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What's It Like To Quit Medical School Or Quit Being A Doctor And Pursue Another Career Path?

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  1. Nada El Garhy

    Nada El Garhy Golden Member

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    What's it like to quit medical school or quit being a doctor and pursue another career path?

    What's it like to realize that you want to quit?


    This question was originally posted on Quora. Below are some selected answer:

    Answer 1 by Jessica Brookman, med school drop out.


    As the resident medical school dropout, I'll say that it really depends on why you're leaving and what you're planning to do once you're "out."

    I'll tell you what lead me to consider leaving school, some of the reactions I received once I did, and how I've felt since. Obviously, this is anecdotal since one only leaves medical school once but here goes:



    I left medical school in 2009 on a personal leave of absence. In my particular instance, there was no academic distress and i left in good standing. I had simply felt uninspired by the culture I found myself in and that coupled with the demands of medical training made for a pretty depressing existence.

    I had been working part-time through my first year of school and taught full time the summer after that year at UCSD. I really enjoyed teaching and thought it might be good to investigate possible alternatives and see if i "missed" medicine. So while the circumstances under which I left weren't exactly "happy," they weren't dire either. There is certainly a lot of unacknowledged struggle within medical school classes, though, I'd say. Most students feel ashamed or even afraid to admit they're unhappy or struggling academically for fear that it will make them look weak. Again, this is my experience. I would urge anyone facing extreme circumstances to seek help.

    When I left, I got a wide-range of responses. I literally received everything from "WTF is wrong with you?" to "FUCK YEAH. Best decision you've ever made!" I also received a fair amount of indignant reactions to the tune of "Don't you know more than 50% of applicants are rejected?! How dare you take their space!" In the beginning, to be honest, I wasn't exactly sure what my next move was and I let these comments affect me in negative ways. But honestly, I wouldn't have known unless I had tried. After I left, I started working full-time in medical content development for Kaplan in their corporate office in NYC. Since then, I've worked mostly with startups developing multi-channel platforms, business intelligence, media distribution, etc etc etc...

    My career continues to evolve. And the more successful and further away from medical school I get, the less surprised people are that I decided to leave. I believe that we are a product of all of our experiences and that, somehow, it all make sense eventually. I decided to take a chance on that leave of absence and have been running with it ever since. I wish i could have figured it out before taking out $50k in loans, but I feel grateful that I didn't wait until I had $200k!

    My advice if you're considering a change is to dip your toes in. Don't be afraid to talk about it with others! Discuss your options with your superiors/deans.

    Medicine is an extremely valuable and honorable calling, but I felt that I could better serve the world in some other way. So I left. And the world hasn't ended yet. So, at least, there's that :)





    Answer 2 by Molly Maloof, Physician Entrepreneur

    OK, so she covered quitting medical school, but I will tell you what it is like to quit your residency half of the way through:

    (1) Your peers might cry and tell you not to do it or tell you that you should stick with it so you have a backup plan.

    (2) Your attendings will tell you either, "You should stick with it so you have a backup plan" or "You can always come back to medicine" or "I'm ambivalent about you leaving" or "You know it gets better once you are an attending" or "I knew someone who stuck with it and they ended up in a different career later on and I always wondered why they went through all the pain" or "I sometimes wish I had left at your stage because once your this far there's no going back".

    (3) The response from your parents will be worse than you ever expected (despite what everyone else told you). Your mother will call you a fool. Your father will tell you just how disappointed he is in you and demand an explanation of what you are going to do next. After about a month they will relax and start treating you better. But, whenever you speak to them they will remark that they don't understand what it is you do... You will learn the meaning of patience.

    (4) Prior to telling your parents you will live in fear for 2 months dreading the day you are going to tell them and seek psychological therapy to deal with your anxiety. You might go through a minor identity crisis and doubt your instincts that are telling you to follow your dream and do what you love (for me: work at a startup and eventually start my own company).

    (5) If you trust your instincts, you will allow yourself to stick with your decision and experience all of the emotional highs and lows that come with completely altering the direction your life is taking. You will learn self-compassion and this will be the most valuable lesson you ever taught yourself. Eventually you will regain the internal balance that will fuel you forward.

    (6) Your friends will astound you with support. You will be helped by people You will become incredibly focused on your new goals. You will do what you have done for everything else in your life that you wanted to learn how to do -- read and research and talk to people who are in the positions you want to be in.

    (7) You stop looking at your life changing as you failing and start seeing it as you deciding that the practice of medicine just wasn't the job you thought it was, and that you want to help people just as much as you did before but in a different way.

    I am a systems thinker and am better suited for solving large-scale problems. I am still as passionate as ever about health, wellness, medicine and seeing the healthcare system change for the better. I just want to help people on a bigger scale (that is not said to diminish the jobs of doctors, because WE NEED them). But, no one wants to be cared for by an unhappy doctor, right? Well, I wasn't happy, so I switched to a different career that feeds my soul. Turns out, life is pretty amazing outside of the hospital walls. And, my goal is to take what I learned within them to help not just thousands of people, but potentially millions.



    Answer 3 by Crystal Tenn, Ex-medical student, current happy human. I code things. Also I love ketchup.

    For me, quitting medical school for software engineering has been like having a second shot at life to go do something else and live the way I wanted to live (going to medical school wasn't my true passion or calling in life). In medicine I was unhappy, stressed, full of nightmares, and constantly sleep-deprived. I am happy most days now, and I enjoy my career. I get to have my weekends and evenings to do whatever I want to do, and I get to spend my time the way I want to without guilt. I picked up new hobbies and things I wanted to do/learn for fun, and no longer does every hobby/activity have to be useful like when I was in medicine. I don't feel bad about going into medical school, and I don't feel bad about leaving.

    I walked out of medical school in my 3rd year, so in a lot of debt but not a crushingly impossible amount of debt. It is very scary to realize you want to actually, actually quit. Kinda the sick in the stomach unknown of a roller-coaster that falls into darkness and you don't know what is on the other side. I was in ~$75,000 USD of debt. It took 2.5 years from the date I left med school to pay it all off. I sacrificed a lot to do this, but a lot less than I sacrificed every day in med school and it has been absolutely worth it.. and by sacrifice I mean that after a year of scrimping on money, I could eat out, enjoy my own nice apartment in a good area, and by myself the video games I really wanted to get while paying it off.

    I was worried about "throwing away a good career", "not succeeding", "taking a huge risk", "throwing away years of work".. and so on. Then, I kept thinking more logically than emotionally about what I wanted out of life and how to get there. Then.. I didn't worry or care about "how much work I put into it" or "how much I invested" because that is the type of thinking that would have caused me regret. I do things and work hard at everything because I want to..so that investment is in myself and my skills, not necessarily in a certain path. I can have confidence in myself to change everything and be able to pick up again and work hard and do well as long as I choose to enjoy it.

    Another point— say you feel as if you “wasted” 6–10 years and can’t get that out of your head. If you feel they are wasted. Now imagine wasting a lifetime. Now, you tell me which one is a smaller portion of your life and insignificant when compared to many, many years of happiness (psst 6–10 years is much, much smaller than your entire life if you are unhappy!). I honestly have zero guilt about leaving.

    There is a huge adjustment period after you leave. It will suck, horribly for a little while. And you will have to work, extremely, extremely hard to get yourself into your new career of choice.
    1. A lot of debt.
    2. No relevant experience in new job. Getting and keeping a new job.
    3. Moving / not knowing people to where you move.
    4. Career environment shock. Corporate / business / anything else is VERY different from the medical community.

    I chose to leave medical school to be a software engineer, with no education or background in the field. I have a degree in Chemistry (not related). I chose software because I am a very strong logical/math/problem solver an a poor memorizer. I was very unhappy with the environment of medicine and the day to day life (it was very exciting for some but wasn't the right path for me and it was hard to look forward to much for me). I had a lot of friends for and against me leaving for their own reasons.

    I have the most amazing older brother who is in the field. He showed me a lot of things to introduce coding to me and so I could see if I enjoyed it. They seemed like puzzles and a weird language at first. The high level concepts of it made sense, but actually DOING something seemed very difficult. I didn't know what C# or a database was before starting. I did however know some front end web ...

    Answer 4 by Kathy Brown

    I left medicine after 17 years of private practice in Ob/Gyn. I had done two residencies, the other in Family Medicine. I loved my practice for years, but then the fatigue and stress took its toll on me. I had two neck surgeries for a badly herniated disk (pelvic exams), and suffered with mid-back pain, hurting all of the time. I got the most pushback from my husband, a pediatrician who was convinced I would "come around." Finally, after a rotator cuff repair, I convinced him that I needed to stop. I enrolled in a masters program in music, and have now added music education (not random -- I have an undergrad degree in music). Now I am nearly finished, feeling physically and mentally much better. I got great support from most of my patients, and have had confused but generally positive reception from other music students, and enthusiastic reception from the education department.

    You live once. Quitting medicine at any time can be like cutting off a limb and leaving it behind. Like jumping off a cliff. Like completely casting off your identity -- but if you are unhappy, it is completely worth it.

    Don't apologize. You have to be true to yourself first and foremost. People change careers all of the time. Medicine should be no different. Medical school is a great education and adventure even if you don't end up seeing patients. You can always make your medical license "Emeritis" and leave the doors open to come back. Or take a sabbatical and see how it goes.

    You can be one of those people who march in to work at a job they don't like for years and years until they drop dead of a heart attack. Or not. I choose not.

    Changing direction does not make you a "quitter".

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