Monday, July 2, 2012

MiM Mailbag: Leave the financial industry for medicine?


I am not yet a medical student or doctor, or a mother for that matter, but I am on the verge of both and am looking for advice! I have been reading your blogs/articles for months and have found so much inspiration and motivation from the amazing women who write and comment.

My situation: I am 29, Canadian, graduated from undergrad in 2006, took a few years to coach alpine ski racing full-time and then got started in the financial industry in 2008. I've worked my way through a couple junior roles and am now an equities trader - reaching my initial goal in 4 years. I'm bored! I have spent the last 6 months trying to determine what I actually want from my career and have  figured out that money is not enough motivation for me to spend my working life hating my job.  Through a very long and thorough process I have come to realize that medicine is the ideal career path for me, for many reasons, and now is the time to pursue it!

The decision is a tough one for everyone, from what I gather from the posts on this and other blogs. The aspects I am struggling with are the same as those of other posters; we are trying (have been for ~6months) to get pregnant - will have a toddler during residency if everything goes as planned, that will be tough. I feel like I am ready to take that challenge on, have a very supportive husband who will make it work. The part that I am struggling with right now, where I need the encouragement to take the big first step back to school, is leaving a job that pays very well (less than 2 years in my current position and at $100k/yr) and going to effectively negative income for the next 6 years...or more.  My current job is one people tend to get into for the money, medicine is not (from my view anyways), there is upside as a physician but its the work and the industry that is so intriguing to me. It's a scary first step for me to take, I know I WANT to and honestly if I were single and not planning to have kids asap I would have left my job months ago. I'm trying to make the right decision, I need to know it is the right one, which is basically impossible. I worry about making this move and regretting 10yrs from now that life is still tough, we have a ton of med-school debt and it could have been so much easier if I had stuck it out in finance for the plentiful income.

Please tell me about your opinion on this; once you have kids, does the value you place on how happy you are in your career fall back? In 10years, would I rather have more money in a boring, unsatisfying job, than be happy with my work but still be struggling to pay down school debts and keep my kids in sports and other activities that I believe are important and of course cost money?

I've heard that priorites really do change alot when kids come into the picture, I am worried that if I don't make this decision now (to leave my career and begin the long/hard path that is medicine) I won't want to uproot once my kids are born and I'll regret not doing something I really wanted. Or, I make the decision to leave my cush job now, and when my kids are a couple years old and I'm spending 24hrs at a hospital in residency that I will regret leaving the boringness for this challenge.




  1. Your kids are going to be small for only a short time. Your career is something you're going to have for over 30 years probably. So I'd say being happy in your career ought to be a priority.

    That said, for me, at this moment, I prefer "boring and flexible" over "interesting and more work". I've been avoiding projects at work that would make my job more interesting, mostly because every time I attempt to embark on something, I get thwarted by a string of fevers and conjunctivitis. It's really hard with small kids.

    As for your specific question, I do think you should quit your finance job if it's something you hate. But if it really is that cushy (I don't think of finance jobs as being cushy), maybe it's better you hang onto it when your kids are small. But certainly don't stay in it your whole life.

    1. Hi there. You certainly have a tough decision to make! I'm a Canadian resident, and can give you some perspectives on what I've seen.

      First, if you decide to leave your job, it will be financially tough. That's just the way it is. Keep in mind that many med students start out in debt, without the benefit of having had a salary, and make out ok. The average med student graduates with $150,000 in debt. But it doesn't last forever! It is very easy in Canada to get a line of credit from the banks. They bend over backwards to make funds available to med students/residents, with great interest rates. Although it's scary to be in debt eventually you'll realize that you're in the same boat as everyone else and we still manage to have fun:)

      Second, keep in mind that only 10% of applicants get accepted to med school per year. The average student applies at least twice. There are some schools (esp McMaster) that love mature students, with kids, who have unconventional career paths.

      In my med school class there were 7 people who had families and small children. It all works out. A few people in my program have kids and most programs are friendly when it comes to mat leave. I know of some people who have their spouse bring baby/child to see them on call, e.g. for dinner or a quick cuddle.

      If this is REALLY what you want to do, go for it. It will be tough but there are people who have done it before and survived. At the end of the day if you are fulfilled in your job you are happier, and it will set a great example for your kids. Good luck!

  2. I hear you. I worked at a job I HATED (like really really hated) for 4 years before embarking on the med-school path. I never had the balls to quit, and only got up the "courage" to pursue a post-bac/research followed by MD-PhD after I was laid off. I love my career now. I'm really impressed that you've been able to figure out that you like medicine while working full time in a demanding profession. That in itself take quite a lot of gumption.

    Starting my post-bac/research job was a 50% paycut from what I was making before, and being in grad school cut my salary again by another 30%. Fortunately, my husband has a well paying job, so I haven't suffered that much, which has been really nice, and I'm doing MD-PhD, which means no debt. Perhaps you'll be in a similar situation.

    I've always found the mantra, "Once you have kids you'll realize nothing else (including your own career or your own happiness) is as important," a bit tiresome. My baby is only 5 months old now, and she is really delightful, but I have to say that any thoughts I had about quitting my job / enjoying SAHM-hood have completely vanished since having her. I love my career even more now that I have my daughter, and feel more than ever that MD-PhD was the right choice for me.

    I do think Fizzy is right about the time constraints kids put on potentially interesting work, but that is most likely not going to last forever, and wouldn't it be better to be in a position to take on interesting work when you DO eventually have the time, rather than to suffer your whole life doing something you're at best "meh" about.

    I think most of all, figure out if you have the financial means and support (paid or family) to provide you childcare plus tuition if you do end up having kids during training. If you think you can make it work from that standpoint, and you're fully committed to that path, I see no reason not to go for it.

  3. I'm not a mom, but I did quit my job in medical research/grant writing to go to med school at exactly the age you are now. Similarly to you, I was finding my job horribly boring, but I was terrified of giving up the security/income to go back to school. Since I've started, however, I haven't regretted my decision at all. As hard and exhausting as the work can be, it is much more interesting and fulfilling than my previous job ever was or could have been. And medicine has brought me a group of similarly minded friends who enrich my life outside of work too. (Two of whom have young babies at home and still manage to make it all work.)

    From a financial perspective, my piece of advice would be to start scaling back your expenses while you're in the application phase. This will allow you to get used to living on less before the stress of medicine and will also give you some savings to draw on for tuition and other expenses. One of my married friends made it entirely through medical school without incurring any debt by really limiting the things they spent money on (staying in a smaller house, having only one car/taking the bus to work, limiting her eating out).

    Best of luck whatever you choose!

  4. There is no right answer. I am a resident who is a new mom and previously worked in other industries. While I love what I do, priorities can shift after having a child and flexibility and time with family become more valuable. If you are currently pregnant, my advice would be to wait until six months in
    your mat leave to see how you feel, or to apply to med school
    during your mat leave and see how it pans out. That way you can adjust to motherhood and have your current job as back-up if you don't get in this round. If you already have your med school acceptance, then you may want to start saving. I did med school with no debt thanks to savings, being frugal, shopping at thrift stores and not buying things unless I absolutely needed them, but we still spent on things we really cared about like holiday travel or date nights. Having a budget that you stick to is helpful and I know other friends who also accomplished the same goal of graduating without debt. But most students will end up with an average $150000 debt. Having savings prior and a partner that works can really help. Hope you can let us know what you decide. And good luck! People in my class all said at some point that medicine was something they loved but they were also surprised by how hard it was and there are some who questioned whether it was worth all the 24hr shifts every 4 days or every 3 days for surgery residents. That is why I would advice waiting till ur baby is 6 months to see how you feel and decide then. Then at least you will have figured out how you feel about work life balance for the time that your children are little. Switching careers with older children who have their own schooling and lives may be easier and gives you a few years to build up savings. We really feel happy about not having debt as it provides other options for residency that is more flexible in terms for time for family.

  5. If you have trouble deciding, try the coin toss trick where you tell yourself you will commit to what a coin toss decides. What you will discover is that you will
    secretly be elated or disappointed at what the coin shows you and that will help you make a decision. No matter what you decide, there can be regrets so it is almost a choice to decide not to regret things. You can only make the best decision when you make it and you can always change your mind if you truly are unhappy

  6. Don't do it.
    I'm a 2nd year resident with a 5 month old and I want to quit every day. Go to PA school instead. Being a resident with a new baby sucks. You spend too much time away from your baby and you spend all your time at an institution where you have zero input into your schedule. I can't tell you if it's worth it...I'm still in the suck. But I would advise not quitting your job. Or, if you really want to go to med school, hold off on having a baby.

  7. I left a NYC wall street job to go to medical school. I went from being single and buying myself whatever I wanted (which was usually books since I'm a nerd) to my current situation of complete, utter brokeness as a surgery resident with a young child (18 months old). WE ARE STRUGGLING!!! There are moments I question why I embarked on this 10 year endeavor of brokeness, but more moments than not I completely feel like its worth it. I would never change my decision. I know the mind numbing feeling of unfullfilling work. I hated the money driven culture of Wall Street. I feel like I am fulfilling a lifelong calling. Its worth it, but CRAZY HARD!!! Build an enormous support network. I'm still a resident, maybe I'll change my mind later. But I think that having spent time doing other things and truly owning your decision can get you through the tough times, and there will be plenty!! I am happy to talk to you more specifically about my own finance to medicine transition if your interested.

    1. Hi, I know the post is old. I'm currently in an investment banking career. I hate it and want to follow my career dream in Medicine. I have 3 year old in a good private school and I also have a mortgage to pay. How would you advice transitioning to being a full time Med student will 0 income and debt. I have some investments but not much. I'll have to put my son in public school but in my country public schools are disappointing. I feel torn between living my dream career and giving my child a good base in life.

  8. I would echo a number of the above (esp. Cutter). I was in a different, well paid field and left for medicine to do something more fulfilling. It is definitely more fulfilling. But, when I think that I could be 7 digits further ahead financially, spending weekends at home with my family and not putting my husband and son through this stress (not to mention myself, because there isn't really even time to consider myself), it does sometimes feel like I jumped into a deep dark pit. I am still in the midst of residency with the light at the end of the tunnel being still VERY dim, similar to elidel, so things might look different on the other side.

  9. Um, are there really jobs where people earn over $100,000/year and have weekends and evenings free? I was well out of residency before my daughter was born, so I can't speak to that, but when I look around I see almnost everyone I know - lawyers, academics, Wall Streeters, other financial types, small-business owners - working ridiculous hours and spending more time than they want to away from family. I've only known one couple who managed to buck that trend and they did it by both working part-time. She's an NP who chose NP over MD because she wanted more family time, but she's found herself limited and condescended to her entire career because she's not a doc, and it's been hard.

    I also agree with OldMDGirl about the "nothing else is as important". I love my daughter, but my work is still important to me, just as my husband's work is still important to him. He's just as effective and nurturing as I am and she's not deprived when I go to work on the weekend and leave the two of them alone.

    Yes, it's hard. Going back to no money from being comfortable will be a shock (and I think starting to cut back now is really good advice). But you can do it if it's what you really want.

  10. I'm a Canadian family doc. No kids yet. I practice in Alberta.

    The one thing that might give me pause if I were to consider going into medicine now instead of 10 years ago is that the political climate has changed. ie McGuinty in Ontario unilaterally cutting doctors' fees, and the fact that in Alberta, we haven't had an agreement with the government for more than a year.

    Also be careful about what you choose for residency. You're not guaranteed a job when you finish, and I've had classmates in obs, gen surg, cardiothoracics, ortho, anesthesia and internal med have a hard time getting a full-time permanent position.

  11. I echo what the other posters said in regards to 1. incredibly difficult decision 2. no clear good answer (although Liana's post would def "give me pause". the US has some huge problems, but as far as I know most everyone can find a job after training)

    The only other comment I have to add is I think there is merit in having your (future) kids see you engaged in your job, and even better if that job contributes meaningfully to society. Hating how you pass the majority of your waking hours is obviously not good for you and sets a bad example for your kids.

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  13. Hi there. I'm 36, have two kids aged 6 and 2 years, and am about to graduate from Med School in Australia. We have struggled through this last 6 years, financially, time-wise, relationship-wise, but it's a relief to almost be working. I have loved med school, and am really looking forward to working as a junior doctor (along with some healthy fear), but am not looking forward to 50-60 hour weeks and missing my kids. That said, I have close friends who are currently doing their first year as a junior doctor (called an "intern" here in Australia...not the same as your interns) with very young babies, and THAT would be tough! At least my kids are a bit older now and can understand. I'm lucky to have had a full year off with each of them (deferred med school entry after gaining acceptance whilst pregnant; then took a year off in the middle of med school). I'm incredibly grateful for this -- I know not everyone has the same luxury.

    Basically, I'd say go for kids now, as it will be a hell of a lot easier doing med school with young kids than it will be working with young kids. That may sound hard to believe, but in med school your hours are more flexible, the world doesn't end if you miss a lecture when your kids are sick, and sitting in a lecture when you're exhausted (eg kids up at night) is a lot easier than working. Through my degree I've tried my very best to make all my lectures and tutes, but it's just not always possible, and it took me awhile to stop freaking out about that. No-one is going to kick you out of the course - explain that you have kids (without using it as a free ticket to skip stuff), show that you're keen and can work hard, and people won't mind.

    If you wait till you're working as a junior doctor you'll be 35 or 36 or so before you try for a baby - and while that's absolutely fine, and very common these days, from pure statistics you'll know that it's easier to fall pregnant, with less risk of complications, when you're a bit younger. Statistics aside, it's bloody tiring being a parent - from your first pregnancy onwards, you'll never sleep properly again (some mother thing!), and it's definitely a little harder on the knees playing on the floor as you get older :) I'd actually go back and do it in my 20s if I had the choice (and had met the right man!). Ah well...!

    So I reckon go for it on both counts - start investigating/applying for med school, and if you fall pregnant in next little while maybe have a year off with bubs then start med school. You could do what I did and have another one in the middle of your course. Yes, you'll probably rack up a debt, but you'll pay it off eventually. Or why not delay for 2 years - save as much as you can from your financial job, to make it easier through med school. If you do it with kids, you will need a supportive hubby / family though!

    Best of luck!


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