Today, for the first time ever, someone found my blog by typing “med school dropout” into a search engine. I was thrilled! My blogging adventure really took off when I couldn’t find anyone else on Google who had experienced that kind of pain.
Rewind to July 2006.
My first (and last) rotation as a third year medical student took place in the adult Psychiatry ward. A tall man, with stringy gray hair and piercing blue eyes taught me more about Schizophrenia than any textbook I could have ever read. His leathery skin resulted from walking in the hot sun day after day. His parents paid for his apartment, but they couldn’t afford to give him a car. He was forty years old. I will never forget the way he looked at me as he explained that “The teeth of the wicked shall rot out. But I’m not wicked. My teeth are rotten by mistake. The Lord has told me He’s going to fix it.” When I told my husband about my patient, he wanted to put an extra lock on our front door.
But that’s not why I dropped out of medical school.
I typed up a list of 50 reasons. Reasons why I no longer wanted to be a doctor. Perhaps one day I’ll post them, too. Looking back though, it really boiled down to three big reasons. I quote two of these reasons all of the time, but the third reason I’ve only told a handful of people.
the three biggest reasons why I withdrew from medical school
1. The Psychiatry resident (i.e. brand new doctor) that was training me, had a six month old son. She told me one morning, that when she had arrived to pick him up from daycare the previous evening, he thought she was a stranger. He didn’t recognize his own Mommy because she never got to see him. He cried when she tried to pick him up.
This alarmed me because Psychiatry has the reputation of requiring the least number of hours/week from its residents.
2. Staying in school, meant putting our plans for a family on hold. Bri (most likely) would never have been born. Kids would have been too expensive. We would have waited until after residency to start trying for a family. This may sound insignificant to some people, but it was earth-shattering to me. In my heart, I knew that we would be missing out on the children that God wanted to give us.
3. I have hesitated to reveal my grades, whenever I’ve discussed this issue. However, some people are under the impression that I failed out of school, and I wanted to set the record straight. During my first year of medical school, I was a solid C student. I believe my depression started during that year. Remembering anatomy lab makes me shudder. Still, I had no trouble passing my classes the first year. By my second year, I was doing a little better. I made a B in one class, and an A in the course that had the highest weighting. At the end of the year I squeaked by with passing grades in the rest of my classes, too. I never had to remediate a class. Although, I did sweat over a few of them.
At the beginning of that second year, a group of seven amazing girls and I started studying for the USMLE Step 1. You can think of Step 1 as the SAT or the MCAT on crack. We studied together for a year. Six weeks before the test, I paid $1500 to take the Kaplan course for it, too. When I sat down to take the test, even though I didn’t feel good, I knew that I was ready.
I failed Step 1.
By approximately 1%.
(Sidenote: For those with medical backgrounds, I made a 179 back when you needed a 182 to pass. A friend of mine made a 280 (yes, she’s a genius). So I figure that those 3 points are about 1%)
Anyway, when I failed Step 1, my life fell apart. So much of my identity had been wrapped up in my grades and what people thought about me. I suffered from serious depression. I considered suicide, but I’d learned enough from the Psych ward to keep my mouth shut about it. The school gave me six weeks to try again. But I requested a leave of absence instead. They said that would be just fine and that I could come back anytime over the next twelve months with no questions asked. (But I’d have to retake Step 1).
My friends didn’t know what to say. They felt guilty and relieved that it hadn’t happened to them. My advisers tried to convince me not to leave. We all knew that I could pass it if I took it again. People from my hometown called me. They told me God wouldn’t have put me in medical school if He didn’t want me to be a doctor. They told me they would pray for me. I got more depressed.
My psychologist never judged me or told me what to do. Bless her heart, she just asked questions. I loved her so much for that. Each time I went to her office, I actually curled my hair before I left. That was a big deal in those days.
When the dust settled, and the meds kicked in, the whole ordeal felt like a blessing. Not any kind of blessing that I’d like to do over again. But I was glad for the friends I’d made along the way, and glad for the possibilities that suddenly opened up before me.
I’ve found true happiness as a teacher and a mom. I love my life now and wouldn’t change it for the world. No one would have been able to convince me of that as a college student, but I’m content with learning this lesson the hard way.
If you found me by Googling “medical school dropout” or “quitting medical school” then I hope you know you’re not alone. The road I’ve been on has never been easy. But every step, even Step 1, was worth it.
Filed under: med school stuff