Is medical school the right path for what I want to accomplish?

Nov 20, 2013
3
0
Hi everyone, first time here.

I'm 35 and have been working as a software developer for the last 10 years. Recently I've been considering going into medicine, but I would like some advice about whether my reason for doing so indicates that I should become a doctor, or if there's a different way to get to my goal.

My primary interest is in improving the way that the human body functions, and the techniques by which we repair it. I want people to be able to be able to run faster, heal more quickly, have better infection resistance, etc. As an example, a ligament injury heals more slowly than a cut on the skin due to a lower rate of blood supply, so I would like to research and develop ways to increase the circulation to a ligament, and rate of cell division in the wounded area, to make the repair time arbitrarily fast. I view the body as a system based on physical principles that, if understood, allow us to specify how we would like it to behave and alter it to meet those specifications.

I understand that this is a very different way of thinking about medicine from the usual med-school applicant's line of thought, e.g. "I feel very rewarded when I make sick people healthy, and make people in pain feel better." Particularly because I'm not only interested in restoring a substandard body to normal function; I also want to expand the limits of what a healthy person can do. However, it seems that my ultimate goal is the same as any aspiring doctor--to enable human beings to achieve their desired states of body and mind--and therefore requires similar training in anatomy, physiology, pathology, and so forth.

I'm aware that what I'm describing sounds closer to being a physiologist, rather than a physician or surgeon--this was the opinion of a retired ENT whom I spoke with. But if I intend to create superior surgical techniques or diagnostic methods, I'll be directly working with patients and therefore I'll need medical training in order to safely conduct research. As to the particular system that I want to focus on, I don't know yet--it's clear that there's a lot of interdependence between different organs, so the relationship between body parts is what's most interesting to me.

I read a similar discussion in this thread:

http://forums.studentdoctor.net/threads/is-an-md-the-right-career-path-if-i-want-to-develope-new-technologies.753740/

which was full of widely differing opinions about whether to get an MD, PhD, or MD-PhD, so I'm looking for further guidance. I recognize that I may be quite naive about what's really involved in these various professions, and about what's involved in changing careers from programming to laboratory work and patient care, so I welcome any constructive criticism that you have to offer.
 

theseeker4

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Apr 20, 2011
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Hi everyone, first time here.

I'm 35 and have been working as a software developer for the last 10 years. Recently I've been considering going into medicine, but I would like some advice about whether my reason for doing so indicates that I should become a doctor, or if there's a different way to get to my goal.

My primary interest is in improving the way that the human body functions, and the techniques by which we repair it. I want people to be able to be able to run faster, heal more quickly, have better infection resistance, etc. As an example, a ligament injury heals more slowly than a cut on the skin due to a lower rate of blood supply, so I would like to research and develop ways to increase the circulation to a ligament, and rate of cell division in the wounded area, to make the repair time arbitrarily fast. I view the body as a system based on physical principles that, if understood, allow us to specify how we would like it to behave and alter it to meet those specifications.

I understand that this is a very different way of thinking about medicine from the usual med-school applicant's line of thought, e.g. "I feel very rewarded when I make sick people healthy, and make people in pain feel better." Particularly because I'm not only interested in restoring a substandard body to normal function; I also want to expand the limits of what a healthy person can do. However, it seems that my ultimate goal is the same as any aspiring doctor--to enable human beings to achieve their desired states of body and mind--and therefore requires similar training in anatomy, physiology, pathology, and so forth.

I'm aware that what I'm describing sounds closer to being a physiologist, rather than a physician or surgeon--this was the opinion of a retired ENT whom I spoke with. But if I intend to create superior surgical techniques or diagnostic methods, I'll be directly working with patients and therefore I'll need medical training in order to safely conduct research. As to the particular system that I want to focus on, I don't know yet--it's clear that there's a lot of interdependence between different organs, so the relationship between body parts is what's most interesting to me.

I read a similar discussion in this thread:

http://forums.studentdoctor.net/threads/is-an-md-the-right-career-path-if-i-want-to-develope-new-technologies.753740/

which was full of widely differing opinions about whether to get an MD, PhD, or MD-PhD, so I'm looking for further guidance. I recognize that I may be quite naive about what's really involved in these various professions, and about what's involved in changing careers from programming to laboratory work and patient care, so I welcome any constructive criticism that you have to offer.
Would you rather be treating patients as your main job and add on clinical research, be mainly conducting research with some clinical care possible, or be doing just bench research without any clinical care of patients? Those very roughly correlate to MD vs. MD/PhD vs PhD. You could also look at more technologically-oriented jobs as in a biomedical engineering degree or some such.

There is an awful lot of studying, work, etc. to go through to get the MD if you are not primarily interested in patient care. If your main goal is the type of research you are describing, bench research is probably closest to where you want to be, either through a PhD in a medical field or a biomedical engineering degree. If you want to conduct clinical trials and study actual patients and their results hands-on, MD or MD/PhD would probably be better. Physiologists are more coordinators of rehabilitation patient care, so while research you are describing will impact them to a great extent decades down the road, you wouldn't necessarily be on the front line of that type of research in that specialty. There is no particular specialty that would be focused on this research, so you could really do pretty much anything, as all specialties would benefit from improving healing, improving bodily functions, etc. Many diagnostic techniques and other advances are researched in depth by PhDs before MDs ever really start to do anything with it. I would only choose becoming a physician if you really want to be hands on with patients, though, as you can do a lot of work with biology/tissues/animal models/genetic engineering/etc. without the intensive training it would require for the MD.
 

DrMidlife

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After 10 years in industry you should know that the people who have the ideas are not the people who bring the ideas to tangible form, and they're not the people who make the tangible form repeatable, and they're not the people who can get funding, and they're not the people who can get the idea through the FDA, and they're not the people who can finally bring an idea to market.

You should decide which of those people you want to be. You can be more than one but probably not more than two. Best of luck to you.
 
OP
B
Nov 20, 2013
3
0
I would only choose becoming a physician if you really want to be hands on with patients, though, as you can do a lot of work with biology/tissues/animal models/genetic engineering/etc. without the intensive training it would require for the MD.
Thank you for framing it that way. That makes a lot of sense.

At this time the idea of modeling a human system, designing a treatment based on that model, proving its efficacy in a patient to gain FDA approval, and arranging to provide it to the entire affected population feels more attractive than applying that same treatment to each patient individually. But I'm aware that this is because that's basically what I've been doing for the last 10 years: defining a problem, writing and testing the software to solve it, and distributing the application to all users who need it. Medicine may be completely different, so I'm looking into doing some hospital volunteering to find out if patient care itself is compelling to me.
 
OP
B
Nov 20, 2013
3
0
After 10 years in industry you should know that the people who have the ideas are not the people who bring the ideas to tangible form, and they're not the people who make the tangible form repeatable, and they're not the people who can get funding, and they're not the people who can get the idea through the FDA, and they're not the people who can finally bring an idea to market.

You should decide which of those people you want to be. You can be more than one but probably not more than two. Best of luck to you.
I didn't think about it that way. I think I may have a skewed understanding of how technology development functions because I've always been the primary technology expert in my department, which means that I do the whole process cradle-to-grave: assess user needs, come up with idea to solve them, develop into solution, distribute to users, confirm that solution is effective, provide ongoing support as needed. Maybe being a big fish in a small pond has given me a narrow view of what real large-scale problem solving entails.

Giving it some thought, it doesn't seem likely that current medical practice and regulations encourage/permit doctors to invent innovative techniques to treat patients, and it's more about adopting solutions that biomedical engineering researchers have put through extensive testing. And if I'm spending a significant amount of time doing research to figure out a new way to treat a patient's torn ligament, that's time that I can't use to treat other patients who urgently need my help.

Thanks for the needed dose of realism.