? Re: Med School And Chronic Pain/Illness

Hi! I’m new here. I’ve been hanging around the pre-med area, of course, but I have a question that could better be answered by med students.

Long story short: my heart’s desire is to practice medicine. Husband is on board; I know it’s not too late if I start taking prereqs at 42. (I’ll soon be 41, and we may be moving. I have some prep work to do prior to starting school, so 42.)

The one thing that’s been holding me back is that I have long-term Lyme Disease. I’ve been managing it well, but I have severe, widespread chronic pain that I haven’t been able to manage (yet, anyway), and I do have arthritis.

I’m tenacious and resilient. I just don’t know if I could endure. The thing is, if med school were cheap, I could try it. If I couldn’t manage, I could easily withdraw. However, since it’s not, I couldn’t afford to try and possibly fail.

I also have multiple chemical sensitivities. I know you marinate in formaldehyde in anatomy. I don’t know if wearing the right mask would help, and I’d worry about looking dopey. Of course, my health is paramount.

I don’t even know if I’d be accepted to med school. If I didn’t mention these issues, and then had problems, well, wouldn’t that be frowned upon?

It’s not like I have a disability that could be managed with an intervention, per se. So many meds have failed me.

My PCP doesn’t think I could do this. In the end, though, only I can know for sure. But I’ve agonized over this for some years.

Thank you for any help you can provide.


I moved this from the med-students forum because it was getting no replies, and it has been almost a week. I don’t know how to edit after moving!

I figured those in practice may be of more help. I know that, ultimately, I must follow my heart. Still, I’d appreciate any input.

Thanks so much!


A young woman in the class below me has lupus, but I don’t know of anyone in my own class who is managing chronic illness. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t anyone, just that I don’t know about it. I do worry that if your pain is uncontrolled you will have difficulty concentrating as much as you need to. Pain takes so much out of you. But I don’t have direct experience to give you the advice that you need. We are a small group, so we may not have many members who have the experience to give you the background you need.

But welcome and hang in there!

Star, I don’t recall your own personal story about what you will need to do prior to getting into med school… but if you are going to need to do a year or two of prerequisites, my advice to you would be to see how that goes and continue to consider your options as you take classes.

If you found yourself unable to handle a full undergrad schedule, for example, then yes, I’d say that med school would just beat you down too much. OTOH you might find the enjoyment and exhilaration of school a powerful pain reliever, who knows?


Thank you both so much for your wisdom.

I want this with all my heart. I will plan to go forward. I can’t take a full class load. I literally can’t because all I need are the science and math classes, and they have to be taken in sequence, of course. I’ll be making up a math deficit, so my first year, I would only have Bio and math classes. With federal aid, you can’t take enrichment classes, just what’s required. That means no post-bac, also. I have to matriculate, even if I drop out before getting a degree.

I know I would need to get clinical/volunteer experience, so I’d be sure to add that in, and I’m trying to get part-time work right now so we can survive financially. I guess that if I can’t manage eight credits, a couple of volunteer gigs, and a part-time job, not to mention chores, med school would be too much.

I did wonder if the pure enjoyment of learning wouldn’t at least take the edge off. I mean, I live with this no matter what. Why not do what I would enjoy? I just don’t know about that stamina.

I just found out that I never got rid of one of the co-infections that came with my Lyme. (It kicked up after I got a brown recluse spider bite and developed cellulitis.) It’s good I found out. I hope to clear this up before school. This may be a big part of the problem. I’m having such a Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction from the die off. I feel like utter death. I have to back down from the treatment. Anyway, feeling like this brings up such despair. I wonder if I’ll ever have any career. Usually, though, it’s the pain alone that is the real problem.

I’d be so sad if I couldn’t do this. Life would go on, of course, and I’d figure out something I could do (like maybe apply to a PA program).

For now, I will just work on healing and plan to enter school next fall for premed. Maybe I don’t have to think too far ahead. My husband compares me to someone who wants to write the last chapter of a book before the beginning. That’s me, all right!

I have a chronic neck, back, and headache pain all confined my left side. I partly returned to medicine because of the issues it raised in me. I also followed a plan that Mary alluded to. That is, I made a deliberate slow build up in postbacc to see if I could handle a year of full time course work while also working. In comparison to the many years of work and the large amount of debts that the entire journey being a doctor comprises, a couple of years, mostly part time, and relatively little money, a postbacc is nearly risk free. I would rather find out now that I really can’t handle the work load. Frankly, I am still deciding but until I get a letter of acceptance in my hand, it is all hypothetical. I really don’t have to decide until that point. In the meanwhile, I will work my damnest to get there.

I’m sorry you’re suffering, Richard.

I appreciate your thoughts on this. You’re right; it is all hypothetical at this point. I get so ahead of myself. I’m more than a bit high strung this way.

I keep reminding myself that I just need to take the next right step.

I, too, will give this my all. If in the end, I can’t do it, so be it, but I would go down fighting.

If we can keep the house (that’s another issue altogether), I would go to the “local” state school. It’s my only option here. It looks like they improved their program.

I have both a chronic pain disorder and general arthritis, neither made easier by the fact that I work 40+ hours a week and also go to school full-time. As in your case, meds have not helped. Currently being tested for MS (which will certain cancel my med plans).

Granted, I do not have family obligations, so it makes a bit easier (time-wise anyway) to manage all of this as I only have to “answer to myself.”

I agree with you and the other posters - give it everything you have. If you go down, do so kicking and screaming. Either way, it’s been one wonderful adventure.

I think you can do this!

There have been several members with chronic conditions as significant or potentially significant as yours. Do not let the diagnosis of a condition stop you but only the actual effect of it. In other word, for example, if you were to be diagnosised with MS, don’t let that label in and of itself stop you. you may function near normal and at the same level for the rest of your life.

  • Brigit Said:
.... meds have not helped. Currently being tested for MS (which will certain cancel my med plans).

I have MS. If you get that diagnosis, please don't make ANY assumptions about what you will or will not be able to do!

I was evaluated for MS at one time as I had various symptoms. One cause of MS is Lyme. While it’s only one cause, I suggest to anyone who has this diagnosis that they have a consult with a Lyme-literate doctor. Lyme Disease Association and Lymenet.org have good referrals. It’s not just in the Northeast, and it’s not just in America, either. Antarctica is the only continent where it hasn’t been found.

This has been my public service announcement!

As far as effects: I have symptoms in every system, but the most troubling for school/work is the severe pain and stiffness. (Right now, I’m having treatments for a co-infection that’s malaria-like. That’s not so pleasant, but I can even work through that.) I think I can manage. I hope to have some relief before school starts.

I’m sorry, Brigit, that you have found no relief from pain as well.

I’ve tried different classes of drugs, and nothing works. I’m working with Ultram now. I have to titrate very slowly as I’m very sensitive to the effects of drugs. I’m still not at a therapeutic dose, but I’m close. I hope this will do the trick. I want to do some trigger-point massage, too. I found a great book for self-massage.

You are an inspiration, Mary, and you’re always so helpful to us here.


Wow, I knew this was a wonderful forum (been lurking awhile!) but this thread really proves what inspirational stories everyone carries with them.

I wish everyone here the best, with whatever chronic issues they might be dealing with. Keep us all posted if it’s not too personal…I’d love to know how everyone is doing.

Best wishes,


Brigit: Keep us informed about how you are doing, too!

I’m glad folks have responded. We all know we’re not alone now; we can be of support to each other.

All the best, Star

I’ll throw something else into the mix.

I have an alpha-delta sleep anomaly. I seem to constantly have alpha waves intruding during delta sleep. Therefore, I awaken unrefreshed, to say the least. (I’ve had two sleep studies.)

It’s probably due to the pain. That may be why nothing has helped me sleep better, and I’ve tried so many things!

On one hand, it may help me in med school. If I don’t get much sleep anyway, will it make much of a difference?! On the other hand, it may be harder for me to function adequately when studying keeps me up late, and when I have call. I would have to stop any sleep aids that help me at least a tiny bit.

I wonder if, in the end, it’s the sleep that does me in.

Do you have any recommendations concerning keeping my self awake during my “experiment”, or setting my alarm for every hour, or few minutes, to approximate the disturbance during call?

I’m so sad. This is all I want to do, and I have considered, if not tried, many things. I want to make this work, but not to great detriment. My PCP said med school is “psychological torture.” I wonder just how much physical torture is involved.

Well, most people report they don’t get ANY sleep on call in the hospital (they may get some on home call, but that’s more unusual for med students). I’d say continue to pursue every possible avenue for pain relief and see if you can get that under control, and if your sleep subsequently improves.

I have chronic insomnia myself and it is hard, because the insomnia often saps your sleep when you need to focus most. It hasn’t killed me yet, but it isn’t always very much fun.

Thanks, Denise!

I’m sorry you suffer from insomnia. I have trouble staying asleep, so I have that form.

Well, if you can do it, I suppose I can, too!

I have to increase my pain medicine soon. So far, it’s not doing much. I’ll do whatever I can to reduce that pain. It would be so much easier for me to endure without it, and my sleep probably would improve.

Heh, we’re all so alike, hehehe.

I also suffer from insomnia - my problem is getting asleep. If I’m not asleep by 1AM, I know it’ll be 3AM before I can even think about sleeping. I too wonder if some of my issues wouldn’t resolve a little bit (pain, tingling, numbness, etc.) if I got good quality sleep.

On a few occasions, my body just throws up its proverbial hands and I drop over asleep, totally dead to the world. Thankfully, usually only on weekends

I too worry about med school (if I get in that is) and how the constant and expected lack of sleep will hinder me - in our cases, those who have chronic issues…is it going to exacerbate whatever it is we’ve got going on? I guess only time will tell.

I figure, really, it can’t get much worse than it already is! Or maybe I have no idea what’s in store for us

Luck to all,


If anyone wonders whether or not certain physical/health conditions can limit your ability to attend and beat medical school… you should watch this:


It’s an amazing story… it made all of my problems seem trivial and pointless after I watched this.

That was inspirational! She’s a trouper.

I wish I knew, though, if I could manage with such severe, widespread, unremitting pain and the sleep issue. It’s certainly not trivial and pointless.

Sometimes, people think that those with invisible illness are perfectly fine. It’s just as disabling as more obvious disability, just in different ways.

you can get through medical school and training you just need to do a lot of research to find the right programs. I know a doctor with severe chemical sensitivities and had no problem in anatomy lab (UNECOM - Maine) is well ventilated but he couldn’t do pathology rotation. He also due to other medical problems handle the schedule at Dartmouth but he could handle it at a community hospital. I found an internship where I could sleep at least 6.5 hours every night, they exist. Don’t mention your problems just ask students and residents (preferably older students).