blank'/> A LITTLE BIT OF LACQUER: Is Medicine Still Right for Me?

April 8, 2015

Is Medicine Still Right for Me?


Today I wanted to touch on a topic that I get asked a lot - mostly in person when I get the pleasure to meet some of you at events (shout out to the Harvard undergrad women who invited me to speak on their Road to Success panel last month) - but also in emails from you all as well. And it always has to do with some variation of, is medicine still right for me? Maybe you're in your junior year of college, having completed most of your premed requirements and even having already taken the MCAT, but now having doubts about a career in medicine. Maybe you've already done the "hard work" of making it to med school, but you're in your second year and concerned that you may have chosen the wrong field. This is exactly where I was my second year of medical school, and I hope that sharing some advice can help you come up with your own answer to that terrifying question. And for those of you outside of medicine, this post totally still applies to you, whatever path you're on. 

The most important thing to help you reach your answer is to figure out what's making you have these doubts in the first place. I'll share a little bit of my experience with this question and some self-reflection I did to figure out why I was feeling that way.


Right around second year of medical school I hit the "I hate this and want to do something else" phase of my training. Second year is a stepping stone for med students - gone are the days of the familiar anatomy and biochemistry and genetics that many of us were already mostly familiar with from undergrad - now it was all new territory. And add to that, we were now facing the first big exam for clinical licensing - the all powerful Step 1. With all of this came self-doubt in the face of that increased work-load. And not only that, but everywhere I looked, I saw doctors who were unhappy. I don't know about you, but nothing raises more self-doubt about a dream than seeing those who are living your dream unhappy, some even downright miserable. The question started coming up in my mind - "Why I am I working so hard? To have that? I don't want that." I struggled with this for a while, eventually mustering up the courage to talk to a few people about it - namely, my medical mentors, and my parents. My medical mentors all told me to stick it out, and my parents just couldn't understand at all (but thankfully said they respected whatever I decided). There was a lot of guilt that came with feeling this way, after all, this is what I wanted all along, right? People would kill to be in my place here at Harvard Medical School. And here I was, being ungrateful for my blessings. (Looking back, this is a mindset that hurts a lot of people, especially those suffering with depression). Anyway, make a long story short, my change of heart and renewed drive and motivation came from the unlikeliest of places. A blogger meetup. Finally I had the chance to talk with women outside of medicine, and instead of hearing that they all loved their jobs, it turned out that many of them were unhappy or unsure of their jobs and the path they were on. This was a critical aha moment - the realization that it wasn't unique to medicine or the path I was on, that it could happen to anyone, that it was in fact probably a downright normal sentiment to have at this stage of life! So I did some more thinking, and outlined below you'll find the biggest points I learned from this experience and hope may help some of you!


  • Negativity perpetuates negativity. During this time in my training, although I felt like the doctors I was seeing were miserable, I realized I was almost looking for those physicians. If I did meet a physician who appeared happy, I would assume that they were hiding how miserable they were, or that they somehow just got lucky - that they were an outlier. I would read medical forums and commiserate with other medical students who were considering switching careers as well. This was an incredibly unhealthy habit and led me further down a path of unhappiness and almost encouraged it. I was feeding into the negativity loop. When I got out of it, I realized there actually were happy people in medicine, and I could definitely be one of them. 

  • The grass is not always greener on the other side. Not only do we tend to only see the bad in our current situation, we also tend to see those outside of it with rose-colored glasses - it's all good on the other side. We think that if only we were on that other side, everything would be better. Figuring this out was the key to me realizing that I was in fact still on the right path. Meeting with those other amazing bloggers who were in all different careers, and hearing what they thought about their fields was incredibly enlightening for me. They all had things they disliked about their jobs and they all had daydreams of switching fields (and obviously this may be biased because they were all bloggers, and so already had interests outside of their "day job," but I think the lesson is still critical). After meeting with these women I came to the life-changing conclusion that the grass isn't greener on the other the side; the grass is greener where you water it. (I can't take credit for that line, though, but you get the point). So I decided I'd water my own grass, dammit! 

  • We tend to question our path when we're unsure of ourselves and our capabilities. In my case, it wasn't just that I was seemingly surrounded by people who were where I wanted to be, but unhappy. It was also that I was finally facing my first big hurdle in medical school (Step 1), where a number (your score) presumably dictates the specialties you can enter, and therefore your future. That is terrifying. And with that fear came along self-doubt, and with that self-doubt, the fear of failure. One way that some of us deal with the fear of failure is to quit before we fail. To go out on our own doing before we actually figure out we're not good enough. I've been there, and I completely understand. But I also know that the only way we truly fail is by not trying. I've spoken about self-doubt and the feeling that you're not good enough before (read here if you missed that post), so I won't get too much into it now, only to say that do not let that self-doubt get to you. Rise up to the challenge - study your butt off - and trust that you are good enough. 

  • This age (for most of us, our 20s, but it can happen anytime) is a time where we all are unsure if we're on the right path. There's a fear that if we don't hurry up and choose a path, someone will choose one for us. And if we have chosen a path, there's a fear that we're committing to a field (and it doesn't have to be medicine - this goes for those of you in business, or grad school, or law school, or teaching, whatever field you choose) that may not be "the right one" for the rest of our lives. Almost every single one of us hits this stage, it's normal, part of becoming a so-called adult and hoping that we'll somehow fit the mold we set up for ourselves as adolescents. As much as it feels like we're stem cells committing down one path to becoming a fully differentiated cell locked into that fate forever (sorry for the corny science reference, I couldn't help myself) - we are not differentiated cells! We can change at any time, even if it doesn't seem like it now. As much as it feels like you should have everything "set" by the time you hit 30 (or whatever random age you choose), rest assured that most of us are just winging it. The best advice I can give is to trust the path that you're on, work hard towards whatever goal you set for yourself (even if you have your small doubts about it), but don't be blind to new opportunities as they pop up either. Life has a funny way of working out for those who make the best of it. 

  • Finally, don't be afraid to quit if that's what you truly, truly want to do. I put this as the last option, because I'm not a huge proponent of "quitting," and I really do believe that most of the things listed above are our true reasons for wanting to quit. But, if you've gone through this list and really done some self-reflection as to why you're unhappy, and still feel like medicine (or whatever field you're in) just isn't right for you, maybe it just isn't. And that's completely fine. It takes a courageous person to really see that and take action on that, but more power to you if you can. Now I'll say this with a caveat - if you're not in medical school yet, it's a much easier time to decide to do something else. I don't think anyone would even call it quitting. If you are in medical school though, my most sincere advice would be to stick it out and get the M.D. degree. You don't have to pursue medicine after, but whatever you choose to do instead, you'll be a much more valuable and desired person with the M.D. This becomes even more true when you're further into medical school and already amassing quite a bit of debt. More likely than not, you'll find something in medicine you love and decide to stay in it after all. But some people don't, and that's just fine. Even when a change of path seems like it will take a lengthy amount of time, as they say - never give up on a dream (or a new dream) because of the time it will take to accomplish it - the time will pass anyway. 

I hope sharing this could help some of you! I hope you'll share it with anyone you think would benefit from reading this. At the end of the day, if you've decided you're on the right path but not necessarily happy, learn how to water your own grass! Find the positive and happy people and figure out why they're that way. Find something you love, or someone you want to help, or a problem that needs solving, and feel like you have a purpose again. And remember to be thankful that you're even in a position to be contemplating your place and potentially changing that place - so many people do not have that liberty. Would love to hear what you think about the post or if you've been in this place before in the comments section!

33 comments:

  1. Thanks so much for sharing. I think we all go through something like this. I attend a predominately Caucasian dental school in the South and some of the blatant racism I encountered definitely made me want to leave. Why was I working so hard to enter a profession where women and minorities are far and few between? I made the decision to stay but I definitely have great respect for those who realize when something is not for them and have the courage to leave

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    1. I totally feel you - but bravo for sticking it out! At the end of the day, the right move is really the one you make the most of - whether it's staying the course or deciding to change! But you're going to be one hell of a dentist!!

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  2. Thanks so much for sharing, Laura. As someone strongly considering medical school I have days where I doubt whether I want to head down this path at all...it such a big and scary decision and I feel like all I'm seeing is negativity everywhere...the voices I'm hearing all seems to say "if you choose this path you will be emotionally and physically exhausted and miserable, have no time for family or friends and be poor and destitute". But at the same time I feel like there is nowhere else I want to be. And isn't happiness is an attitude I assume...a choice I make, to be happy or miserable regardless or circumstances? I don't know. But thank you for your honesty and openness...it is reassuring to know I'm not the only one with moments of doubt.

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    1. That's EXACTLY the point of the "watering your own grass" part - happiness is totally an attitude, a perspective and determination that you will make the best of the situation! If you have this perspective you will totally do fine! xo

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  3. This is really inspiring especially for those of us in our early or mid twenties. I just recently committed to law school and I was so excited about taking the next step in my professional/educational career. But, now after I've done all of the hard stuff (taking the LSAT, applying to the schools, awaiting decisions), there is a little feeling of anxiety that sits in the back of my stomach every so often. But I try to tell myself that it's normal to have a little doubt and anxiety about making such a huge decision. Thanks so much for your encouraging advice!

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    1. Yes, it IS totally normal to have anxiety about such a huge life change! Just know that it will all work out as long as you make the best of it. Doesn't mean there won't be hard days, but the good ones should more than make up for it!

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  4. Thank you so much for this Nice&Powerful post! It spoke upon an issue I've been facing for a while now. I put my dream of becoming an actress and a medical assistant on indefinite hold to study a more practical major like mass communication which would eventually lead to a career in public relations. Although I do enjoy some aspects of PR, its not my dream job. I've come to the conclusion that if I'm going to dedicate more time and patience to college it should be for a major I love, not tolerate. I love medicine and I love acting! Grey's Anatomy and House showed me I could combine my passions to produce a win win....I'm ready to water my own grass and grow some flowers lol

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    1. Yes, I'm a huge proponent of doing what you're passionate about, it makes all the hard work with it! Can't wait to see those flowers ;) xoxo

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  5. Laura, thank you so much for your insight. I definitely shared the same doubts as you when I temporarily dropped my pre-medical courses to raise my GPA; I still wonder if I am "good enough" to pursue the medical path, but something that has always stuck with me is, "If the passion is there, you will not be able to stay away. No matter how long you take a break from something, if you have the passion, you will have the drive to make it happen."

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    1. That is such a fantastic quote, and so true! You're going to do great!

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  6. Thanks for this post Laura! The line "..never give up on a dream (or a new dream) because of the time it will take to accomplish it - the time will pass anyway." really hit home for me. I'm glad to know everyone struggles and has doubts sometimes.

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    1. I'm so happy you enjoyed the quote - it's definitely one of my favorites, especially on the days that I'm signing for another loan or doing something that reminds me how long I've been on this path. But the time passes anyway, you should be working towards something great!

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  7. A few years ago, I was in this spot. And taking the MCAT was probably my breaking point. I don't know what it is about a test that makes you think that it defines everything about you. I think it was very difficult for me because I didn't have a support system apart from my family, and they didn't really understand what I was going through. I am not looking forward to taking the STEP 1 exam, but I think that once I'm in an environment I can thrive in it'll come a little easier.

    Very thankful for this post because I did think it was something only people in the medical field felt. Knowing that this is a universal thing really puts it into perspective and lets you know that it's okay to have doubts.

    Roxi - www.persianfrenchie.blogspot.com

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    1. Yes, something about standardized tests definitely make you feel like your score defines you, and that's hard, but even just knowing and being prepared for that reality helps when it's time for the next one! The doubts are part of the process for some of us, but once you've found your true "calling," nothing can hold you back! xx

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  8. Love this post. Although I'm not in medical school, I definitely know a LOT of people here at my law school who are somewhat in this stage (myself included). It's so easy to get sucked into all the negativity and wonder how things could have been if we weren't here or if we didn't have all this debt racking up ... but at the end of they day, there are so many people who would kill to be here. And you're right, the grass isn't always greener. Life is definitely what you make it.

    www.futurelawyergirl.com

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  9. Thanks so much for writing on this topic! I'm 27 and am in my first year of university and facing a long road ahead of me! It's hard not to get burnt out sometimes or just wonder what you're doing in the first place and whether it will even pay off, but knowing that other people you look up to feel the same way is so reassuring. I have decided that even if I don't get into my health care program this year, I am buying myself a little present to celebrate how far I've come and remind myself how two years ago I didn't think I'd even pass high school chemistry, let alone organic! I'm really glad I found your blog, it provides a lot of practical advice, and some much needed support and inspiration right now! =)

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  10. Such a lovely post and so important :) thanks for sharing Laura!


    { mindfulofmedicine.com }

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  11. Hi Laura,

    Thank you so much for this post. I am almost finished with my first year of medical school, and I can't believe how quickly it has passed. Although love what I'm learning and I'm sure I chose the right field, I suffer continuously from self-doubt and low self-esteem. I'm very shy and introverted and sometimes I feel like my personality type isn't fit for medicine (or certain specialties in medicine that I would want to pursue). I met with my mentor recently, and she told me that there is reason why there are so many kinds doctors with different personalities, since patients also have their own preferences. That really helped me put things into perspective. I was reminded that I was chosen to be here for a reason...and that I have qualities that are valued. I really loved your post, and it reminded me to keep on focusing on the positives and to self-reflect for improvement (not for putting myself down).

    :)

    Kelsie

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  12. Thanks for posting! I'm in nursing school this is very encouraging. I've had so many "I want to quit" moments. But for some reason, I just keep going.

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  13. looveeee this post. Exactly what I needed....i'm in pharmacy school and sometimes I question why I am here...But I won't give up. Thanks

    aprilbasi.com

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  15. Hola,God bless you and your family. I'm passionate about sports, basketball even more, playing practicing. But I also like medicine not like passionate like (whom when see blood or organs they said that's beuatiful or awesome) not like that but I like i. But I don't know if I can endure medicine because of the stress they said it can be (I suffered panic attack and axienty when I was in 11th grade and I fainted oncebecause I saw blood) I know it was my fault because I wasn't getting enough sleep because of watching movies.. But I really like helping people, be a guide for other in their healthy etc...

    I have been thinking about playing professional woman basketball and becoming a wnba player but it's really difficult living in a country that doesn't have the fields for woman who likes sports (I live in Dominican Republic). Been thinking of sport medicine because it's related to both sports and medicine

    I have already registered in the university because I have to enter in August and I wrote medicine so I don't know what I want.(I'm 17) thank you

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  16. Love this post, and have come back to it more than once! Finishing my bachelor's, entering politics and seriously considering law achool...so afraid to commit 3 years to something unsure of, but you really have to look at the bigger picture!

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  17. Replace lawyer and law school with your medical references, and you hit the nail on the head with regard to how I felt during my first year of law practice (and if I'm being honest, how I still feel from time to time). Thanks for being real and talking about it.

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  19. Hi Laura, thanks for sharing..! This post is much needed for me. I am entrring my 2nd year and starting my clinical postings and you are so right. These doctors are miserabke, mean and unhappy. I also have a 1 yr old daughter, and every single daybInquestion whether I want to finish school. Thank you for tge post.. I will read more posts from you because this is honestly the first time I actually feel like someone understands me.. It's been depressing.. but i am hoping to find inspiration just like you did.. :)

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  20. This post is everything I needed to hear! I'm in the exact same spot you were in preparing for Step 1. I always doubt if I chose the right path and doubt my capability to do well on this exam. I find myself constantly ready to just throw in the towel and quit medicine all together. I feel very encouraged after reading you post and it feels good to know that I'm not the only person in the world who feels like this. Thank you so much!!

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  21. This post is seriously everything I've needed to hear. I'm finishing up my 2nd year of undergrad and really questioning if PA school was for me after not doing so well in my Orgo and Microbiology courses this past semester, but from this article and you opening up your video about failure from your course it has really gotten me through this uncertainty hump. So thank you so much for being you and being awesome and sharing your stories with us it really means a lot
    - Nicole :)

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  22. This post was great! I sound like a brat to complain, but recently I decided between three medical schools: Tufts, UMass, and a special program for those interested in underserved communities at UCLA/Drew. My first decision was between west coast and east coast. A bit of background: born and raised in Boston/suburbs, went to undergraduate at Boston University, and now finishing a gap year doing research at NIH. Although for obvious name/prestige reasons UCLA/Drew seemed like great option. I loved LA, but didn't get a great sense for the MD program while there for the day. Tufts just didn't seem like the right fit. And finally, UMass just felt super down to earth and like a community I could thrive in. I got into a pretty serious relationship in November 2015 (he just finished law school and plans to stay in DC area).

    Bottom line: since making my decision to go to UMass, I can't help but compare myself to others going to "big name" schools. Should I have chosen UCLA where I have no family, no friends, only those in my program as a support network? Don't get me wrong - I'm very excited about UMass. But I can identify with the self-doubt and the idea of questioning if you've made the "right choice". This is my first serious relationship and I won't say I made the decision to stay east coast based on him, but subconciously he may have been a factor. I'm rambling but I'm looking for some reassurance that I've made the right choice!! I love your blog, by the way. Lol!

    xo,
    Nina

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  24. Hi Laura! Just found your blog and I'm binge reading your posts. Thanks a bunch for this post. I probably am up the majority of nights debating to myself whether I want to commit to such a long road, and I realize a lot of my worrying is due to fear and doubt in myself. Reading this post made me realize that I don't want to quit yet, and that I'm just currently full of self doubt and anxiety. Definitely looking at my current path in a different light and we'll see where it goes, but thank you for your insight. It pulls a lost one back up to shore :)

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  25. I absolutely needed this! I am currently in my 1st semester of my 2nd year and started to question if I really wanted to be here. It really boiled down to the fact that I didn't think I was capable. I remembered that you had a blog post on this topic and decided to read it again and I am SO glad I did. Thanks Laura! Now I am going to go off and study haha.

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