So, you’ve invested a ton into your medical education, both financially and in blood, sweat, and tears. You’ve made it through organic chemistry and the MCAT, you’ve survived countless allnighters and the stench of the anatomy lab, you’ve dedicated your summers to research and put the rest of your life on hold, and you’ve held your tongue when your residents and attendings told you what to do and how to do it. You’ve tried rotating in many different specialties, you’ve had some incredibly meaningful interactions with patients, and you really do find the field fascinating… but you just aren’t excited about dedicating your life to it.
At this point, what do you do? There’s debt to be repaid, your ability to take out an appendix doesn’t have obvious versatility, and just the idea of starting over seems exhausting, let alone the actual work that would go into it.
It’s time to pause, and consider what it is that you really like about medicine, and what your dealbreakers are. Think about what drove you to medical school - did you enjoy research, health policy, or public health? Think about your education prior to medical school, and what classes you enjoyed in college. Did you like to write or did you find your business or law classes interesting?
In reality, there are many options available to physicians, but some of them require thinking outside of the box. Healthcare makes up close to 20% of our nation’s GDP, and there are plenty of angles to market your expertise. The MD degree carries a certain degree of authority, and plenty of companies are willing to pay for that. I know of physicians that are in administration, physicians that have taken industry jobs in pharmaceutical companies, physicians that work for insurance companies, physicians that are authors, physicians that are in media, physicians that are in venture capital, physicians that work in the public health sector, and physicians that have entered politics. Also, if you spend the time you would’ve spent in residency getting another degree such as an MBA or JD, you may find yourself extremely marketable in niche positions.
And then there’s the other side. You may just need a clean break. Maybe you went into medicine for the wrong reasons, or maybe it’s just lost its appeal. That’s fair. What was right for you when you made the decision to enter medicine as early as 18 may have changed throughout your journey. The biggest thing to keep in mind is that no matter how much you’ve invested, making the decision to stay in medicine out of inertia doesn’t make sense if you think about the fact that you still have decades of your career in front of you.
It’s different for everyone, but if you can afford the time and money to finish medical school and get that MD, your investment may still pay off. Try and get as much advice as you can from people who have chosen alternative careers, and don’t make any hasty decisions. If you’ve gotten this far, you are smart and resourceful enough to find the right path for you.
Nisha Mehta, M.D.
Dr. Nisha Mehta is a physician and writer with interests in physician wellness, medical education, and health policy. Follow her on Twitter @nishamehtamd or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/nishamehtamd.