Sunday, November 9, 2008

Pretty girls don't need to be doctors!

On my last rotation, I was sharing an office with a former beauty pageant winner. She was gorgeous. And you can imagine how terribly attractive this made me feel, what with my wrinkled white coat, my shirt stained with baby food that didn't come out in the wash, and shoes that are probably similar to the ones your grandma wears. But she was such a nice girl, it was hard to feel too badly about it.

Anyway, Miss Beauty Queen was interested in going to med school.

Over the course of the rotation, I did my damnedest to talk her out of it. Every single day, I told her a different true story, some titled "Med School Sucks", others titled "Being A Doctor Sucks", most under the general heading of "I'm Really Tired". Some of those stories were lifted right off this blog. Also, she would be a little older than the traditional students and I reminded her that OMG, your biological clock is ticking! Babiezzz!!!

She was very surprised by some of the things I told her. She said that most people were really encouraging when she told them she was thinking of going to med school, especially when she told them she had doubts about it. (I was surprised by that, because I thought all doctors were bitter.)

Whenever I meet a pre-med, as a rule, I always try to talk them out of going to med school. It's not so much that I think nobody should go to med school. Clearly, there are people who are born doctors and love it. And if nobody went to med school, I'm pretty sure everyone would end up getting diagnosed and treated by Dr. Wikipedia.

So I'm not against med school. But I figure if there's something that I can say that is enough to talk a person out of going to med school, they're probably better off changing career paths now than when they have negative $200,000 in their bank account. Because medical training is damn hard and most people just don't understand that, I mean really understand that, until they're in too deep. I feel like if I can keep even one person from making a mistake, it's worth it.

On the last day of the rotation, Miss Beauty Queen told me she was going to business school.

24 comments:

  1. im not trying to criticize or anything, but maybe she would have made a great doctor. I think you should have let her make her own decisions instead of telling her all the bad things about medical school.

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  2. And, she's a woman, not a girl. A woman. Don't infantalize other women. It's about power, and it's sexist and nasty.

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  3. I don't know, I think many young idealistic people can get turned off to medicine if people they look up to or admire speak negatively about their choices.

    It sounds like you really want them to be sure they want to do it, which is important, but they may never get that far if they fear that medical training will - as a rule- leave them bitter and unhappy.

    I loved medical school. My residency was hard, prior to work hour regulations, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. And as I've said many times, I love love love what I do.

    Giving pre-med wannabes your honest opinion is fine- but please let them talk to people who are positive about the experience too.

    We need more good doctors!

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  4. To the anonymous commenter: I was being facetious when I called her a "pretty girl", although I'm glad there's some passion about a topic that isn't political.

    To KC: As I said, I think there are people out there who will make great doctors. But I also think that nobody should go into medicine blindly. I think we all saw the article about med school burnout and I personally have a friend who committed suicide during the training process. Medicine is not for everyone. If I tried to conceal the negative aspects of medical training, then I would feel partially responsible if she were miserable and make a terrible mistake. At the very least, medicine is something you should go into with your eyes open, hearing every point of view, even the negative ones. Everything I told her was 100% true.

    Just to show that I'm not doing a horrible thing, I am almost always unsuccessful into talking people out of going to med school, and several of them told me later that they were grateful to me for trying to talk them out of it, because it made them realize how much they actually wanted to do it (and what they were getting themselves into).

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  5. Don't know if it's a good idea to talk her out of it, but as long as you stay factual about what you say (namely, your experience), it's her decision either way. Forecast has it that we will be desperately short of smart yet people-friendly health care professionals in near future, though.

    Great blog! Glad that i bumped into it; will visit often.

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  6. There may be a shortage of doctors, but there will never be a shortage of desperate pre-meds who want to be doctors. Spots get wasted when people make the wrong decision and either drop out of med school or never practice. Or become bad doctors because they hate it so much. I would rather have a doctor who had slightly lower MCAT scores who really loves what she does and cares about her patients deeply.

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  7. Although I don't think that anyone should discourage people from doing what they want to do, there are days that I wish I had someone like fizzy talk to me before I went to medical school. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, and only had positive reinforcement. Everyone told me how wonderful the career was, and how wonderful I was for thinking about it. If I had even just one person tell me "Know what, this really sucks, it is harder than you could possibly imagine," etc, I would have made a more informed decision. Even if I still had gone to medical school, at least I might not have gone through the period of disillusionment and bitterness that I did.

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  8. Speaking of residency and positive reinforcement,
    here is a related article from NYTimes.

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  9. When I was considering going to med school and when I was considering residency programs (or prior to any big decision) I wanted to know the things that people didn't like about it. Because I want to know the worst and if I can handle that then I know I am headed in the right direction. It is good to learn the good aspects for motivation, but it is much better to know the downside you are going to have live with.

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  10. maybe when you're done with residency, you'll change your story. looking back now (and i am only two years out of residency practicing general pediatrics), med school was hard- yes- but it was also doable. residency was terribly hard- yes- but there were so many fun times and great experiences that it was enjoyable too....and every second i spend at my office seeing patients (and all the hours i am home with my husband and my son) i absolutely LOVE what i do, wouldnt change any aspect for the world, and do not regret any of the hard work i put into it. It was ALL WORTH IT.

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  11. I think you're right on in doing this. I agree that med school and residency and fellowship (all of which I did before the era of the "lightweight" 80 hr workweek) were ridiculously demanding...and awesome. But the reality is that if you are someone who cannot live without sleep or cannot bear to study until you can't see straight, and then study some more, or don't love medicine, med school and residency are going to be a struggle.

    I contemplated becoming a transplant surgeon--I totally loved the patients and the operations and thought there was nothing more amazing that taking a patient on death's doorstep with a failing liver or kidney and making them whole again--but that is one terrible life. One of my attendings told me, "You can be a great transplant surgeon if you want it. But you should only do it if you cannot imagine being happy doing anything else. Because if you can, you won't be happy being a transplant surgeon." At the time, as a single, idealistic, very excited med student, I didn't really get it. Now that I'm married with 3 little kids, I totally get it. If I had taken that path, I would almost certainly not have had my 3 kids and would probably be blogging here in crisis about whether to give up my career after all those years of training to be a transplant surgeon. I am grateful to this day to my attending for having said that. Truer words have never been spoken!

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  12. I feel similarly to the OP. If someone says to me, "I want to be a doctor" or "I'm going to go to medical school" then I say that's great and we talk about it. But if they say, "I'm thinking about going to medical school, what do you think I should do?" then I also try to talk them out of it a little. I usually take the route of considering nursing or PA school (regardless of gender) as seriously as medical school and explain about the hours, the debt, and the years you spend getting trained before you're really helping anyone very much. I also tell most people that medical school is dehumanizing, residency is hard, and that if you're wondering if you should do it, there's a reasonable chance that you shouldn't. If you are capable of serious questioning, odds are that you could be equally or more happy doing something less draining and more amenable to a satisfying personal life.

    I'm grateful that I did it. But I went straight through and am going to be a 29 year old with a great husband, a new baby, and my dream job when I graduate next summer. If I had to do medical school again in order to continue being a doctor, I would probably find something else to do.

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  13. You seriously discouraged this young woman from following her ambition because she was pretty and because you think she should go have babies? For real?

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  14. badgermama, I guess that's the conclusion you would draw if you only read the title and one sentence of my post.

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  15. As a "pretty girl" and a "slightly older than your traditional med student" person, I was pretty offended by your characterization of this person. My impression of I-banking was that it was a lot less mommy friendly than medicine, anyway, and last I heard, hysterectomy wasn't a requirement for admission to med school.

    I suppose you'll say, "Well, she chose something else so she must not have been that serious about it, so I was right to tell her these things." Still, this post left a really bad taste in my mouth. Maybe it was how you referred to her as a Beauty Queen? Could you have shown any more contempt for her? If she'd looked like a rhinoceros would you have assumed that she had no chance at landing a man and told her to go for it?

    I'm really disappointed in this post. There are good reasons not to go to med school, but your reasons for discouraging this woman seem way off the mark.

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  16. I guess what bothers me is that your advice to her has more to do with your own issues than anything to do with her.

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  17. For better or worse, we all base our experience when giving advices to others. After reading a few more posts on this blog, I am amazed by the challenges a Doc-Mom faces on a daily basis. I wonder what I would say to my daughter if one day she declared to us that she would also want to pursue a career in medicine. I would also try to first give her a fullest possible pictures on what’s ahead of her had she still decide to choose medicine. Med school and residency are insanely but necessarily difficult, after all. Perhaps sharing my experience with her doesn’t necessarily mean dissuading her to go; perhaps it would further prepare her and strengthen her for the long journey ahead. She would want our support, advice and encouragement in whatever she choose, in medicine or otherwise.

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  18. Oldmdgirl, I know it got people upset that I referred to her as a Beauty Queen, but if you run the pageant circuit and win, that's what you are. That's a fact. Beauty pageants are kind of offensive by their nature. That doesn't mean that she wasn't intelligent (I think she was), articulate, and a great person. I actually liked her quite a bit and really wanted her to be happy in a career, which is why I spent time with her to tell her my own experiences and those of others that were not necessarily positive.

    If you read my post, you would see that I said that I "always" try to dissuade pre-meds, male or female, hot or not. As I said, my goal isn't to talk anyone out of med school... my goal is for people to know what they're getting into. As I said in another comment, several med students thanked me for being the one person who was honest with them, so they weren't in for as much of a shock. And I did discuss having kids in med school because she said she badly wanted kids and she would be an older student when she started. I couldn't lie to her and say how awesome being a pregnant resident is.

    I don't know if B-school was right for her. I know nothing about it. It's someone else's job to talk to her about that. I just gave her my honest opinion.

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  19. I kind of agree w/ Fizzy. When I find out someone is interested in medicine, my gut reaction is to tell them about all the horrible stuff, not the good stuff. This goes along w/ a previous post, that many people tend to focus on what's hardest or worst about their patients and not the rest of the patients that are so wonderful. I wonder if that's partly because I am a parent, and I feel my job's demands somewhat take away from all I can deliver to my children. My brother, who is in business, is successful while having his weekends off and his nights off regularly. On a bad clinic day, when I have 2 or more of my demanding patients, I am truly exhausted getting home, usually late. I find my patience is running much more thin and my ability to "play" w/ my children is strained. On these days, I do truly wonder why anyone would ever choose a profession that requires so much of themselves be left in the office or clinic.

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  20. As someone who is about to start medical school and is also an older (just turned 30) nontraditional student that has been given the "are you sure you want to do this?" sppech numerous times I can say it's okay. And I appreciate those Attendings and residents and friends and mentors and their experiences. Each time someone tried to talk me out of it I had to solidify my reasons for wanting to go into medicine and I thouroughly considered a few other carrerr paths but I know I want to be a doctor and so no one can talk me out of it. Not my fiancé as he suffers through OB/GYN residency (and which subsequently makes med school look easy), or my mentor who works in academics and doesn't make loads of money, but she makes a difference, nor any of my friends that are now done with their training and settling into new homes and family life. Because at the end of the day they all say, "would I do it again, yes, in a heartbeat. It was worth it and I love my job. Would I do it again if I had to repeat medical school ? Hell, NO !" so thanks for posting and keep up the reality so I can stay grounded.

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  21. When I see other people considering medicine, I don't try to persuade. I listen and remember, I was once like them and that I shouldn't judge them because they don't share the same experiences as me.

    By the way, having beautiful/pretty medicine is always a nice added bonus (not saying that it's important).

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  22. It's not the schooling that's hard. As a single mom, I had to leave my sick-ish kid with my mom. I'm away from him and the few people that are important to me. I am so lonely here. I'm only happy on the weekends. I feel like a moron for doing this. The school work is really not the tough part (yet) I'm only first year. Hopefully in a year and a half I can do my rotations back in my home town. I am pathetically lonely at the moment. I have a final next week, and shouldn't go home. If I don't, though, I will have no motivation to study for it. I know I will truly be a responsible doctor, but at the moment, that's beside the point.

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  23. I'm a beauty queen, and I became a surgeon. Stop stereotyping people due to how they look! She could have been a great doctor. Actually, the other day, a resident was being gossiped about, and they said she was "not pretty enough" to be in the operating room. How times change.

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  24. Sounds like someone is a little jealous. The first thing you said was that she practically made you feel ugly. She may be beautiful, a great doctor AND have kids one day. You let your jealousy get the best of you and in turn made someone turn on their dreams. Maybe you should reconsider what you are doing with your life and make changes to be happier... and give someone who actually wants the position have it. Whether she pretty or not. I did modeling and acting for for 3 years in Los Angeles and now I start medical school in a year.

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