Having a bit of a crisis about whether medicine is just my parents' passion and not mine, even after taking the MCAT

May 9, 2019
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Long post ahead, sorry for the rambling, but this post ended up a lot longer than I intended...

Background info: I'm Asian and even though my parents never explicitly "made me" go into medicine, there was a lot of implicit pressure growing up (which is of course not limited to people of Asian descent, but is nonetheless stereotyped and somewhat accurate in my case). I have a sister that is much older than me and she did not have the necessary credentials for MD schools (unbeknownst to me until recently) so she ended up having her app sent to a DPM school by chance and is now a podiatrist, but my parents glorified her for becoming a "doctor" to the point that I thought that DPM was equivalent to MD, just like a subspecialty such as ophthalmology, not an entirely different degree. They got bragging rights for telling everyone that their oldest has become a "doctor," and I grew up thinking that it must be the perfect profession from how my parents framed it. And my older brother, though he's very intelligent, majored in Spanish in undergrad (still at a prestigious school), and was basically labeled as the crazy one of the family and my parents mentioned multiple times that they thought he would never end up anywhere in life. However, he ended up at a DO school and then landed a job in Cali in an area with a large Hispanic population where his Spanish speaking skills are now a huge asset, so only after he's making 250k a year are they finally treating him with respect.

Basically, it was as if there was no other option than for me to go into medicine. At the age of 14, my mom pushed me into volunteering at a hospital and the Red Cross (because that's what my older sister did) even though I was super timid and hated every minute of it. In high school, my mom would be the type to call or email the teacher and ask to round up (sometimes without my approval) if I got anything less than an A in a class, even if I didn't deserve it, and my dad was borderline emotionally abusive if I got Bs, calling me names and basically saying I'd be flipping burgers all my life. Stereotypical Asian parenting. Yet at the same time they had this overconfidence that I would become a doctor, even though I wasn't even sure that that's what I wanted. For example, in my senior year of high school, I was involved in a "Medical Mentorship" class where interested students could shadow doctors in the area. I remember my dad kind of sneered and kept saying things like, "look to your left and look to your right; only one will become a doctor" and I remember literally becoming so angry that they just seemed to automatically assume that I was destined to become a doctor, as if there was "special" about me compared to all these other kids who were equally smart and hard-working.

Now, I've never had a real problem with school or academics. Even though I was pushed to pursue the biological sciences I have always loved learning and had an appreciation for all of my subjects, and done well in school. However, I felt that I was never given any room to explore other options besides medicine. I started pushing myself to achieve more than my older siblings because my worth, in my parents' eyes, was contingent on my academic success specifically within the realm of medicine.

My older siblings and I all went to a very competitive college, and being much younger than my siblings, I worked myself to the bone to stand out amongst my siblings' achievements. I believe I even gave myself a stress ulcer in college from putting so much pressure on myself to perform. However, attempting to impress my parents usually backfired since my sister was already an established doctor, she always had more authority than I did if I decided to do something academically that was the least bit different from what she did. I had to do most of my own research about applying to medical school, and realized a lot had changed during the 15 years since my sister applied and that my parents were supplied with outdated information. But I couldn't convince them to change their thinking. They called me crazy when I told them that my application wasn't strong enough to apply right after junior year and that I would need more time to study for the MCAT. A gap year was "stupid." And I did everything I could to ensure I did as well on the MCAT as possible, and their reaction to my decision to delay it when I wasn't ready to take it was just that "the excuses never end." I fell into a depression not so much due to the stress of academics, but mostly due to the lack of support from my family, even though I was just doing what I could to be as strong of an applicant as possible.

Fast forward a few years, and now I'm two years out from graduating from that university, with a double major in Neuro/Psych and a 3.65cGA/3.55sGPA. I worked really hard for the MCAT and scored a 522 on it a year ago, and I've spent the last year working full-time in research, which was a major gap in my application. But now that the application cycle is open and I finally have everything in place, I'm starting to feel that medicine was never the right choice for me. I'm struggling to write a convincing personal statement, not because I struggle with writing in general, but because I'm not sure that I have ever had any intrinsic reason to pursue medicine itself. I'm pretty introverted and I find it exhausting to interact with patients, including all of the small talk and niceties. I'm also the type that doesn't trust the opinions of my peers and I end up taking all the work myself, so I am also not the best team player. I even think I lack a bit of empathy and don't have any particular desire to help others. All in all, I admittedly have a lot of character traits that are pretty unsuitable for medicine even though I have no doubt I'd be able to succeed in med school academically. I am even looking forward to the first two years of med school because I love learning, and even the field of medicine itself. but when it comes to clinical rotations and residency, I feel like I'd rather do anything else than interact with patients and watch procedures all day.

Additionally, as I've worked in public health/research the past year, I've questioned whether a career in academia would be better suited for me. I love reading and writing and how research is intellectually stimulating without the constant social interaction that's needed for medicine. I still like science and I could spend hours reading about some obscure topics and love the idea of becoming an expert in something, perhaps contributing to medicine without necessarily practicing it. And although it can be stressful trying to get research successful/published, it's not the same high-stress environment that say, a surgeon would have. I have also toyed with the idea of just doing research during my time in med school, but I wonder if there's really a point to that if the end goal is to become a doctor, not a researcher. Maybe this is a "grass is greener" scenario and I'm just having a momentary lapse in judgment, but I'm trying to dig deep for my reason for wanting to *practice* medicine and I'm coming up empty. I like medicine and learning itself, but that's not a convincing reason for why I want to become a doctor. At the same time, I have countless of hours of volunteering/ECs and a high MCAT score and it just feels like a waste to pack up and quit now.

Any advice? I appreciate anyone that read through this entire wordy post lol
 
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coffee&scrubs

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While it is your decision to ultimately become a doctor or not, there are some specialties that are more suited to your personality type. Pathology, radiology, or an infectious disease specialty, for example, can include minimal patient interaction. You clearly are very bright and hard working to achieve that type of MCAT score, and if you do decide to pursue medicine, you very well can aim for a more research/academia oriented career, regardless of specialty. However, if you want to bypass the inevitable patient interaction associated with years 3 and 4 of medical school and possibly intern year of any residency, a PhD in some scientific field might be the way to go. Utilize the next few weeks to see if these feelings are just cold feet or nerves about the upcoming cycle, or something much deeper that will require you to make some career choice changes.
 
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candbgirl

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Your brother moved to California for a reason. Are you close to him? You need to talk truthfully to someone who will listen and not judge. There is no hurry in applying so take your time. Do you live at home with your parents? Maybe a PhD is an option. You’ve got a lot to deal with. Your MCAT is great but truthfully your GPAs are below average for MD. And your personal statement is so important to your application that you need to figure out things before you apply. I think you should put off applying for this cycle and find someone to talk all of this through. Good luck. I don’t envy you.
 

Supahchungus

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I’ll echo what others have said here. Don’t apply to medical school for your parents. You have to do what makes you happy. Right now it seems like you’d be a perfect fit for PhD. Medicine is not the 100% most amazing job, like the general public and your parents might believe. Just look at the physicians working overtime right now treating COVID, repaid for the heroism with pay cuts. Literally, if you can see yourself doing anything else, do that instead.
 
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May 9, 2019
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Your brother moved to California for a reason. Are you close to him?

I have no ill will towards him, but unfortunately I'm not very close with my older brother since he was kind of labeled as "crazy" for being a bit less conventional, so I was barely able to interact with him as I was growing up. Both of my older siblings are out in Cali right now, actually. I just live at home with my dad right now because my mom passed away in the fall, and my younger brother is away at college. I'm still working research but I'm obviously nowhere near being financially independent and needless to say, I'm miserable being stuck in my childhood home with no siblings around or any real social life that I'm pretty much viewing getting into med school as a welcome escape. On top of it all I've never been close with my dad. I really don't think I'll mind the academic rigor of med school as much as the lack of structure and social ties (not to mention the grief/reminders of death) that I have in this current environment.

I understand that my GPA is on the low side for MDs but I do have a strong upward trend and went to a prestigious school, so I was of the understanding that it could be somewhat overlooked along with the higher MCAT score. I'm fairly certain that I could write a decent personal statement and that the rest of my application is strong enough to get into *some* MD school, so I'm not sure if waiting another year would make my app much stronger than it is now, and it's not worth it to me (cost and time-wise) to take some classes just for the sake of GPA repair. I guess I just feel "stuck" - if I do apply to med school, it's now or never because I don't think I can mentally afford to take another gap year.
 

Goro

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I have no ill will towards him, but unfortunately I'm not very close with my older brother since he was kind of labeled as "crazy" for being a bit less conventional, so I was barely able to interact with him as I was growing up. Both of my older siblings are out in Cali right now, actually. I just live at home with my dad right now because my mom passed away in the fall, and my younger brother is away at college. I'm still working research but I'm obviously nowhere near being financially independent and needless to say, I'm miserable being stuck in my childhood home with no siblings around or any real social life that I'm pretty much viewing getting into med school as a welcome escape. On top of it all I've never been close with my dad. I really don't think I'll mind the academic rigor of med school as much as the lack of structure and social ties (not to mention the grief/reminders of death) that I have in this current environment.

I understand that my GPA is on the low side for MDs but I do have a strong upward trend and went to a prestigious school, so I was of the understanding that it could be somewhat overlooked along with the higher MCAT score. I'm fairly certain that I could write a decent personal statement and that the rest of my application is strong enough to get into *some* MD school, so I'm not sure if waiting another year would make my app much stronger than it is now, and it's not worth it to me (cost and time-wise) to take some classes just for the sake of GPA repair. I guess I just feel "stuck" - if I do apply to med school, it's now or never because I don't think I can mentally afford to take another gap year.
This is not the rationale to have to go to med school...it's a predictor of you burning out when you realize Medicine is not really what you wanted.

Medicine is a calling, like being a cop or a priest.
 
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deleted1025690

I’m not going to comment on whether you should or shouldn’t apply right now because this type of situation seems so much more big picture. I know in some Asian communities, being a doctor is supposedly the ultimate success story BUT at the end of the day you need to determine what success looks like to you personally. Is it continuing to work exhaustively for a profession that you aren’t sure is for you or is it giving yourself the opportunity to pursue what really makes you happy? I think you need to ask yourself at what point does wanting to please your parents cross a line? At what point does it become betraying yourself? You owe it to yourself to build a future you are in love with!

A lot of what I said sounds cheesy and I apologize but having seen what these types of situations can do to people, I feel very strongly on the topic and understand how difficult it can be to make the choices that are right for you. It involves a lot of introspection and growth which isn’t always a glamorous process but it is 100% possible and worth it in the end. If you ever need someone to vent to feel free to PM me!
 
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gulli_97

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I agree with the others that if you can see yourself in any other profession then don't go to med school.

You do have the credentials to become a doctor. I don't necessarily agree with Goro on the medicine is a calling. It may be a calling for others, but you can also treat it as a job where you put your 8-5 in and have other interests outside of medicine. Although it won't really be this way in residency. I would just go to med school, get through clinical years - there are many introverted doctors who are able to get through this, you're not required to be an extrovert, then pursue a specialty more in line with your personality.

The application process is just that - determining why you want to be a doctor and selling that to admissions coms. Admissions do not want to hear about your passions and interests in academia. It needs to be more about the patients you will serve. We all have different reasons pursuing medicine, some not altruistic, and that is okay. IMO, as long as you will positively contribute to the field/patients, you should go into it. A lot more opportunities open up once you have the MD/DO after your name and some clinical experience as an attending. PhDs are generally more niche and this can sometimes have a negative impact on job opportunities.
 
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Kumorebi

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I don't necessarily agree with Goro on the medicine is a calling. It may be a calling for others, but you can also treat it as a job where you put your 8-5 in and have other interests outside of medicine.
Tell that to the adcoms and see if they'll let you in. Of course you can just BS your personal statement I guess.

To the OP, do some soul searching. I was the opposite - went for PhD, had a change of heart, and got into medicine. I couldn't justify the same time frame of education for less salary (considering academia, not industry) and less prestige. Not to mention if you're working in research, most of the time upwards mobility is based on success and sometimes, despite applying what you know to your research, success is based off luck. Also I started going crazy sitting in front of my bench for 12 hours a day not talking to anyone else besides my co-workers.
 
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gulli_97

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Tell that to the adcoms and see if they'll let you in. Of course you can just BS your personal statement I guess.

To the OP, do some soul searching. I was the opposite - went for PhD, had a change of heart, and got into medicine. I couldn't justify the same time frame of education for less salary (considering academia, not industry) and less prestige. Not to mention if you're working in research, most of the time upwards mobility is based on success and sometimes, despite applying what you know to your research, success is based of luck. Also I started going crazy sitting in front of my bench for 12 hours a day not talking to anyone else besides my co-workers.

I would say most personal statements are BS, unfortunately. I'd say it's merely impossible to figure out if the medicine is your true calling as a 21-year-old. Most people don't have many life experiences at this age and find this "calling" later on.
 
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deleted936470

I agree with the others that if you can see yourself in any other profession then don't go to med school.

You do have the credentials to become a doctor. I don't necessarily agree with Goro on the medicine is a calling. It may be a calling for others, but you can also treat it as a job where you put your 8-5 in and have other interests outside of medicine. Although it won't really be this way in residency. I would just go to med school, get through clinical years - there are many introverted doctors who are able to get through this, you're not required to be an extrovert, then pursue a specialty more in line with your personality.

The application process is just that - determining why you want to be a doctor and selling that to admissions coms. Admissions do not want to hear about your passions and interests in academia. It needs to be more about the patients you will serve. We all have different reasons pursuing medicine, some not altruistic, and that is okay. IMO, as long as you will positively contribute to the field/patients, you should go into it. A lot more opportunities open up once you have the MD/DO after your name and some clinical experience as an attending. PhDs are generally more niche and this can sometimes have a negative impact on job opportunities.

I know several people who "just" work 8-5, have a life outside of medicine, and still consider it a calling.
Those who treat medicine as "just a job" would be happier in another career.
It also has nothing to do with self-perceived social energy levels.
OP - don't live your parents' dream. Happiness doesn't work like that.
 
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gulli_97

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I know several people who "just" work 8-5, have a life outside of medicine, and still consider it a calling.
Those who treat medicine as "just a job" would be happier in another career.
It also has nothing to do with self-perceived social energy levels.
OP - don't live your parents' dream. Happiness doesn't work like that.

I disagree. You don't have to derive happiness from your career, some people treat their professions solely as a means to provide income.
 
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deleted936470

I disagree. You don't have to derive happiness from your career, some people treat their professions solely as a means to provide income.

You're disagreeing by yourself because no one here is speaking binary. I didn't say you need to see medicine as a calling in order to be happy, but those who are happy in medicine generally see it as a calling.

If you think people who pursue medicine for money end up happy in their careers, then you must have no to very limited clinical experience.
 
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gulli_97

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You're disagreeing by yourself because no one here is speaking binary. I didn't say you need to see medicine as a calling in order to be happy, but those who are happy in medicine generally see it as a calling.

If you think people who pursue medicine for money end up happy in their careers, then you must have no to very limited clinical experience.

I should've expanded on what I said. In any career, money is not the end all be all. There have to be other factors that make you want to come to work every day, otherwise yea I agree, you wouldn't be happy.
 
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Microbe_Hunter

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I also don’t subscribe to the idea of becoming a physician because “medicine is a calling,” but do agree that if you don’t actually like the science of it all or have a remote interest in working with patients/as part of a healthcare team, maybe being a physician isn’t the right career for you
 
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deleted480308

It’s all just a job. Decide if you want the job

but for what it’s worth, you did have “something special”, your parents pushing you was how you got where you are (and your siblings) so feel free to resent their shortcomings but they got you to a place where you have options in life that you might have had otherwise
 
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A-Fib

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Go into medicine. Become an EM physician. Every holiday tell the most disgusting and weird stories at the table (and you’ll have plenty of those). Revenge is a dish best served cold...
 
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Talk to your brother (the one who majored in Spanish). He seems like the kind of guy who knows himself and what he wanted despite living in the same high-pressure family as you did.
Coming from a similar culture, it is really disheartening to see parents do this to their bright and sensitive children, without realizing the damage they’re causing.
 
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For me, I shadowed a ton in the medical field in all different specialties. When I couldn’t wait to get out of there, I knew medicine wasn’t for me, even though my parents were pushing for it. Ended up going into dentistry, something I truly enjoy and find fun.
 

stickgirl390

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It sounds like you have a lot of pieces to be happy in medicine, but not all of them. To me, a random person on the internet who doesn’t know you at all, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go to medical school.

I don’t think you’re asking the right question. Your career doesn’t end with an MD acceptance, it beings there. What is your final goal? What is a career you could be happy with? You’ve mentioned a passion for learning, and demonstrated a talent in learning science. Your final goal might be pathology, radiology, infectious disease (as mentioned earlier). The path to those things starts with medical school. You can also have a career in academics and research with the MD degree.

Medical school is not a life sentence as a clinician. It’s a degree that has many paths, just like any other degree (like your brother majoring in Spanish). I think you should stop asking if you should go to medical school, and start asking what your career goals are. You might find out that medical school is how you get there. I suspect that might be true.
 
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