Should he go to medical school?

5

Category : Medical Rants

I received this email last night:

I am 21 and recently graduated with my BS in Computer Science this past May. I took a shining to computing at a young age, never really considering any other field to pursue. I have been working in the field for only 6 months but I don’t know if I feel fulfilled in it. Yes, it may just be this position I am currently in but I am learning about medicine, just in case.

 

I have been taking some Coursera.org medical courses from Stanford and other great universities online. I find that I am truly enjoying these courses and I may want to pursue this field of study. I don’t seek prestige, wealth or anything else. I want to be fulfilled by what I do, regardless of how hard it is. I have always wanted to help others and I love solving difficult problems.

 

  1. ? How do you determine your calling in life? I know you said you could never consider doing anything but internal medicine in your Kevin MD article (http://www.kevinmd.com/blog/2014/09/want-become-doctor-5-criteria-consider.html). 

  2. ?Is it too late to pursue medicine? 

First, I did not know that I was an internist until the 3rd year of medical school.  When I entered I was considering pediatrics or psychiatry.

Second, it is not too late.

Now for the brief written lecture/advice:

I know many physicians who love the profession.  I know many physicians who would quickly leave medicine if they could just maintain their lifestyle.  Since you are considering a major life decision, you need more information.

I would highly recommend spending time with a physician (the typical term is “shadowing”).  You should see what their life is like.  Ask them about the rewards and the costs of becoming a physician.

Try to talk with some 3rd or 4th year medical students and some residents.  You should strive to understand the path to being a physician.  The path is difficult, long and sometimes frustrating.

I personally am grateful each day that I went to medical school and became an internist.  Each day we strive to help our patients, and as an educator strive to help our learners (students and residents) grow into caring physicians.

Your road would start with enrolling in a special pre-medical course to meet the entry requirements.  Most students can do this in 1 year (you must have taken biology, chemistry, organic chemistry and physics).  Then you would take the MCAT – your score will influence your chances of gaining acceptance.  Your previous medical experience (shadowing, volunteering, etc) will also influence acceptance.

After acceptance you will have 2 years of mostly classroom work learning the basic sciences of medicine.  For many students, these are the dark years.  When you finally get to the clinical arena, you will find that much of the basic science you learned is important, and much seems irrelevant.

You are clearly not too old, but you should gain some experience and interactions with physicians, and students prior to committing to that road.

Thanks for asking, I hope this answer helps you with your decision making.  I hope some readers will add their opinions and likely correct any mistakes I made in typing this advice column.

 

Comments (5)

One of the hardest questions in life is finding your purpose. Sometimes, you lose your way a bit. It’s important to know what your underlying interests are and what characteristics that you have that would make you thrive in a particular field. This comes through constant self-reflection to understand yourself. Many times people are unhappy in their chosen careers because they just decided to take a job because it payed the bills. Paying the bills is important but try to find sometime that aligns with your strengths as well. I saw that this student recently graduated with a BS in Computer Science. Now is an exciting time in healthcare. I have always been fascinated by invention and innovation and trying to make systems better. We are going through a lot of changes in healthcare delivery and it will be people like you who can interface between the two more easily. If you ever would like to talk more about the opportunities in this field you can always call or text me at 256 417 3386. Pursuing medicine as a career will be much different when you train than when I trained than when Dr. Centor trained. In the past, to learn your went to the library and picked up a book. Now, we use the internet and mobile apps. In the future, we may have live holograms we can manipulate using the internet of things. But before you get to all of these things, you have to be a student like Mr. Miagi’s Karate Kid and understand the foundation.

I tend to fall into the camp of Cal Newport (Study Hacks blog) regarding professional fulfillment, which is that it is achieved through mastery of a field. In other words, one could find fulfillment in most fields if one is able to demonstrate mastery and turn that mastery into career capital that can be used to build a fulfilling career.

In that light, the specific field (computer science, medicine, or most anything else) does not make a great deal of difference. You are early enough in your career path that medicine is a reasonable option, and having a background in CS can’t hurt these days, as everything is impacted by IT.

I personally don’t think there is much value in “shadowing” is the usual sense. Better use of your time is to meet with many different docs and simply talk to them — as busy as they are, most will be willing to spend 20-40 minutes to give advice!

Medicine is changing rapidly, so don’t be fooled into thinking that the way a field is now is the way it will be moving forward. Ask any surgeon, radiologist, cardiologist, infectious disease specialist, etc. about how their field has changed over the course of their own career.

Finally, medicine has (like most fields) different paths. For me, I moved from clinical medicine to basic research to pharmaceutical development. And for the future, who knows?

I am retired; from my perspective I am very pleased and fulfilled by my career. I agree with Fraz Ismat. The main part of your working life will take place from 2025 to 2055. None of us is able to foresee all the ways the world will change in that time, but we are all quite sure that the world will change a lot. A MD degree will always mark you as a member of a highly qualified elite. There will be many paths open to you. I choose oncology because I wanted to be stimulated by both the advances in science inherent to the field and the chance to help people with serious ongoing problems; reading imaging studies is a very important and well compensated field, but sitting in a darkened room looking at a screen would not have been satisfying to me. In brief, the future is unknown; medicine is stimulating with lots of possibilities and avoids getting you into a career cul-du-sac.

Hello All,

Thank you for your kind and thoughtful responses. I appreciate it!

@rcentor,

First, I apologize for misrepresenting what you said. What I meant to address was your desire and passion for medicine as a whole, and internal medicine specifically after you entered medicine. I never had that passion or desire for medicine when I was in high school and university so I was addressing that desire to become a physician.

Second, I am excited it isn’t too late!

I will for sure speak and shadow as many doctors as I can. I have already reached out to a local doctor and he is allowing me to take him out to lunch to chat and I will shadow him for an hour after lunch.

As per the special pre-medical course, I have massive knowledge gaps since I come from no real background in scientific education. Sure, I took mathematics, basic biology and physics but nothing more. I did take some chemistry in high school but don’t truly remember much at all.

I have been slowly filling those gaps of knowledge but what do you recommend I do? Since I didn’t take organic chemistry or chemistry in university, would it be best if I get a BS in biology or chemistry or is there an easier way to fill those gaps – like attend community college classes or something similar?

@Nemil Shah,

Thank you so much for your response! I will for sure be using my BS in Computer Science as I love technology very much! I want to automate any of the medical work I can and make it easier for healthcare itself. I am attracted to medicine because it is systems-based, as computing is similar.

@ Fraz Ismat,

Developing a skill-set and mastery of any field is definitely important for becoming confident, which leads to feeling fulfilled. I appreciate that insight! I will incorporate your short 20-40 minute meetings with doctors to learn as much as I can about what I might be entering.

@ oncodoc,

Thank you so much for your response! I think I want to pursue medicine for the same reason – to help individuals with their medical issues. I have a mother who is diabetic (Type I) so I am obsessed testing new methods with her and trying to get her healthy while she undergoes so many different issues.

@All,

How did you know that you wanted to pursue medicine for sure? I am always studying something, regardless of it being on my horizon as a career. I love to learn. Yet, in that constant squirrel-esque nature of jumping from one acorn to the next, I sometimes become confused as to what I truly am passionate about. If that makes any sense, I would love to hear your advice.

@eccentricmonk I was lucky, in that I was told that I was going to be a doctor since I was born! 🙂

But seriously, the fact that you look to be “waffling” a bit is concerning to me. The training to become a doctor is on par with any of the most challenging fields, and if you are not *totally* committed, you are likely to fail.

When young people ask me about medicine and tell me they are considering to be a doctor, I will tell them how hard the training is, how difficult modern medicine has become, etc. If they respond with resolve that they don’t care, they want to be a doctor anyway, that is a sign to me that they are likely to succeed. If they are swayed by my negative talk, perhaps medicine is not for them…

The fact that you are worried about passion tells me that you *really* need to read Cal Newport’s blog & books. Passion is not a pre-existing condition. It develops through exposure to a field and through the development of expertise.

Perhaps I am different, but I feel as though I could be passionate about nearly anything, and my career path through medicine demonstrates that. In the end, if you are waiting for “passion” to magically well up inside of you, you are in for a long wait.

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