Balancing dreams and happiness.
October 17, 2010 6:57 PM   Subscribe

Have you given up on a dream of being a doctor, but continued to work in the medical field? Tell me how you handled it and how you avoided the "I wish I'd gone to medical school" woes.

I don't think med school is for me because I have depression issues which mainly stem from not having a stable life/not having control over my life. This affects my schoolwork, and I don't think I'd do well if I ended up in an area I disliked living in for internship/residency/medschool.

I'm in a nursing program right now and I love it. But whenever I talk to a doctor or hear about some aspect of medical school (human dissection!) I think "I want to be a doctor." I'm afraid that if I go the nursing route I'll be constantly face to face with 'what could have been' and I'll end up with the what-ifs.

The thing that bothers me most is that I know going the nursing route I won't be learning nearly as much about the subject I love. But I feel like it's my only option to stay in medicine and still do well, since my happiness tends to hinge a lot om enjoying my location, and I'm not the type that can still do well in school when I'm unhappy with my outside life.

So how do I get over the "I won't be learning nearly as much!" aspect and be happy with my decision to go into nursing?
posted by biochemist to Work & Money (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Going to nursing school doesn't necessarily mean you can't be a doctor. I've known a few physicians who started out as RNs.

Also, nursing is really a different discipline with different knowledge than medicine. When you start out as an RN, it is highly unlikely that you will feel like you aren't learning enough. Later, you can move into different specialties, or even go back to school to be a nurse practitioner.
posted by jeoc at 7:10 PM on October 17, 2010 [4 favorites]

Yeah, a nursing program doesn't mean you're cutting off becoming a doctor forever. You can certainly go back to get your MD (or DO) later, or go on to become a nurse practitioner or physician assistant, both of which do a lot of "frontline" medical work that has traditionally been done by doctors. (When I go to my OB/GYN office or Urgent Care for routine stuff, for example, I almost never see the MD -- I nearly always see the NP or the PA.)
posted by scody at 7:18 PM on October 17, 2010

If you should have the what-ifs, you really do have time to practice nursing and later decide to attend medical school. I know a few ex-nurses who became veterinarians in their late-thirties/early-forties. Or to pursue graduate nursing programs and teach in nursing education or to become a nurse practitioner or any of a thousand different ways to expand from your RN.

If you are enjoying your nursing program--enjoy it. Nursing is not less-than. Nursing is different-than.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 7:20 PM on October 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

My wife is a very well-educated and trained veterinary technician (the rough equivalent of an RN). She works at a veterinary teaching hospital and performs state of the art veterinary procedures on a daily basis. She teaches and trains other techs, students, residents and interns. She attends local and national conferences regularly, and is seeking national certification in Emergency and Critical Care. She is often told that she should be a vet and go back to school, but she would never do so in a million years. She does not feel like she is missing anything by not being a doc (except added paperwork and crappier hours). She is learning and teaching everyday, and could not be more intellectually satisfied. If you choose your specialization and your jobs carefully you can easily have an intellectually fulfilling and challenging career in medicine without being a doctor.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:20 PM on October 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

The thing that bothers me most is that I know going the nursing route I won't be learning nearly as much about the subject I love.

I can't really answer your question (I work in the film industry and have always sucked at anything science related), but my mother would beg to differ. She's been a nurse for 30+ years and has told me on several occasions that it's often the nurses who are the front line of practicing actual medicine.

I'm sure a doctor would disagree, but there you go.

All of that said, I would not let "but I have depression and am not sure how I would function in X or Y unpredictable situation" prevent you from attempting to go to medical school if it's what you really want.

I know a great many people, BTW, who went to medical school near where they grew up and stayed in that area to practice medicine. My father grew up in one small Louisiana town, went to med school maybe 100 miles away, did his residency nearby, and returned to the same small town to start his practice. 25 years later, he's still there, running that same practice.

I wouldn't be so concerned about possibly having to move to a different part of the country or whatever - I know a number of people who've gone to medical school, and the only one who has faced those issues was someone who could only go to med school in the Caribbean. Which is a choice with much bigger problems attached than just do you want to move to Grenada or Domenica for school.
posted by Sara C. at 7:41 PM on October 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

What is the subject that you particularly love? There are a *ton* of other options for careers, besides being a doctor or a nurse, to consider within the health care field - respiratory therapy, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, speech language pathology, nuclear medicine, chiropractic, massage therapy, laboratory technology, orthotics and prosthetics, paramedicine, osteopathy, naturopathy, midwifery...and that's just off the top of my head!
posted by purlgurly at 8:13 PM on October 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

What aspects of medicine attracted you to wanting to be a physician? If it was patient contact or treatment of tough cases, you'll get those as a nurse by the armload. If it was the more clinical or scientific aspects of medicine or research, like others said, nursing doesn't burn the bridge toward medical school. You could also pursue a PhD in nursing (there are some very fine programs for that). In either case, what you learn depends upon what you'll be exposed to, and nurses do become very knowledgeable about their field, just in a different way than doctors do.
posted by contessa at 8:13 PM on October 17, 2010

Reread your own previous questions, and do so whenever you feel pangs of regret. With each one, it's fairly clear that med school (and thus, being a doctor) is not right for you, at least not right now. Med school is difficult and demoralizing for anyone, and it takes a lot more than twinges of 'Man, I wish I were a doctor' to keep yourself motivated through the decade-plus of pre-med, med school, internship, and residency. (I for one am certainly not cut out for it, though I wish I were on occasion.) IIRC, the large majority of answers to your previous questions have said this.

I'm not sure what the best way for you to be happy is. Just remember that the grass is often greener on the career path you didn't choose. Nursing sounds like a great choice, and as others have pointed out, it doesn't mean you can never go back to school. In fact, once you see the nuts and bolts of medicine from a nursing standpoint, you will be able to make a MUCH better informed decision about whether med school is right for you.
posted by supercres at 9:46 PM on October 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers thus far.

What aspects of medicine attracted you to wanting to be a physician?

I'm not sure it's any particular aspect of medicine... I just love learning about pathology and pathophysiology. I find the way the body works fascinating in general but I'm much more interested in what happens when things go wrong.
posted by biochemist at 6:18 AM on October 18, 2010

You're very young and there's plenty of time to go to medical school if you eventually decide to do so. My sister graduated from Duke med school when she was 44.
posted by mareli at 6:54 AM on October 18, 2010

Also (hope I didn't miss this on my quick skim through answers) you could also go on from being an RN to being a nurse-practitioner. Both of my kids' primary caregivers were pediatric NPs, and I see a NP affiliated with an interist (MD). Great folks, great care--they became primary caregivers, too, just by a different route than an MD.
posted by Sublimity at 8:11 AM on October 18, 2010

Anyone who goes into medicine can be sure that they won't learn as much as they need to in school. Which is good news. Hopefully, in ten years we will be doing things that we don't even teach in school today. Some of the most talented people I have ever worked with have been nurse-practitioners. They tend to put in a lot of time on reading to stay current.
posted by DTHEASH1 at 10:02 AM on October 18, 2010

Just took a peek at your profile. You have got AGES before you're at a point where you will have regrets about not doing something and it be too late to go back and do whatever that thing is. I didn't go to law school until I was thirty-four and at the time I wondered if I was too old or it was too late. My fifty year-old self laughs at my thirty-four year-old self for having those thoughts. Take your time.
posted by Carbolic at 10:40 AM on October 18, 2010

I'm not sure it's any particular aspect of medicine... I just love learning about pathology and pathophysiology. I find the way the body works fascinating in general but I'm much more interested in what happens when things go wrong.

I'm going to echo that you have many more career options than just RN or MD. If you're in the first 2-3 yrs of nursing type program, I would expect your classes so far should transfer readily and be of reasonable benefit to most medical careers. In addition to the above mentioned physical therapist and respiratory therapist, there is also autopsy tech/path assistant, med lab tech and surgery tech. MRI's, ultrasounds, CAT scans, etc, all need "techs" who can properly perform the procedure and usually do a first level assessment. And don't be put off by the "tech" in the job title: "Tech" seems to have became the catch-phrase for everyone who has some special training, ranging from the 2 yr certification to the "all but doctorate." Techs do some of the most complex medical work out there.

If you are specifically interested in pathology, the American Society for Clinical Pathology has a page on careers in pathology, at all levels of education
posted by beaning at 8:32 PM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

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