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Dear Medical Students, You Have Other Options

Once you enter medical school it’s hard to get out. You won’t be able to pay back that debt by working as a high school science teacher. Even if you have an inkling that medicine isn’t the right path for you, you won’t know for sure until you get into residency. In residency, you’ll tell yourself that you don’t really know what medicine is like until you’ve worked as an attending.

As a new attending you are so overwhelmed and excited that you don’t even get to think about whether medicine is the right career. 5-10 year into being an attending – 2 decades after starting medical school – you might revert back to your first doubts about medicine.

By now, you’ve accumulated more debt and have lost your passion to starting a whole new career. Feeling overwhelmed is an understatement.

 

Medical School

Medical school isn’t the best place to decide if medicine is the right career for you. And dropping out of medical school is a certain way to lose faith in yourself and have others lose faith in you.

It’s a shame, really. You should be able to start medical school and decide within the first year that you don’t get along with the medical personality types. Rather than burning out and dropping out, you could be guided by career counselors into all sorts of other great alternatives. But, that’s not how the medical school game is played.

If you’re depressed in medical school, if you’re struggling, if you’re unhappy, or just bored to death then you should probably get out. Saying it is much easier than doing it. I, for example, should have gotten out but didn’t and thought I couldn’t.

If I could have somewhere found the courage to drop out of medical school and still maintain my confidence in myself then I would have done it. But a combination of lack of faith in myself, feeling like a fish out of water in medical school, and a lack of imagination for alternative careers left me stuck.

 

Seeing the Alternative

But you have options other than suffering through medical school. You have a ton of fucking options! It’s just that you’re probably too overwhelmed to see them and recognize them – and appreciate them.

You got into medical school. That’s a skill set right there.

Unless you gave up ass in order to land a spot, chances are that you have enough organizational skills to pursue all sorts of other careers.

Not to mention, you’re young. Too young to even know what you’re good at.

Most of us got exposed to very little through our shitty education system. As pre-meds we had to spend so much energy on preparing for medical school applications, few of us got a chance to really absorb everything college had to offer. Why didn’t I consider being an architect? It wasn’t even on my radar? How about a farmer? A

 

Your MD/DO Degree

Some will tell you that you should try to get through medical school so that you can get that MD or DO degree. “At least with an MD or DO you can do some consulting work and market yourself better.”

They might tell you that the clinical rotation years aren’t as bad and that you’ll enjoy them more than the didactics. Some even believe that you have to suffer in order to get worthwhile things. I’m not of that camp. I used to be, but not anymore. Not with all the options available to a US citizen.

Are you willing to suffer for another 3 years to get that MD or DO if you don’t like your field? What will you do with your MD or DO in a field that you don’t enjoy? Well, probably do something that others aren’t willing to do – you’ll just suffer needlessly dude. Fuck it. Cut your losses and put your energy into something else you’ll enjoy.

Sure, you can do a few things with an MD or DO degree, such as becoming a medical patent lawyer. You’ll make a ton of money as a medical patent attorney but you will have given up 4 years of your life to get that MD so that you can earn $1-2M/yr as a patent attorney.

 

The Money

Money shouldn’t cross your mind this early in the game when it comes to the decision of staying in or leaving medical school.

The income from medicine won’t make you happier.

It won’t make the work easier. It simply masks a few of your emotions, which, for sure, will eventually surface. Why? Because even if you’re earning $1M/year as a doctor, that $1M will be your new standard and the following year you’ll wonder why you’re not earning $2.5M like your neighbor does.

It’s normal to think that just because you won’t earn $300k as a doctor that you’ll automatically earn only $30k because you’ll be a barista. First of all, my buddy is a barista and earns $40k, secondly, you shouldn’t think of the alternatives when you’re trying to make a decision about medical school. You should be assessing medical school for what it is, at that particular point in your life.

If you’re willing to work then you’ll make money – I guarantee you that. If you’re willing to think and work then you’ll make more than others with your similar skill sets. The alternative to medical school isn’t a shitty job in a cubicle or serving coffee to people.

If you’re willing to work, think, and learn more to improve then you’ll be in the top 10% of those in your profession. The top 10% will often earn 5x more than the average person in your given field. A mechanic in the top 10% of his profession will earn $100/hour instead of the usual $20/hour. The same goes for a plumber, a computer programmer, and a CPA.

 

Dropping out of Medical School

The hardest thing about medical school wasn’t getting into medical school. It was realizing and accepting that maybe you should have dropped out. I figure about 40% of the incoming medical students should be taking this option. The reality is closer to 2%.

Your Network

The stronger your network of family and friends the easier the decision of dropping out of medical school will be.

I don’t mean that fake mushy gushy shit of someone telling you they love you. I’m talking about real friendship and real family love; the kind where they will put themselves in your shoes and help you make the best decision for you and not others. It’s our job to curate these individuals but it isn’t easy.

If you don’t have these folks in your life, you’ll have a tough time making these big decisions. You’ll not only feel alone in making your decision but you’ll also feel judged by these supposed friends and family for quitting.

Exposure and Experience

Before medical school, I had done nothing but finish an undergraduate degree in biology. That’s it. Oh, and I had changed a transmission on a car. Which I forgot to fill up with oil after going for the first test drive and so had to redo the whole fucking thing.

But I had played a lot of sports.
I had a knack for technology.
I was good at drawing.
I had held a few successful jobs at pet shops.

All this may not sound like much but these were my fucking skills – awesome stuff to build on.

For being in my early 20’s, however, I had very little experience. I hadn’t even drank alcohol or gotten laid yet. Not uncommon among medical students.

Ideally, you’ll be spending the next 2-3 years after dropping out of medical school gaining that exposure:

  • volunteering without an agenda
  • doing research
  • working different jobs
  • meeting new people
  • growing your network
  • reading books
  • learning skills
  • and hopefully failing at a whole lotta shit

Failure is the best teacher. If I’ve had any success, it’s come because of many failures.

Support

You need support the first couple of years after dropping out. Having a strong network is critical but at 20, you’ll likely have a lot of friends but maybe not a network of supporters.

Having support means having those around you who will point out your weaknesses without judging you, help you identify your strengths, and offer you insight which you might be blind to otherwise.

Some of your friends will offer you support with harsh words, others will give it to you kindly, very softly. You need both. You’ll need to minimize your ego in order to absorb both.

Self-Confidence

Self-confidence comes with experience, with age, and with strong support. Maybe there is a way to shortcut the process but whatever little confidence I have, I gained because of those factors.

If you don’t feel confident, if your self-confidence is lacking, first, let me tell you that it’s perfectly normal for being in your early 20’s. You don’t have to have self-confidence to make such a big decisions such as dropping out of medical school. You just have to have enough faith in the universe that there is something else out there for you to find.

Even if you have very little self-confidence, at least ask yourself if you’re willing to work hard at whatever else you might choose instead of medicine.

Honesty

Not only do you have to be honest with yourself but, even harder, you have to be honest with your network. This wasn’t easy for me. I wasn’t emotionally mature in my early 20’s. I didn’t know how to express my feelings without being bulldozes by others who had more experience.

I didn’t know how to express myself as an individual because I hadn’t yet developed firm believes to work off of.

 

Alternatives to Medical School

Let’s talk about a few options you have should you decide to drop out of medical school. This is only a tiny list and I’m sure some of the OG’s on this blog can add many more things.

1. MCAT Tutor

You can start your own tutoring company or join many popular MCAT tutoring companies. You don’t have to stop at MCATs, there are lots of other¬†standardized¬†test to teach.

As the lead instructor, you’ll earn a healthy salary. With the skills you’ll learn, you can move horizontally to lots of other teaching gigs.

2. College Professor

I’ve taught at a community college and earned an easy $60/hour. It’s satisfying work and you have a lot of upward and lateral mobility potential.

The perks are incredible and all you need, often, is a BS degree.

3. Lab Scientist

Science labs pay well. Maybe not for the entry gigs but the longer you stay on, the more you’ll earn.

Once you get good enough to lead your own team and maybe publish a few patents, your salary will be respectable. Some will go on to own their own laboratories and run research projects for private groups.

4. HIT

Health information technology is what some MD’s pursue in order to do non-clinical work. It doesn’t pay as much as clinical work but you get to make a difference in healthcare which might be desirable.

You can work on data processing, medical coding, electronic medical records, data security, and workflow improvements.

5. Business Owner

This might sound broad but the biggest hurdle for many to own their own business is the fear of failure. Well, dude, you just dropped out of medical school, you pretty much have the whole fear of failure conquered.

The options are endless and if you have a particular business idea, you’re young enough to pursue it.

6. CPA

Why a certified public accountant? Well, many healthcare professionals use CPA’s. And it deals with numbers which many medical school dropouts are likely going to be comfortable with.

The work tends to be seasonal but you also get to build meaningful relationships. And you’ll never starve for money.

7. CFP

A certified financial planner also tends to work with high net worth individuals. Most doctors don’t have CFP’s but the rich ones do. So you’ll get to work with the right kind of people, eventually.

Here, too, there are a lot of numbers involved but you can set the pace when it comes to marketing.

8. Real Estate Investor

Lots of medical professionals in real estate, so it’s a great place for a savvy medical school dropout to drop anchor.

It’s the kind of business which you can run in all sorts of ways, to your liking. If you have a mentor, you’ll shortcut the process for yourself.

9. Health Executive

There are a lot of health executive roles for you to fill. Even if you don’t know much about healthcare, there are great courses you can take on the topic.

The income is high and you’ll get to work with bright individuals. The role evolves and you might just be a clinic manager and end as a Chief Medical Officer (CMO).

10. Nurse

It’s easy for an RN to have a 6-figure salary. They usually go under the radar with their incomes.

They have a job flexibility and lots of potential for management and leadership.

11. Physical Therapist

You can get close to 6-figures as a physical therapist. Though most jobs will be with those who are quite frail, some specialize in the healthy athletes.

The work is rewarding. Every PT/OT I’ve known enjoys their work. That’s a small sample size but it’s a good barometer.

12. Dietician

An RD – registered dietician – can have major impact on a patient’s life. Your effectiveness will be determined by how good of a salesperson you are.

But, unlike physicians, you won’t be judged on your outcomes. The work can be satisfying, though, at times, repetitive.

13. Pharmacist

A high income, plenty of jobs to go around, and a computer which will do most of the thinking for you.

The work is chaotic and I don’t know a lot of pharmacist who brag about their careers. But you get to work with sick people, if that’s your thing.

14. Insurance Auditor

You know that doctor who fraudulently billed Medicare $24M last year? And you know how he ended up in jail for 25 years? He got busted because of the help of an insurance auditor.

Either a forensic specialist or a general auditor. You’ll have to learn a lot about billing and healthcare but you can do some very interesting, cerebral work.

15. Paramedic

We need paramedics desperately and they are amazing at what they do but we don’t pay them a whole lot.

Their pension are quite nice, however.

16. Flight Medic

See above. Increase the salary by a lot.

17. Healthcare Startup

If you’re the entrepreneurial sort, then there are a lot of healthcare startups which you can join. Or you can start your own.

Innovation in medicine is now coming from startups. All the major large medical groups have venture arms and invest in these healthcare startups.

18. Clinic Manager

It’s mind-numbing work but it pays well.

You babysit whiny doctors and nurses. You then report to entitled executives. It’s one of the few jobs – aside from the DMV – where you can do very little actual work but get paid lots of money.

19. Computer Science Engineer

This requires actual work and the better you are, the more you’ll get paid. Ideal for the hard worker.

Unlikely primary care, where a warm body is often adequate, a great software engineer can earn 2-3x what a shitty one will earn.

20. Plumber

Electricians and plumbers make good money. The problems is that the kind of people who go into the trade tend to be flaky and unmotivated.

But if you’re a solid worker, not only can you own your own company but you can easily earn a 6-figure salary and have many happy clients.

2 replies on “Dear Medical Students, You Have Other Options”

There is a lot of pressure placed on a student (mainly by family) when they get accepted to medical school. Family will understandably brag about their kid getting into medical school and becoming a doctor. That places a lot of expectation on said student who would feel like he or she let everyone down if they drop out and thus may grin and bear it to their own detriment.

I first matched into general surgery for residency and remember my mom bragging (I wanted to be a cardiothoracic surgeon). Then the lifestyle got to me and I switched after 2 yrs to radiology. My mom said is that even a doctor? So you can tell she was let down. But it was my best decision (I go into more detail in my I made every mistake in the book series that is at the very beginning of my blog posts).

It is hard for sure to feel like you failed and something but rather get over that quickly than be stuck on something you detest for decades

Agreed. Because you’ll have lost those several decades of your life working in a specialty or profession you hate. In the end, you’ll still have to make that tough decision of getting out of medicine or staying in and eventually getting sued or running into trouble in other ways – many, many, many other ways.
If you’re still young then at least it’s an easier play to make to get out of medical school and switch gears. I’ve met a few people over the years who have said “I started medical school and realized it wasn’t for me…” and they went on to do other things without any obvious major regrets.

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