Monday, August 19, 2013

MiM Mail: Leave the Marines for medicine?

Successful ladies, mothers and driven achievers-it was so refreshing and motivating to come across this website and read your posts.  I am a mother of a beautiful 2.5 year old son, happily married for nine years now and currently deployed in Afghanistan missing it all.  However, being away has offered me time to reflect on my life goals. I find that yet again the desire to pursue a career in medicine springs to the forefront of my mind.  Shortly after starting college I uncovered a fascination and curiosity for physical science and the mechanics of the human body.   I was already obligated to military service so I didn’t follow this dream but kept my options open through completion of most pre-required course work (except organic chemistry). Now, after serving 10 years in the Marine Corps I still cannot stop thinking about this deep rooted desire-the idea of studying medicine just excites me!  I find studying the body and how it works to be a fascinating journey.  I feel very passionate about it.  Aside from observing a few surgeries and working in a physical therapy clinic, I have not done much volunteering in the traditional sense but I have certainly been exposed to medicine much more than the average non-health care provider.  I work long hours with my current employment and hope to find at least a few hours a week to clock some candy striper hours in the near future.  The purpose of my post today is to voice some of my reservations and look for advice from those who have already completed the journey or are currently on their way.

I have three big concerns holding me back from my pursuit: 1- As a mother, will I sacrifice the young years of my son’s life and miss out on milestones and memories if I am in school or residency?  Will I be able to have more children and nurse and nurture them or will I resent always having to leave them in the hands of another?  Certainly I am a woman who enjoys balancing motherhood with work; and I need to feel a sense of purpose from my work, but I am trying to determine how much is too much.  2- Am I smart enough?  I have never failed at anything, but it is not from natural abilities-it is from sheer will power.  Long after the gifted are done I continue to study, read and try to synthesize the day’s lessons.  I view myself as an average scholar-I have never been a great test taker (I only performed average on the ACT/SATs) but my grades have always been very good (Cum Laude with a BS in Physiology from Ohio State University).  This compounded with the fact that I am 10 years post-college has me concerned.  I don't want to get in over my head and succumb to overwhelming stress that reduces my quality of life.  3- Do I want to leave the Marine Corps?  It is a career I am good at and that is now familiar to me.  I resent so many hours away from my family though and am not sure that I can do anymore 6-8 month deployments.  I know it may not be much better with medicine, but I would be following my life’s passion.  Please help!  I would value any and all thoughts as I indecisively stand a fork in the road-both leading to two very different ends.

Hopefully submitted,
Emma

12 comments:

  1. I'm only an MS3, but medicine (in most fields) is not as tough on family as 6-8 month deployments. Most people in med school study hard and it's less (IMO) about natural ability than hard work and time management. That said, I'd still recommend looking into nursing and the PA route it I were you since the training time is shorter.

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  2. You don't have to leave the Military entirely. I am currently AD Navy and had my school payed for by the HPSP program. There is always the Uniformed Services University as well so you could stay AD. I have never deployed, but my AD husband has twice. Once while I was in med school (and childless) and once while we had our first daughter (she was 2 going on 3). Med school is hard but you are at home with your family most nights. I think school is different stress than that of having to leave your family. In my med school class was a guy who'd served 8 years with the Marines and is now AD navy. It can be done, you need to want it, just like surviving in the Corps I'm sure.

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  3. Thanks for your comments. I have definitely thought about the USUHS and would probably start that route first so my 10-11 years could count towards retirement. I haven't thought of the HPSP-I will have to look inot that. Not sure if it applies for Marines. Thanks for the idea!

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  4. Just want to put it out there, but have you thought of Physician Assistant School or Nursing School? You didn't mention what you want your final career to look like, you only mentioned a general love of science. If it's science and physiology you love, you can be "in medicine" in soo many ways. And especially given that you are in military, the Veterans System opens up soo many different ways of active involvement. I have a friend who started PA School when I was in med school. He is now the father of 2 young sons, working successfully at the VA as a Surgical Physician Assistant. He does the surgeries. The Surgeon signs off and does the notes. While I'm in residency wanting another baby, wishing I was an Attending . . . .

    Look into your options. Think about what you want your ultimate career to "look" and "feel" like and tell others in medicine and ask how you can get there. Best wishes and please keep us posted!!!

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  5. I would definitely look into the military options for getting med school paid for - USUHS, HPSP, or seeing how much your post-9/11 GI Bill would cover. I did HPSP (Navy - all the USMC docs are Navy, not Marines), and got out after I served my obligation, but my husband is still AD. Not having any loans to pay off made all the difference. And, honestly, I felt that Navy medicine was - on the whole - much higher quality than most civilian medicine and that it was better for both patients and providers.

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  6. I second the suggestion to consider other routes to a career in health care. For a lot less money, time, and (quite frankly) pain, you can be a PA or NP and see patients quite independently, nurture your love for science and physiology, and make a nice salary (actually comparable to starting out MD salaries at times and without spending 3-5 years in residency) likely without having to work nights/weekends. Part-time work is also apparently easier to find as a PA/NP and you can switch fields after starting, since there is no residency requirement. You can be a pediatric NP and then do orthopedic surgery for your next job, for example. Look into it seriously.

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  7. The answer to all your reservations is YES--you will be resentful, you will miss out on 99% of milestones, developments, etc and YES you will struggle to have more babies and nurse them like you want. I have so many female doctor friends and they had babies in all stages. Their bodies and babies suffered. Imagine being on call for 30 hours not having time for water much less food and being 8 months pregnant having to run around the hospital dealing with dying patients that need emergency surgery? That's what it's like as any type of surgical resident and on the surgical rotations in medical school. We are over half way done and we regret our decision to go into surgery not because we can't handle it but because of what it's doing to our children and our family. We, as adults, can handle ALMOST anything. Our children were born into this and none of it is their fault. Residency will be over in due time but the attending lifestyle is not easy either. Less hours more pay but much higher responsibility and as the MD the buck stops with you. Definitely look into PA or NP school. I'm all for women in medicine but I think trying to take on medical school in your 30's as a mother and wife MIGHT be biting off more than you can chew. There will be major trade offs and sacrifices that you most definitely will regret if you're self aware enough to ask the questions you're posing already. Good luck and I'm quite certain a career in medicine as something other than an MD will be incredibly rewarding and "worth it" for you.

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  8. I appreciate everyone's comments! I have put a lot of thought into other rtes such as PA or nursing- they are great and demanding programs. I have had several friends in both fields-in fact my mother is a nurse. On my last deployment my very closest friend was our PA. She was very good at what she did and was granted total independence. However, I have always been one for the challenge of the seemingly impossible and I think that is my big draw to the MD/DO route. All routes would require more schooling and I would hate to complete a few years of training and earn my PA licensing just to regret not committing to the few additional years of med school would have required.

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  9. Emma--
    Please let me share my personal experience as mother of 2 who entered med school in her late 20's and went on to have 2 more babies in residency. I am a woman like you who loved and excelled in science and never wanted to settle for "second best" in anything. Yet, I became disappointingly aware that it is impossible to have it all, especially once the clinical years begin. Forget being there for your son's first day of kindergarten, unless you want to be despised and dismissed. Try nursing while you are a resident, vainly attempting to manage a milk let down with your pagers going off. Or your baby becoming ambivalent to weather you hold her or not because you are not around enough.
    Add to this that there is an impossibly unfair dichotomy between midlevel practitioner (PA for example with a BA and 2 years "medical school" and no residency earning 100k a year with no call and a 40 hour work week) verses the expense, time, hassle of MCAT's and possible distant relocation for medical school and then the worst of it: RESIDENCY. A slave labor market with an endless supply of warm bodies in the form of doctors educated from everywhere in the world to replace you. And then there is the fact that if you ever take time off for family it can be very difficult, if not impossible to re-enter medicine, and working as a GP is really no longer a viable option: almost all employers want you to be board certified. The PA's are very smart. They are guarding their profession from foreign-trained PA's and MD's who want to switch. No short cuts allowed; no challenging their licensing exam without completing a fully accredited PA school (which presently only exist in the U.S.) Hear what many doctors are saying; you can practice medicine, make a decent living, and have and enjoy a family by going the PA route

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  10. Sorry Emma, I don't think becoming a doctor is worth it just "for the challenge of the seemingly impossible". And as far as the "few additional years" part - it's soo much more than that as many of us have mentioned. You are talking about call shifts, not being home, additional school (to be honest, I think PA school is much more "efficient" in the sense that their training is more practical and clinical). These are years that you don't get back and from what you are saying, it just seems like a different route may be as good of an option. Again, challenge yourself to think what you will want your career to look like and choose the best route for you and your family. Don't do it just for the sake of the challenge or the glory, do what makes sense.

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  11. It seems like many of the people who commented who are physicians would recommend PA school over med school. A few people suggested to take a look at what type of career you would like for yourself. What type of career would someone want for themselves that would lean them more toward PA school? What type of career would someone want for themselves that medical school would be a good fit for?

    This is coming from a 25 year-old Non-trad pre-med still a good 3 years away from beginning med school if that's the route I take. I'm considering PA school but getting a lot of resistance from people telling me that I'm giving up on my dream of med school before I even start. Family and children are important to me, just like any other woman on this site. How do you make the choice between PA and MD/DO? What's at stake?

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  12. Ladies thanks so much for all your time and thoughtful input to my query. I definitely expected more optimistic responses reassuring me that I could do it-that med school wouldn't completely distract me from family and overwhelm my intellect. I am slightly crest fallen by the abundance of redirection but I am truly grateful for your honesty. It is really hard for me to completely capture the logic behind my ten year dream but I think the biggest appeal of med school for me is the glory and prestige of the job, the freedom and independence once you are through the training and the feeling of accomplishment that must come with completing one seriously difficult career path. How do you ladies do it? What makes the sacrifice worth it in your eyes? I can't imagine the pain a mother would feel from seeing her own baby ambivalent to her touch as was suggested on one post.

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