Monday, July 12, 2010

MiM Mailbag: Question from a student


I've seen people submit questions to your blog, so I thought I'd ask one myself!

I recently started reading this blog, and I love hearing such a real perspective on medicine.  I'm a grad student, and my plan has always been to apply to med school.  All my pre-reqs, MCAT, etc. are complete.  However, a discussion with a dental student recently got me thinking about dentistry.  My main concern with medicine has been the lifestyle and strain on family.  Not to say that dentists have it easy, but I get the impression that they generally have more manageable schedules.  Of course, I would need to find the same passion for dentistry that I have for medicine.  But I'm curious if any of you considered any other health professions.  Would a career in health care with a friendlier lifestyle still fulfill you?

This blog is such a great resource.  Thank you all for your insightful writing!

Take care,


  1. As the daughter of a dentist, I always associated the field with great hours (Dad always worked 4 days a week) and great pay, but a lot of stress since most dentists are self-employed. It can be a lonely field. I also didn't want to feel limited in scope or specialty from the beginning, so I went to med school. Now I'm a married mother of two and a physician employed by a hospital. I have great hours and a great job, but I don't have the pressure of running my own business.

  2. I say go with what you love, keeping the lifestyle you want in mind. I see my own dentist struggle with business stress, and I know a lot of doctors who do this as well, if they are not going to work for a hospital or into a well established practice.

    Residency training is rough, and you and your partner would have to be prepared for that. In retrospect, it was not the right time to have two kids with a physician husband. But I have two great kids! So nothing lost.

    I see a lot of women, including pathologists, carve out a career with part-time when their kids are younger. And they seem happy and fulfilled. Alternately, your partner could choose to take the bulk of the childcare while you are the breadwinner.

    I would not sacrifice your passion (whatever that may be) for lifestyle - I don't think they are really that much different. You can find that "dentist lifestyle" in medicine, somewhere, if you want to.

    I was always jealous of the med techs, when I was a resident. Shift work, with lots of time off with their kids. I wondered what the heck I was doing with my life. That was residency stress, and I am happy I stuck it out.

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  4. I am a family medicine doctor, and having adequate time and energy for my family is of utmost importance to me. I have often wished that I went into a field (ie, other than medicine) that had more family-friendly schedules and was less stressful. That being said, now that I'm finished with training, I work 2-3 days/wk and find that leaves me with plenty of time and energy for my family (and myself!). The benefit of medicine is that a doctor's part-time salary is still more than most full-time people make. The drawback is that the culture is such that working part-time is not always highly regarded (although I think that is changing some) and may limit your job prospects. I do think that a career in another healthcare profession would fulfill me, even if I were somewhat less excited by it, but I am less career-oriented than most doctors I know.

  5. There are a good number of fields in medicine that have manageable schedules, and it seems that working part-time is becoming more accepted. I know it's hard to know what aspect of medicine you might be interested in at this point without having much exposure, but I'd say dermatology, ophthalmology, psychiatry, anesthesiology, radiology, peds, PM&R, pathology, radiation oncology are some of the areas with more 'regular' office hours. Even going the hospitalist route offers a good bit of time off.

    I agree with the advice to follow your passion. That's the most important part because school and training both have long hours and hard work. If it's not really your thing, your threshold for burning out or losing interest will be much lower.

    Good luck with your decision!

  6. I strongly considered going to pharmacy school instead of med school. In the end, I chose med school, largely thinking along the lines that to be a clinical pharmacist would require essentially the same number of years of training as med school plus residency. I failed to realize, however, that those years spent in pharmacy training would have been far less demanding than pretty much any field of medicine. When I get really down about the lack of time with my family now (currently PGY 4 in anesthesiology residency with a 19-month old daughter), I still wish I had chosen either the PA route or the pharmacy route. Then, I'm reminded of how much cooler my job will be in the end, once I'm through with residency and that helps me to get through the rough weeks. I do think that I could have been fulfilled with other medical-related fields. Basically, I agree with the others: you need to do what your passion is. Just realize that if you choose medical school, the work-life balance will be totally out of balance for at least the time of your residency and likely during med school clinicals as well. Also, just to note, as I'm starting the job search process for post-residency, I have always desired to work part-time. I'm finding from talking with many in my field that finding part-time work is not as easy as you would think. It seems that most groups have a 2-3 year track to partnership, during which time your hours/schedule are only slightly better than during residency (although with a significant pay increase). Part time jobs are out there, but you may have to sacrifice something on that end as well (location, pay/benefits, type of practice, etc). Good luck whatever you choose!

  7. I am a dentist (an orthodontist in fact). I chose dentistry not so much because of its lifestyle but because I was very inspired by my own orthodontist. ( you don't want to see me before i had my braces done) I agree with everyone else about follow your passion. If it's the lifestyle you are after, there are plenty of lifestyle specialities in medicine too. (have you heard of the ROAD to happiness? radiology, ophthalmology, anesthesiology, dermatology)

    My Ob/gyn asked me once whether it's difficult to look at people's teeth everyday. I told her it's definitely easier than looking at vaginas.

  8. I'm in PM&R and I just started a job where I'm working only 4 days a week. Could have done 3 days, but I wanted the extra money (plus I would get bored being home so much!). I won't lie and say that my training never put a strain on my family, but it's not like dental school is a total walk in the park either. I agree with the people who said to do what you love and you'll find a balance.

  9. A lot of people say to do what you love, or find your passion, but for many people their passion is not in their career. I am still in school to be an Optometrist, and while I am interested enough about being one in the future, I am way more passionate about my family. Most women agree that their priorities change after they have children, but as to how much they will change, it's impossible to predict. Also, most people (including much of the population in western europe) find that they are more interested in the activities they do outside of work, i.e. working to live versus living to work.

    It's hard to tell if a career will fulfill you until you are actually in that career, and it is important not to put too much pressure on your career to do so. I know in medicine (and dentistry and optometry) that you are essentially stuck in that career once you pass a certain level of debt. What's most important is to find a career that allows you the opportunity to pursue interests that you have currently, those may not have developed yet, and for the amount of time you may want to spend with your family. Whether or not medicine or dentistry does this, or will be able to make changes in the future to allow this, is completely up to you to decide.

  10. Have you considered nursing? I am a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner trained in Primary Care. I love, love, love my job & lifestyle. I was able to work full time until I had my kids, work 20-30 hours a week after, and now I have a per diem position in a large inner-city teaching hospital. I make killer money and make my own hours, according to the needs of my family. I diagnose, treat, follow-up... everything. I have prescriptive authority and function completely on my own. I was on the path to medical school and for a variety of reasons went into nursing instead. 16 years later, I am thrilled that I chose this path. I have no school debt, great flexibility, and make great money. I also have a panel of patients that I love, many of whom I have taken care of since they were born and have followed over the years. Something to consider. Hope this is helpful.


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