I was lead here, by my lack of fulfillment and my searching for alternatives. I have considered studying law, which could be done at a fraction of the
expense. On examination of this, I have found an avalanche of people who are pursuing this option. I know that if this was the right thing for me to do, the number of people doing so, shouldn’t be an issue. Hence, I’ve stumbled on sites like this one. By going to an off-shore med school and using my BSc degree, I could graduate as a doctor.
The issues I am trying to wrestle with are as follows:
1. I have heard it said that a passion cut down in full bloom, is the one you always long for thereafter, but a passion that has run its course, never has much of a hold on one, thereafter. Parted lovers, are an example of such. I had such a desire to study medicine, and I looked in awe and wonder at doctors and their work. I felt cheated and angry, that I was denied my vocation. Just like a passion that was taken from me, I mourned the life I might have had. Now in ways, I’m glad the passion is gone, because for me to pursue it, it would involve upheavel, debt and uncertainty at 43 yrs of age. However, I feel that, to have that passion, it would be so life enchancing, in spite of the difficulties it would present. Indeed, to have any passion and to be able to pursue it, is the greatest thing in life, and the only thing I envy other people for. I don’t care about their money, their status, etc. Now when I have to visit in a hospital, I no longer like the smell anymore, my curiosity is gone, the people in white coats seem a bit pretentious and full of their own self importance. I only feel sorrow for the human condition, after visits. I want to know, how come the passion seems to have gone? If it were still there, it would be an answer to my situation. Does it happen much to doctors, who once were enthusiastic? The answer surely is of extra importance to older people who are thinking about going down this route. Also, isn’t it true that doctors are a group that are high in the suicide stakes?
2. Do you think that this rush to professions like law and medicine, is a symptom of a malaise in western societies and might it also be indicative of a malaise in ourselves?
Could it be possible, that the inclination to the ‘power’ professions in an individual, might be rooted in low self-esteem? I mean if one could really whack the real world, without the cloak of a profession, one would go ahead and do so. Are our fragile egos at risk from ourselves, without the ‘I am a doctor, don’t you know’ fact, to bandage it together. Haven’t we all overheard the bore that starts a statement, " My son the doctor…’’ . Is there a trace of unhealthy mascochism in the way that we might, or do surrender ourselves to questionable loop jumping to attain such a goal? Can we really remain unhurt after such, and might this contribute to arrogance, territorialism and egoism. After all we’ve been through, we must be better, you couldn’t know better and boy what a man/woman I must be. Might this explain the greed, the political bullying, and anti-competitive practices that doctors indulge in, in most western countries. Of course to the disadvantage of the public, and by proxy their very own patients, that they claim to be most concerned about. In fairness, most doctors do care about their patients, but running alongside, is this darker side to their practice as doctors.
Jobs, like nursing and teaching can’t provide a decent standard of living, particularly in cities, that in the relative recent past were well able to do. What’s our response, we become or think of becoming god dammed lawyers, or maybe even doctors. Or worse, we hot house our kids into such thinking. Our forefathers with their strong women, braved into the west, tamed it, succeeded and produced people of spirit, courage and substance, that are the envy of some people to this day. Don’t mention the native folk, sins may have happened, but my point holds. That’s not taking into account the trials that black Americans and others went through in the past, to achieve rights. Why are we so neutered and all we can do is become lawyers, or doctors?
It’s much harder to get a viable business up and running, relative to our forefather’s time, due to larger capital outlay required, and over regulation, mainly presided over by the legal profession. Our rush to certain professions, may be a symptom of our declining freedom. If we can make it through the pearly gates, maybe everything will be ok? Is society over regulated, and contributing to a leaning towards the professions? I mean I’ve heard about the pre-school children in Japan, who commit suicide because they didn’t make it to the right school.
I’ve read somewhere that a famous person once said that the definition of a profession is a conspiracy against the public? And worse, that the law is the last refuge of the dammed.
I don’t mean to offend anyone and I suppose it’s not ok even if I include myself as a target of a remark, that may be offensive. I am trying to do a devil’s advocate. I’m trying to challenge my motives for considering such a route. I’m not trying to discourage anyone, for it’s own sake. This is a pre- med site, so I guess it’s good to provoke thought about the whole endeavour,
in order to see if it’s the way to go.
You see, my underline feeling about this is that somehow life has been disappointing, and in a way one is dammed, and maybe the law is my home. Which leads to the most dangerous question of all, what if afterall the extra study, one is still not satisfied?
A retired policeman I know is of the opinion, that the only ‘work’ area left that involves any real brotherhood, adventure and fight back is in the criminal realm. Farfetched? Yes, but maybe it serves to mirror the straight jacket junction, we all must find or have found ourselves in. Now, don’t suggest the army, please.
You may say that’s the reality, and your dealing with it. You can’t change things of such a large scale. True, but do you ever feel, there may be something wrong about it all? I mean you can’t just say you want to help people, you can do that eg. by being a care assistant. Surely people must agonise about such an undertaking. I’d love to know, how people did or didn’t resolve these issues, or any other deep issues that one may have encountered, along the way, because I feel it’s important that it be done, early.
I wonder about people, that have considered these options at a later age, but took another route. I guess they are not hanging around here, anymore. It would be great to hear from, or get in touch with them.
OK, you are probably right, you don’t want to be poisoned by my middle-aged cynical ramblings, but forgive me.
You make a lot of thought-provoking points. I don’t know that I’d agree with some of your premises, but I’m not responding to disagree with a few points. Instead, I’ll try to respond to a major question you’ve asked about the motivations of other middle-aged folk in pursuing medicine. So here’s my story.
I was challenged to consider medicine by someone who knew me well and, perhaps, recognized in me things that I did not even realize. I was not one of those folks who spent my twenties and thirties regretting choices not made or roads not taken. But I did get to age 41 with some level of dissatisfaction and, definitely, a sense that I could be doing a lot more with my life than I had accomplished to date.
For me, the suggestion of medical school was an epiphany - within a few days of hearing that it was possible at my advanced age, I was consumed with the nuts and bolts of how to do it. I planned out my course of studies even before I applied to a non-degree program to do my prerequisites. I had timelines sketched out that showed me when I would take the MCAT, when my applications had to be in, when I’d start - all before my first class in general chemistry.
And I did temporarily freak myself out with my enthusiasm! But I couldn’t get the idea out of my mind. Eventually I calmed myself down by realizing that, while I was embracing a wholesale life change, my immediate future consisted of figuring out how to get an A in gen-chem I. I didn’t need to commit to the whole package instantly.
What was my motivation? Well, it is true that I’ve always pursued jobs - paid and otherwise - that had altruistic overtones. For whatever reason, my upbringing, my inner moral code, I dunno, it’s always been important to me that what I do be something that enhances the lives of others. BUT I gotta say that in seizing on the idea of becoming a physician, I realized that I actually had a selfish motivation as well. It’s true that doctoring ‘enhances the lives of others.’ (we hope) But to be honest, I was tired of helping other people in ways that didn’t give me the sort of inner satisfaction that I was looking for. I was tired of working at things I was good at, but didn’t enjoy. I managed and administered and volunteered with non-profits out the wazoo - I was good at administration! but I didn’t care for it much. It may be that I was particularly receptive to the suggestion that I should go to medical school because in my work life, I was thinking, “I should get an MBA,” and kinda cringing at the thought. In hindsight I also recognize that I wasn’t enjoying a lot of intellectual stimulation in what I was doing. Medicine is a fun brain game for me, if you will, while I still have the chance to satisfy altruistic inclinations.
Now, in my pre- pre-med life I was well-known in my field, honored and recognized for my contributions. So my pursuit of medicine has not been because I was looking for recognition or status - I had those things. So if you are saying that you think some folks pursue medicine as a way of attaining status, that may be true for some, but it definitely wasn’t on my mind. (there are easier ways!!!)
In fact, as I write out these thoughts I realize what it is in your theory that I don’t agree with. If I’m understanding you, it sounds like you are attributing a variety of external motivators to those who pursue medicine - with status being a major one. And I guess what I am saying is that it is the INTERNAL motivator, what I want to achieve, to be, for myself, that is most significant. If external recognition was that strong a motivator for me, I would’ve definitely stayed in my old job and worked my way into even more well-recognized work. As a family medicine doc, I’m not likely to ever attain nearly the level of recognition that I used to have, BUT I am going to really get a charge out of what I do.
Do I enjoy the idea of being called “Doctor”? I won’t lie - yes, I do. Do I like the idea that I will be able to speak with authority and be recognized as highly knowledgeable? Yes… not because I want people to oooh and aaaaah over my amazing intellect (not) but because I would like to be able to tell people things that can make a difference in their lives. Can I tell people how to live those lives? No, at least not in a lot of ways. Can I use my specialized knowledge to advise people on SOME ways to live that will definitely make a positive difference? Yes, I can.
So I have had NO regrets. I’ve questioned my sanity for pursuing medicine at this stage in my life (I’ll be 48 when I graduate next year) ONLY when family issues have made life complicated. And when those sorts of things have come up, I’ve quickly realized that such issues would’ve made life complicated no matter what I was doing - being in med school had nothing to do with whatever the issue was.
I have had fun throughout, and I do highly recommend that a major goal for any OPM be to enjoy the ride and have fun along the way. Given that it is sometimes extra-challenging to be an OPM/Old Med Student/Old Intern,Resident,Attending, my own personal philosophy is, “It has to be fun, because otherwise it would be stupid to do this!” So far I am pleased to say that has been my experience.
I disagree with your premise that you cannot make a decent living practicing nursing. Nursing holds many opportunities for those folks who enjoy this profession. The wages are excellent now and there are options like CRNA (Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist) and NP (Nurse Practictioner) that allow you great autonomy of practice and excellent wages. That being said, you have to enjoy nursing which is a very difficult and demanding profession. To those who enjoy this life, nursing is quite rewarding.
For me, I was a college professor, biochemist and registered respiratory therapist, medicine was an intellectually stimulating education. I totally enjoyed medical school and I love general surgery. At this point in my training, I am a second-year resident in General Surgery at the University of Virginia, I can’t say that I agree with you on the “white coat thing”. Most of my colleagues and attendings are folks like me, who just love what they do and love the challenge of helping others through the practice of surgery. My department chairman is the author of Mastery of Cardiothoracic Surgery and is a world renowned cardiac surgeon. He is the author of hundreds of papers and could easily have the “high priest” attitude. He is far from that. He demands a high quality of practice from his fellows and residents but he invites us all for a “fly fishing” picnic every year as we get underway. Even in the OR, he is always a gentleman and tries to give the best instruction as we are all constantly learning.
If you are looking for ego-gratification in medicine, you are going to be sadly disappointed. Every time you encounter a patient that presents with something that falls outside your routine, your ego is going to take a beating. The high-level practice of medicine is demanding, absorbing and very time-consuming. When all of your buddies are at home with families, you are going to be in the hospital taking care of patients. That pager goes off at all times of the day and night. Patients demand that you be available to care for their needs day, evening, night and on holidays. If you think that you can pass them off to your partners, you are sadly mistaken. Your partner may fill in for you occasionally but you lose your patient base pretty quickly if you do the “fill-in” thing too much. Patients want to see their physicians and can be very demanding on your time.
Pursue medicine because you love it and can’t imagine doing anything else. Medicine will not define you as a person and is not an instant ticket to the “country club” life. It is a long and difficult road. In the end, if you love this life, it is quite personally rewarding.
About to be rewarded with all night in the Cardic, Thoracic and Vascular Intensive Care Unit.
I think lots of people in the middle of life pause to look for more meaning. And I think many people join professions for many reasons, some good, some bad. There is no inherent meaning in a profession; a meaningful life can be found in many ways. No professional choice can solve a crisis of meaning or a spiritual or life crisis; however, when you’ve figured out your path, joining one profession or another can be a way of making a contribution to the world.
Cynicism is a luxury and a cop out. Don’t give in to it. Keep digging for what you’re looking for.
One other thought. You’ve gone to some length to describe unattractive characteristics you’ve observed in doctors and note that, given your earlier attraction to medicine as a profession, this is disconcerting.
I wonder if your observations are a sort of defense mechanism. You know that ANY sort of career change in your 40s is a challenge; to change to medicine is especially demanding given the long period of education required, the tough requirements, long hours, substantial debt, etc. etc. etc. (you’ve noted this in rhetorically asking, ‘why not be a lawyer?’)
Some people have weighed the pros and cons and decided that, on second or third or fourth thought, it’s not worth it - it’s more sacrifice than they want to make. Maybe embellishing the unattractive things you’ve observed is your way of making that decision - it’s a way of justifying to yourself that you really don’t want to do this.
In any case, thinking it through, asking questions of yourself and others, and challenging your preconceived notions are all good. Right now it’s hard to tell where you’re likely to end up but that is the point of having the discussion, isn’t it?
I don’t know that heading into a midlife career in medicine is madness. I suppose if you look at the work and cost involved, you might think so. Studies have shown that going back for a college degree in midlife is not financially rewarding unless it is perhaps an MBA. That made me think, but did not stop me from pursuing my dream. As for the supposed status of physicians and seeking it as a career due to low self esteem? For me personally, it is only because my self-esteem has INCREASED since my early 20s that I dared to pursue this goal. You have to have a pretty intact sense of self in order to withstand kids twenty years your junior who seem to glide through classes with A’s, professors who seem to enjoy weeding out students, even pre-med offices with an attitude. I’m sure medical school isn’t any easier on the self-esteem. Constantly crammed with information to the point of overload, clinical rotations where every new patient’s problem strains your already strained brain capacity, with the added burden that you are dealing with a person’s life…you get my drift. I don’t think the white coat, the title or job offer any guarantee of status, self-esteem or money in this HMO driven industry. I chose to go into medicine because I found myself stymied by my current job as an LVN. I also knew from researching and checking with colleagues, that becoming an RN would not offer much more in terms of salary but a load more of responsibility, dealing with administrative concerns, and paperwork. WIth all of that, I would still have not had the autonomy I crave. I think everyone has their own reasons for becoming a physician. Don’t fall into the trap of intellectualizing it to death. Research and knowledge are essential in the decision, but you can second-guess any idea, no matter how good, to death. Good luck in your pursuits.
Many thanks Kathy, for your insights and perspective on med-school for older people. Like you, I also crave autonomy. Indeed, it’s something that I value above all else, as a quality I must have in my work life. For that reason, I have been involved in business ventures in the past. However, due to my own faults or those of others, lack of capital, luck etc. things didn’t work out the way, I had hoped. I wasn’t shooting for the stars, and would have been happy to have had a good middle-class income, doing something, that would also have been in line with my other values. Hence, I’ve been having a dose of the ‘poor-me’s’ , laced with a bit of anger at the general situation for those of us who would like to plow our own furrow, I mean the regulation, capital requirements etc. I suppose if I had pursued medicine or law, I would have achieved a level of autonomy, in time. I just think there is something wrong, if we have to become a doctor or a lawyer, to attain so. After all, we are supposed to live in the free world? I know that’s life, as it is.
‘Don’t fall into the trap of intellectualizing it to death.’
That’s a very important point, thank you Kathy.
I have considered an MBA, but I think all are geared to the corporate world, and to people who will be happy to work there. The only thing of value about an MBA, may be the possible contacts, it could provide. I may be wrong on that, though.
Hello Joe88. I’ve been reading your posts and the replies by the others so I’ve debated whether to respond–mostly because the others summed up how I feel too so there probably isn’t much I could add.
I don’t think questionning what you want out of life is “madness” no matter how old you are. I think sooner or later we all ask ourselves, “Is this what I want to be doing with my life?” particularly as it relates to our professions. We spend so much of our waking hours at work so hopefully we will ask ourselves if we’re happy at work or not. And if we’re not happy, we’ll ask ourselves why and what can we do to change that. For you (and myself and many others), maybe you want to do something meaningful and make an impact on the lives of others, which is why you’re drawn to medicine or the law. Only you can decide what you want to do. I hope you figures things out.
Your thoughts are, how to say it, very thought-provoking. I agree that many people – far too
many people – go into medicine and law because
of the 6 P factors: Professionalism, Pay, Prestige, Privilege, Power, Parents, all in the
hopes that their lifestyle will help fulfill
their (and their parents’) hopes and dreams. Not everyone goes into medicine for the same reasons; unfortunately, it is not easy to separate those
who are go in for Pay and Prestige from those
who really give a damn. Personal statesments and Letters of recommendation are supposed to weed
the less sincere out, but their success rate is
dismal. So those who become doctors include
a great many people who are doing it for some
of the very “negative” reasons you have mentioned above. In fact, in my own unscientific polls, prestige and parents, seem to the major reasons, not money or
power as I had once assumed. But not all doctors
are this way; look at Albert Schweitzer or Paul Farmer. But this type of doctor seems to few
in number, and I’m told the rigors of medical school only reinforces the callousness that so
many doctors exhibit.
Missing from these are the 7th P factor: Passion.
Yet, for most doctors that I know and work with,
their passion has diminished or left years ago under the relentless pressure of patient and
For them, medicine has become just another daily
grind, just another job – albeit one with a hefty
responsibility. I think that if we want
to put the passion back into medicine, we
have to change the nature of the physician-patient
relationship. Doctors need to have less pressure to see so many patients in so little time; they
need to spend more time with their patients. But because of their high salaries, time becomes money for the organizations they work for, so
the pressure to produce and work faster overrides the desire to do good.
For those premeds who try to please their Parents, getting into med school usually solves the issue of parental pressure. The rigors of medical school usually destroys the Prestige and Privilege factors; from what I understand, medical school is very humbling. Rarely do I
hear doctors boasting about their profession, or even saying they are a physician at all in public. In its place, the other P factors
seem to expand: more pay, maintaining professionalism, exercising the “power” to
"heal" (if that is what doctors really do, I
keep wondering.) I think that when the passion leaves, of course, so does the satisfaction. I
believe that what people really want in life is
to feel really good about themselves, about what they
are doing (for whatever reason), and to have
peace of mind above all. What constitutes
peace of mind varies from individual to individual depending on their life circumstances
it may come from pleasing a parent (by going to med school), from getting a high
salary, from knowing that your skills and knowledge
are wanted and needed, from being able to call
the shots, etc.
Yes, I think that people can “whack” the world without a profession; the problem is that, due to legal
restrictions, prejudice (an 8th P factor?), and
cultural bias, it is difficult to succeed in “whacking” without
some form of professional degree. Others are so
brain-washed by the need for a degree in order to be effective, that they won’t take you seriously
without one. I have been
learning this first hand – the hard way. I started thinking
about medicine as a career in the 1980s, but years later fell into a volunteer gig that
gave me allowed me to learn and use a lot of
medical skill without any formal degree (I only had a high school diploma at the time). However,
I am severely limited by what I can and cannot
do; even though I like to think that I am making
some sort of difference in the lives of the
clients I serve (homeless, prostitutes, drug
users, low-income, migrant farm workers, etc.),
after 13 years of continuous volunteering, I
am beginning to doubt if I ever will without
more advanced training and – dare I say it –
more Power and Privilege. I want to be able
to directly assist my clients in making decisions about
their health, instead of spending hours trying
to hook them up with a physician who is willing
only reluctant to do so given their lifestyle and limited resources. And I want the privilege to do so in a broad perspective; unlike being a lay health worker, being a physician is acceptable to a great number of cultures, allowing one to exercise and make meaningful change around the globe rather than just in the two clinics where I volunteer. I am pursuing a medical career because
I am frustrated with the limitations imposed by
lack of knowledge and the legal lack of privilege.
I have still maintained my passion for medicine after all these years, and that is telling enough.
Well, enough of my ramblings.
Some excellent thoughts here, which leads me to some questions of my own…
So many people here stopped in mid-career to switch professions and pursue a lifelong dream. So how do you differentiate between a genuine interest and a midlife crisis? Is the simple fact that medicine has been a lifelong dream enough? Obviously at an advanced age, money becomes secondary, since depending on your speciality, you’ll most likely be paying off the debts for a good portion of the rest of your life.
For me, I find myself going after it because I have a genuine desire to make a difference. Maybe I am altruistic, but I want to go to bed each night and be able to say I’m changing the world in my own way, for the better. Now you may say, these are typically laments of a 20 something youngin fresh in the working world and without a clue. But I guess I never truly lost my drive to reach that goal. I just had to set the bar a little higher. But isn’t that what most of you are doing anyhow? Ignoring your detractors to do something inspite of yourselves?
Einstien said “I hold those in contempt who would march in rank and file” I choose to be unique. I choose to do this because I know it is what I must do. Will there be someone who does it better? Undoubtedly. Will that matter? not a chance. Because it IS like a marathon. And if I finish the race, that is a victory inof itsself.
PS sorry, I guess the rambling bug is contagious…
So many people here stopped in mid-career to switch professions and pursue a lifelong dream. So how do you differentiate between a genuine interest and a midlife crisis?
I agree. That is what is keeping me awake at night. I am 34 with a degree, an MBA, a wife , a baby and a mortgage . How do I know that my desire to become a doctor isn’t just because I find my job dissatisfying? Is it just the job, or is it my whole profession/career? The real kicker is: how do I know that I will be happier as a doctor with all of the associated stress and long hours?
I have just missed the deadlines for the next intake here in Australia, so that gives me plenty of time to make sure. And plenty of time to make sure that my wife is sure as well! I plan to talk with as many people as I can - students, faculty, residents, doctors etc. Sooner or later I guess it will come down to a leap of faith.
Your question is one I ask myself a thousand times a day. When I decided to take this path at 43 years of age, many people, including myself, wondered if I was just suffering a midlife crisis and a lousy job. After quickly developing a “project plan” to get from Banking/IT in a large, dysfunctional corporate environment to medicine, the two unanswered questions were the “financials” and what I have termed the “psychologicals.” Why am I doing this? I am doing this for the right reasons? Am I running towards something I feel I desire or simply away from something I can’t stand? And do I understand and accept the implications of my choice for myself and my family?
My “solution” to this was to follow the process and path that I have laid out: working full time in a stressful job and taking 2 or 3 premed courses at night at a local state college. My theory here is that if I can work full time in my stressful, high-level job, go to school at least half time, get the grades I need, prepare for the MCAT, get in additional volunteering and not give up over the next 2 to 3 years, and still want to go on, then there must be, at my core, a true desire to do this. For me, the pre-med process only costs me some time and relatively little money. I may find that I don’t want to work that hard and give up in a year. Or I may find that the working hard for something I want that matters much more that simply being a high-level glorified clerk in corporate America fulfills and challenges me. Will I be tired and stressed on my path? Yes, but will I be happy and content? Does this hard work attract or repel? For me, it is like being on hard hike/climb in the mountains and trying to reach a certain peak. At some point during the hike, after getting over a partcularly diffcult stretch, I’ll be tired, out of breath, noticing the sun is gone and cold wind is blowing hinting at rain, seeing several more miles uphill and my pack feeling awfully heavy. Yet, I want to go on and reach the top. When of our speakers at the OPM DC 2003 conference said, know the difference being being tired/stressed and unhappy. That difference may be the key.
BTW, after reading one of your posts last week, I happen to hear from an acquaintance who is Australian Doc (resident in orthopedics) in Sydney I believe. We briefly discussed older/non-trads students in his class, and he several 30’s and a 40+ y/o.
Sorry for babbling on…hope it helps
Rich and Greg,
I am in the same boat. I’m in my forties and have contemplated medical school for years. Unfortunately, I could never let go of the security of a salary. Being a captive employee, I have hesitated leaving my comfort zone of benefits and a bi-weekly paycheck. Also, I was worried about subjecting my wife to undue burdens. However, I did take an unprecedented, quantum leap into the medical pursuit. I plan on taking courses at Johns Hopkins via on-line courses.
At first, I thought about JHU’s biotechnology masters; but now, I plan to enter their Bioinformatics program since this is along my skills set (database programmer). I did take the required courses years ago, and I have been given advice to retake all of them. Just like in Rich’s case, I will take my premed courses at night, local college, in addition to finishing the masters. Why? I believe that it is at least another way to distinguish me from others applying to medical school. I have not done much volunteer work, and I am trying to determine a way to fit it in my schedule.
I have not responded much on this site, and I wanted to this time. Although the both of you question your movitation about entering medical school, I sincerely believe that it is overemphasized. You have been professionals in your field for some time, and whether it medical school or some other field, motivation will always be an issue to an extent. At my age, it is the process that counts. By the time I graduate, most of my friends will start to slow down in their careers, and I will just be getting started. No matter what I have done in my life, I have always tried to concentrate on the process, steps and not necesssarily the final goal.
Your question is one I ask myself a thousand times a day. When I decided to take this path at 43 years of age, many people, including myself, wondered if I was just suffering a midlife crisis and a lousy job.
Exactly. On top of that I have a father who was an Ob & Gyn and who committed suicide 3 years ago - so there are additional questions about my motives.
I think that his being an Ob & Gyn pushed me away from it after seeing the ridiculous hours he kept. When I was younger and people asked if I wanted to be a doctor I would exclaim “No way!”, so I think that I psyched myself out of even thinking about it for a long time. It has taken me this long to even recognise that I may actually want to be a doctor.
Why am I doing this? I am doing this for the right reasons? Am I running towards something I feel I desire or simply away from something I can’t stand? And do I understand and accept the implications of my choice for myself and my family?
I also worry that after doing all of that work I won’t be happy as a doctor. SO a lot of ground work needs to go in before starting - talking with doctors, faculty, residents etc to make sure.
My wife is being very supportive, she is the one that made the observation that I have never really enjoyed any of my jobs. I just worry that she may grow to resent the time that study/residency will take me away from the family and the pressures that it will put on her.
For me, it is like being on hard hike/climb in the mountains and trying to reach a certain peak. At some point during the hike, after getting over a partcularly diffcult stretch, I’ll be tired, out of breath, noticing the sun is gone and cold wind is blowing hinting at rain, seeing several more miles uphill and my pack feeling awfully heavy. Yet, I want to go on and reach the top.
I great analogy. That is how I see the effort involved in getting there. I hope I still feel that way halfway up the mountain!
BTW, after reading one of your posts last week, I happen to hear from an acquaintance who is Australian Doc (resident in orthopedics) in Sydney I believe. We briefly discussed older/non-trads students in his class, and he several 30’s and a 40+ y/o.
That’s good to know, thanks. Did he mention how they were coping with additional demands that a family places on them? And the finacial concerns that a family and mortgage bring?
I always had this adventurous streak in almost everything that I did. I loved being a scientist and I love being a surgeon even more. You might say that my whole life has been a series of jobs and careers that I have enjoyed for a time and moved on to more adventures. I was a TV news producer, a fireman for the Republican National Committee (they paid better than the Democrats and I was a hired gun), a Pediatric Critical Care Respiratory Therapist, an Analytical Chemist, a Biochemist/College Professor and now General Surgeon. I have more options every year and have yet to find what I am going to do when I grow up. I am even thinking about doing Trauma Surgery in the inner city (I hate small-town Charlottesville). In short, medicine and surgery has given lots of options and no regrets other than not speaking Spanish very well.
Off to do a case
However, I did take an unprecedented, quantum leap into the medical pursuit. I plan on taking courses at Johns Hopkins via on-line courses…I will take my premed courses at night, local college, in addition to finishing the masters.
There have numerous threads in OPM about online courses, community college course, and alike. You might consider reviewing them and adjust your plans for the pre-reqs. Also, remember that the grades in the undergrad pre-req courses must take priority over your masters work.
…volunteer work, and I am trying to determine a way to fit it in my schedule.
Volunteer work in a patient care/clinical setting is basically a requirement for med school. Gotta make sure that it is your plan.
… you question your movitation about entering medical school, I sincerely believe that it is overemphasized. You have been professionals in your field for some time, and whether it medical school or some other field, motivation will always be an issue to an extent. At my age, it is the process that counts. By the time I graduate, most of my friends will start to slow down in their careers, and I will just be getting started. No matter what I have done in my life, I have always tried to concentrate on the process, steps and not necesssarily the final goal.
I’ll agree with that to a point. I think it is important to know your motivation enough to make this distinction: are you running away from something or towards something? If you are running away, then medicine may not be the best place. However, if you are running towards, though you can’t really say why other than it feels right, then follow the process or path. You’ll know if you have made the right decision along the way, even if you don’t understand the reasoning behind it.
“And if I am true to this glorious quest,
them my heart may life peaceful and calm,
when I am laid to my rest”
Sung by Don Quixote in “The Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha
Many thanks to all of you for your thoughts. It’s been most helpful.
Forgive me, but I may be babbling again. A lot of folk have mentioned about the
difficulties with regard to the pursuit of medicine, particularily for older folk. I’m
going to make a suggestion that some may regard as heresy ie that it’s not such a hard
option, afterall. I mean everything is relative, one must take into account the
cost to oneself, if one continues on their present unfulfilling path
and more importantly to the cost that would be required
in order to reach a different goal, that may or may not in fact offer more fulfilment.
the med school option: You already know there is and will be a scarcity of doctors, and how well they are paid. I’ve seen an analysis of loan repayment on
another website, the payback of which is quite attainable. The point being, provided
you stay healthy, there is certainty. Once you have reached 40, you know that
4 yrs is a short time.You jump through the academic loops to qualify as a doctor.
A lot of study, a lot of which will be boring detail. As for will you be satisfied, again
its all subjective to where you would be if were to continue on your present path.
I guess it shouldn’t be be hard for the individual to weigh this up, beforehand. There is
a predefined path laid out for you, and a clear defined vision of yourself at the end
of all this. It’s new to you, you have a freshness with regard to being a doctor, whilst
many others of your age may have by then, grown stale. You have many other older
students to bond with and to support, and be supported by ie. new friends. You get a chance
to be a student again, all be it a more mature one this time. (blush here) Now, lets
consider other possible options, that one might consider. One takes one’s prior career
experience and perhaps takes on a new course that’s probably not quite as long as med. If for
whatever reasons you are attracted to a particular job, that you might consider working towards,
chances are many others are also attracted to it, too. One has to cultivate contacts etc. I’m
making a point with regard to the uncertainty of it all. If one is really brave and one decides
you want to build a business/lifestyle around your needs etc. then you are probably
heading for a long period of uncertainty, risking your capital, reputation etc. Also, there
is no road map, many dead-end roads, time and money lost, maybe. The analogy of a
mountain climb has been used for the endeavour of medical study, except here one
has to find the mountain, or maybe one has to build the mountain, oneself. One probably
has to learn lessons the hard way, make-up one’s own course of study and live with the
isolation as opposed to a class of students situation. Most importantly, one may have to
live with failure, after it all.
Now I come to my heresy statement no. 2: It’s not about helping others, it’s about helping
me. If you aren’t the doctor attending the patient, it’s another doctor. Hence, whether you are a
doctor or not, it’s not going to make a bit of difference to future patients, unless you think you
are going to be more competent than the average doctor. The only exception being the situation
outside of work, where your skills could save a life, that otherwise would be lost. Medical
services are decided by policy, and we know how little in general, they concern most politicans
we elect Another point, just because one is motivated by some or all of the 6 P’s, doesn’t mean
that one wouldn’t be a very effective doctor. Indeed, if one is honest, it follows from above that
one’s motivation almost has to lie in the ‘negative’. ‘NJBMB’ emphasises through her own
background and maybe her experience of working with other doctors, the importance of
approaching the study of medicine with a prior record of career fulfilment . I guess she might
be sending out a subtle warning here, that’s very credible.
As of now, I stick with my original contention, that I feel so neutered, powerless, enslaved,
that I would consider joining the rush to the ‘power’
professions. I shudder when I hear any of our ‘great’ leaders going on about ‘freedom loving people’.
Whos freedom, I ask. Of course, we can try to play our own drum in spite of all,
which is what I intend to do, find or make my own mountain. That’s my plan for now.
Many thanks again for your opinions, ‘babblings’ or whatever. Keep them coming, they have been most helpful. One thing I would regret about not pursuing the med option, is your company along the way.
On your comment about making a difference. It’s all based on perspective. You could also say that one day you may be in the right place and right time to save the life of someone who otherwise would have died. What if you ARE that person in public who comes across a heart attack victim, or a siezuring person, and you’re the only one who knows what to do? What if you are in that same sitation in 10 years, and you don’t pursue medicine? And what if that person dies? Will you think to yourself later “if only I’d gone down that path, I could have helped him”? We can spend all day on the “what ifs”. The only regret is the path not travelled. Certainly there are people in this industry who just want a paycheck and a membership to a country club. But not everyone is, and weather or not you are, is completely up to you. Life is what you make up it. You can be an excellent doctor in spite of everyone else. No one defines who you are except yourself. So if you see these negative perceptions of medicine, and balk at them, then defy the stereotype. BE a compassionate, driven doctor who puts his patients needs before his own. These negative things do not define medicine. They are only a definition of the person who practices them.
I guess the bottom line is that you’re concerns are with medicine redefining you as something you don’t want to become. but medicine won’t define you ultimately. Only you can do that.
As far as making a difference. What I’ve learned is this. Don’t look at the big picture. Too many people see that and go “In the grand scheme of things nothing I do will change the world”. But they are wrong. You change the world every day in imperceptable ways comapared to the big picture. Don’t look at the big picture. Small steps. If you go in, and you sucessfully diagnose one patient a day, and are able to help her, then you’ve made a difference in that person’s life. over a period of 20 years, averaging 1 life saved per day- how many lives will you have saved, when you’d otherwise just be toiling along in the coporate world. That is how I choose to look at it. You have to decide for yourself what to see.
I confess, Joe, that I think I got the essence of what you’re saying but my eyes did glaze over at points so if my reply is off-target, it’s my fault… okay, those two main points of yours.
1. “it’s not that hard.” Your point is, staying in a current job that you hate might be worse. Yup, I agree. And actually I agree that it’s not THAT hard in general. I continue to be frankly a bit baffled by my many friends who oooh and aaaaah over my accomplishment. I do not think it is as big a deal as they do. I have done lots of hard things in my life and this is just one more. I will say that I think it has been harder on my husband than I have appreciated or realized, and he is racking up points for sainthood as we continue this adventure.
BUT. There are some things about a career switch to medicine at mid-life that really flummox some people. The transition to peon student, low man on the totem pole, taking orders from people much younger than you, is an experience that some OPMs find extremely difficult. I have encountered some (not many) mid/late-20s residents whose people skills and ability to lead a team of people were quite poor, actually. These people, for better or for worse, are your teachers in the clinical years of medical school. That can be very hard.
Another adjustment that is very hard for some OPMs: the money switch. It isn’t ONLY the four years of medical school and mounting debt. It’s the next three years (minimum) of residency where you will be paid less than $40,000 per year to work harder than you likely ever worked in your previous career. (and sometimes the work will NOT be meaningful, although at other times it will be amazingly rewarding)
Going along with being low man on the totem pole is the feeling of powerlessness that is part of being a medical student. In my first two years of medical school, I chafed more or less constantly at stupid things done/not done by the dean’s office. Despite the fact that OPMs are a growing presence at most med schools, administratively med schools are still set up for the 22 year olds who have no outside responsibilities, who live in dorms next to the school or a block away. Things like announcing mandatory meetings with less than one week’s notice were soooo tiresome and frequent. in third year, you get to do a lot of cool stuff, and you learn a ton, but there are definitely times when you feel like you are just the warm body who can collect the vital signs and lab values and you really are dog meat as far as anyone else is concerned. When you’ve had a real responsible job in the outside world, this is an odd experience to say the least.
2. “I’m doing it for me, not to help people.” I totally agree with you on this one! As I went through my pre-med preparation, I worked hard to try and come up with a politically correct way to say this, because it sounds terribly selfish and obviously it isn’t what people are used to hearing. What I eventually realized is that, in fact, I’ve done a variety of civic-minded things throughout my life. Some of them were more or less personally satisfying. Medicine is the first thing that has given me such a great degree of intellectual satisfaction in addition to the personal satisfaction of helping other people. Sure, someone else could be doing this job. My satisfaction is that I am doing it, and will do it well.
As far as making a difference. What I’ve learned is this. Don’t look at the big picture. Too many people see that and go “In the grand scheme of things nothing I do will change the world”. But they are wrong. You change the world every day in imperceptable ways comapared to the big picture. Don’t look at the big picture. Small steps.
Right on! It reminds me of a quote that I enjoy:
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
– Margaret Mead