Tuesday, August 4, 2015

MiM Mail: Taking the Plunge

Mothers In Medicine,

I am a married mother of 2 girls, 7 and 10. I work full time in the Information Technology, and am going back to school in the fall to complete my Medical pre-requisites.

I don’t remember not wanting to be a doctor – except maybe the phase where I was determined to be an astronaut. It wasn’t any one incident, or any driving force, just the knowledge that that was where I belonged.

Life has a funny way of getting in the way of plans. I struggled throughout my undergraduate degree with both depression and endometriosis, which meant I never managed to get the prerequisites under my belt. When I finally got those in control, life laughed again and I found myself a single mother to a beautiful girl. My program and parenting were not compatible, so I transferred out – determined to provide a stable life for my daughter. I met my husband, had another baby and went to work in a non healthcare field. It was fine. It put food on the table, clothes on my kids’ backs and a roof over our heads. We were able to take a yearly holiday, put money away for retirement and have the kids in competitive sports. I still thought about medicine, but it was what I considered to be a missed dream.

I made the mistake of taking a temp job in the healthcare field – just for a week to help out a friend. I was invited to come observe a surgery, and all of those feelings came rushing back. The closest I can describe it is the feeling I had when my children were first placed in my arms – I belonged there. Suddenly, I knew I had to go back to school and complete my missed dream.

For years I struggled trying to figure out how to get back into school. My husband and I couldn’t afford for me to quit work with two young children, and his support was limited. No one, not even him, understood why I would risk giving up a lucrative job in a stable industry, a good retirement plan, and a path up the corporate ladder. Eventually, this (among other issues) wore on both of us and we ended up separating.

Finally the stars have aligned. 10 years since I left the medical school path, 10 years since my first daughter was born and I am registered in fall classes. My husband and I have since reconciled, and he is now on board. The others in my life still don’t understand but are aware of the changes I am making. But I am terrified of the change. What if? What if I leave my career and don’t get into Medicine? What if I sacrifice my family in the process? What if we can’t afford it and I have to leave? What if I take this gamble and lose?

I imagine it as jumping into a lake. I’ve done my research, I know what the outcomes may be; now I just have to hold my nose, close my eyes and jump in. It’s terrifying and exciting all at the same time. For those of you who started medicine late, or after children - how do you take the risk?

Thank you, S


  1. Hopefully you know you've signed up for likely around six years of debt instead of income (assuming 2 years of post-bach because you have to finish the minimum courses and the application cycle takes a year - it could be 3 years and a total of 7). Then you have 3-5 years average of a lower income than you may have now, about $50k/year, for two full-time jobs. I am midway through this process with a kid, probably younger than you will be at this point, and definitely having moments of regret. … I hope those will pass. Some are circumstantial. I've had some additional stressors outside of this journey. But life will also happen in those 7 years, and you won't have the margin you once did to absorb the shocks. I can't say whether or not it is 'worth it' to you - but I can (almost) guarantee that it won't feel the same halfway through as it does now. … Think about whether there are other things you can do to satisfy that. An area of expertise within your current field? … Some specialized volunteering - peer support specialist in the mental health field given your own struggles? … Or things outside a medical degree per se? I hope you have explored the many alternatives. This is a costly endeavor. It will NOT make sense economically, based on what you have shared, unless you go into neurosurgery or plastics or something. That alone isn't a reason to do it, or not do it, but finances will be a stressor in a way you may have not experienced for a while. I hate to be a Debbie downer. It sounds like you have done some research and given this some thought. But please do more. And if this dream is already costing you your marriage, unless those other things in your relationship are also significant, then that is an amazing burden. If it's your dream and your husband couldn't support it I can sort of understand. But every additional burden and cost to this process may feel more acute if you look back with regret at that loss. … Good luck. Do check in with how you are doing. I hope it goes well for you. I just want to give it lots of thought and talk to current medical student mothers, current residents who took your path, and current doctors. I know one who went through that same process at about your age (guessing) with a kid and she is happy. But talk to several people in several stages of this process to be sure it's right for you and your family.

  2. Take the risk head on! I left my finance corporate job after 5 years and started medical school 2 years later. You have to basically waste a year to interview...I took pre-reqs for a year while I was working at a community college. Is that an option for you? I'm a huge fan because 1)its cheaper 2)more nighttime/weekend classes 3)i got to know my professors more than i ever did in my original undergrad experience - yay for rec letters. I was single then, so without anyone depending on me it was easier to rationalize. But I did get married during med school and I'm in my 4th year and expecting now. So a supportive spouse is key. One of my best friends in school has 3 kids. They make it work with a live in nanny. You will definitely need help! And I do agree with the poster above about never doing it for the money. I am very well aware that this was not the smart thing to do financially, but I am a much happier person, and I'm happier with what I'm doing with my life. It took awhile for the people around me to understand why I would give up my other career, but they came around...Best of luck to you!

  3. I did a similar thing although I didn't have kids until med school. Remember its not just med school that's hard. Residency (which can be really long) is actually much harder in terms of balancing everything. Until you are an attending will be a minimum of 10 years. Your kids will be grown and all the years they remember you will have been very unavailable. I justify it because my kids are so small I hope they won't remember all the times I wasn't there but its different with bigger kids. Also, as one of the previous people said, it will feel massively different once you are in it. The reality of working in a broken health system is so different to the dreams and idealism you have before starting.

  4. Becoming a physician is a long road and there were a handful in my medical school class who started in their late 30s-40s and/or had older children. So it is feasible, but I echo the comments of those above. Make sure you do your research into other ways to become involved in medicine that are not quite as long a road (and therefore less debt and time away from kids), such as being a PA or Anesthesia Assistant. They can be very rewarding careers as well.

  5. I left my career as a construction manager to pursue the pre-reqs for medical school admission. I didn't always want to be a doctor. It wasn't until my daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor, that I realized I wanted to pursue medicine. After her treatment, I went back to work for almost a year and when the desire didn't fade, I registered for classes. It can be done in 2 years, but it took me 3 as I stayed to complete a year of undergraduate research. I was accepted to medical school and started in May. Next week will be the end of the first semester and so far, I am doing well, but no means the top of my class, as I was the last couple years. Medical school is difficult with 2 children (ages 9 and 5), but it is possible. It has been an adjustment as we had to move from South Florida to North Florida for school as I did not get accepted to any of the local schools. As to the financial aspect, I suppose that we will never recover from this decision, but to me it is about much more than money. If I think about lost income, student loans with insane interest, and lack of contribution to retirement for at least 10 years, I might cry. I had all the some concerns that you have voiced, but ultimately I figured that I only have one life to live and I didn't want to have regrets at the end of it. If you want it enough, everything will work itself out. Medical school is hard work and I suppose that residency will be more difficult yet. I don't know if this helps, or even makes sense, I am pretty exhausted and have been studying non-stop for final exams. Best of luck to you!


Comments on posts older than 14 days are moderated as a spam precaution. So.Much.Spam.