Sometimes I feel like I blew it when it came to selecting a career.
While I’m doing okay in medicine, I feel like people who get a good education have a chance to have a career that makes them truly happy. While I might be able to tailor my practice to make me happier in the future, I often get the sense that I went down the wrong path entirely. When my daughter talks about what she might want to be someday, I actually feel jealous that she still has so many options.
I should have known this would happen. Science class was never my favorite. When I was in seventh grade, I took a Life Science class and I hated it. When I was in eighth grade, I took earth science and I hated that. Then when I was in ninth grade, I took biology and I hated that.
At that point, I had been considering going into medicine, but I told myself that if I didn’t like my next science class, this was really getting ridiculous. Fortunately, I did like chemistry. Then I didn’t like physics either, but at least I liked chemistry.
When I was in college, I again hated biology. And I hated medical school.
It wasn’t like I never liked anything. I'm not, like, some negative person who never gets any enjoyment out of anything. I liked most of my math and computer science classes. And I always loved my English classes in high school. But somehow I didn’t realize there was a way to make a reasonable career out of that, mostly because all my friends were either getting PhD’s, which I didn’t want, or going into investment banking, which I really didn’t want.
If I had it to do over again, I actually think engineering or actuarial work might have been a good career for me. But at this point, you don’t quit medicine to go into something boring like engineering. People would think I’m nuts. I’d have to quit for a really crazy dream, like becoming a chef. (I love cooking shows. Maybe a possibility??)
Anyway, who knows? Maybe I’d be a thirty-something year old engineer wishing I’d gone to med school?
This post actually makes me feel a LOT better about my choice to go to med school. Pretty much the only classes I liked at all since like... 5th grade were my biology classes. English? History? Latin? Barf.ReplyDelete
I guess math was ok... it was definitely better than Latin, and in college I liked my social sciences classes, but biology was definitely the best.
I told myself that I mostly hated the plant and animal parts of biology, and I didn't mind the human parts as much. Which is true. But I didn't love the human part that much either.Delete
I always hated language and history classes. I LOVED math in high school, but then when it got harder in college, I was struggling a bit even though I still got good grades, and I think that's part of what turned me away.
Funny, I had a similar experience with calculus in college. I was still getting As, but I never had any confidence and I was always worried that I would start failing. Makes no sense in retrospect. Interesting you had a similar experience even though you're probably better at math than I am.Delete
I loved all biology. I guess I was a bit more lukewarm on plant bio and ecology, but LOVED human bio. I remember in 6th grade telling my parents I wanted to be a dr, and they were all, "Why would you want to do that?"
My mother used to be a biology teacher and sometimes she'd give me biology lessons for "fun." And I did enjoy that. But any context in which I was learning about it in a classroom, I didn't like it that much. Of course, I did have a series of incredibly terrible biology teachers.Delete
It seems like big part of your emotional struggles (like any other emotional struggle over career I hear about) is in the societal mantra: do what you love, never choose what you might "hate". Somehow current culture is that you have to enjoy and get a thrill out of every minute of your life. Plus, everyone around you is automatically smiling when the say hello, and answer that they are "doing very good" (and you assume it is truly so). I feel blessed that I come from very modest and disciplined culture, where work is work, children are told study is their job (in this country "school is fun!"), later adults are told their societal role is to contribute, benefit other humans. What I seemed to have gotten out of that upbringing is we cannot chase ever fleating fullfillment, joy, excitment, etc, but rather fullfillment comes from your job done well. My current sports coach says "find the joy in it". I apply this principle in my work, and every time I do, I have a better day. I do recommend my career to my children and try to shift their interests to medicine, discourage idle dreaming that might lead to random illogical career path. Examine reasons for why you feel this way, find outlets in your free time, find how to change the way you perceive your work. In the beginning of my career I spent a lot of time learning on how to communicate, connect with patients, asking my colleagues how they do it, and it improved tremendously my satisfaction from every patient encounter. I use empathy, lighthearted humor, all "tricks" from those Medical society workshops - they work! Even though I might talk about pt's hobby or unrelated family staff, my encounters run smoothly and efficiently, so my patients say and they appreciate it. good luck. Do not get stuck in thinking - this is how it will be. You have the power to change (if not your environment, then your feelings).ReplyDelete
I think my big problem now is that my family obligation is so high that it stops any of my attempts at career development. Any time I try to work with another doctor to learn a new procedure, for example, I get called away for one of my kids with a fever, or I'm sick, or something along those lines. I'm trying to be patient, telling myself that this is something that will change in the future.Delete
To be truthful I stepped down in my career. My big name clinic could not believe where I went to work. And I work 40h/w down from 60 h/w and I dropped all professional society obligations and fun staff I was involved with. You are right though, our field does not allow for easy time out when your family is sick, which is a lot when kids are young. Sometimes I wished I was a school teacher and stayed home all summer with kids.Delete
I am immensely jealous of teachers who get the summer off. But then again, my experience with TAing classes made me realize that I *hate* teaching in a large group setting.Delete
@Anonymous: Thank you for the excellent advice above. If you don't mind sharing, I would like to know where you grew up. If you do mind sharing, your advice is still among the best I've heard from any doctor in a long time. Thanks again.Delete
I grew up in a large eastern european country. It promoted collectivism, prohibited vulgar or lazy attitues, vulgar language (yes, cencorship), actively enforced: family unit must stay morally healthy to allow future generations to be most productuve people they can be. On a large scale via honest work it prevented corrupt minds.Delete
Thanks for sharing. It seems your upbringing and culture have served you, your family, and your patients very well.Delete
I actually know a fair number of engineers who decided to go into medicine after getting their degree. I think there's an urge to flip in all fields.ReplyDelete
I agree with Cheryl. I think most people, at some point, stop and look at their lives (usually in our 30s, when we feel like options are going away) and wonder how we got where we are and wish we had done something different. I'm a tenured academic, have a good life, but wish I'd taken a different path a lot of times (I work crazy long hours, tons of stress, and make peanuts). Something I've worked at is finding ways to reshape my professional life to be more suited to my interests and, in a way, to give me more pleasure. It doesn't always work, but has been helpful.ReplyDelete
Well just to be different from the other posters, you could do an engineering degree now and be a rare but valued person for medical equipment companies or research organizations where the crossover between the 2 fields is critical.ReplyDelete
This is an idea that's occurred to me. But I never loved school and the thought of going back at this point is too horrible.Delete
I am a thirty-something engineer who is in med school. Medicine is my gateway to doing more [EE/CprE/BME] engineering. Ask me in 10 years if I had, instead, just wished to go to med school and left it at that. :)ReplyDelete
I'm an actuary and I wish I were a doctor (You help people...I just help calculate rates for insurance companies). Maybe we should switch places...ReplyDelete
Yes, but you have nice, regular hours and don't work weekends. You get to go to the bathroom whenever you want. You can take a sick day without feeling like the world will collapse.Delete
I'm an engineer and I often think I'm in the wrong field. But then, I do like some things about my field and I'm good at what I do. I'm living with my cousin, who is currently deciding what to do at uni, and I keep catching myself thinking "Oh yes, I wish I'd studied that" when she reads the uni prospectuses.ReplyDelete
I think almost everyone sometimes feels that way. It doesn't necessarily mean you've gone into the wrong field. On the other hand switching fields might not be wrong either.
I don't believe people have just one thing they're meant to be doing and if they don't end up doing that, they've gone wrong. I think we all have multiple "right" options. But maybe that's just me...
There is an old saying..."the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence" definitely applies here!ReplyDelete
I'm a surgical subspecialty resident, currently thinking hard about life after residency.... fellowship or not, academic or private, where to practice, how much money is enough, work/life balance, etc, etc.ReplyDelete
My favorite what-if careers to ponder are geologist and computer programmer.
All that said, I've been doing some reading about what makes people happy at work, and talking with my attendings about the same thing...
It appears a lot of career happiness comes down to three things:
Medicine can be good and bad on all fronts:
AUTONOMY -- rarely does a doctor have a boss looking over her shoulder. Indeed, we have a lot of professional latitude to care for our patients as we see fit... BUT, insurance companies and the threat of litigation do take some some autonomy away.
FLEXIBILITY -- doctors work in every state, in cities large and small, in all kinds of practices -- BUT the day-to-day of our work often very inflexible (just try canceling a half-day of OR cases or a busy clinic... anathema!)
CONNECTEDNESS -- the experiences we have with out patients can be humbling/motivating/moving/enlightening/etc... BUT, they can also be draining.
Ultimately, I believe these features can be found in all careers and all jobs... just to a greater or lesser extent.
I agree. And I think it will be easier for me to find happiness in medicine than starting over in an entirely new field.Delete
I'm a lot like my dad, who chose engineering over medicine many years ago. He made sure that I didn't make the same mistake. My brother is doing an undergrad in engineering right now, but that's only because he's way too lazy to be a doctor.ReplyDelete
In the end, whenever I think I should have gone into engineering (which happens often - I was always particularly good at math and I never really liked my science classes, except maybe chemistry), I always figure that I can just rely on my dad's experience, since I'm a lot like him.
I know a woman ophthalmologist who was (and worked as) an engineer in her early life. Come on! You are not serious! You have education debt and 2 tiny kids. you are not going to school again !ReplyDelete
Well, I'm not in debt, but you're right that I do have two tiny kids and I'm not seriously considering going back to school. The most I'd consider would be a fellowship in something different.Delete
Fizzy - I read an interview with top model Natalia Vodyanova last month. She does not have it easy, her career is very demanding, plus she was getting divorce from her husbund, they have 3 kids, Natalia helps her mother who is a sole caregiver to sister with severe cerebral palsy. Natalia said: the woman is responsible for her state of happiness. Happiness is the state that every woman achieves by adjusting her surrounding and environment. Happiness is a fleeting moment that you experience from time to time, if you are able to achieve balance and harmony in your life. You work at balance/harmony daily. And you only experience happiness for a few short moments here and there. Never thought I'd hear such great thoughts from a model.ReplyDelete
I am a nurse, not a physician, but I despised my nursing courses in college. I loved the sciences but hated both the theory and the practice of nursing. This was at a time when most women had the choice of being a secretary, teaching, or nursing. I wanted to be a journalist. My father said, "No daughter of mine is going out at 2:00 a.m. to cover a story. I fixed that by choosing a specialty in which I was frequently called in at 2 a.m. It was my mother who said "Be a nurse and then you can do whatever you want." Well, I wasn't going to be a secretary or a teacher, so I majored in nursing, and I went to college to do it. I also quit several times. During psych (I was 17 yr old, fresh out of private parochial school and I was on a closed male ward in a county psych hospital), during OB (pre-Lamaze, heavy into scopalomine) at a Catholic hospital where any intervention that might terminate a pregnancy or a mother's fertility was strictly forbidden, regardless of how much bleeding was going on, and at various other "Are you sh***ing me?" moments. Finally, during senior year, I had two rotations that made me think that I might actually work at this job - ICU and ER - which is where I spent my clinical years. At least with nursing, we had more flexibility, so when I tired of "Treat 'em and street 'em" without too much intellectual stress, I would go back to intensive care, and when that exhausted me, back to the ER. Many years down the line, I have held multiple positions that grew out of my passion for everything intensive. I won't bore you with the list, but most recently, I combined my clinical experience with a love for the discipline of law and the ability to write semi-coherent sentences to be a legal nurse consultant. I am happily and successfully employed, my back is getting a rest, and my mind is stimulated. I do miss many things about hospital life - the camraderie, immediate gratification (or not), the choreography of an arrest, the unparalleled cooperation and respect among various disciplines, and that special MASH Unit relationship that people in difficult situations share. Now, however, when someone tells me that we have an emergency case, I can say, until you can tell me that a school bus carrying students careened off the road and hit two Jehovah's Witnesses at the same time I am attending to an AMI, (a situation that actually happened, btw), then we do not have an emergency.ReplyDelete
That said, I am with everyone who said "Go study engineering." Biomedical engineering is, and will be, a huge market with many different opportunities. You don't have to quit what you are doing to decide if you really like engineering. You can start slowly and if you love it, go for it. What do you have to lose?
Sorry this is so long. I guess your post hit a nerve. Tricia
what does she have to lose?Delete
- time with her kids (doing online ourses or attending local collegs in evening hours!), which is why she loathes her career now.
Well, they won't be little forever, and engineering still will be there if she changes her mind.Delete
I meant to add that your current knowledge and training might open doors out there without another degree. TriciaDelete
And the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. I loved biology, chemistry, and physics. My downfall was Calculus. My college told me not to bother with pre-med if I could not hack Calc. with a B+ or better (got a B.)ReplyDelete
So, I fell back on writing. I wish I was smart enough to help people when they are sick. That seems like the greatest gift.
But, Tricia has it right. See if there is something you can combine the MD with. Good Luck. I will tell you that every person I have met has days, weeks, months when the grass is greener in some other profession.
I really wanted to go to Medical School and I am arrogant enough to think I would have gotten in; I wanted the knowledge and the experience but knew I did not want to treat patients. Looking back sometimes I wish I would have gone to med school and chosen a career path did not involve patient contact. No way would I go back to school now. I have read enough of your blog to know you have talent, if writing brings you happiness, write a book, something tells me if you wrote a “guide to surviving med school” your audience would be a lot broader than people going to Med School. (FroRyder)ReplyDelete
I am realistic enough to know that the chance of making a decent living off writing is very small. But I do write in order to derive more enjoyment out of the things I do.Delete
Okay now you're messing with my head.ReplyDelete
I thought PM&R is awesome..?
It could be. I have colleagues in my field that are doing something very close to what I'd like to be doing, but I'm further away from that point. Largely because, as I said above, my family is keeping me from making any major advances in my career right now. But this is why I have hope that things will get better.Delete
May I ask what your colleagues are doing exactly?Delete
I got an MSME from a top school and hated the actual job part of it. The school part was fun though....and now I'm in vet school, which I hate, but I think I'll like the job part of it a lot more. I am, however, very unattached and with little debt so I didn't feel like I had much to lose, other than time. I'm older than most but I think I'm more mature than if I had done this the first time around. In any case, I think the grass is always greener on the other side for many of these things.ReplyDelete
This was published in the New York Times today--http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/30/jobs/follow-a-career-passion-let-it-follow-you.html?src=me&ref=generalReplyDelete
You'll find your path Fizzy. Those years with small children are tough, but keep plugging away.
Maybe bio-technology? In addition to operating, my husband seriously gets off on inventing new medical technologies and he is always looking for engineers who have a medical background who can understand his concept and help build proto-types. We are currently on on second start-up and I know many engineers who have made a killing working for bio-tech start ups.ReplyDelete
I am hosting Medical Monday blog hop today. I would love it if you and anyone else would like to link up their medlife blogs. I know there are plenty on the grid who would love to read your blog.
We can't have it all. You job will be there when it can be a focus - be with your kids now, they are only little once. Happiest doc I know works 10-20 hrs per week. She says, she'll pick up once the kids are in high school. She said biggest adjustment for her was in giving up the dream that she was going to be the hot-shot - she's good when she's there, but it's not her life.ReplyDelete
IMHO: people who say "you're so lucky to be a doctor" obviously don't know what it's like.ReplyDelete
I hit rock bottom of my residency these last two weeks. I hate it. HATE IT. I can't quit: I have massive debt, and I've gone too far. And I don't want to go to school again - although in retrospect, undergrad was SO EASY. But I'm looking at years more of school anyway - I could easily get another undergrad degree at this time.
Before medicine, I wondered how someone could be crazy and stupid enough to quit medicine and write (Michael Crichton).
But now I get it. I have so much respect for these people. And I know I'm gonna be the mother that says "hell no, you're not going into medicine".
And all the nurses are like "oh I'm earning a 100k a year and got no debts and I'm 25 and have two kids, I couldn't do what you do" and all I can think of is, "I'm not sure if I can do it either."
I always tell myself that I *know* there are tons of possibilities in medicine. While I haven't found the right one yet, at least I'm not miserable, and there are a lot of opportunities to change. If you're motivated, I think you can make a career in medicine anything you want. My big problem is at this moment, I'm not motivated and therefore stuck in a rut.
Can I ask what drew you to medicine in the first place then? Was it being a doctor sounded awesome or parental pressure? I mean, when med school interviewers asked you why medicine, what did you say?ReplyDelete
Wow, my thoughts exactly. I think it's a more comment sentiment than people outside of medicine would expect (the kind of people who just say 'oh you're so lucky that you get to help people'); I have a bunch of med school friends and a few residents that I work with who feel the same way. I've thought myself in circles trying to figure out how I ended up here and I think it comes down to a few things:ReplyDelete
-Being a good student and having the impression that I needed to do something ambitious and prestigious (and somehow medical school was the only thing that I could thing of? Even though I didn't particularly love science either. WHY do so many people feel like med school is the ultimate path to pursue in life?)
-Playing the game of 'I'll just see how I do on the MCAT...just see if I get accepted...etc etc' and not encountering any barriers
-Once you realize what med school is like and that you pretty much hate it, you're in too much debt to get out and start over (or at least it feels that way). Plus...what do you do with a 'pre-med' bachelor's degree?
-I definitely had no realistic concept of what life is like during med school or residency, like working weekends and taking call...but how many people really do consider that when they're just so excited to become a doctor and help people? (And life will be fulfilling and amazing and totally like Grey's Anatomy!)
-Along the same lines...how many girls in college, who are focused on studying and finding a career, think ahead to when they might get married and have kids and how their career will affect the amount of time they get to see their family every night, having to use daycare, etc? Not that these struggles are unique to medicine...but for 7+ years (med school and residency) you really have no option to work part time.
I could go on and on, but then I just start to feel guilty about complaining from my seemingly privileged position (all of those people clawing to get into med school...DON'T DO IT! hehe) I don't know what the answer is. I know other people hate their jobs and work long hours and the grass isn't always greener, blah blah blah. Maybe work should just be a means to an end. Maybe I'll quite and open a coffee shop like my friends and I always daydreamed about during lecture as M2s :)
Yep, that sounds *exactly* like me.Delete
Yep. I started answering joleyne's question, and started by saying that she asked a pretty complicated question, but you nailed it right there.Delete
Just commenting quickly since I am in the middle of a med school assignment -- I was just talking to a friend today about how we don't like the idea that to be a doctor you have to KNOW that medicine is the ONLY thing you could ever do with your life. Of course there are other things I could have done. I thought medicine combined a lot of my interests, but come on. So thank you for acknowledging this. I don't know whether medicine has some sort of cognitive dissonance problem or what.ReplyDelete
Also, I was doing practice problems for Step 2, and there was a question about someone with a rash that didn't sound familiar, and one of the options was "zinc deficiency"... so I picked that, based on "Z is for zinc deficiency dermatitis," and it was right. Thank you!
Speaking as a thirty-something engineer who got bored and retrained as a doctor, you should care not one whit about how crazy people might think you are.ReplyDelete
And by the way, engineering is fun to study but boring to work in. Project management anyone??
It's never too late to change. I'm in my mid-forties. After 3 careers changes, I have finally started doing something I truly love (nurse practitioner).ReplyDelete
I agree with many commentors that you should combine your medical training with what you love doing. It may or may not involve any further training/schooling. Don't just look at which subjects you enjoy in school. They often bare no relation to actually working in that field.
Life is too short to waste on doing things you don't love.
I think the whole "do what you love" movement really screwed over a generation of college kids. We fed this crap to them for years and now no one is happy with what they do because everyone is always thinking "what if".ReplyDelete
The other problem is that very few college degrees actually lead to gainful employment, which is why getting into professional schools is so damn competitive. I highly doubt that 50k kids want to be doctors (or w/e the total number of applicants are for medical school). However, the fact that doctors make a great living with a guaranteed job is a huge pull.
For a better perspective, look at the plight of PhDs in life sciences. The vast majority of people who pursue a PhD are those who are passionate about the subject. The vast majority will never amount to anything more than a post-doc or high school teacher. I know because I was one of them and decided to go to medical school because I want a stable, well-paying career, not an eternal nomadism.
I knew a guy who was an Air Force pilot. He flew for years. Then, he got out of the service and became an architect. He did that for a few years, and decided - and I quote - that he was bored. So he became an emergency physician. He said he hadn't decided what he was going to do next (smiling).ReplyDelete
I liked that guy.
I say why the heck not. Try something else for awhile.
Coincidentally, I happen to be working out of my primary field right now and it's really been good for me. My brain is sort of excited, because it's a whole different way to think and process that I haven't done in awhile and it's sort of stimulating and fun. It's nice to climb out of the rut for a few years, if you can. I have an entirely new perspective and while I know I'll be back in my field in a few years, I'm happy to be where I am right now.
i thought I was/am the only medical student to hate medical school. I'm just a few weeks in and dislike it.ReplyDelete
I've been reading your blog for a while now. I'm a stay-at-home mom of two toddlers. I have wanted to be a doctor since my first child was born a few years ago, but being that I also want to spend time with my children while they're babies AND the fact that my degree in Communications would mean I'd be doing three years of pre-reqs before med scool, I decided to wait until my youngest was two, which he will be soon. But all that time (5+ years) leaves room for a lot of doubt to creep in. My interests in school were always science and history. My goal (before I had children and realized how much I wanted to be a doctor) was to be a history professor. Now everyone says that getting a PhD is useless and being an MD isn't worth the time away from your family. It's left me confused, to say the least. This blog entry is, therefore, kind of depressing. I certainly understand (as well as I can) what you mean by wanting to start over, but your blog was always refreshing for me and gave me further inspiration to be a doctor - you seem to handle the ridiculous of residency and the demands of motherhood so gracefully. Now I'm more confused. Oh, Fizzy, I hope you're not still feeling this way! I need a role model! But, I understand if you do still feel this way. It's tough for me just THINKING about how my choice might affect my children negatively.....ReplyDelete
Well, I don't think medicine is the wrong career for *everyone*. And I'm not terribly unhappy or anything.Delete
I do agree with whoever told you that a PhD in history is useless. I have a friend who just finished hers and says there are basically no jobs whatsoever.
Someone mentioned that I should just get an MPH - less time, less potential for sad cases - but an MPH seems like something for people who wanted to be MDs, but didn't get the chance, which does sound like it describes me, but I've yet to give up hope on the MD!Delete
Well I'm from UK and here you go for your medical degree which is MBBS after your A levels. I do qualify for MBBS degree but instead I went for chartered accountancy! Its my first semester and I'm having second thoughts. Please tell me how is it to work in a hospital. Working burden and conditions?? Should I switch back to medical or continue with my finance and accounting degree?? Please help. I haven't slept from last two days because I'm torn between two choices. My mum wants me to do what I want and I can't decide. Is medical is a stable field? And what about accountancy and salary and job guarantee for both field. I have to take my decision in this month. Pleas see helpReplyDelete
Exactly why do you not like I-Banking?ReplyDelete