Postdoc contemplating medschool

This is rather long, so I apologize, thanks in advance to anyone who reads and offers input.

I am a 30 year old postdoc at NIH, a year and a few months into my fellowship. My postdoc is going pretty well so far, but still I’m constantly thinking about what I want to do with my next step. My wife is really pushing for me to go to medschool, and do it sooner rather than later. I’m starting to think more seriously about it. The main arguments to do it are:

1.) I’m smart enough (or so I’m told) for it and it seems like a waste for me to not go into it and directly help people.

2.) I can still be a scientist as an MD.

3.) The employment and financial outlook for a MD is better than that of PhD scientist. This of course gives us a lot more security long-term.

I’m taking these considerations seriously, and I think I would enjoy being an oncologist (I work in cancer biology now, but more on the basic biochemistry side of things), however I have some reservations, in no particular order:

1.) I currently enjoy my work, and am doing well in the lab. I am close to a potential high impact publication, as well as some smaller publications. I feel like I am putting myself in a good position to advance within NIH or go to industry, but only time will tell if that pans out over the next couple of years. In other words, I am generally satisfied with my career path right now, aside from the low compensation of postdocs.

2.) Going to medschool would require dropping my postdoc, and any progress I’ve made thus far. If medschool doesn’t work out, I could probably find another postdoc fellowship or alternative science job, but would be starting from scratch in terms of establishing myself. I’m worried about throwing away my career.

3.) As a practical matter, we just purchased a home, and I’m concerned about taking on another 200-300K in student loan debt on top of the mortgage. I’m especially worried since my postdoc income is what pays for the majority of our expenses. I understand that those loans can include living expenses (e.g. I could borrow enough to keep paying the mortgage), but I still worry about staying afloat through medschool and repaying loans once I’m out.

4.) I’m afraid of killing someone. I can sleep at night if a mouse dies because I screwed up in lab, I don’t know how I’d handle a patient dying because of my mistake.

Are these concerns reasonable or am I worrying too much?

Right now I feel very torn, and am feeling a lot of pressure, and this isn’t a decision I can take lightly. I love research and I’m reluctant to throw out or slow down my scientific career, but does this make me selfish? I’d love the opportunity to directly help patients, but I also love being on the cutting edge of drug development like I am now. This would be much easier if I was unhappy or struggling in research, but I’m not.

Are there any former postdocs/current med students who have wrestled with these or similar issues? Do you feel like your PhD and/or postdoc training put you in a good position to apply and succeed in medschool? Are you glad you made the change?

Thank again to anyone who read throught this rant, I appreciate any input.

As a typical scientist you is waaay to specific. I don’t think there are many people who fit your qualifications to answer your questions. I will try since I worked at the Navy’s Research Center for the past 16 years…not as a scientist however.

My former boss dropped out of med school to pursue his PhD and he would always tell me it was the biggest mistake he ever made. He sits along MD’s who make almost twice his salary and yet do not produce twice the work. The MD carries more weight, financially. Academically that’s another story but the bottom line is you will earn more as the MD and have much greater latitude.

Your concerns about money are understandable. Perhaps you could look into your chances at USUHS under the NIAID track or Indian Health. This way you earn a salary while you attend medical school.

Killing a patient? That one you will have to work out on your own. I will say that you are not thrown into medicine at the stage that you will kill anyone.

Finally my recommendation, from years of working with physicians and scientist is to become a physician/scientist. Go for the MD or DO…yes there are DO’s who do research. =} Go for it. It is definitely expensive but you have much more opportunities to make the money if you’re willing to work and flexible in where you live.

Welcome to OPM!

I fully agree with the previous poster who suggested that you can do BOTH medicine and research, if that’s what you want to do. That is what I plan to do (my goal is to pursue a dual MD/PhD and then go into academic medicine).

Keep us posted on your progress, and your decision making, and don’t be afraid to ask whatever is on your mind. We’re all in this together.

I have a PhD in biological science and applied this cycle. I have gained a couple acceptances so far. Applying to med school with a PhD does help, for example, as one interviewer told me, you have an initial behind your name, you have proven yourself. The question remains to be if you like working with patients. Money should not be a real consideration for older premeds, because you can actually make pretty well as a scientist or a medical science liaison at a pharma company. After I graduated from my PhD program, I did not even bother to start my postdoc training. I realized that I preferred to work in a clinical setting and found a job which allowed me to work directly with patients. And believe me, it is completely different from working in a lab.

Good luck to you. I am sure you will be successful in whatever paths you choose.

smitity -

Hi, Welcome!!

Regarding borrowing for living expenses. Generally you are eligible to borrow up to what the school has calculated as average living expenses. No allowance for if you have a stay at home wife and 3 kids, or a mortgage. For my school it’s about $23,000/yr. We’re required to carry health insurance which is counted in that. Now if you have extraordinary circumstances (unusual medical expenses, 3 kids, etc) the financial aid office can recalculate your needed living expenses which will then qualify you for additional borrowing. Still unlikely to cover a mortgage.

I used a home equity loan to get thru post-bac for living expenses and some tuition, then planned to sell the house but the housing market collapse coincided with me finishing my post-bac. 3 yrs later, still own house, presently renting it out for about $110/mo less than I have to pay each month in mortg +home equity loan but at least it is not sucking down huge quantities of money.

Just to answer that one question.


Thanks for all the advice and input, it was really helpful. After some consideration, I’ve decided to go for it and start with taking the MCAT. My plan is to study for the exam, take the exam, and if I bomb, I still have a good career as a scientist ahead of me. If I do well, I’ll take the plunge and apply, consequences to my current postdoc be damned.

Thanks again for your help, I’ll be posting more, particularly in the MCAT forum!