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MD mentors say "do anything but medicine..." Why?

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5 years 11 months ago #91974 by roundabout2
I've been a lurker for a very long time because every time I go to post I wonder what it is I'm hoping to get from airing my woes (can you tell I was raised by very old-fashioned parents?) ;) But here I go:

So I am just finishing up a biomedical PhD (at a med school) and applying this June to "actual" medical school. For a variety of reasons, I am "mostly" confident (because you never know for sure until you have that acceptance letter) that I'll get in somewhere. And I'll preface this by saying, almost from the first semester I started graduate school, I knew I had made a mistake and should have gone to medical school instead. But (and this has been a trend throughout the last 5 years), every female MD mentor I've had vehemently advised me to do anything but go to medical school and the female PhD mentors always positively pushed their career track. Obviously, I picked the route that seemed to make those in it at least recommend it. And I won't lie, despite hating it at first, I have gradually over the years developed a knack for and even a bit of joy in doing research but I miss the feeling of interacting with and helping people (I was a paramedic in an ER for several years prior to grad school). There's also a long list of things I very much dislike about continuing in research/academia as a career: animal research (in my field it's almost impossible not to have to do), impossible to get grants right now, fairly miserable salaries, a very male-dominated/boy's club in most top level research institutes. Plus, starting up a new research lab (the track I'm on) is like starting a business, there is NO part-time at the beginning. Taking time off for kids is not an option unless you take a position at a university that is primarily teaching responsibilities (def NOT my gig). I am 30 right now, my husband is just wrapping an Engineering PhD and starting a job. We'd really really like to get on the TTC train asap.

So that brings me full circle: I have spent the last 15 years of my life wanting to be a doctor. I have spent the last 8 years very actively working at getting into medical school. Grad school was a bit of a detour but a terrific growing and learning experience. Am I just getting cold feet now that I am finally applying? Part of it is, after being in school continuously since kindergarten, I want to finally be a grown-up and have a darn job already! I want to travel and we dream of building our own house and having our children and enjoying them. Is going back to school AGAIN really a great idea? Right now if I didn't do it, I honestly think I would completely regret it, I really have already sacrificed a lot to get to this point but all the new mom's I talk to tell me that all that strong career ambition is annihilated the minute you look at your new baby.

My apologies for the lengthy post. And like I said, I'm not sure what I want/need. I KNOW that I want to be a doctor. I just really wish I was 8 years younger and that my MD mentors had not spent so much time telling me how much being a doctor sucks. So maybe my real question is, does being a physician really suck? and why? What career would you do instead (SAHM not included, I know that's not for me). Would you do it over again if you had to? When people ask you for mentoring advice do you tell them to do anything but medicine? Any suggestions for my specific situation? Some days I am confident that I can have my cake and eat it too, but other days I wonder if what I will be sacrificing is worth being a doctor (no matter how badly I think I want it).

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5 years 11 months ago #91976 by sahmd
I am happy that I am a doctor and would do it again. Did these mentors give you any reasons that it sucked? Were they all at the same institution (making one wonder if that place had problems)? Were they saying that it just sucked for women or for all doctors?

I can think of a lot of negative things about medicine (too many to list, really). Some of the negative things about medicine are the same as the negatives you listed for research -- male dominated, difficult to do part-time in the beginning, very difficult to take time off. You are also correct that wanting to travel, conceive, build a house, and have and enjoy children will conflict with the time demands of medical education and training during your childbearing years. But there are also a lot of positives (too many of those to list, too).

In your situation, I think it will be a challenge, but definitely not impossible. Only you can decide whether you think it will be worth it. Good luck!

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5 years 11 months ago #91979 by tr_
I think the experience of being in medicine varies vastly between specialties and practice environments, depending on personality type. Personally, I'm very happy with where I am and what I'm doing.

However the upfront investment is really really steep and some parts of the training are truly miserable. The real problem is that if you train for medicine and find out you don't like it, it's really hard to get out because of the loan burden (and the psychological burden of throwing 8+ years of education down the tubes). I have definitely met people who would like to get out but can't because no other job they could get would allow them to pay back their loans.

I wouldn't myself want to start medical school and a family at the same time. You say you want to start a 'real job' and have a family - but medical school is not a 'real job' (it's the opposite of a real job, you pay them instead) and it's tough to balance medical training with young children.

Is there nothing you can do with your PhD that would be interesting and engaging besides staying in academia? E.g. could you possibly be fulfilled in an industry or consulting position?

If your heart is set on med school but you also really want to have a family I would advise doing the baby part first - either while you write up your dissertation or by taking a gap year between finishing your PhD and starting med school.

I say this because it is helpful to have an idea of how you will respond to motherhood before making any other irrevocable life decisions. Also the first two years of med school are actually pretty flexible (although the workload can be heavy depending on the school and your capacity for rote memorization). You could then potentially have a three-year-old by the time you hit the really uncontrollable and time-intensive part of medical school training, which would be far far superior to having an infant or young toddler at that time.

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5 years 11 months ago #91989 by roundabout2
"If your heart is set on med school but you also really want to have a family I would advise doing the baby part first - either while you write up your dissertation or by taking a gap year between finishing your PhD and starting med school.

I say this because it is helpful to have an idea of how you will respond to motherhood before making any other irrevocable life decisions. Also the first two years of med school are actually pretty flexible (although the workload can be heavy depending on the school and your capacity for rote memorization). You could then potentially have a three-year-old by the time you hit the really uncontrollable and time-intensive part of medical school training, which would be far far superior to having an infant or young toddler at that time."

That is a really terrific idea. I think I had avoided this option because of the fear that after I had a baby I would never go to med school; whereas if I'm already in, I'd stay in. Though I had thought a very young child who needs less intense involvement and stays where you put them (under 12mo) were better then a child who is needs to be constantly monitored and entertained (like a 3yr old) for the tough parts of medical training?

I've always had a problem coming up with alternative fulfilling career options unless they involve helping people with a skill set (very specialized skill set as it were) of mine. For example, my "alternative" plans are doing research in a 3rd world country for WHO or UN on disease, access to medical care, spread of disease, women's rights etc. Ha, while I'm generally a very realistic person, apparently I'm a dreamer when it comes to career tracks. :) Thanks for the advice and thoughts SAHMD and tr!

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5 years 11 months ago #91990 by nightowl
I think tr was right on and agree with her post 100%. My feelings changed as I got older and especially after having my son. My goals changed from "wanting to save lives" and doing a heroic, selfless, and very consuming "calling" to just wanting a normal life complete with a normal job, so that I can give my best to my family. There is only so much time and energy to go around in one day. For me, the sacrifices of doing medicine have been so great that I can say I wish I had chosen another route, eg dental school, pharmacist, PA school, or grad school. My anatomy professor in college who wrote my letter of recommendation for med school tried to convince me to do grad school instead. Although that was almost a decade ago, I think about it often and do feel some regret. It does depend on what specialty you choose ... And your personality. I would spend a loooot of time shadowing doctors to see the nitty gritty and be honest with yourself about income expectations. I have chosen a less lucrative path (and not a field I am passionate about) to be able to better balance family and work. If I didn't have a family, I would have chosen a surgical field. For me, family changed everything. If I had known I would just desire a job, I would have saved myself a decade, a lot of debt, a lot of heartache and time away from my son, and gone another route. Sorry to be discouraging, but I guess if you are looking for all sorts of opinions, it's good to have some negative ones too :) some of my friends who are mommy docs are very happy. It is a long road with a lot of sacrifice though, and financially I don't think it's worth it unless someone else is footing the bill. I have 200k in debt which contributes to my discontent. I do agree with tr though on the baby timing. I wouldn't put it off. The climb gets steeper and steeper after years one and two. And it might help you further assess your emotions about going the MD route.

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5 years 11 months ago #91993 by Emily2651
OP, will you need to borrow money for medical school? That changes the equation, I think.

The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the sea. -- Isak Dinesen

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