Why the career switch?

Hello all,

I’ve been lurking for a few weeks and have tried to find a similar thread to no avail. I have been reading about a lot of OPM career-changers and their struggles to complete prereqs and study for the MCAT while working and maintaining a family life. These are great and relevant topics for me but there has been something missing that I’m curious about.

Why are you making the switch in the first place?

I’ll start.

To being with, I’m not sure I will make the switch (though I’m clearly thinking hard about it). I am a 30-year old attorney and have been practicing for almost two years. I went to a (lower) top-tier law school at a university that also has an excellent medical school. I was a Music major as an undergrad and have not taken any of the med school prereqs.

I put myself through undergrad by running a group home for children with disabilities. I did that for seven years and LOVED it. If there was any money in it I would happily work there for the rest of my life. As it was, after seven years I was earning $10/hour. I knew I wanted to get married and have a family and that would not cut it.

I started looking around for a better option. My first thought was medical school because I love helping people. My kids at the group home were very low-functioning and could not talk or take care of themselves in any way so a lot of what I did in taking care of them was at a very basic level. Sometimes things got a little bit messy (one of my girls had Crohn’s disease–use your imagination) but I know I went home every night thinking I had the best job in the world.

The only doctor I know personally is my uncle. At a family Christmas party I approached him and said, “Uncle Fred, I’m thinking about going to medical school. Can I talk–” He interrupted me, “Don’t.” I was stunned. “Really?” I asked. “Really,” he said. “Don’t.”

And so I gave it up. In hindsight, I was wrong to give it up so easily and should have sought out a second and third and twentieth opinion. But I didn’t. Instead I thought, ‘Law school is a respectable option. What about that?’ I met with an attorney in my neighborhood who practiced disability law. He told me, “I don’t make a lot of money and I don’t have a fancy car but I live in a nice neighborhood, I work thirty hours a week, and I spend tons of time with my kids.”

I went to law school and found out:

  1. Disability law is BORING. I wanted to stand up for the little guy but those cases just don’t exist. What the job really entails is helping people get their government benefits. Important? Sure. But boring.

  2. The legal job market is terrible.

    So here I am working in a small general practice firm with a TON of student loan debt (completely different subject) making little money. I sometimes really hate my job and I rarely love it. Most of my clients I don’t really care about. Most of them try to stiff me on their bills and I don’t think any of them respect the work I do.

    In short, I am not serving people in the way I would like and I no longer go home thinking I have the best job in the world. Most days I go home and read OPM threads because I think I made a huge mistake.

    I know this has been a bit of a ramble but the reason I am thinking about making the switch is that I would like to have a job (1) where I can serve people at a very basic level (2) that is generally well-respected, and (3) that pays well.

    I think medicine may be a good fit.

    What about you?

I’m sure others who have gone through the switch will weigh in here and give you info as to how they came to their decisions. But I thought I’d also offer some insight since I’ve advised hundreds and hundreds of career-changer post-bac students for the past 20 years. The first thing you should do is test your impulse to pursue a career in medicine. Get some experience. You need to take the time (at least several months) to figure out whether it’s worth making the significant investment in time and money to go to med school. The only way you can do that is by getting inside a hospital, working alongside doctors and patients. Only then will you know whether or not it’s the right thing for you to do. If getting experience confirms it, then the rest will fall into place (how/where to fulfill your science prereqs, etc.)



I can honestly say that my desire to become a physician has absolutely NOTHING to do with income, or student loan debt. Actually, everything I have done in my education and career has NOTHING to do with income or student loan debt. All I know is that from the moment I was exposed to the field of helping others in 1981, my whole path, and journey has been towards how to help better, and more. Supposedly 18 years as a social worker should have been fulfilling enough, but there is still ways I want to help my clients/patients, that I cannot do within the limits of my credential. In order to be able to TRULY help them in EVERY possible way, I need to be a doctor. Who knows??? Maybe once I am a physician, I will find some certain way that my patients need help that will require even more training and experience. I just know that every time I have reached a level that I thought “Ahh, yes, this is it!”, that another level has been revealed to me. The desire to Truly and deeply assist others is my motivation. Money? Loans? Of no consequence…a way has always been provided.

vicki - one thing you said really resonated with me - " but there is still ways I want to help my clients/patients, that I cannot do within the limits of my credential"

Yup. It’s why CNM no longer “cut it” for me


Thanks, Liza. I purposely haven’t gone into detail about what I am doing to clarify whether this is the right path for me. It is clearly a huge decision and I plan to spend quite a lot of time talking to as many people as possible (something I didn’t do before going to law school) before making the leap.

Good thinking, swalsh–you’re on the right track to figuring out whether you want to make the big switch. Do more than just talk, though. Be sure to get inside a hospital and SEE and DO (well, within your limited capacity since you don’t have real medical skills to offer at this point–nor would anyone expect you to). Soak up the environment and spend the time necessary to really figure out whether you want to pursue a career in medicine.

Good luck with your decision!



  • swalsh Said:
I've been lurking for a few weeks and have tried to find a similar thread to no avail. I have been reading about a lot of OPM career-changers and their struggles to complete prereqs and study for the MCAT while working and maintaining a family life. These are great and relevant topics for me but there has been something missing that I'm curious about.

Why are you making the switch in the first place?

I wanted to be a doctor for quite a long time. My motivation was always the humanitarian, and I'm also bisexual and transgendered. Coming to terms with my identity is something that took years to do and today I'm in a pretty good place with them. My gender identity has spurred me to want to work specifically with women, so I'm specifically targeting a few areas of potential specialization: gynecology and maternal-fetal medicine are my two big interests. I have a worldview that life has meaning and isn't just a long set of coincidences. I want to be a doctor more than I know how to articulate, and all the things that have happened in my life that reaffirm this is what I need to be I can't believe to be accidental.

When I finished undergrad, I wasn't ready for medical school. Prereqs weren't done, MCATs weren't taken (nor was I in any way prepared for them), ECs were wanting, no shadowing, limited volunteer work, and a poor GPA. I went into teaching and hated every single moment of it, despite many mentors who felt I had the makings of a great teacher. I left teaching after one year and never looked back. I learned one important lesson: that being in a career I'm not happy with will make me completely miserable. It's funny to type that. There's a cognitive dissonance inherent to it. On one hand, it reads like a reflexive statement that any genius or idiot should be able to understand intuitively. But it was something I only truly realized until I'd suffered a year of intellectual torture. I belong in medicine. My purpose is to be in medicine, and to pursue that goal until I'm there.

So far things are working. Frankly, if anyone with my exact starting credentials came to this board asking what to do, my answer would be simple: have incredible luck. I've made some decisions and taken some risks in my pathway to medical school so far that would have screwed up my life royally if they didn't pan out. I've taken risks that I'd dissuade anyone else from taken. But with tons of hard work and incredible fortune, they're panning out. I'm just about to finish an MS, and I've been admitted to a kickass PhD program. After that, I shift to completing my prerequisites.

I didn't choose to change careers and pursue medical school. I chose to listen to what the universe was telling me. And doing so seems to have worked out pretty well so far. I won't say it's been smooth; in fact, there have been tons of moments of doubt, nervousness, and wanting to slap myself for even trying this unlikely-to-succeed-by-mo st-rational-assessments path. But I've stuck to my guns. Safe is death. Compromise is misery. Happiness is setting your sights on what you want most and doing everything it takes to get it. I did the math at the beginning of all this and found that it would probably take about 10-12 years (depending on a few things) to get an acceptance letter. Despite the challenges, I'm at year 3 and things are working out. Seven more to go.

  • swalsh Said:
The only doctor I know personally is my uncle. At a family Christmas party I approached him and said, "Uncle Fred, I'm thinking about going to medical school. Can I talk--" He interrupted me, "Don't." I was stunned. "Really?" I asked. "Really," he said. "Don't."

This is cynicism that pervades people in many fields that have significant drawbacks. I have an uncle who is a world-renowned surgeon. He went to a top-notch medical school and has performed major surgeries on athletes whose names are household words among non-sports fans. He's on review boards for two journals, is a full professor at a well-known medical school, has a long list of publications, so on and so forth. Once I had a talk to him about medical school when I was in high school that was more or less identical to the one you quoted. I pushed him a bit about why and got what sounded like a bullshit answer then, and still does now: "I pay more in medical malpractice insurance than most people make in a decade. The way the industry is going, you'll never make any money. Just be an electrician instead." I'll note that at the time he said this, his annual take home pay was about 5x what my parents (teachers at the top of their salary guides) made. That's both my parents combined.

Cynicism does bad things to good people. You need to learn to recognize it and stay the fuck away from it. Breaking a person down is easy. Building them up is hard. Taking counsel from people who break you down rather than build you up will never be productive.

Hi Colleague,

I too am an attorney but have been practicing quite a bit longer than you. I concur with several of your statements about the clients as well as practice in general. I have been in private practice from day one and 18 years later am still in “p.p.” and am burned out on it. After various trips overseas to various countries doing Oil and Gas work, I felt helpless after seeing children and adults with injuries and possibly preventable illnesses and deficiencies because of lack of good or any medical care. The poverty is sometimes unbelievable. The most compelling, and a situation that occurred that I will forever remember is when a young man of about 21 years of age, approached me at the hotel that we were staying, and asked if we could give him a job. The young man’s left arm had been severed from the shoulder and he appeared to try and hide it. I was overcome with compassion and eventually asked him how he had lost his arm. He said that when he was four years old, his mom could not feed he and his brother and made the, more than likely, painful decision to throw one of them in front of a car for a seemingly accidental death so that the rest of the family could survive. After pushing him, she suddenly had a change of heart, but not before his arm was severed. I was beside myself and openly cried for this man. We did what we could for this man while we were there, but this is but one of the stories and situations that have compelled me to enter into medicine. If it were just about money, we are really in a profession in the law that could take us to so many levels financially. Doesn’t matter how many of us there are, I am convinced. But there has to be more. I am not sure but a strong “WHY” and good mentors should help a lot. I hope that my mind does not change from wanting to go to such areas of the US or other parts of the world and serve with skills that can really make a difference in someone’s life.

I totally agree “here” “here”. I also want to believe that there are people who genuinely decide to pursue a profession for more reasons than money. Cut through the crap. Sometimes people have egos and want to stay the Big Chief as you continue to look up to he or she.

What an amazing story. Thank you for sharing. I agree that a strong “why” will be absolutely necessary and am still trying to formulate my feelings into words. This will give me even more to think about.