When to get out of medicine is a choice that plagues a number of medical students who are completely unhappy in medical school. I went through the same questions and decisions, particularly starting around the end of second year and into my junior rotations.
This might be one of the toughest decisions you’ll ever make, and for good reason. Many students have accumulated large debts, and every student has made the sacrifice of their time to get where they are today. Those are huge factors. In addition, many students have families to support, and finding meaningful employment that will allow loan payback as well as funds for supporting the lifestyle of their family is scary to say the least.
These were some of the issues that I was faced with just a few years ago. Believe me when I say that I know what you’re going through. Every day you wake up to dread going into the hospital while you have these worries piled up on top of that. I won’t lie about it either, I went through one of the largest episodes of depression due to thinking about these things on a daily basis. I didn’t talk about it on this blog at the time, because I thought I was too proud. Instead, I vented through other more entertaining posts. But this is a real issue, and something that many students deal with on a daily basis. It needs to be addressed.
As somebody who has already gone through all of this, here is what I recommend that you do:
1. Stick It Out
First and foremost, the ultimate goal when dealing with the question of when to get out of medicine is to keep as many doors open as possible. Quitting medical school outright closes a very big door. Yes, it sucks to be miserable but remember that the bulk of your misery will be concentrated during your junior year. Your senior year will be much better, which leads me to the next point.
2. Try Alternative Specialties
During your fourth year electives, take this time to evaluate “alternative” specialties that you didn’t get to experience as part of your core rotation schedule during your junior year. For example, rotate through a Child and Adolescent Psych month or do a month of Pathology. You never know what you may find that will appeal to you. Just because you hated your surgery rotation doesn’t mean you’ll hate something else. Some of these specialties are actually “undiscovered gems” that might give you the lifestyle and amount of free time that you are looking for.
3. What If That Doesn’t Work?
Quite possibly, you may find that nothing in medicine appeals to you. That’s OK, too. However, by finishing school you’ve left the door open as a “fall back” plan. Some people might discredit you for “falling back” on medicine with some hogwash about you being a good doctor and all of that. Don’t listen to it. You are looking out for you and your family, and that’s all that matters. If that involves falling back on medicine, than so be it.
4. Try Alternative Careers
OK, if you’ve taken the path so far and have found that medicine isn’t for you now is the time to try alternative careers. After graduating from medical school, jump into alternative employment and try to discover your niche. This can involve furthering your education through graduate degrees. It may take you a year, or it may take you three. The idea is to discover if alternative employment is really for you. If you find that it is, then you’re at the end of the road and you’ve made your decision. If not, however, there are still options.
5. Falling Back
Remember when I said that finishing school is important? Here’s where that comes into play. If you ultimately decide that alternative employment isn’t for you, or you weren’t able to find a job that pays enough to support your lifestyle and family, now is the time to re-enter the match and find a specialty that is the most tolerable for you. By finishing school, you’ve kept this door wide open. Take what information you learned via rotating through your specialties of choice during your senior electives, and pick the “lesser of the evils.”
It may not be the most desirable choice, but it gets the job done. Remember, there is no shame in medicine as a fall back career choice.
Follow The Steps
By following the above steps, you can alleviate some of the fears that you may have regarding when to get out of medicine and finding employment that will support loan repayment and maintenance of your lifestyle.
This decision cycle was designed so that it gives you the flexibility to discover alternatives to medicine while at the same time allowing you to re-enter medicine as a last-ditch resort if needed.