Aug 18, 2010

Will Medical School Make Me Miserable?

Part II of ongoing series: Should I Become A Doctor?

Great question from a potential medical student:

"I got accepted to med school for 2011, but I am scared to commit to this decision. Will medical school suck all life out of me, leaving me passionless, tired and with no ambitions?"
For this question Doctor D called in a consult! Doctor D recruited a real live medical student! Ella the Med Student is a brilliant blogger and a winner of the coveted Big D Award!

Ella's Advice:
Medical school is difficult. It takes tons of time. It's stressful. It is a huge commitment. It's competitive. It is also a million other wonderful things.

Everyone in medical school has essentially the same experience, the same course load, the same time schedule, etc. Yet, you will hear very different opinion from students about their medical school experience... ranging from "it was the worst time in my life" to "this is so much fun!"
The MAJOR factor that contributes to the differences in student's experiences in medical school is why they are there.

"Why am I here?"

Let me describe a pattern I have noticed among medical student. I think there are three main groups of student attitudes about medical school. I'll describe them here...
Ella’s Taxonomy of Medical Students:
The Good
The happiest students are those who are enjoying the journey. They actually love medicine, love the material they are studying, love the lifestyle of continued learning and a high-paced academic environment. Of course, many have other interests and families, but to them medical school is not an obstacle in the way of those things. Med school is an awesome part of their life.

"I'm happier than a pig in mud! Medical school is Awesome!"

Personally, I love reading my huge Robbins pathology book with a cup of coffee in the early morning. I love going to lecture and participating in clinical problem solving. I feel a rush every time I am in the hospital, I talk to my patients for too long, and my brain is always coming up with ideas for projects and research. I look forward to residency and my future career, but I am in no way miserable in school. I absolutely could NOT imagine being anything other than a physician... it took me so much work to get here that I am actually in bliss all the time. I know this sounds weird... but I know a lot of other people like this. If you ask them about medical school, they will describe it just like I have.

The (sort of) Bad
The second group of people are those that like medicine just fine, and it came to it as a reasonable choice. They worked hard in undergrad, and are all around strong academic students. To them, medicine is more of "a good field to be in" but not "the most amazing and only possible career on the planet." They could have been attorneys or engineers or business entrepreneurs or stock brokers and would have been just as happy. They do well academically, but are a bit blase about medicine... often eager to get home, eager to skip extra discussion about a disease or patient, and tend to be a bit frustrated with the rigmarole that comes with medicine. This doesn't make them less of a physician, but they do not enjoy the ride of med school as much as the first group. They are "putting up" with med school... and looking forward to getting out so they can have a family, a paycheck and a steady schedule.

The Ugly
The third group are the Miserablites. They hate medical school. They are barely hanging on by a thread academically, and they are socially and academically absent. They are caught up in the idea that that are in the wrong spot. They've realized that medicine is a lifestyle that doesn't end after medical school... and they expect that stress and academic/hospital nonsense will be a theme in their lives forever.

Some miserablites ended up in medical school because of outside influences. They felt pressured to do something "worthwhile.” Their heart wasn't in it... but they either didn't have another readily identifiable passion, or they felt their other passion didn't hold enough weight.

Other miserablites came to medical school for the money or lifestyle, and quickly figured out that those reasons are not sufficient to motivate you through the insanity of medical school. And they also figured out too late that being a doctor usually doesn't make you rich. 90% of doctors are not free of financial obligations. Student loans, malpractice insurance, etc. make the life less than glamorous.

The miserablites are those who, as you say regard medical school as "sucking all life out of me, leaving me absolutely passionless, tired and with no ambitions." I can tell you I have NEVER even one day felt this way about medical school.

Search Your Soul!
So, you have a lot of thinking to do. I would really consider what this commitment means, and how it will effect your goals. You have already identified some gut feelings about whether this career is a good match for you. I really think you owe yourself, your wallet, your future family, your happiness and your overall sanity some real hard soul-searching.
If you decide not to go into medicine, there is NO SHAME in that!
There are a million other things you can do which are just as rewarding. And if you do choose medicine as a career, choose it because it is best for you. It is indeed a wonderful life, but only if it is the life you really want.

Good luck!
What do you think? Doctor D always loves hearing your thoughts in the comments.

Patients: Would you care if your doctor enjoyed learning medicine?

Medical Students: Where do you fit in Ella's Taxonomy? Any of your Miserablites want to explain themselves?

Go on over to Ella's blog and admire how awesome she is!


A Doc 2 Be said...

The best comment by Ella is:

"There is NO SHAME" for not ultimately pursuing medicine. The inordinate amount of pressure by those who think someone should, or is a failure for not trying, is absurd.

Great writing, Ella!

Anonymous said...

I particularly agree with your assessment of the latter group. Television has warped a lot of medical school hopefuls understanding of medicine - it ain't like House or Grays Anatomy. Sometimes I wonder if pre-meds knew how sausage is made in health care, how many of them would change their minds about going to medical school.

Actually, considering that a lot of the kids I've seen this past year are pursuing medicine because of their parents, probably not many.

tracy said...

If i could do my life over could be certian it would be Medical School.

Old MD Girl said...

There are also the people who blame med school for their failings in other areas of their lives. "Med school stole my four unborn children," "Med school caused me never to find a husband," "Med school stole my 20s. When my other friends were off having fun, I had to study my brains out."

I maintain that these are mostly BS reasons to hate med school. Many of these people would have been unhappy in any field they chose right out of college. To that end, I'm pretty sure I would have hated med school as a 25 year old too. Since I've worked, I have seen that other professions can be much much worse (for me).

Kyla said...

I was glad to read this. I'm firmly in the first group. I know training will be strenuous, especially as a non-traditional student with a husband and family, and it maybe even miserable at times, but I love medicine so much that I can't imagine NOT going through every bit of it.

911DOC said...

med school rocks. some of the best times of my life... part of a very impressive team working for a goal... what's not to love about that? residency training? practice? dont' get me started.

Anonymous said...

It makes me happy when anyone has a passion. I love it when I speak to people and find out that they have a fascination/passion for just about any subject. I myself went to seminary/theology school and love asking questions about the nature of the world and what kind of God I believe in (and I'm fascinated by other's beliefs too).

But it bothers me when I don't feel well, when my doctors see me as a fascinating puzzle of a medical problem (and only that). So I'm completely appreciative of the fascination/love of medicine on one hand, but also really value doctors who can also step back a bit (when with patients at least) and see me as a person with dreams and goals too. So that they can help me to be healthier and to meet my goals.


Anjali said...

I have no idea whether med school makes a med student miserable. But I can say that med school can make a spouse miserable!

Bongi said...

medical school was good, but not great. all considered, i'm glad it's over.

Chakurino said...

Med School: more like an entire Oreo cookie-filled double peanut butter chocolate fudge Pie… with no milk to down it.
Hard to swallow but good… :)

Anonymous said...

i'm not sure where i fit...i find medicine interesting, but hate studying it, if that makes sense. i enjoy reading netters on the bus, but when it comes to being examined, i can never remember exactly where that sciatic nerve goes...

Dolapo said...

Oh wow!!!
Great article...I've always been in the first group regarding Medicine. Thinking about Medicine gives me butterflies...LOL!

But when I started talking to some medical students, house officers about Medicine - my goodness! I became so so afraid; I heard all types of things, 'you'll be miserable', you won't have a life, you probably won't be happy, not be able to have time for a family or relationships...over and over.
I start Medical school come September by God's grace, and I wish I wasn't starting with so much negative thoughts in my head...but I can be sure that this is where I want to be because knowing this hasn't deterred me. So yea, I am slightly panicked..but I'm going for it. Wish me luck!

Second Year Medical Student said...

Coming into medical school, my guess is that 99-100% of my classmates would have genuinely believed they were in the first group. However, we don't all love medical school. I don't think even most of us do.

I think medical school can be frustrating for the academically oriented in some ways. I LOVED undergraduate studies, and I particularly enjoyed medically oriented research. However, as I've progressed through medical school I've felt bombarded by the amount of information. As an undergraduate, this was balanced by a fascination with the subject matter.

While I am no less fascinated than I ever was, I find that learning a little bit about 10 million things is both overwhelming in volume but also deficient in depth of content. You miss the magic of knowing something well enough to truly understand how and why it works - and also where our understanding is incomplete.

With 2 children to raise and a relationship to attend to, it's hard enough to keep up much less dig deeper into the content of my classes. I look forward to residency and the chance to master a specialty area. Not loving medical school doesn't mean you don't truly love medicine and the life of learning that goes along with it.

Many of my more research-oriented classmates have expressed similar frustration with the amount of information to master and the lack of problem solving (at this level) that made science so fun in the first place. I have met passionate and accomplished attending physicians who felt similarly. Not loving medical school may just mean that the particular structure of it is not a great fit for you. One of the great things about medicine is that you will find your niche somewhere. There really is almost no limit to the kind of career that you can have.

Anonymous said...

What a garbage post. You "love" reading Robbins in the morning? have no idea what you're going to be facing in residency and clinical medicine. Also, it's ignorant to assume "the miserables" are "hanging on by a thread academically." Some of the most apathetic, disengaged students I ever met absolutely crushed their board exams, putting to shame the "let's go to Africa to teach poor people how to wear condoms because we love medicine so much" crowd.

Anonymous said...

I believe that medical school can turn you into a bit of a cynical person, the work is tremendous but you also have to keep the end goal in sight.

That being said it is not for the faint of heart. I begin medical school this fall and it is a decision I have had in my mind for well over fifteen years. I don't think anyone should rush into this decision, it would be an utter shame to come out at the end of four PLUS years with high debt, and a profession you loathe. Further more your patients will suffer from a doctor who really isn't passionate about his/her career choice in life. Don't be selfish, its not always about you but about the peoples lives you will affect down the road. If you feel like medicine is your true calling then screw the haters and do your thing, if your feeling apprehensive now about the work load, no life, immense studying etc. best re-evaluate if this decision will truly make you happy in LIFE. Also keep in mind there are other students out there who would bleed their own blood to be in your position to go to medical school, if this isnt right for you then you should allow someone the option to reach their life long goal.

best of luck.

Future Osteopath

Anonymous said...

I'm a board certified anesthesiologist and am leaving medicine in a few months to work at a mutual fund. This description of medical students is pretty spot-on (I probably fell in between the 'bottom' two categories), but med student life is probably the easiest part of a career as a physician. Residency is much different than med school, and attendingship is far different than either of those. I wouldn't recommend anyone to to med school unless they truly know what they're getting into, and I wouldn't be able to begin to tell you how to get that level of exposure without going through the training. It's a tricky situation. No matter if you practice or not, medical training is an experience that will serve you (and many others) well if you take it seriously. Think it through.

Anonymous said...

You should add another category onto the list. The people who are dominating all the classes and are at the top of the class but hate med school because overly preppy and pretentious medical students (aka the ones who 'love reading Robbins Patholgy') make going into class a painful experience everyday.

I love the subject and the field, but having to work with the typical med students who think they are God's greatest gift to the Earth is why I as well as several people in my class will be switching careers.

Anonymous said...

Medicine as a profession rules. Its an incredible honor and if you like talking to people and using your frontal cortex, its amazing. Im a new fourth year, and I get a rush from it every day i've been in clinic or inpatient.

Medical School sucks. Its mostly nepotism, dumb luck, dealing with personalities and putting up with crap. The variation between attending's interests in your career is much broader than the variation between medical students. Its all about hustling and not actually being good, being compassionate. When it comes to evaluate the student the last person whose opinion is ever asked is the patient.

From my experience most medical students start off as lame, self congratulatory people who probably pursued medical school so they could have a title that makes it immediately apparent how much better they are than everyone else. I think medical school is a humbling experience and has a positive effect on many who undertake it, but judging the attendings I've met, a strong minority stay aloof and obnoxious.

you think my name is connected with my problem? said...

I'm confident, arrogant, manipulator, and I never have problems to find ten reasons to tell someone is an idiot.
but sometimes, suddenly I can't think fast and clear, i lost will and initiative, the words doesn't came out well, my brain get stuck, i hyperventilate,my body feels weak, everything becomes metaphorically blurry and i can't manage the situation how i always do. I become a turtle without his shell
slow and useless
any ideas?

Anonymous said...

My first two years of medical school were spent forcing myself to memorize volumes of random facts most of which I do not recall and will not ever use. If I developed an understanding of anything those years, it was on my own time and often detrimental to my performance in school.

Third year I had some great interactions with doctors, other students and patients. I saw some very interesting diseases and treatments. I also spent vast amounts of time doing menial tasks or standing around watching other people work without learning anything.

All these activities were time consuming enough that I was doing them usually on both weekend days, as well as some nights.

It is hard for me to see anyone enjoying these activities. Practicing anything other then pathology, a field which doesn't see patients, has nothing to do with most of the material in Robbins, so I am a skeptical of Ella's claim that she loves both reading Robbins and talking to patients.

Anonymous said...

I'm a medical student and whilst Ellas sentiments are admirable she does come across like a bit of a knob.
'I just love reading robbins in the morning with a cup of coffee'
Seriously. SERIOUSLY.
Sometimes people hate medicine not because they'll be bad doctors, but because they don't like the psychotically enthusiastic people they have to deal with on a daily basis, who insist upon saying 'everything is great!!!!' all the time. kind of reminds me of a girl in my year (no doubt one of ella's type 1 - good people) who after performing the rectal exam on very possibly the grossest old man I had ever seen (who farted prior) turned around later and told everyone what a 'rewarding and educational' experience it was.
There's keen, and happy, and medicine loving - and then there's just overly enthusiastic weirdos. Ella needs to understand this. Anyone who enjoys a bit of light robbins reading in the morning should seriously re-consider their understanding of the concept of enjoyment.

anon said...

I loathe medical school with every cell in my body, and yet contrary to your post I have always been amongst the top of the year. I think it is precisely because i have a mind of my own, a good level of intelligence and I am genuinely interested that I hate it so much. I came to medical school to learn about health, creating it, researching it and helping others on their journey to it, something I was passionate about.

But that's not what medicine is about, it's about rote learning and never asking why, it's about blindly applying what you've been taught to patients (peoples lives) without ever questioning what you're doing, it's about ego's and competition and status; it is certainly not about HEALTH.

It is 'the good' you speak of that are the downfall of medicine, they are just so apparently happy with everything, don't bother to think beyond what they're told and continue to uphold a system that is inhumane for the doctors as much as for the patients.

I came to medical school of my own free will, I was 30 so there was no pressure, expectation, I came because I was passionate about science and health. I still am, which is why I shall get out of medicine as soon as possible.

Anonymous said...

I love learning about medicine and I am passionate about becoming a great doctor. However, I hate the culture of medical school, the phoniness, rumors and gossip, weak & neurotic behavior, and immaturity. I decided I wanted to be a doctor rather late in life (35), and I am counting the days until 3rd year, when I can be in what I hope is a more adult environment. I think if there were a cut-off that one could not begin medical training until age 30, or at least until one had gathered some life experience, it would produce much better doctors. It is apparent that many of the students are not ready for the responsibility. This is not in any way an attack on younger students, I am friends with many who are mature, responsible, and do a great job. Medical school is not the place learn to be a grownup, you should already be one when you arrive. Just $.02 from someone whose perspective doesn't fit into the 3 boxes you provided.

Anonymous said...

By the way, I am an A student. I don't think there's a causative relationship between loving medical school and being successful in medical school.

Anonymous said...

remember being highly intelligent does not mean you're "smart"

Anonymous said...

I'm an undergraduate between my junior and senior year who's applying to medical school right now. I love working for others, studying science, and I want to live a life of service, however, is medicine really the best way to do it? Also, are there any med students/residents/doctors who are truly happy with their decision to go into medicine and believe it was all worth it?

Anonymous said...

Do something else, med school sucks donkey dick.

John Barton said...

Med school is crazy. DON'T RUIN YOUR LIFE

Anonymous said...

I am applying to medical school right now. It seems like all these comments are very discouraging. =(
Is anyone out there happy about pursuing medicine?

Anonymous said...

I honestly do not agree with this at all. I absolutely had no doubt in undergrad that I wanted to do medicine. But as much as I still cannot imagine doing anything else + the fact that there have been many highlights since I have started....does not change the fact that you have to be examined and assessed continuously every week or so. It is not humanly possible to sit there and slowly enjoy everything you are reading, no you need to memorize and cram for the next quiz/exam. I don't know one person in my class who has not complained about med school. We couldn't imagine doing anything else but it is MUCH harder than any of us expected, and it easily takes over your life intermittently which means it will take priority over anything important in your life at that moment.

Anonymous said...

med school is a fucking disgrace to human race. what they do to you is inhuman

Anonymous said...

This post is so ridiculous. I agree with some of you above and wanted to add my support for the rest of us.

You don't have to love medical school to be a good doctor. Hell, you don't even have to like it. You just have to do it.

Being a good doctor has nothing to do with how enthusiastically you can read "Robbins" first thing in the morning if it means you come off like a fop.

It has to do with relating to people. And you'll never be more removed from them by sitting in your room studying for boards. Spoiler-alert: the vast majority of people cannot relate to the experience of studying for 8-12 hours a day, every day, and nothing else.

Anonymous said...

Additionally, some of us don't like forgoing normal human activities for the sake of catering to the demands of the administration.

Make no mistake. Medical school administrators see you as machines to be pushed into cranking out the most prestigious numbers. So what if you have to miss a wedding or three? Yeah, so you're family life fell apart. At least our school will have top quartile board scores.

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