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Considering... (or, what made you decide? + please help me)

Discussion in 'Nontraditional Students' started by pairofcats, Dec 16, 2008.

  1. pairofcats

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    Hello all. This is my first post here, so please be kind. Thank you.

    I am wondering, in a nutshell, why did those of you who came to medicine late in life choose to do so?

    Please note that I am not interested per se in "traditional" applicants, hence why I have posted here... too many of my friends had some strange radar that from birth dictated that they would become doctors. While that is very handy for those lucky few, it is not helpful for my purposes per se. :)

    My story isn't a terribly interesting one per se. I began as a premed student at 18 largely because my dad was a doctor and because my college offered a rigorous program. As you might have guessed, this is a truly terrible reason to do so, and I quickly changed majors to history by the end of the year. I completed a semester of chemistry, two of biology, and excused myself without damaging my GPA too much (Bs, B+s).

    As my fiancee decided to enter a psychology PhD program, I graduated and began to work in a fairly boring office-type job by her school. This was (and is--I am still employed there) a fairly eye-opening experience. I quickly came to the realization that I have absolutely no interest in doing any kind of work that involves staring at a screen for 8+ hours a day; this ruled out some of the careers I had been considering. I think I am beginning to figure out what I want in a job:
    1) A challenge, 2) Human interaction beyond sporadic cubicle-talk, 3) The sense of doing something genuinely worthwhile, and 4) Some autonomy.

    Now, this does not directly lead back to medicine per se, but lately I have been thinking more about it. A medical career fulfills 1-4 to varying degrees, more than other careers that I have been thinking about. In my idealized world, I envision a job where I am genuinely effecting positive change in the world. The hours suck, fair enough, but the work itself is rewarding. I would not be chronically underemployed, or a corporate lawyer, or a cubicle monkey plugging away at a keyboard. There would be value in my work: relief of pain, improvement of lives, removal of disease.

    However, I am wondering if I have the skill set/ability required to be a physician. I have a background in the humanities of all disciplines. I nearly became a history professor from the hippie land of Colorado-Boulder, for gosh sakes. I am not some ex-biochemistry major from MIT.

    So, if you were me, how would you recommend I go about learning what being a physician is really like, and whether I am cut out for it? I salvaged Bs and B+s from human anatomy and general chemistry, but I was competing on a curved scale with students who had taken the courses before in high school and who were genuinely Divinely Inspired To Be Doctors. Over time I learned study habits that eventually brought my GPA to the upper 3.7s, but at the same time I am genuinely terrified of stepping into a biology class after years of learning about the Chinese Communists and US foreign policy.

    I am worried that I should have "known" already if I was meant to be a doctor, or that my background in the humanities means that I am not as realistic/serious an option as, say, a biology major. I am worried that the fact that I found calc-based physics to be extremely difficult in high school means that I am too dumb to be a medical student, even though I am not sure how relevant the physics is. I am worried that even if I study my butt off to do well in difficult prereq classes, that I will be found out to be a fraud in medical school as I wither under the pace.

    I am beginning to consider medical school, but I fear that I am dragging my fiancee and myself down a tortuous path that I will be ultimately unable to complete, and I will fruitlessly apply to schools only to find that I cannot cut it, and I have lost 2-3 years of work experience in the meantime, to end up tens of thousands of dollars poorer (in real terms and in terms of potential income over those years).

    So, for those of you non-traditional types, how on earth do you gather the courage to make that plunge? What about those of you who excelled in the humanities? Did you ever have the fear that because you loved English/history/whatever, that you would wake up one day and realize that you were a sellout and you hated science? How exactly do you do this?

    As you might have concluded, I personally am nowhere near ready to take the plunge, but I am beginning to seriously wonder about doing so. And I am worried that if I do not look more closely at medicine that I may regret it for the rest of my life, as I get older and it becomes harder and harder to return to school. So this is my shot to see whether I can do this and whether I want to do this. Please let me know what you think I should do. I really am lost.

    Thank you,
    :)
     
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  3. akinetopsia

    akinetopsia some dude
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    Hi. Welcome to sdn. The nontrad forum is typically pretty welcoming and helpful, especially to new posters.

    I won't say my background is very similar to yours, but I do have an education in the humanities (BA in Government). I was never pre-med in college, but I have always been interested in the body, diseases, and injury. For a long time, I took care of my mom, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in '99, and took her to her various appointments with different specialists - oncologist, pulmonologist, cardiologist, plastic surgeon, gastroenterologist, etc. She passed in March '07, and it definitely had a part in me pursuing medicine.

    I was working at an intellectual property law firm for a couple of years prior to this fall semester, and pretty unhappy, for a lot of of the same reasons you mentioned. The reason I took the job at the firm was to see if I would be interested in law. I realize that one law firm's environment and culture isn't indicative of the many different practice areas, and I did end up taking the LSAT and doing very well, but I could tell it wasn't for me.

    I wanted to feel like my work meant something, that it was substantive, I wanted interaction with people, I didn't want to be tied down to a desk, I didn't want to just be pushing paper around and ensuring the profits of a multinational corporation headquartered on the other side of the globe. As cliche as it sounds, I wanted to do something that provided a service and made a difference.

    At the time, I was dating an ob/gyn intern, but even before we started dating, I would read med blogs, and I was fascinated. I got a pretty good firsthand glimpse into the life of a resident for the six months we were together, and I decided to do an informal post-bac since I had virtually none of the prerequisites done. My lab science was geology, aka "rocks for jocks." No offense to the geology enthusiasts and majors out there.

    I put in my two weeks notice in August, told the office my plans, they wished me the best of luck, one of the partners I worked closely with and played for the firm's softball team with said if I needed a letter of recommendation, don't hesitate--I left on good terms. My last day of work was August 15 and classes started the next Tuesday, and I've been living off of what I had saved up for the past few years.

    What ultimately made me decide to do this, was I really can't see myself doing anything else, and I realized I'm going to be 40, 50, and 60 some day (hopefully), and I'd rather hit those milestones and be a doctor, or at least tried and had it not work out, then playing the "woulda coulda shoulda polka." My grandfather said, "If if's were a fifth, we'd all be drunk." I don't like playing the what-if game, so I'm putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward.
     
  4. combatwombat

    7+ Year Member

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    My background is somewhat similar to yours. I come from a family of doctors (including both parents) and always assumed being a doctor was what I was going to do with my life. Big mistake. I spent the first 5 semesters of college in a cloud of pot smoke thinking I was "cool". By the time I got it together, it was too late and I graduated with a couple of C-'s that haunt me to this day.

    Since my GPA was not in the even in the ballpark of medical schools, I decided to check out neuroscience research since I had developed a genuine interest in it during my undergraduate career. I worked for 2 years doing pharmacology research as a lab tech. While it was a good experience, I knew there was no way I could to do that for my whole life. All of the postdocs were unhappy, our lab manager was a perpetually-relapsing alcoholic, and there was a generally dreary mood throughout the facility. So, when I had completed my 2 year commitment, I decided to throw my hat into the pre-med ring once again, this time emboldened by statistics about post-bac programs and the growing demand for doctors.

    Why did I choose medicine? I'd point to most of the reasons you listed (e.g. doing something with my life that feels meaningful), but also the fact that I don't really have much background in anything else. If it's not medicine for me, it'll be an allied health field (like PA, nursing, or ultrasound tech). If it's not one of those, I'd have to work as a lab tech again... which I do not want to do.

    I plan to hedge my bets - if I don't get into med school, then I'll have the prereqs for one of the other allied health careers, so it's not as much of a gamble for me as it seems like it is for you. G'luck, it's a tough decision either way.
     
  5. droyd78

    7+ Year Member

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    The decision itself is a process. It may require you investing some money and taking a biology or chemistry class to see how you enjoy the science coursework and how you perform academically. I came from a humanities background (and I'm a Boulder native) and my decision was not made until I had spent some time in class and some time in a hospital to make sure it was a compatible career for me. I would definitely advise talking with physicians. Ask them the difficult questions you are asking yourself. This will also give you an idea about what kind of lifestyle you can expect as a physician. It is a very demanding job, but it is a job, not your whole life. Physicians come in all flavors and you will find they have the same diversity of interests outside of their careers as people do in any other field.

    Good luck to you!
     
  6. betterlate

    7+ Year Member

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    I grew up literally in the shadow of a hospital. Most of my classmates (and most of their parents, if i recall correctly) were born in the hospital, most of us (and most of our parents) worked at the hospital once we were old enough to legally hold jobs, I went to school on the hospital grounds, attended a church that was on hospital grounds, and at one point lived in an apartment building owned by the hospital. It was so omnipresent that we gave it a definite article and despite not living/working in the area for over a decade my family still calls it THE hospital.

    Despite that, it never once crossed my mind that I could be a doctor. Nearly everyone I knew worked in support roles as opposed to caregiver roles. Beyond that, I sucked at math (and, I assumed, therefore I sucked at science).

    When I got to college I majored first in American Sign Language interpreting (associate's degree) and then US History (bachelor's degree). I did well in both programs, and supported myself with jobs that were tangential to healthcare fields (residential programs for adults who were deaf and developmentally delayed; personal care attendant for individuals with disabilities). After college I (eventually) ended up working as an advocate for people with disabilities.

    I loved working with people & enjoyed working in healthcare environments. I started researching allied health professions that would let me do the things I enjoyed and also allow me more autonomy. I ended up going back to school for a master's degree in audiology.

    In that program I took advanced science coursework for the first time in my life. To my great surprise I both enjoyed the coursework and excelled in those classes. This was the first time it occurred to me that I might be capable of completing medical school. I'd never even thought of it in passing because I assumed I couldn't hack the educational requirements.

    I've now worked for several years as an audiologist employed by a group of otolaryngologists. I have no doubt at all that I want to be a doctor. So. that's my long story.

    I actually think good physicians have a grasp on both the science and the humanities. Good people skills and excellent communication skills are vital to the practice of medicine IMHO.

    Not at all! There are many reasons why people come late to the field of medicine. As long as you are sure of yourself and can articulate a clear story or vision once you get to the application process, nobody is going to look at you crossways. Plenty of people change careers to go into medicine. I doubt you'll even stand out on that front.

    The task in front of you now is to determine whether or not you really do wish to become a doctor. The best way to do that - the *only* way to do that - is to get practical experience. Volunteer. Get a job in a medical office or hospital. Shadow a doctor or different types of doctor. Do your homework. Conduct informational interviews with doctors. Seriously consider healthcare alternatives such as PA, NP, or allied health professionals like SLP, audiology, OT, PT, etc including reading about those fields, shadowing professionals in those fields, and conducting informational interviews. Would allied health professions meet career goals 1-4 in less time & with less debt?

    It took me several years to really come to a firm conclusion on these questions. My decision was made harder by the fact that I'm generally pretty happy with my current job as an audiologist. I'm not motivated by hating what I do now and wanting to do something that I imagine will be much better. Rather, I like what I do and I see in medicine the likelihood of expanding on the things I already enjoy doing. If that makes sense.

    As I said above, it took me years of consideration, conversation, and research to decide to go to medical school. I'm still in the early stages of my career change. I'm starting at a formal post-bacc in June 2009. It isn't a decision that can (or should) be rushed.

    As far as science vs. humanities goes, I think medicine is a blending of the two disciplines. The clinical application of scientific theories is very different from the classroom or book learning. Do some volunteering in a medical environment and you'll see what I mean. Your background could very likely be to your benefit in medicine.

    Good luck!
     
  7. Pemberley

    Pemberley Senior Member
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    This forum wouldn't exist if this were a real issue. Many of us believe that we will be better doctors for having done something else first, and being more mature in medical school

    Take two simultaneous points of attack:
    1. Shadow. Follow around several different specialties of doctors to get a feel for what's out there and what the bread-and-butter of your daily work would be like. This is what convinced me -- I spent time with some pediatric ID specialists and knew for certain that I wanted their job.
    2. They say that if you can picture yourself being happy doing anything else, don't go to medical school. They are especially right for non-trads, in my opinion. The reward is high but the cost is also high. Figure out exactly what is making you unhappy about your current career path and come up with some alternatives. Explore those, as well.

    Understanding is always relevant. Most pre-med physics students, however, only memorize equations, and that is almost never relevant. The fact that you were calculus-based is actually quite a good sign; understanding is much less likely without calculus.
    As a former physics TA, I feel very strongly on this subject -- if you do not feel that you have a gift for math and physics, do four things:
    1. Have confidence that you can do it. The notion that you can't is the #1 stumbling block for math & physics students, especially for females. You're not a high schooler any more. Your brain has matured more than you realize.
    2. Get help IMMEDIATELY when you start. Don't wait until you're having trouble -- that's too late. Do your homework all the way through to the best of your ability SEVERAL DAYS AHEAD OF TIME, then go ask your TA to help you figure out what you've done wrong and how you can do it better, then go back and do it again. Rinse and repeat as necessary. It is homework, far more than reading the book and studying, that will help you in math and physics.
    3. Don't be in a hurry. If you're on a several-year path to becoming a pre-med, you can afford to take ONLY physics and no other classes at the same time. Really pour your heart into doing as well as you can do.
    4. After having done as well as you could do, don't torture yourself about what you couldn't do. Having taught many, many pre-meds, I can say for a fact: the vast majority of them don't understand the first thing about physics. You will be much closer to normal than you think.

    As far as taking yourself & your fiancee down a risky path -- you bet you are, but there are ways to do it that are less risky than others. I would continue to work at least while doing your initial investigation (physics class, shadowing, etc.) I worked right up until I started medical school, and like that option much better than quitting and doing a post-bac -- you leave your options open longer. A little slower, but worth it in the end.

    :luck:
     
  8. bjolly

    bjolly Senior Member
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    I was a social worker for 12 years, loved the helping part and the working with people part, but desperately needed more intellectual stimulation. One day I found myself sitting at my desk trying to see if I could think of all the state capitals in alphabetical order and I realized if I didn't do something to give my brain more exercise I would lose my mind.

    Oh, and as for humanities, I had an undergrad degree in anthropology and English, a master's in social work, and hadn't taken a science class since I was a college freshman 16 years previously. And I did fine. :thumbup:
     
  9. grt398

    grt398 Resident
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    I feel like my background is similar to many other posters here in that I decided I wanted more out of my life and my career than I was receiving in my former field. Yes I know that life is about more than work but in reality, most people will spend a significant portion, if not the majority, of their waking hours working. I worked for several years at an investment bank and then hedge fund and simply cannot see myself spending the next x years building models and presentations, negotiating various merger/credit agreements etc or even worrying about such things that frankly, have really no impact on anything and are basically forgotten 1 month later by most involved. There's no lasting impact and no feeling of satisfaction or accomplishment in any of the work. It's also pretty dull. Of all the people I've known and spoken to in finance, very few entered the field for anything but the potential money and I'm sorry to say I made the same mistake. Many people I know who are relatively new to the industry (5 years or less) are now looking back to their former careers or other alternatives.

    On the other hand, I have friends who are finishing med school/starting residency who are so excited about their careers and interested in the work they do. I've spoken to a lot of doctors who, while many have significant frustrations with various aspects of medicine, particularly depending on specialty, are genuinely happy with their career, and I know from my own experiences that they can make a huge impact on someone's life. I really want to work in a field that offers such an opportunity and perhaps from a less altruistic side, I find biology and biochemistry extremely interesting, a lot more than the major I chose in college. I have family who work as nurses and PAs and feel like I've done enough research to know the good and bad of the health care industry and feel I have a good handle on the road I'm taking.

    Hope that helps and if you have any questions, feel free to PM.
     
  10. clausewitz2

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    Just want to second Pemberley's comment about not being scared of math at this point in your life. I absolutely hated hated hated anything mathematical in high school, and fled into the humanities specifically to avoid it as much as possible. Even as I drifted back into science over the years, I tried as much as possible to come in through the math-less, squishy back door.

    Then I had to teach myself basic calculus for a modeling course, and it took me maybe a two weeks of sporadic study, and I did not understand why it seemed so hard in high school.

    Your frontal lobes typically don't finish development until your early twenties. Given the fact that they are implicated in so very many tasks involving executive control, suppression of visceral responses, and generally analytical reasoning, you will almost certainly find math much less hard than it was back when your brain hadn't finished growing yet.

    Not to say it'll be trivial, but it is much less likely to be ohmigodwhattheheckisthatidon'tunderstand. Provided, of course, you don't just shut down because you see equations. Get over the initial block, and you'll find it starts making an awful lot of sense!
     
  11. pairofcats

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    I would just like to say thank you to those of you who chose to reply. You have all been very helpful, and it is heartening to hear about those of you who realized that your current job was not satisfying and that this was the only path that really, really appealed to you. I am wondering if this will be how it is for myself; all I know is that I do NOT want to just sit around and never pursue it.

    My original life plan was to become a lawyer, make lots of money and work very long/difficult hours, then semi-retire after making enough money to live frugally with my fiancee (who is going to be a professor and has nearly guaranteed job security/insurance/med. care later in life).

    Luckily, working at my 40h/week less-fulfilling job has made me realize that I could not under any circumstances loathe the work that I would be doing. I am sure that there is fulfilling legal work out there, but I am surer by the day that I am not the person to be doing it. Unless I, say, made enough money to start some super-charity like Bill Gates did, I do not think that that approach would be very satisfying in the long run. It would be as if my entire career was designed only to fulfill my own creature comforts... there is NOTHING wrong with this, but I just do not think it works for me. I might be insane. I am, however, sure that if I cruised along in easy work for my entire life that I would feel deeply unhappy in the end.

    At any rate, thanks again. I have some more questions, but I will save them for another (soon-to-be-forthcoming) thread.
     

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