you and what you are accomplishing. I promise, we are not tooting our own horns - we speak from experience. The process of honing & educating yourself never ends - it cannot. This is truly a lifelong commitment not to be made light of. And, the ranks of docs already has far too many within it of folks who got too far in prior to realizing, “this ain’t for me” and have become the surley, bitter, crusty bastard stereotypes.

Make sure this is your gig. If you are correct and you succeed, it is PHENOMENAL!

Just re-read. Spring semester begins next week for me and I’m taking Orgo I and Physics I. Bought my books yesterday and I’ve been looking through them and it all made me sorta nervous.

Thanks again for this!

I go through small bouts of doubt with some frequency. I think its normal. This is a long process and it is difficult to stay focused and positive ALL the time.

Just work through your thoughts and see where it takes you. No one knows what is best for you, but you.

For the record: I am 37 and will not be applying to medical schools until I am 39. (Ugh)


Wow, what a fantastic post, and it sounded like it came straight from my own little head.

There’s one additional thing that I’m worried about. It’s a taboo subject, but I can’t stop being concerned about it: money.

The cost of attending medical school blows my mind. How do you repay that much money? Do you really make enough as a physician to be able to live moderately comfortably (and I’m happy being frugal) and still repay those loans? What is the average monthly repayment amount? I won’t be entering medical school until I’m about 39 years old - that doesn’t give me much practice time to repay loans and develop a retirement account. Financially, will it be worth it?

Please bear in mind that I’m not trying to be rich. I’m doing alright living on my EMT-working-toward-parame dic salary but I don’t always want to be worrying how I’m going to pay for my groceries.

I’ve thought about RN -> NP, but I just don’t see that path satisfying me (though it would be more lucrative, I’m sure). I’d love some insight into the financial aspect of this decision, especially for those of us a little later in life…



Kangaroo - thanks for writing this. It is quite profound and closely describes the deep feelings I have. In my case, I have been off the path for quite some time - hoping that settling for something that just isn’t me will suffice. I know it won’t, but at age 49 big time doubts are there regarding how much productive time I really have left, will I have the health and energy to get through the grueling times, etc. But my biggest problem is that I am that square peg in a round hole and I am very wedged in. I have a family to support, I have large debt, and the biggest problem is an unsupportive spouse. That last one as OldManDave and others have expressed is a big showstopper.

Sounds like you have the nerve it takes to do this, and your path is clear to your goal. Put everything you have into this journey and you will never regret the outcome, regardless of what that outcome turns out to be. I wish you the best.


I’m glad someone finally mentioned money…I was just looking at the bookstore yesterday at just some biology books and was getting upset with the prices, I can’t even begin to imagine how medical school expense is going to make me feel. And I mean like it or not we do have to take money and retirement into account, it’s reality. I wish we all lived in the land of sunshine where unicorns ran around and ate rainbows and pooped butterflies…then we could all be doctors and we’d not worry about money because it would just be there. Unfortunately I do have to worry money. I talked to one of the young attorneys that I work with and he told me law school is about $150K which is at least $50K less than med school and his loan payments are $1500 a month for 30 years. I didn’t ask him how much he makes but he says he lives comfortably but he still has to budget occasionally. I see him go on trips all the time though…like he just got back from Miami and next month he’s off to Mexico…to me that is NOT budgeting. So I’m sure (at least I hope) that I’ll be able to make it work.

I’m assuming budgeting appropriately would get those loans paid off quicker than 30 years. I personally would rather struggle few a few more years post school and have my paychecks to myself knowing I paid down the principle quicker. Given, going into this later than the average premed student I think I need to focus on repayment sooner than later.

Money must be one of the multitude of factors we all consider before entering this gig. It probably should be for the younger set as well. But, being 10 to 15 years late on entry plus all of the other debts most have accumlated by this point in life can make a huge difference in the end-game. Afterall, we all wish to eventually retire and we want to enjoy the fruits of our labor along the way. No one wants to wait until they are too old to enjoy things before the fun starts.

Med schools is EXPENSIVE! I have ~$275,000 (private med school) in student loans (approx $30k was from before med school). And, tuitions have risen significantly since I graduated in 2003. Graduates of state schools still come out with substantially less debt, but we’re still talking usually well over $100k in loans. Folks, that is not just a house’s worth, it is a damned nice house!

I chose to do a 2-yr graduated program where my payment stage up until they are full-tilt to give me chance to clear off most all of my other debts before encountering full payments, which will be in the neighborhood of $1500/month (I consolidated all of my loans at ~3% because I graduated when the rates were at historic/civil war era lows).

But, just like every other person with a job should, I budget. Not budgeting is the quickest way to end up back in the same situation you are probably in now - living check to check hoping the cliff don’t give away. All of my life, that has described my situation. I came from the middle class where money was & is always a source of anxiety. Of course, I always dreamt of making enough money I did not have to sweat it.

Let me tell you about an epiphany I had. No matter how much money you make - Docs are REAL bad about doing this - you can end up in the same boat: living check to check, hand to mouth sweating whether or not you have enough to make it to next payday no matter whether you make $10/hr or if you make $200/hr. It is all about prioritization and budgeting.

I think Docs are at higher risk for falling into this trap due to the education/training being so damned expensive, the hours being absurdly long & the pay along the way absurdly low. Essentially, you survive years of academic abuse & sleep deprivation being broke the entire time. It sucks on a whole new level of SUCK-ness! This protracted period of SHIT-ness engenders a spending frenzy once you escape, in my opinion.

My wife & I made a commitment whilst immersed in the shit that we were not going to fall into that murky hole. We were/are playing it smart and ensuring that we will be set within 5 years. But, that requires planning & dedication to the plan. Believe me, it is VERY VERY tempting to purchase a new toy - that I can afford - instead of making those extra, planned CC payments…those just ain’t that fun! But, through balance, we definitely are able to live at a higher, but REASONABLE standard of living than ever before and still be RESPONSIBLE with how we spend our income.

So yes, that $1500/mon seems like a hug nut to crack and it is. But, you are also evaluating it from the perspective of, most likely, making a lot less than most physicians. $1500/mon is a substantial chuck of change no matter your income, but if you plan, budget & prioritize, it is do-able while still assuring that you over-arching goals are attained.

Another factor that dovetails into this decision will specialty choice. The simple fact is that general practice pediatricians are at the bottom of the expected income bracket for docs. Many earn less that $100k/yr right off the bat. FPs typically make more than peds, but are still on the lower end of the spectrum. For someone to go to an expensive private program and then do peds or FP, it can make your finances tighter & preclude, at least for a few years, some of the luxuries you may hope to have. However, if you plan well and live well below your means during those initial years, you can still have your cake and eat it too.


Thank you so much for your words of encouragement. It’s funny - I also have grade worries, and a few years yet before I’ll even attempt applying to med school, but it’s the MONEY part that’s causing the greatest anxiety.

Last night during my paramedic class, we had a guest lecturer. This guy is a D.O. resident in his second year - and he’s also a non-trad. During breaks in lecture, a couple of us drilled him with questions about going to school as an older student, and he too was extremely encouraging. One of the things he mentioned was loan-repayment opportunities that several employers are offering for underserved areas (which is where I’d want to practice anyway).

I guess what I really should just worry about now is finishing my paramedic (one more year) and getting A’s in all of my prerequisites over the next 2-3 years. If that doesn’t happen, then worrying about costs is moot anyway.

This forum is awesome. It’s great to have such a terrific support system for our various issues.


Maybe lawyers don’t have the good loan programs that doctors do, but it is inconceivable to me that a $150K loan would result in $1500 payments over 30 years. Something’s wrong with that math.

As for paying it off fast, I’m actually taking my time for now. My $150K in loans at 3% interest costs me $600+ per month. Not only is it easy, but it is cheap. Even now when mortgages are going for historically low rates, student loans are still a real bargain.

You don’t want to pay off your student loans too fast! You want to be sure that you DON’T rack up credit card debt or other expensive debt. Cheap debt like student loans is better.