Recently a reader left me a nice long note on my post about dropping out of medical school. His questions resulted in a week-long e-mail conversation about the experience. I’m afraid to say that these issues could easily turn into a series of posts, however I want to be careful to keep this part of my life compartmentalized. It’s not going to be the only topic that I blog about. You have to realize that some of my darkest, most painful memories come from this time in my life. Reliving them is quite depressing. That being said, I would love to offer hope and encouragement to anyone going through a similar struggle. I’m so glad that the pain is just a memory and not a close companion anymore.
I am really surprised that your blog is one of the only ones I have found, considering that every year hundreds of people are faced with the same decision.
What does one do about the financial burden incurred during your time in medical school? If you are anything like the 75% of medical students out there you must have accumulated a good amount of debt in your 1st two years (the average for four years of medical school is now ~140k, but the reality is closer to 25%= 0-50k and 75%= 100-240k). How have you handled that?
You mention that you felt confused as to whether you could find something that would satisfy your career goals etc. Where did you begin? What sorts of things did you consider? Was this a job you had previous experience in? Did you look into other advanced programs? I am sure plenty of people could be found to submit their experiences on pursuing a different profession once the groundwork is laid out, be it blue collar, white collar, something else academic.
I am hopeful that this discussion will allow others to share their own experiences as well. Maybe your blog can become a resource for others in this situation.
1. Request a One Year Leave of Absence – Rather than dropping out of school completely, I first requested a leave of absence due to my depression. My standing with the school remained very positive. I had a one year window to return to the school with no questions asked. Then I could have picked up with Step 1 before completing my education.
The details for this procedure vary from school to school. It helps if you have medical documentation of a disease (like depression or cancer) or if you have a concrete definable problem that the administration can understand (such as a sick relative that you intend to care for or a recent death in your immediate family). Failing Step 1 also works. If you request a leave of absence without a definable reason, your school may get a little squirrelly. My e-mail buddy had trouble with his leave of absence request, as you can see.
Something I had the most trouble with was the reaction of my school’s administration. This is definitely not the same everywhere. My school views time off with GREAT DISDAIN, unless it is used to obtain another advanced degree. My request was met with scrutiny, questions about drug and alcohol abuse (which I suppose could be pertinent in some cases for students), as well as a basic statement of “We’re not sure why you feel like you need this….How do you think it will further your education? Why should we let you resume studies?” Because our medical school terms do not operate on the same schedule as the college’s billing cycle they took the liberty of erasing that I had been enrolled that term ‘for my own sake’ and permanent records (even though billing-wise it was halfway over. i.e. I should not have to pay back anything). So I basically was left with a sour feeling towards the administration, as well as a bill for financial aid that had already been put towards tuition (that was not refunded) and living that had to be paid back before I could resume school. Fortunately our financial aid adviser really busts his butt for students, and we found ways to make that as painless as possible. Additionally they gave me a date I had to take step I by or else I would not be able to re-enroll for 3rd year…which is strange in my head because essentially I finished Med 2, and should just have to take the exam by the time current Med 2s should have to right? All in all my leave of absence was fraught with punishment, despite being one I took by choice.
2. Actively Pursue Other Careers– During your leave of absence, make it your mission to find a new career path. Start by analyzing your current situation. What did you love about your medical career? What did you hate? What things are essential for job satisfaction? How much money do you need to earn in order to stay afloat? Make a list of possible jobs and start researching.
I loved the fact that I could make a difference in people’s lives with medicine. I liked feeling smart. I loved the science and the studying. But I wanted more time with my husband. I wanted to start a family. And I wanted to feel like a good mother even though I wanted a career. My essentials for job satisfaction were – impacting lives for the better, family-friendliness and plenty of time off. I fell in love with teaching.
Be open to the likelihood of continuing education. You will probably have to be a student again before you will be qualified for the job of your choice. You might even want to consider getting certified to be a medical assistant. Try not to burn any bridges with the administration from your medical school, because they can help you with transferring credits. It would be a shame to waste all of that expensive education.
Divide up your leave of absence into stages. There should be a research stage, a trial stage and a deciding stage. After you’ve researched your options, spend time in the fields that you’re considering. I spent a week shadowing various teachers at a local high school. That week gave me a good feel for the modern classroom. It gave me enough encouragement to sign a one semester contract to teach. I knew that if I hated my job, I would still have three months left to decide if I wanted to return to medical school.
Consider obtaining your MD and using it towards another career. Plenty of doctors leave medicine to teach at the college level or to pursue a number of careers. However, you may find yourself overqualified for some jobs with an MD.
3. Get Financial Counseling – The decision to leave medical school will leave you with a lot of debt and most likely a lifestyle adjustment. You’re going to give up a lot of material stuff. It will probably sting a little when you visit friends who have nicer homes than you, or when you realize that your “new” car is a decade old.
The long and the short of it just comes down to making do with what you have. Hubs and I decided that it was better to be poor and happy, than rich and miserable. We made the decision together. His job as a cop and my job as a teacher leave us with enough income to pay all of our bills. On good months we even have a little extra left over. We don’t use credit cards. We don’t buy name-brand designer items. We don’t live in a big house. We don’t have expensive furniture.
I highly recommend that you use Crown Financial Ministries and/or Dave Ramsey. Design a budget that you can live with and try to stick to it before your leave of absence expires. Look into consolidating your school loan(s). There’s no way we could have afforded to pay back our original ten year loan. We had to consolidate.
There are many aspects to this decision. I’ve tried to hit the highlights. If you have any further questions, I’d love to hear from you. This discussion is open to anyone who has an opinion on the topic. I hope my experiences and advice have been somewhat helpful to you. Please feel free to leave a comment below.