Is quitting my job a good idea?
April 23, 2014 3:46 PM   Subscribe

I left university with a decent degree in a scientific subject and got a job working in a related field in a hospital (I'm in Britain, so with the NHS) afterwards. I wasn't sure if this was the career I wanted so I decided to give myself a year to try it out. With the lease on my flat running out, I've realised the year is up, and now I'm starting to seriously question whether this is what I want to be doing, and whether it's worth finding another flat, or if it's better to quit this and try my hand at something else - maybe a PhD or a medicine conversion course.

My job isn't completely awful, but I don't think I'm a very good fit for it. The work can be repetitive which I find boring, and I'm naturally a bit absent minded, which is the opposite of what the tasks really need. As well as it being a bit dull, it's also quite stressful: things are often pressed for time, and I have to do quite a lot of written work etc to show I'm progressing as a trainee, which isn't particularly difficult, but it's time consuming and it feels like there's always something hanging over me. In addition to this, I feel like the job isn't what I thought I was signing up for - I was hoping for a lot of patient contact, which happens very rarely, and I also imagined the focus of it to be more theoretical than technical, which isn't the case.

The positive side of my job, is that as a part of my training, I'm getting to do a masters degree part time. I enjoy this a lot more than my clinical work, though as the hospital decides the modules, half of them are on things like 'clinical leadership skills' and 'critical reflections in the workplace' which I'd be happy never to do again.

Work aside, I feel like I've not really settled down either. I moved to a new city for this, and I feel quite cut off from my family and friends. At work, I'm on a graduate training scheme, and I don't really get along with the other people doing it (we're polite, but don't really socialise), and apart from them I don't see many other people regularly in the day. Outside of work, I've made one good friend, but apart from seeing him once or twice a week I don't have any other social contacts.

If I were to leave, I don't have anything lined up at the moment. I would be able to go and live my parents for a little bit whilst I sorted something out, though I'd prefer not to rely on them for too long. I think I'd like to do a PhD, mainly as the academic part of my course is the thing I enjoy the most by a long way. I'm a bit cautious of contemporary academia, so I'd probably do it with a view to go into industry. The other option I've been contemplating is med school, which would mean four more years of training and some more student debt (the bill would be big, but it would be government issued so it's not too worrying, and in the long run I'd make money from it).

The course I'm on runs for three years in total, at the end of which I'll have a masters and be qualified to work in my field. I don't think I'd want to work in the field as my experiences haven't been that positive, but I would like to get the qualification, especially as I think it would look good on my CV if I were applying for one of the options I mentioned, so I'm slightly torn. I do realise that in many ways I'm lucky to have a job at all at the moment, let alone one that has decent pay and allows me study something I'm interested in. I'm just not sure how worthwhile it is if it's making me unhappy.

Other details that may be relevant - I'm in my early 20s, I have about £15,000 in government issued student debt (completely normal for someone my age) but apart from that I'm debt free. I have some modest savings (I could live on them for 3-6 months), but nothing major.

So the question is, should I cut my losses now and quit, should I apply for some things and jump ship if I get a better offer, or should I stick with the course I'm on, grit my teeth for a few years and look forward to doing something different afterwards? Any advice or anecdotes would be welcome, I feel like I could use some external input to help to get this into perspective.

Thanks for reading all that, and thanks in advance for any answers.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You sound really unhappy. Generally I'd advise sticking something out in order to get the masters, but since you don't even want what the masters leads to, it seems a bit futile to stick it out for two more years. However, I do not think you should quit your job (and masters) to go live with your parents. I'm sure it would feel satisfying for a short time, but I think it would be financially wiser as well as CV-wiser to look for something different and jump ship when you find it. Also, the fact that you aren't even sure what you want to switch to, suggests to me that you shouldn't quit yet. You need to figure out what you are aiming for (field speciality at least, not necessarily specific job), and then make a decision about the best path to get from here to there.

Also, I am not really up to speed on the UK PhD track since I left academia at Bachelors level. If you apply to a PhD somewhere, I assume you need to do a masters first. Is this a separate application, or can you apply for a PhD and do the masters along the way? Either way, if you find something you are interested in applying for, you could start tailoring your current Master's module choices to match up or overlap with the new one, which might mean you don't have to start from scratch.
posted by Joh at 3:57 PM on April 23, 2014

In general, I would recommend jumping ship to a better option as soon as possible. Living with your parents to "sort something out" is not a better option or a good idea. That will not make you look good to employers or academic programs.

You don't necessarily need to spend two more years finishing a master's you hate before you do anything else though. If you are thinking about doing another degree, you should apply at the next opportunity. Or if you are thinking about applying for other jobs, you can do that now.

Make sure you are being realistic about the other options. By the "academic part" of this master's course, do you mean the coursework? Or is there a dissertation component that you are enjoying? In the UK most PhDs are 100 percent research, working on your dissertation from day one for several years. It won't be like your master's. It can definitely be theoretical, but it can also be solitary.

As for medical training, it will be four years just to get your medical degree. You'll need an additional five years (to be a GP) or up to 10 years (for some specialties) after that as well ("Length of training", National Health Service Medical Careers).
posted by grouse at 4:20 PM on April 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

I know nothing about the UK system. What I can soeak to is the things you listed as not liking about your job are common qualities in a lot of jobs. Take off those rose-coloured glasses and really find out what the day to day life will be like if you quit this job. It's great that you love the academc parts, but paperwork, or other duties, etc are often a package deal.
posted by Aranquis at 4:57 PM on April 23, 2014

Don't quit without either another job in hand or a firmer grasp of your suitability to either med school or the PhD. You can't know everything about what a given path is like until you're on it, but it shouldn't be as much of a surprise as this course has turned out to be. Both of your preferred options are long-term and high-investment, and if one didn't work out, dropping out of two courses would do you no favours.

When you say you'd like the PhD to lead to industry, do you have an idea of what that transition might look like (or a clear academic focus)? Are you thinking of something related to engineering, chemistry, computer science? There's a grind and boring technical stuff in those too, I understand, and a different kind of grind in med school, which involves a lot of memory work for a chunk of it. You'd obviously have to make through your training, whichever it was, but the main thing is to have a strong idea of what you'd like to actually do at the end of it.

I wouldn't let the end of the lease set your timeline - stay with this scheme and sublet / live with roommates for now, at the same time that you apply to jobs in your hometown. Maybe pick up a team sport on the weekends to make this period more tolerable. Best of luck in working it out.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:41 PM on April 23, 2014

I'm currently on a graduate-entry medical course in the UK after doing a science degree here. If you wanted more specific information feel free to memail me.

I don't believe that you need to have a burning passion, per se, or have wanted to do medicine since you were 4 - but I think you do need some positive reasons to do it, not just that you want out from your current situation. Medicine is for the long-haul, especially in the UK where the structure of training is far more rigid and longer than the US - it's going to lock you in a set path for the next decade, during which time you'll see all your other friends getting professional careers, having houses etc and moving forward with their life. (In the US being in 'med school' is a certain kind of justifiable status in your mid-20s because everyone studies it as a graduate. In the UK, graduate-entry is far less widespread and there is a sense that you are still doing an undergraduate degree.)

A PhD is far less of a commitment in that respect (and much, much easier to get in) - it does require a different sort of skill and a type of person, but it's 4 years at most and you have a lot of exit options as a science PhD. Depending on your field you might have a MSci as an undergraduate already; if not, you might have to do a 1-year master's first. Do you have any past research experience (perhaps a third year lab project during your Bsc)?

I do understand where you're coming from, though. I presume you're on the NHS graduate management scheme, which if you are looking for more patient contact and less bureaucracy, doesn't seem like the right kind of job for you. I would definitely agree that you should look for alternatives before quitting your job completely, though.
posted by pikeandshield at 12:16 AM on April 24, 2014

I have to agree with pikeandshield, medicine is an amazing job and I wouldn't do anything else, but it demands a lot of sacrifices. If you are ambivalent now I think there is a good chance you'll hate it. Please look into what being a doctor in the NHS actually involves (shadow a junior doctor for a week) - if you hate routine admin work and time pressures, you will not enjoy being a hospital doctor. GPs spend as much time on the business management as on patient contact, so that is no better. There is also the quality of life - most full-time GPs and consultants work 60-80 hour weeks. I have only had two jobs in my home city over the past ten years since graduation, the rest of the time I have been either commuting up to 4hrs a day, or living away from my husband and family. That is a completely standard feature of all training schemes - you rotate around the deanery every year. I am 35, married, and would like to start a family. It is going to be hard.

You are also expected to do a lot of extracurricular work - you need to do a teaching qualification, yearly audits, multiple expensive exams, research, etc - all of which you organise and pay for yourself (the exams alone cost about £1000 per sitting, there are four in general medicine and only about 30% of people pass first time). Your starting salary is about £24k, rising to £70k as a consultant (after 10-15yrs), or £50-80k as a GP (not bad, but those stories about GPs earning £250k? That's practice turnover, not salary). There will absolutely always be something hanging over you in medicine. Oh yes, and there's a jobs crisis at the minute. There's always a jobs crisis because the government doesn't want to pay for enough doctors.

As I say, I love my job and I wouldn't do anything else, but please look carefully into what medicine involves because the things you dislike about your job are much worse in medicine.
posted by tinkletown at 2:13 AM on April 24, 2014

Right, I'm off my phone now and can write even more:

The work can be repetitive which I find boring, and I'm naturally a bit absent minded, which is the opposite of what the tasks really need. As well as it being a bit dull, it's also quite stressful: things are often pressed for time, and I have to do quite a lot of written work etc to show I'm progressing as a trainee, which isn't particularly difficult, but it's time consuming and it feels like there's always something hanging over me. In addition to this, I feel like the job isn't what I thought I was signing up for .... I also imagined the focus of it to be more theoretical than technical, which isn't the case.

This pretty much describes being a doctor. Generally, as an F1 or SHO you will follow the team on the wardround in the morning writing in the notes and making a list of jobs, and in the afternoon do cannulas, re-write drug charts, check blood results and request investigations. That is the bread and butter work. Being absent-minded will be a serious problem - you need to be very well-organised and efficient. You will only clerk patients when you're on call (once every 7-10days), at which point you will need to clerk as many as possible while being shouted at by A&E and the bed managers. You will not do many procedures - even career surgeons fight to get to theatre as SHOs. You will not do clinics until you're a reg. There is a heavy service element. Audits, revision for exams, courses etc will be done in your own time on top of a 56hr week, but are compulsory. Workplace assessments also involve a lot of reflectiony rubbish - that is just an NHS thing, unfortunately. I personally loved being an SHO, but I am super efficient and like buzzing around ticking off jobs. The people who imagined they'd be saving lives (or even making decisions) got a shock.

As a reg, you lead the ward round, go to clinic/theatre, and then pop back in the afternoon to check up on things. You are likely to be staying late to get your admin done, also expect a lot of weekends in the hospital doing research, audit, service improvement, etc (most weekends there are two or three out of seven of us in the office catching up on work). Consultants work very similar patterns - most do a 60-80 hour week. Revalidation means that the reflective practice crap doesn't stop even as a consultant. I personally really enjoy my work and don't mind coming in at the weekends to get it finished. My husband does complain that I always have something to finish though, and if you don't want things hanging over you this may not suit you. I also can't tell you how many important social events I've missed because I've unexpectedly had to stay late at work - friends' weddings, leaving parties, family birthdays...

GPs work 7am-7pm most days - half the reason there is an exodus of GPs at the moment is that the government is pushing for later and later routine opening hours, and routine weekend working, for no extra pay (indeed less pay, as they'll need to pay their reception staff more which will cut into practice profits). There is also a LOT of admin in GP - you are running a small business and will need to manage payroll, pensions, IT, maintaining the premises... loads of non-medical things. That really would not suit me, although some people love the independence.

Medicine is a great and interesting job. But it will take up your entire life whether you want it to or not, and the admin, repetitive stuff and time-consuming rubbish is exactly the same in all NHS jobs (in fact as well as shadowing a doctor, ask a nurse about their bloody care plans. They have it worse than we do).

You sound bored with your job rather than keen to be a doctor. That might just be how the question is written, and I'm not saying don't apply, but I would really spend some time shadowing some junior doctors to see what your day-to-day life is going to be like. The things you don't like about your current job will be similar in medicine, because they're the same across the whole NHS. Since you work in a hospital already, come in on saturdays and follow the medical ward cover SHO on their shift and see what they actually do. I'm sure they'll be glad of the company, and if you do apply for medical school the interview panel will want to see evidence of this kind of thing anyway.
posted by tinkletown at 6:05 AM on April 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am a clinical scientist working in the NHS and am about ten years in. It does sound from your question as though you aren't suited to your job and leaving might not be a bad idea, however I have a couple of points you might want to consider.

Firstly will the job always be like it is now? During my training I had to spend time doing lower level work to establish basic skills and some of that was actually fairly challenging. I am also a little absent minded which didn't help. My field had quite a range of jobs within it it and now I'm more senior I've been able to find a job that suits my skills much better than my training post. It might be worry looking at the jobs done by senior people in your field and seeing if there is anything you can aim towards that would suit you better.

Regarding staying long enough to complete the Masters before leaving I personally don't think I would bother. Having a Masters on your CV is nice but not necessarily that significant and the Masters and other training you are doing is likely to be very specific to your field. However unless you are really struggling I would recommend not leaving until you have a better idea of what you are moving to. A reasonably well paid job is a valuable thing and you might well find it more depressing than you think to be unemployed and living with your parents if you can't move into something else quickly.

I'm happy for you to PM me if you want to talk in more detail.
posted by *becca* at 12:07 AM on April 25, 2014

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