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Leave teaching for medicine? Would love some unbiased advice.

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theMDambition

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This is my first time posting here, so I apologize in advance for inevitably sounding ignorant. This might turn out to be a novel-length rant, but I would greatly appreciate any unbiased input I can get from anyone who has enough time to kill reading it.


I am currently teaching first grade at an international school in Shanghai, China. My contract will be completed in less than a week, at which point I will be returning to the U.S.


I have always felt very deeply that I need to have a career that will allow me to do more with my life than just pay bills (I’m sure you’re familiar with the whole rose-colored glasses, “I’m going to make a real difference in the world” spiel). I come from a relatively small town where it is the norm to spend your entire existence within the confines of a single zip code, doing nothing more than bagging groceries while you basically wait to die. I don’t have any issue with a simple life (I enjoy simple living, really), but even as a young child I felt what I can only describe as a type of claustrophobia from watching the complacency around me– just a complete lack of passion; lack of ambition; people who are not interested in seemingly anything. How/why do they get out of bed in the morning when they don’t have a goal they are aspiring to reach? I think I’m starting to admit to myself that I am depressed and plan on contacting a therapist when I return home. Now that I’m beginning to be honest with myself, this has been an issue that should have been addressed probably in junior high (even before that, maybe), but I’ve been in denial. I don’t feel as if this is something that could be alleviated with medication. I recently stumbled upon the terms “existential depression” and “existential dread”– their descriptions seem to articulate the way I feel perfectly.


My point (finally). I have been seriously considering medical school, but I am concerned that someone with a history of depression or melancholy would not be able to hack it.


As a first generation college student I didn’t have a clue what I was doing heading into my undergrad years. I kept leaning towards things in the medical field, but my family was very against it. Every time I tried to bring up doing something related to medicine, my mother would try to convince me that I should be a teacher. When I pressed her as to why she felt I should teach, she didn’t really have a solid answer for it. I had no experience with kids at all; speaking in front of groups of people is not my forte– (more of a nightmare for me, even if they are just kids…). Eventually I started to see education as a field that could allow me to do good things. There were several teachers who impacted my life and the thought of doing the same for my own students was appealing. I also considered that later going into educational policy could potentially lead to making a bigger impact. Shortly after I switched my major to Elementary Education, I realized that teaching did not suit my personality and did not align with my life goals. However, I felt that I had flip-flopped on my major too many times and stuck with it. I graduated in May 2016 and applied for this international teaching position not expecting anything to happen– something did, obviously. I hoped that my experience here might change my mind about teaching, but it just is not for me. Just I did during undergrad, I’ve found myself preoccupied with medicine. I feel that my time here has forced me to grow in ways that make me feel more confident in my ability to handle the academic and mental rigors of medical school, but still have doubts about the emotional side of it.


Do you think it is possible to succeed as a medical student and as a physician if you are prone to depression? I have also been interested in Epidemiology, specifically global epidemiology. I worry that I would ultimately feel limited if I did not go all of the way for MD, but do you think pursuing a Masters or PhD might be better suited for me?
 
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It is best to get treated for depression before attending medical school or graduate school. Also, a Ph.d isn't a shortcut. It is also very rigorous.
 

futuremdforme

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There are lots of medical students and doctors with depression, but the key is to get on top of it because medical training and practice is enough to make anyone depressed. It also depends on just how depressed you've been and how it affects your ability to function. Someone who has a low mood but is able to get A's is going to have an easier time than someone who has failed multiple courses and had to take several LOAs.

A master's or phd has the advantage of being more self-paced and requiring more sane hours (long hours, but not middle of the night or 26 hour shifts) but if you're not into it, it will feel like you're bagging groceries. So seek help for your depression and spend some time figuring out what you want and what you are capable of.
 

Dullhead

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I have also been interested in Epidemiology, specifically global epidemiology. I worry that I would ultimately feel limited if I did not go all of the way for MD, but do you think pursuing a Masters or PhD might be better suited for me?
The response you will get from seasoned veterans is - if you can see yourself being happy doing something else other than medicine, do it. And - if you are not sure if medicine is for you, then start volunteering at a hospital or hospice to see if being around sick people is what you want, and shadowing a few physicians as well. This second one can help you out if you eventually decide medicine is for you because you will need a minimum number of volunteer and shadow hours anyway. So better get started now.
 
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GreenDuck12

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Current teacher and aspiring doctor here. I second Dullhead's suggestion that you take time to learn more about the medical profession by volunteering and shadowing.
 
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theMDambition

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The response you will get from seasoned veterans is - if you can see yourself being happy doing something else other than medicine, do it. And - if you are not sure if medicine is for you, then start volunteering at a hospital or hospice to see if being around sick people is what you want, and shadowing a few physicians as well. This second one can help you out if you eventually decide medicine is for you because you will need a minimum number of volunteer and shadow hours anyway. So better get started now.


I agree that if you can picture yourself being happy in another profession, then medicine probably isn't for you. However, whenever I do consider going an alternate path with just a Masters of some sort I feel like that would be restricting and that I would regret it down the line. Ideally, I would love to do a dual MD, MPH program. I tried to volunteer at a hospital hear in Shanghai last September, but it conflicted with my teaching schedule at the time and volunteering in hospitals isn't really a thing that happens here and China from what I've gathered. My plan is to get some sort of job (probably CNA) that allows me to have patient contact while I'm completing my science prerequisites. After gaining patient contact, some shadowing, and gaging my comfort level in the upper division science courses I would re-evaluate to see if medicine was what I truly wanted. Thanks for taking the time to reply. I really appreciate it. :)
 

theMDambition

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It is best to get treated for depression before attending medical school or graduate school. Also, a Ph.d isn't a shortcut. It is also very rigorous.

This is absolutely true. I didn't intend to make it sound as if a Ph.d is a breezy thing to achieve. A Ph.d is rigorous, no doubt. In my mind it would be a different type of rigor because you wouldn't be dealing with life or death decisions.
 

theMDambition

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Current teacher and aspiring doctor here. I second Dullhead's suggestion that you take time to learn more about the medical profession by volunteering and shadowing.

Quoting my response to Dullhead-
My plan is to get some sort of job (probably CNA) that allows me to have patient contact while I'm completing my science prerequisites. After gaining patient contact, some shadowing, and gaging my comfort level in the upper division science courses I would re-evaluate to see if medicine was what I truly wanted.

Thank you for taking the time to reply. Also, it makes me really happy to hear about other teachers moving to medicine. :)
 

theMDambition

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There are lots of medical students and doctors with depression, but the key is to get on top of it because medical training and practice is enough to make anyone depressed. It also depends on just how depressed you've been and how it affects your ability to function. Someone who has a low mood but is able to get A's is going to have an easier time than someone who has failed multiple courses and had to take several LOAs.

A master's or phd has the advantage of being more self-paced and requiring more sane hours (long hours, but not middle of the night or 26 hour shifts) but if you're not into it, it will feel like you're bagging groceries. So seek help for your depression and spend some time figuring out what you want and what you are capable of.


It's reassuring to be reminded that doctors are human and deal with human things too. This feeling I've had really traces back to high school I think, and I was valedictorian of my class, so...didn't affect my grades as much as it did my happiness. However, I went to a ridiculously small private school, so being valedictorian really wasn't much of an achievement and the classes were not as challenging as I think most high school courses tend to be. This is another issue that also makes me hesitant to believe that I have what it takes to make it in medicine. My high school anatomy teacher was also the English/Bible teacher and the text books had reproductive organs marked out with Sharpie o_O:shrug::smack::bang:
There was no science teacher to teach Chemistry, so we did not have it. The biology teacher had a Masters of Theater degree. A lot of science courses in undergrad sounded interesting to me, but I avoided them because I did not think I would be able to do well in them. I totally felt like I was bagging groceries while I was finishing undergrad and a good chunk of this year of teaching. Now I feel like having the motivation of pursuing a passion like medicine would make the riggors of it worth it.
I do need to get my mental health in check first though. Thanks for your reply!
 

futuremdforme

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Quoting my response to Dullhead-
My plan is to get some sort of job (probably CNA) that allows me to have patient contact while I'm completing my science prerequisites. After gaining patient contact, some shadowing, and gaging my comfort level in the upper division science courses I would re-evaluate to see if medicine was what I truly wanted.

Thank you for taking the time to reply. Also, it makes me really happy to hear about other teachers moving to medicine. :)
Instead of CNA, I'd try to get a paid research job. Research publications will help you in either field. Get your patient experience via volunteer work.
 

Goro

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All of these issues can be addressed by really looking before you leap. Meaning significant time, maybe years, of shadowing and volunteering and talking to doctors and soul searching before you pull the trigger and take a post-bac course or sign up for the MCAT. Medicine is not a good fit for everyone.

Also, medical school is a furnace, and I've seen it break even healthy students. The #1 reason my school loses students to withdrawal, dismissal or LOA is to unresolved mental health issues. So do NOT go down this path unless your depression is fully under control. This coming from someone who has twice been on anti-depressants, and under a therapist's care ~five times in my life for depression.


Do you think it is possible to succeed as a medical student and as a physician if you are prone to depression? I have also been interested in Epidemiology, specifically global epidemiology. I worry that I would ultimately feel limited if I did not go all of the way for MD, but do you think pursuing a Masters or PhD might be better suited for me?
 

theMDambition

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Instead of CNA, I'd try to get a paid research job. Research publications will help you in either field. Get your patient experience via volunteer work.


Hmm I hadn't really considered taking that route. Thanks for the suggestion, I'll look into it. Though, it seems like the jobs in that area would require more of a science background than what I currently have.
 

theMDambition

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All of these issues can be addressed by really looking before you leap. Meaning significant time, maybe years, of shadowing and volunteering and talking to doctors and soul searching before you pull the trigger and take a post-bac course or sign up for the MCAT. Medicine is not a good fit for everyone.

Also, medical school is a furnace, and I've seen it break even healthy students. The #1 reason my school loses students to withdrawal, dismissal or LOA is to unresolved mental health issues. So do NOT go down this path unless your depression is fully under control. This coming from someone who has twice been on anti-depressants, and under a therapist's care ~five times in my life for depression.

I certainly intend to spend plenty of time exposing myself to the realities of the field before taking the plunge, and would be dedicating a lot of time to getting my mental health in check.

Re "medicine is not a good fit for everyone": I have always been so drawn to it and can envision myself being happy and passionate doing it. Obviously envisioning is very different from actually experiencing, but the fact that my family seems so against me going to medical school makes me feel like maybe they are seeing something that I'm not and that I'm not right for it.

I was just saying goodbye to my Chinese co-teacher and when she asked me if I planned on teaching again somewhere else next year I said, "Actually, I'm considering going back to school." She just looked at me and said, "I think you would be better suited to work in a hospital as a doctor or a nurse, to be frank." Sort of simultaneously offensive and complimentary, but she is very blunt in that way. Obviously that opinion doesn't really mean anything, but it struck me as odd that she said that because I have never mentioned any of my plans to her before.
 
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CastleG8

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The student ambassador on my accepted school's interview day tour talked to me about motivations for medicine. We are both career changers and currently in our 30s and she said that she taught HS for 8 years. I mentioned that I had a brother pursuing teaching and she said "have him talk to me first." I guess she was very happy with her change although she was still only a student doctor. Anyways, I just wanted to share that others have taught for a while and changed paths in their late 30s with no regrets. I don't know their reasons or yours. Just go where you see yourself happy as long as its for the right reasons. :)
 
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