Thursday, September 8, 2011

Guest post: My Story

I'm a 27 year old, married mother of one 3.5 year old son and live in Toronto, Canada. I'm not a doctor - I'm not even in medical school. But I want to be. Here is my story and the journey I’ve started on.

I've spent the past 5 years of my career feeling trapped and lost. I was doing well in the traditional sense. I got promoted, I passed the required exams for my CA designation (CPA equivalent in the US). I got good performance reviews.

But from the moment I accepted my job offer with a Big 4 accounting firm, I have been nagged with a sense of doubt. Am I making a difference? Am I adding value? Is it normal to have a constant feeling of dread when thinking about work? Am I proud of what I do?

At first I just ignored these feeling (and yet, even shortly after graduating and accepting my job offer I’d be browsing the medical school pages of various universities, already jealous of all those unknown people who would be starting medical school the same time I’d be starting my job as an audit associate). I reasoned that how can I know that this isn’t what I want to do before I start? Wondered if I was just infatuated with the thought of being a doctor, the way some people wish they could be a Hollywood star? In any case, I was never a quitter and thought I just need to give it time, until I understand more about my profession, until I got to deal with the interesting issues. This is the bed I made; now I should lay in it (and make the best of it).

But the years passed and the feeling of dread grew. I started to resent my job for keeping me away from my family (yet never once did I wish I could just be a stay-at-home mom). I wonder why I can't enjoy this job more, the way so many of my collegues did. I’d be incredibly envious of friends I’d meet who seemed to not only enjoy their jobs but feel a sense of purpose from them. And I dreamt the “what if I could go to medical school” dream all the time

Then one day I was having a chat with a friend of mine who mentioned how her sister-in-law had a similar feeling – she had just graduated from law school and was offered a position with a top law firm, where she had spent her past 3 summers articling. Days before she was due to start, she gave notice and said she was applying to medical school. Fascinated by her story, I thought, hm, maybe I could do this too! I reached out to her to ask her point blanc, if she thought I was crazy. I’m 27, I have child and a mortgage – not to mention nothing in my educational or extracurricular background to indicate any knowledge of medicine. She told me to go for it – that she had people in her medical school class who were older than me, and if this is something that I felt passionate about, I’d make it work.

After doing a bit more research, I also realized that I can actually apply to most medical schools in Canada without a science degree. Many require 1 or 2 university level science credits, but many consider the overall applicant and state that people of all educational and professional backgrounds are welcome to apply. Luckily I had very good grades both in high school and university. I’ve also lived in different parts of the world, am fluent in 3 languages and have managed to obtain my CA designation while juggling motherhood and wifedom.

So I decided to bite the bullet and try and I’ve officially embarked on this journey. I’ve signed up for a Biology course through an online university to help me get a couple pre-requisite courses that are required by some of the universities. I’ve perused books and blogs that focus on what a career in medicine means. I bought (and started to review) and MCAT study guide. I'm also hoping to negotiate going down to a part-time work schedule so that I can make room for volunteer work and to study.

However, as hopeful as I sound, I’m very aware of how hard this will be. How I will undoubtedly question my decision and how I will want to give up. But I also know that I may fail. Even if I do everything I can (take perquisite courses, do some meaningful volunteer work, do well on the MCATs) I may not get selected. I know how incredibly competitive this field is and I may not be the best candidate.

But I’m fine with that. This is my dream and I want to try. If I fail, I fail – but at least I won’t have to live with the regret of not trying.

-Kasia Smith

30 comments:

  1. If your future school is anything like my medical school, 27 is close to the average student age. We have people in my class upwards of 45 with children, mortgages, careers, etc and they seem very happy with their decision.
    Please don't think of your age and maturity as a bad thing. You'll be a valued member of your class for your maturity and experiences.
    Best of luck to you! With your drive I know you'll make it!

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  2. OMGosh you have given me so much hope as I have given up on my dreams since I did not matriculate into med school at the age of 22. I undoubtedly feel like an old maid but I keep hearing how there are people older than me in medical school. Thank you for your encouragement as everyday that passes is time I am truly convinced I am wasting because I am not in medical school or practicing medicine. I wish you all the best on your journey and I applaud your efforts and attitude!

    Also a thank you to anonymous above, thank you for the encouragement as well, I know it was directed to Ms. Smith, but reading it gave me the courage to do it as well.

    All the best Kay.
    BTW please stop by my blog and read a few of my postings. Thank you :)

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  3. Go you! I'm in my first year of Med School (and I have 2 toddlers), and though my school feels abnormally young (I think our avg age is 24--yikes!), my 30-yr old self is surviving. And there are at least 2 people older than me. It feels awesome to be here.

    And I remember being in that awful place of dreading work, and how freeing it was to embark on a step to chase this dream. So, best wishes to you for the adventure ahead! -Amber-

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  4. Twenty-seven is definitely not too old to be thinking about medical school, nor is being married/having a child a barrier. I was 29 when I started medical school, and the oldest person in my class was 34 (and we were a relatively young class; most classes at my school have at least one student in his/her 40s at the start). There were quite a few women in my class who either had kids at the start of medical school or gave birth while in medical school, including one woman with four children at the start who had a fifth during med school. If medical school is something that you truly want to do, then go for it. Best of luck.

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  5. Thanks for the encouragement ladies! Its the main thing that I need to get me through.

    I got my Biology text book in the mail today and can't wait to start reading it and planning my assignments!

    If all goes to plan, I'd be starting med school at the age of 29. While I think that isn't crazy old, I mostly worry about how this decision will affect my husband and son...as well as any other children we have.Though I'm
    lucky because my husband is being very supportive. He said he's willing to move to any city I get into med school, so its going to give me more options.

    Fingers crossed! KS

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  6. I am going to play devil's advocate because I am still astonished by the amount of late in life choices people make in this culture. If you resent now that accoutning keeps you from your family, are you ready to spend more time away from home for many years to come? I have personally worked with almost 50 yo medicine resident who had degree in business and law. At the end of the residency this person was telling all medical students how bad medicine was and they should choose something else. There is something about this paradigm of instantenious satisfaction, perfect happiness that tricks some people into wild swings. At the end of the day some still did not find gratification they were striving for. Medicine is far more demanding than accounting. If you are ready for more difficulties, tighten your belt. If you are a dreamer, get a reality check.

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  7. Anon --

    I love how all the negative comments come from anonymous commenters. That's why I turned that function off on my own blog. Have some balls and sign your name. Of course if you felt that your comment were helpful, even though you were presenting a different opinion, you would have signed your name right?

    Anyway.

    Just to comment on what you said, sure a lot of people are just dreamers with no substance behind what they're reaching for. It's hard to tell until you try something new whether it's really for you, after all. I felt in many ways the same as Kasia when I started my post-bac program 8 years ago. I'd worked in consulting before I went to med school, and then I tried a management program, and I have to say the thought of going to those jobs every day made me physically ill. I would cry on the way to work, and on the way home, and I would start dreading the coming week at about 12PM every Sunday.

    I started my post-bac when I was 26, and my MD-PhD program at 29. I'm now 34 and I have to say the past 8 years of my life I've worked harder than I've ever worked before, but I've also been happier and more fulfilled. I could see myself being happy either practicing medicine, or doing full time research. I feel so lucky that I've had these opportunities, and that I had the courage and support to take the plunge. Sometimes it's not the fact that hours are long and work is hard, but the nature of what you're doing, and whom you're working with.

    Not sure how I'll like being a resident.... I hear it's not the most pleasant part of medical training. It's also temporary. It makes a lot of people angry and bitter, and you know what? Many of them emerge from that fog a few years later and are happy they did it.

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  8. great and thoughtful post.
    I am a mother of a toddler and a teenager, just finishing up my RN degree. I too have wanted to be in the medical field for as long as I can remember. I have decided when I am done my degree in April that my hubby and I will head to Ontario where I can find more steady work as an RN, and I will start the process to getting into med school.

    don't get me wrong, I LOVE the work that the RN's do- they are so incredibly insightful, intuitive, intelligent and amazing. It is such a noble profession, in the true sense of the word. But I find that I reach the limit of my scope of practice and regularly want to go beyond it. It can be frustrating. I guess it's because I am very naturally curious and driven.

    I will be 38 when I write my RN exam, and as much as I have had second thoughts because of my age, I look to my dad (who started med school at 35 with 5 kids to feed!!) and I know that anything is possible.

    Best of luck to all of you.

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  9. I would just like to say good for you for pursuing your dreams because if you did not, there would always be the nagging in the back of your mind. I am currently 27 years old and a first year med student with two children and I know other mothers older than me (one is 34 with 4 kids) that are going along on this journey. It can be done. It will be hard, but I think the rewards are endless.

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  10. Kasia,

    I just turned 47. My path to med school started when I was 5. Given many wild nights early in my adult life, it started again at 44 after spending 9 years at Deloitte, KPMG, E&Y as a senior manager/partner candidate, with PwC as my audit firm when I was the vice president of internal audit. I've taken five companies public including their S-1 filings and compliance/regulatory reporting... and I HATED it.

    I loved being with my teams, supporting their vision of what they wanted to do, inside only loving the smell of jet fuel and interesting places I'd visit. As for the work itself, I was bored to tears. B-O-R-E-D!! Could not see the value of moving money around, and to me, auditing still seems like a shuffle game - move money from here to there to make the bottom line look better.

    When I reported my company to the SEC for violations and fraud, I was fired. It was then, that I really started to chase a dream.

    With a teenage son, as a single mom without the paternalistic chromosomal donator in the picture, the support of my elderly parents, the love of my furkids (Storm, the beloved great dane and Hope), I jumped off the cliff and hoped my parachute would land me in the middle of a med school interview.

    My house has been lost, my bankruptcy filed and discharged, my elderly parents' health failed, the great dane died, my son started school himself (he's 19), I endured a stalking professor (he's show up at my house at 2 AM), and the break up of someone pretty significant to me.

    US Med schools will not accept online course, or will severely denigrate them when reviewed on an application. I had no choice but to take mine at a very large university... and no choice but to chase "A"s... anything less, I was told it would be game over. I carry a 3.9...

    IF the worst happens, I will never regret one minute I spent chasing the dream of mine, that I've had since I was 5. IF that happens, I will eagerly look for other ways to be in the medical field and contribute back.

    IF Big 4 pounding - a life few in the medical field have endurred - is not for you, then leave it. I thought hopping from one firm to the other would make things better, they all suck... at least for me.

    What you may learn, however, is that your training at one of the best firms in the world, will serve you well as you prepare for med school. I know at E&Y they were very supportive of getting me into the health segment so that I was more closely aligned with my long term goals. They were also instrumental in helping me get some of my prereqs paid for as the courses were relevant to the sector.

    MY age is a problem. Yours, is not... nor should it be.

    Go get 'em!

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  11. OMDG - it does not matter what nickname people use for their post, it is NOT their real name. Does it makes their opinions more credible/likable? I do not have time to have my "name/blog" like many posters. I still maintain my opinion. Just funny to see how "different"
    opinions are mocked. I did not offend any one (I think you took this too personally). I wanted someone in decision making to see all sides. I definitely saw in her post that she hated her work was too demanding. And BTW that bitter resident was performing shamefully at work, and not respected by peers (but maybe came out in a full glory a few years later - as you said).

    So to poster: know that you can do it, when you go for it. If you are whining today are you ready to work twice as hard? And sorry to everyone taking personal offense.

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  12. val or anon (doesn't matter!)September 8, 2011 at 5:06 PM

    to Anon -OMDG has taken some of my opinions personally too. i think some people are like that. oh well.
    i too rarely post on here but when i do i didn't think putting a name or not mattered.
    as for the posting - i agree, go for your dreams. i started med school (sans husband and kids however) at the age 27. now at 37 with husband and 2 kids and being a practicing MD, i'm not sure how i would have survived med school/residency with all in tow, but if there's a will, there's a way!

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  13. I say go for it. I felt exactly how you felt in my previous career. I felt that I had no purpose in life and hated going to work. It felt pointless. If I was going to work that hard my work needed to have value to me. I did med school without a child, but I think being older gave me better focus. Because unlike the 22 year old who has been forging ahead since middle school - I really felt like I owned the choice to go to medical school. It isn't perfect. I have probably contemplated my career choice EVERY DAY since my daughter was born (and even some before). However, at the same time, I wouldn't do it differently. I feel like I have purpose now, and I hope that that sense of purpose and really enjoying what I do will continue to make it easier when I do have to spend long hours away from home. I also hope it will make my daughter proud of what I do. Anyway, this is a little rambly, but I wanted to respond and only have a few seconds to do so! Good luck to you! I hope you find the fulfillment that you are looking for.

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  14. To the devils advocate:

    I just wanted to clarify - I'm not opposed to hard work. Its not the demands of the job nor the hours - its just that I hated the work. I didn't find it inspiring, in fact, like the PP said, I found it boring. I saw myself 5, 10 years down the line and it scared me to think thats all I had to look forward to.

    That's why I said I felt resentful to my job - that I was spending so much time every day working on things that I just got zero fulfillment from. I was born to work - and anything I do will require a lot of hours and demands. But I want it to mean something.

    Anyway, I just wanted to clarify - I do agree with you that it would be a mistake to pursue something like medicine if I didn't 100% want to.

    To all the others, thanks again for the support!

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  15. Kasia and A Doc 2 Be above - both of your stories are so inspiring. It is never too late to do something different if you are unhappy. I was just at my 10 year med school reunion a couple of weeks ago. A handful of people were back in fellowship again pursuing new career tracks. A handful had quit medicine entirely to pursue other aspects of their personality that they found more fulfilling - mothers, designers, university professors, to name a few. I find it inspiring when people have the courage to realize they aren't locked in and can try something new, at any age. Good luck to you both.

    A Doc 2 Be - I, like you, had to spend 3 or 4 semesters, I can't remember, taking the pre-reqs and make all A's before applying to medical school. I did it right after college, but still. I am jealous of the online class or two that Canada requires! You go Kasia!

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  16. Old MD Girl, A Doc 2 Be, Cutter, A Solitary Diner, MiaSolo and all the rest...thanks so much for your stories. SO inspiring!

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  17. I think you should totally go for it.

    As a fellow Torontonian (now pursuing pre-med in the US) who is married to a new MD (also a Torontonian who had to move to the US), be very aware that Canada is much harder to get into medical school than the U.S. regardless of what the websites will tell you. You have good grades so you will be fine but consider applying to U.S. schools getting U.S. status now (if that is an option).

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  18. I am a 31 yo mother of a toddler and MS1. I too worked in finance in my "previous life". I didn't hate it, the hours and work were intense, but most of the time, I enjoyed the work enough. What I couldn't shake was that in every quiet moment, my mind went back to medicine. When I was looking at biotech companies for my private equity firm, I got caught up in the science rather than the finance. For several years, I just stuffed these feelings, telling myself that I was too far down this path to change my career. After I had my son though, I just couldn't ignore it anymore. I would never advise him to settle, how could I? It was risky, I could get rejected, waste time and money, etc, but I could not accept not giving it a try. I spent a year preparing, took the MCATs, applied, and now I am here. I couldn't be happier. Ultimately, I hope that I will be a good example for son.

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  19. Great post - good luck following your dreams, Kasia! It sounds like you've got a supportive family and work place which is awesome. I had a wonderful mentor that helped me prepare for medicine (it was a second career after Epidemiology for me).

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  20. Anons -- I didn't take what you said personally (why should I care? You're not talking about me...), I was just observing that people tend to post dissent anonymously. True, no? It's kinda spineless.

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  21. They are saying, it's not spineless as they would not be using their real name either, but a nick name. (Still never revealing their true identity.) People are definitely more brave when hidden, but people with screen names post negative things all the time.

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  22. Kasia, I too am a CA, 30, and a mother of two and am writing the MCAT tomorrow! Here's to life changes and making a difference!! You can do it, and so can I!!

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  23. Hopeful - thanks SO much! You are amazing - all the best on the MCAT!

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  24. Anon -- And I am saying that I don't believe that they'd be posting those comments at all if they were using a linkable name.

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  25. Good luck with chasing your dreams, but just make sure your expectations are realistic at the same time. I am a 26 year old medical resident and work with so many doctors who feel the same way about their career as you described having felt about yours. I too have had periods where I really wanted to get out of medicine and do something else with regular, humane hours! - those moments were usually during and after night shifts. Many people in medicine become disillusioned and end up choosing a specialty not because of passion, but because of regular hours or other 'lifestyle' reasons.

    I'm not trying to talk you out of a career change - I think it could be a wonderful and brave decision. But it's good to know both sides of the story.

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  26. Sally - thanks for your honestly. This is something I do worry about - I'm sure there will be times when I feel like that. But I want to be proud of what I do and want to feel like I have a purpose. It will get me through the days when I'm tired and frustrated (the same way I got through the first year of my sons life when he would literally wake up every. hour. every. night and I'd wondered if having a kid was s good idea).

    The difference between my current job and medicine is that I never was interested in what I'm doing now. I kind of fell into it and just hoped it would work out. When, 5 years later I was hating it more and more I had to re-evaluate my life. I considered many things that I could do but kept coming back to medicine. I feel a pull to it that I can't describe.

    I feel like I DO know what I'm getting myself into - though I know that I won't REALLY know until I try. But its the best I can do.

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  27. Good for you for being willing to follow your dreams!

    I think what you are doing is admirable but I do agree with some of the points that anon is making. Definitely don't jump into medicine just because you don't like your current field. Make sure it's the actual WORK you want to do, not just that you like the IDEA of being a doctor or that you are excited about pursuing a challenging goal.

    As an MS3 who did some post-bac work, I'm five years into this journey and happy about it, but I would advise anyone thinking about med school to volunteer in the health care field, talk to doctors (not med students---you are becoming a DOCTOR not a permanent med student and they are very different perspectives), etc. Spend as much time as you can learning about the profession before you commit a lot of time and money to the goal. I think that there are people out there who wish they had done that.

    Also think about whether other careers in the health care arena like nursing, physical therapy, etc might offer you the ability to "make a difference" without committing so much time to training. I'm not saying you choose those instead of medicine, but that you should at least consider the question from a theoretical standpoint to understand better what you are looking for.

    That said, if it's what you want to do, you are definitely not too old and your experiences and maturity can only enhance what you have to offer as a clinician.

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  28. Good luck! I am near residency now, after a journey similar to the one you're about to start.

    I have found that there is no 100% right answer. I was jealous of the CNM/ARNP at one of my rotation sites, who was in practice without having to do a residency, and then she sighed and said she wished she was a surgeon.

    The best you can do is make a good choice. Of course there will be pros and cons.

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  29. Hi Liv, thanks for your great advice.

    Though to be clear, I didn't just decide I want to do medicine or because I want the challenge...its something that's always been in the back of my mind, that's always interested me...I know that's not the same as being and dealing with the realities (many of which I'm sure are not pretty)... Who knows, this may be a big mistake....but I want to try and know rather than not try and then spend the rest of my life wondering.

    But back to what you were saying...I'm talking to anyone and everyone in the profession to get a good idea of what its really like, and plan to continue to do so even after I've applied to med school. I'm trying to stay open minded about other options if this doesn't work out.

    But I do appreciate your advice!

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  30. I just wanted to say for the second time as my other comment was lost due to internet connection failure, thank you for your stories. I find them truly inspiring and liberating. I myself feel like my life is pointless right now and there is no need for me to live because I can't practice medicine. I must say that because of my bad and poor choices in life, I am stuck in the situation I am in now. I do wish Kasia all the luck and success and finally going after her dreams because I feel it's never too late to do something, I learned that from my mother who got her GED the same month I graduated from high school and is now a chef. I don't believe in settling because it is the most depressing thing you could ever do in life. And right now I have to settle. But I do hope that you end up in medical school and that your dreams do come true. I hope and pray that you end up right where you are suppose to be as you will find meaning and purpose in life when you are doing exactly what you were created to be. I thank everyone for the words of encouragement and even the doses of reality because they too have inspired me. I know the comments are not for me but they still have helped me. If I am living long enough to eradicate the bad and poor choices I made in life, I hope I too can begin to practice medicine and start a career as a doctor. Not for the sake of being a doctor and having that title but because my life feels incomplete without it. I literally feel like I am wasting time and a breaths here on Earth. but anyway, Good luck to you Kasia and I'm sending you the best wishes that can be sent. Enjoy your journey and I am quite sure everyone will be proud of you! God bless :)

    Kay

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