Am I Being Delusional? Leave cushy SWE job for Medicine

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May 20, 2024
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TLDR: Not feeling fulfilled in current role, want to find purpose in the work I do and want to switch to medicine. Have research experience (international conference poster presentation) but would have to take prereqs/MCAT along with clinical hours. Poor uGPA due to lack of effort, but very good test taker.

Hi all,

I've been a lurker on this forum as well as different subreddits for a little while now, and have been thinking about medicine for even longer than that. I have a cushy job as a SWE and will tentatively start a Master's in Computer Science next year. Why am I going for a Master's in CS if I'm hesitant about the field altogether? I still like CS and as it's geared toward those who are working, I don't think it will affect my work/studies. In the event I stay in my field, I would have upskilled instead of wasting my time.

Why do I want to switch to medicine?
So some backstory: I have always wanted to be a doctor (specifically a surgeon, but let's start with doctor haha) for various reasons. I've dealt with a lot of loss in my immediate family, i.e. grandmother passed from breast cancer, grandfather has had multiple heart attacks and cardiac arrests, close friend died suddenly from glioblastoma, and another relative died from jaundice. Additionally I wanted to work in rural communities, as my family and I are not originally from the US, but from a rural part of our home country which we fled due to religious persecution; I've witnessed violent riots occur after which allopathic medical treatment was so sparse that even the fortunate few they were able to get onto a bed would pass from sepsis or infection; most of the "doctors" would use herbal remedies. Of course, in the US rural communities are different but I think I understand somewhat their qualms/reservations about modern medicine/lack of resources.

In college I majored in Physics as I was super interested in it at the time, but was a very poor student when it came to attendance/hw etc, which affected my GPA but I didn't care that much since I didn't expect to pursue a career in which your GPA mattered. Toward the end of college is when I dealt with the majority of the losses listed above and decided to get serious about pursuing medicine, but since I was about to graduate, it was too late to finish all the prereqs. I was able to get a job in a neuro research lab and worked/volunteered >1k hours and was able to present a poster at an international conference. Unfortunately at that time my family needed financial help so I taught myself how to code and got the job I have right now. Now my family is doing much better, I have no financial obligations, and I am able to save >60% of my salary while still living comfortably.

But I still don't feel fulfilled and every day I feel depressed about the meaningless work I do. In my heart I do think I still learn toward medicine but then I think about the fact that I will have to take a lot of the prereqs on the side, take the MCAT (I tend to be good at tests), quit my job and get clinical hours, shadow, and even then there's no guarantee I will be accepted due to my low GPA (3.21). Assuming everything goes smoothly and I get into med school on my first try, it will still take me a minimum of 2-3 years, at which point I will be around 27. I also plan on getting married soon, so that also complicates matters.

I know I'm speaking from a place of special privilege but ultimately I think it boils down to financial freedom but don't feel satisfied at work vs. huge financial/emotional/mental risk but high probability of doing work I find meaningful. Maybe I just need to get a hobby that keeps me occupied in my free time and I'll realize I didn't actually want to go into medicine, I was just overthinking, but I thought I would see what others had to say. Sometimes this urge to be a doctor dies down, but then I walk into a hospital or talk with my med school friends, or see anything medicine related and it comes back stronger. I realize this kind of turned into a vent, and I apologize if I sound incoherent but there's a lot I wanted to say haha.

Here are some additional details in case you are interested:

URM, 24M
Undergrad: T5 Public
GPA: 3.21 cGpa, don't know exact science but it's around the same
Research: >1k hrs, poster presentation
Volunteering: >1k hrs, various orgs, leadership but it's very old (>5 yrs ago), no clinical
Target: MD
Other: Had to retake Bio 1 (yes, ik), C+ in bio 2, Withdrew from Linear Algebra but took it next semester and passed (switched to pass/fail bc of COVID).

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I think you can't go into this hedging your bets. Better to decide now whether you want to pursue medicine or do the CS master's. If you do the master's, you could be having this same existential debate 3 years from now. Talk with your fiancé about whether they would truly support you in the risky path (if not--there's your answer). Your GPA is salvageable with a 4.0 postbac.

For now, I would recommend doing some clinical volunteering to see whether you enjoy patient care and can tolerate it for a career. Anecdotally, I've heard of nontrads coming from lucrative careers who quit med school because they realize it wasn't what they'd imagined and they have a viable fallback option. You want to make sure you're running to medicine, not simply fleeing your current career.
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I also worked as a software engineer out of college 20+ years ago and felt unfulfilled on a daily basis. I then switched to program/product management, which I enjoyed a lot more because it involved more people work and less coding, but it still wasn't as fulfilling as I would have liked. Ultimately, I decided to stop working and do an informal postbac. That was the start of a long training pathway - I finally finished all my training last year. I now work as an academic medical oncologist (my specialty is treating cancer with medicines such as chemo and immunotherapy). While obviously all jobs have their frustrations, and at the end of the day my job is just a job, I really like what I do - it's an incredible privilege to be an oncologist and the work is challenging yet highly meaningful on a daily basis. I will note that in retrospect, I left a lot of money on the table by making the switch, since I walked away from RSUs and stock options that would be worth a transformational amount of money today. But I'm well paid now and live comfortably and really have no regrets about making the switch.
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I just left software engineering to matriculate this year after my 4th layoff in a 9 year career where I never got below the equivalent of a 95% on my yearly reviews. No regrets. F**k software engineering, esp in the current climate.
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I retired from SWE after a 9 year career by going FIRE. And yes, the field in the current climate doesn't really deserve much of a workforce, let alone a skilled and engaged one.