MSW bid vs. detour to premed
June 13, 2013 2:03 PM   Subscribe

How would you compare a somewhat-expensive MSW program with a detour to post-bacc premed education (& subsequent bid for med school)? For somebody passionate about kids, disability, and cross-cultural wellness.

My process of career discernment has been full of thinking, more thinking, some more thinking, and then overthinking. But! I have also been out there working and narrowed my interests down: I want to help kids. Specifically, I'd love to help kids who are struggling with developmental disabilities.

I've been thinking about social work for a while, applied to schools, and was accepted into a solid but somewhat expensive program in Chicago. Including costs of living, I'd gain a MSW and accrue $75k of debt in the next two years.

Increasingly, I find myself regretting my engagement with the hard sciences and the rigorous. I lost interest in math and sciences by college but absolutely loved and excelled in both as a child. I really like being a compassionate, welcoming member of the social-servicey spaces I've worked in, but I also want to offer more than counseling/therapy oriented aid. I recently read The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down and marveled at the (at times misguided and culturally unattuned) efforts of the pediatric doctors in the story. The idea of being a culturally-attuned pediatrician, perhaps working with recent refugees/immigrants or working in community practice, is deeply exciting to me!

My big worry is that I'm letting myself pass up an opportunity that would still get me where I want to go in favor of more years of study, more applications and uncertainty, etc. On the other hand, I can take the classes I'll need pretty cheaply here, try out another neck of the working world (clinical trial coordination? hospital patient advocate?) and also be closer to my family to boot. Maybe I'll end up with a route to medical anthropology, disability research, or perhaps public health. I know that social work is a wide open domain, but I don't want to close the door on sci/math coursework and that kind of rigor, and this feels like a good time to try that out (undergrad would have been best oof).

Any thoughts about this exact tradeoff or going a postbacc premed route? Thank you for humoring my 23-year-old-rethinks-life as always, mefi.
posted by elephantsvanish to Education (8 answers total)
My program at UNC offered a dual MSW/MPublic Health that takes only three years as they overlap. It's a financially pretty smart and everyone I know who went through the program has gone on to do amazing things. Does the program you are looking at have any options like that?
posted by greta simone at 2:19 PM on June 13, 2013

Well, unless you get a full, free ride, that $75K of debt you're racking up there will be with you for a LONG time. My dad is an MSW, LCSW and if he hadn't earned a scholarship from UC Berkeley it never would have happened for him.

MSW's make shit wages. It will take you forever and a day to pay back that loan. But Dad did do a lot of good for a lot of kids when he was practicing, so there's that.

Look into other MSW options, if that's what you think you want to do. Or volunteer in your off hours for organizations that address these concerns and see if it's really what you're into.

One thing I will tell you, your ideals will take a hell of a beating. When I taught school in the hood, mine did. All that romantic stuff turns to heartbreak when you see how damaged some of these kids are, how utterly broken and ruined they are.

I urge you to think and rethink, because Social Work isn't for people who don't have compassion by the bucketful or for the thin skinned.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:25 PM on June 13, 2013

(My background: somewhere in the middle of my Ph.D. program in clinical psychology I decided that it would be more practical (I think I was mostly thinking about future earnings) to get an M.D. and become a psychiatrist, so I took one semester's worth of pre-med courses at another institution, did well, but realized I am not a science person (I'd hang out at Barnes and Noble looking at books with titles like THE KIDNEY and think, "really? Me? Nah.") and went back to my psychology studies. I still sometimes wish, for various reasons, that I had become a psychiatrist, but I know that it would have been hell for me to have gone through the two years of pre-med science courses and then four years of med school before the psychiatry residency.)

Now, you: Okay, so for starters, you are very young. You could go to social work school and work for a couple of years, and either (1) like it and remain a social worker, or (2) use the years of experience in the field to help yourself get into medical school (Questions: how good are your chances of getting into medical school? what was your GPA in college? did you demonstrate any interest in medicine, "helping people," anything like that? of course we don't know yet what your grades would be in the pre-med courses; do you think you could get virtually all A's in those?)

OR you could really think hard about what it would mean to be a pediatrician vs. a social worker (or a medical anthropologist). They are VERY different fields, obviously. Do you want to do physical examinations on children? (or are you thinking of specializing to the point that you would just be examining for developmental disabilities? like this person's career, for example). I don't even really know what a medical anthropologist does. Are you interested in research?

The bottom line is to ask yourself what you want to DO every day. What job do you actually want? and *then* figure out the schooling/money part and see what works for you (in other words, you should first "control for" the variables of years of school, tuition costs, etc.)

Lots of people your age are thinking somewhat short-sightedly (e.g. 10 years until a medical career (2 yrs. post-bacca, 4 yrs. med school, 1 year internship, 3 years residency) vs. 2 years in social work school, but you need to remember that you will be working for DECADES. This is the time in your life to invest in your future. Also, you may be much better able to pay off $300K in student loans as an M.D. than you would be paying off $75K as a social worker! (yes even though you plan to work with poor immigrants, you will probably have many more opportunities to make money as a pediatrician than as a social worker - you could work part-time with the poor immigrants and part-time in a group practice, etc.)

Social workers are on the low end of the pay scale, generally; doctors, even these days, are on the high end.

But the first thing is to think about what people in these various careers do and make a decision about what you want for yourself.
posted by DMelanogaster at 2:26 PM on June 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Including costs of living, I'd gain a MSW and accrue $75k of debt in the next two years.

This sounds like a terrible idea. That is so, so, so much money for an MSW. I think choosing between this MSW and medicine is a false binary and you should consider ways of getting yourself to a cheaper MSW, including working a couple more years to make yourself a more attractive candidate for cheaper schools.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 3:10 PM on June 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Can you defer your admission into the MSW program? Spend next year taking some of the science courses and sitting for the MCATs. Both will give you a better idea of where you stand vis-a-vis med school and you can either apply or return to the MSW program (or another less expensive substitute).
posted by carmicha at 3:45 PM on June 13, 2013

A relative of mine picked the pricey MSW program over the cheaper one because of imagined prestige. She'll be paying student loans until she's 50 or so. In retrospect she feels that she made a huge mistake--not a single employer gave a shit where her MSW came from so long as the program was accredited.
posted by xyzzy at 3:49 PM on June 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

thanks all so far -- this has been helpful. I guess i had been mostly seeing the $75k in relation to opportunities within SW (working with certain communities, international sw, etc.) that make it "worthwhile" for me versus considering, in general, what that debt obligation is going to be like for the next 20 to 30 years.

DMelanogaster: the developmental pediatrician you linked to is a kind of spectacular direct-hit for what the work I would love to do. a mix of child and family centric clinical work, teaching, a little research, engagement with a center/broader projects. My UGPA is not stellar for med school (3.4) but I am pretty confident that (with a LOT of work) I'll do pretty well or at least okay on the postbacc classes. I took the GRE and did well. MCAT is a different beast, but it sounds like it's moving more towards culture and narrative/context minded questions, which is more closely aligned with my own interests. Since graduation, I've worked with youth and immigrant families in literacy programming and also done direct work as a shelter worker. So nothing expressly health, but a lot of allied community/wellness/social-supports kinds of stuff.

If I spent the next two years working in a somewhat health-related vein (clinical trial coordinator, say, or something in developmental disability services or refugee health, perhaps another americorps gig?) and taking my premed classes in the evenings, would I seem like a competitive applicant? I could see this being valuable even if medschool didn't pan out -- as in, the prospect of challenging myself with science classes in itself is exciting. also, the thought of not going that much into debt and maybe even saving a bit while I work is immensely relieving. If I do go down this path, I would want to feel and be confident about my prospects of ultimately being able to become a pediatrician. but I suppose a certain percentage of people don't achieve this goal, and I want to be okay with that too if need be.
posted by elephantsvanish at 3:36 PM on June 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd suggest working in fields that interest you for a couple years, either way. I think life experience is essential before settling into grad school-both my parents taught grad students, one in sciences and one in nursing, and both thought a few years in the work world should be a requirement for grad school application.

I think this sixty thousand times more with an MSW. Working with people in crisis and being sophisticated and self-aware in that work requires so much from you. I've been a social worker since I was 21-it would have been a waste of time and money for me toget my MSW before starting the work. I had to get in there, understand the reality of the job, learn about my ability to manage stress and trauma and still be helpful to others, and grow before making a long term commitment to the field. I hire and train new social workers now; enthusiasm and passion and intelligence are not necessarily correlated with skill or longevity in the field. So, give it a try for awhile. See what feels right to you, and what you're good at. Grad school isn't going anywhere.
posted by purenitrous at 7:20 AM on June 15, 2013

« Older Multi armed mythical humanoids   |   Good bike for long distance biking? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.