Should I give up the medical school dream?
February 14, 2015 3:10 PM   Subscribe

This is a long one, I hope you’ll bear with me…

Hello, everyone. This is my first time posting here. I need to make some major decisions about my life soon and all the jumbled emotions in my head are preventing me from thinking straight. I’m a mess right now, and I could use some objective advice.

My biggest dream in life has been to go to medical school and become a physician. But I pretty much blew that dream out of the water with my disastrous undergraduate career. I’ve been an excellent student for most of my life and started out university with great grades, decent extra-curriculars and the support of my professors who told me they’d write my recommendation letters for me for when I applied. I was off to a good start. But that all changed once I reached third year. I had been struggling with depression, anxiety and ADD for most of my life but I never actually recognized the symptoms or understood that I had a real problem. Add to that the stigma associated with mental health in my family and community, and I think was just in denial about it for a very long time.

But although I had always been able to carry on my studies without being significantly impacted, that began to change. It became harder and harder for me to concentrate and I began having severe anxiety attacks and prolonged depression. I procrastinated and procrastinated because I had this strange pathological fear of not submitting work that was ‘good enough’ so I would end up not submitting it at all so I wouldn’t appear to be “stupid.” I know that sounds crazy and bizarre but it’s almost like you don’t have control over your mind and your thoughts in the midst of that chaos. The combination of very serious family problems at home and my mental health issues resulted in me having numerous breakdowns that year. I spoke to my professors about it and they were very understanding about my situation and offered me extensions for my work and exams. But I shut down completely after my breakdown and couldn’t even force myself to get out of bed most days, let alone get any work done. I quit my job, stopped answering emails, paying bills, or doing anything constructive. I didn’t have thoughts about suicide. But I did just wish for my life to somehow come to an end.

It was a mess. I repeated these patterns for the next several years. I would pile on more courses when I still had outstanding work from my previous deferred courses to do. It was such a foolish mistake. Eventually I did take a leave of absence from school for two years, but the damage had been done. My transcript was now littered with Fs, Cs and Ds and I had damaged my relationship with so many of my professors. I was in shock for a long time, I couldn’t believe what I had done to myself and how far I had sunk. I felt like an utter and complete failure and I couldn’t face anyone.

That two year break was when I finally realized I had a problem and I needed to deal with it. But I had quit my job and couldn’t afford therapy. I didn’t want to ask my parents for the money for a number of reasons. First, my parents are immigrants and their understanding of mental health is severely limited. Ironically, even though they both suffer from depression – they don’t recognize it as that. They think it’s just a part of life to feel sad all the time. Anyone who does seek mental health assistance is considered “crazy.” Then we also had serious financial difficulties at home. Moreover, since I’m the only child and my parents (particularly my mother) were very very very critical of every aspect of my life, I didn’t want to bring on further humiliation for myself. Not only was I an academic failure, I would then be “weak” or “crazy” as well. I began to self-medicate with food and gained over 30 pounds which I’m still working to get rid of. There was a silver lining because this time out did give me a chance to understand where so many of my issues stemmed from. I read articles on psychology and learned important tools for self-care. Most importantly, I developed a new understanding and awareness of mental health and a strong compassion for people struggling with all sorts of mental health issues. I feel like my once black-and-white understanding of the world had now become much more enlightened. I began taking anti-depressants, though I didn’t find them to be particularly helpful. Eventually, I got a part-time job and returned to school to complete my degree on a part-time basis. But it wasn’t anything spectacular. I was still struggling with the same issues and although I didn’t fail more courses, I didn’t do exceptionally well either because I still procrastinated significantly and lost marks on assignments I would have otherwise gotten As or A+s in because of deductions for lateness. It took me 9 years to complete just my bachelor’s degree, with not much to show for it. I gave up on the medical school dream and resigned myself to just finding employment.

Right now, I have a record of just various part-time positions. I live with my parents so that offsets some of the costs of living. To say that I feel like I a failure would be an understatement. Not a lot of people know my story or the details of it, but I know they wonder and judge. How did I go from that smart high-achieving girl to this? I try not to let it bother me, but it does. Especially in my culture in which academics are so prioritized and used as a means to classify people and accord them their social ranking. I don’t believe in any of that or care about it, nor do I believe that a degree represents someone’s intelligence or worth. But I just wanted to make my parents proud of me. As far back as I can remember, people made subtle and not-so-subtle remarks to my parents about not having a son. “Poor you,” they would say. “Having a daughter without any sons is so burdensome.” “Don’t you wish you had a son that would make you proud in your old age?” As if a daughter couldn’t make her parents proud. It’s so heart-breaking that these attitudes still exist, but that’s what I grew up with. Those voices became my inner voice. I feel like I had to prove all of them wrong and tried my best to be “perfect” in every way, to compensate for not being born a son. But eventually, I cracked under all that pressure. My biggest fear, the fear of failure, came to materialize. And I’m reminded of it every day.

A little while ago, I came across a forum in which non-traditional Canadian medical students shared their stories about overcoming serious obstacles to get into medical school. I learned that some schools in Canada only look at your last two years of school. Doing a second undergraduate degree or enrolling in at least two more years of full-time school could potentially mitigate the disaster of my first degree if I do really well, for some schools anyway. It’s not a certainty and it takes a lot of hard work, but people have done it successfully and have gotten into medical school through this route.

That gave me inspiration so I enrolled in classes this year at university and although I did well, I began facing some of the same issues late last semester. The severe anxiety before assignments/exams, the procrastination, the depression. For some reason, as much as I love the academic world – my mental health issues become exacerbated when I’m in school. Maybe that’s because I haven’t dealt with it fully yet. I am seeing a counselor now and have begun cognitive behavioural therapy with a psychiatrist, and I’ve started a new course of anti-depressants. And fortunately, this time I told all my professors well in advance that I struggle with mental health issues and received accommodation from the Disability office for my assignments and exams.

However, I am beginning to seriously consider whether my dream of medical school is worth pursuing. I know I am intelligent enough, but I cannot deny that my mental health struggles are a serious detriment to my studies. Plus, I cannot know for certain whether therapy and drugs will be enough to help me get through this. This semester has been an eye opener for me because even though I’ve done great academically, I’ve noticed that my cognitive processes have slowed down significantly. I don’t know if that’s the side effect of the anti-depressants or the long-term effects of depression and anxiety. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do this, and that I could bounce back from everything that has happened. But I’m just not so sure anymore. The long-term struggle has exhausted me emotionally, mentally and physically and I’ve been having severe migraines lately, which have also cut into my studying time. The people who were able to turn around their failures and get into medical school successfully in spite of earlier setbacks, whose stories inspired me to start this journey again, had strong social support systems in place. Outside of a few close friends, I don’t have that. And even if I were to eventually get in, I’m worried that the depression and anxiety will put me at a significant advantage. Medical school is no walk in the park. You have to be mentally resilient to get through it all. On top of everything else, I’m 28 and my family is pushing me to get married. As a woman, I know that there’s a timeline on how long I can wait to have children. I’m not entirely sure that I want to have kids, but I don’t want to rule out the possibility either. Even if I was to get accepted, the earliest I would be able to actually begin practicing as a physician is 35. Will that leave me enough time to get married, settle down and start a family?

I’m just confused. I want medical school more than I want anything else, even more than a family. But I would be making a lot of sacrifices for a very small chance of having this dream materialize. It would be an uphill battle. And I’m not afraid of the hard work, but I worry whether the end goal is worth it. Medical school throws the most mentally strong and resilient people into depressive states, I don’t know if I stand a chance. I didn’t want to have regrets in my life that I didn’t at least try to go for my dreams, but at this point – I don’t know if I’m being crazy. My peers my age have started families, bought houses, settled down, and have begun to start their families. And here I am struggling to decide what to do with my future.

So after all that, my question is – how does one go about making such a difficult decision? What would you do in this situation? Any advice? Should I keep at it, or give up and go for something a little easier on life? I thank anyone who’s read up to this point, I know I was all over the place.

Thanks so much,
posted by KTN to Education (23 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Why is this your dream? Is it a leftover searching for prestige thing? If the dream is to help people in health care, might there be nursing programs that are more appropriate? (They are also challenging but not all programs are as much of a commitment.)

Your past experiences don't make it sound like medical school and, after that, being a doctor and paying off loans would be very good for your mental health. Even if you COULD do it, think about why you are really interested in it, and whether it's just something you're holding onto because you don't have other direction.
posted by metasarah at 3:28 PM on February 14, 2015 [9 favorites]

I'd advise you to focus on your health first. If that means you don't become a doctor, then that's what needs to happen. Health comes first. Always.

But don't look at this or any other career as a failure. A lot of us have taken jobs in fields we didn't particularly think we'd be in. Some of us are happy at work, some aren't and just work to be able to afford a family or the cost of living. But work doesn't always define us.
posted by inturnaround at 3:30 PM on February 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

The severe anxiety before assignments/exams, the procrastination, the depression.

I might have overlooked it, but do you have any reason to think this wouldn't be the case again? Because if anything is going to trigger it, it's medical school. It seems you know that.

I've seen med school create immense regret in people who, like you, have always wanted to be doctors even without the same mental health issues and who have the support systems you talk about in place.

It's not about whether you CAN do it. It seems like that's what you're focusing on. It's about whether it's a net positive in your life. No one can answer that but you (and even you're just guessing), but as a complete outsider, it's looks doubtful to me.
posted by supercres at 3:34 PM on February 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's hard to get into medical school because medical school itself is hard, and medical school has to be hard because being a doctor is hard. It sounds like you've built medical school admission up into this big obstacle that, if you could surmount it, would be the last of your problems. Unfortunately, getting in to med school right now would only make things worse for you -- you'd be thrown into an even more demanding academic environment and face the same challenges you are facing now.

I agree with metasarah that you need to evaluate more closely why you want to be a doctor, and start thinking about other ways to satisfy those desires. There are many, many ways to work in healthcare, to help people, to have a "prestigious" career, to make your parents proud, etc that have nothing to do with becoming a doctor.
posted by telegraph at 3:35 PM on February 14, 2015 [24 favorites]

I think you can do it. If you set it as your goal to be a doctor, you can keep trying to do that until you die. You can do another undergraduate degree, and if that doesn't work, do Masters or PhD. You can retake the classes as a post bacc. You can study for the entrance exam with all your heart. No one can stop you from dedicating your life to this goal, and no one should.

You can always give up, and there's no shame in that. Maybe you'll find something you want more. But if you want to do this, just keep trying as hard as you can. Either you'll be a doctor, or you'll die first.
posted by 3491again at 4:38 PM on February 14, 2015

I am very gung-ho about encouraging people following their dreams. Yes, getting to medical school via a nontraditional path is very possible. Having a family and career while navigating school and residency at a later age is totally possible. Is getting through medical school with depression and anxiety possible? Yes. If you'd asked about those things specifically, I would be all over it. However, your question doesn’t feel like it is about those things.

You mentioned being a physician once but mostly you talked of dreams of medical school, and it sounded like medical school was the achievement to gain, to prove to your parents that you are not a failure. Medical school should be but a step towards becoming the physician you want to be. You also say you are “not sure” and you need to be really, really sure as you enter medical school because inevitably you will go through phases of not sure later on and if you were not sure to begin with… that’s setting yourself up for bad times.

As I said before, you can succeed in medical school with depression or anxiety but you need to really have them on the rails and with emergency plans in place, so you know what to do and who to turn to if you’re feeling out of control. Ask yourself this: will other people (aka your future patients!) be able to rely on you even when you are stressed to the max? If thinking about this gives you anxiety or you don’t think you can do this, becoming a doctor may not be something that you will enjoy.

I’m not saying you should give up for something easier but just make sure your goals reflect what you really want, something that will be fulfilling for YOU, not your parents, or your idea of what would make you appear to be successful from the outside.

Things not to worry about: age, having a family, ability to accomplish great things with a mental illness.
Things to worry about: do you really want this? You don’t need to torture yourself unnecessarily for the glory and the horror of medical school if at the end of the day you don't want to practice medicine. There are lots of awesome and amazing things to do that won’t put you through academic hell. Talk to doctors about their jobs. And there is absolutely no shame if you decide it is not for you.
posted by bobobox at 5:06 PM on February 14, 2015 [9 favorites]

I'm a doctor, and I don't think you should go to medical school. A career as a physician involves so many exams, you can't even imagine them all from your vantage point now, and they are all very stressful and high stakes. Anyone who's not good at exams needs to strongly consider a different career - I know a few people who claim not to be great at exams who have succeeded in medicine, but it's the exception to the rule for sure.

The more pressing issue is how the emotional stressors of medical school would affect your mental health and wellbeing. Even if you decided to go into one of the lowest stress medical fields (like let's say pathology), during medical school you are still going to have to see people die, to see people dying. To see people suffering in extreme pain. To hear about things that have happened to people that no one should have to endure. On my psychiatry rotation a patient told me a tale of their abusive past that was enough to make me (temporarily) lose faith in humanity. Fortunately, my idealism returned, and I've been able to tolerate an extremely high stress field, emergency medicine. I consider myself a very resilient person, with no mental health problems, but I've still needed a therapist and a very strong support network to get through some of the horrible things I've experienced. The worst of it isn't even seeing people suffer and die, honestly. The worst of it is seeing bad things happen to people and wondering if it's your fault. If you had been a better doctor, if you had done things differently, would they still have suffered the same fate? It's pretty brutal.

And all of that is before even considering the huge debt load, the paperwork, the legal liability hanging over your head, the grueling hours, the attitudes and hazing you have to deal with as you work your way up the hierarchy. I discourage even people who have no apparent mental health issues from becoming a physician, I absolutely wouldn't recommend it to you.

I would agree with above suggestions to look for other careers in health that could also be rewarding without the negatives of being a doctor. Physical therapist, physician assistant, APRN, dietician, and so forth. Talk to people who do the jobs, shadow them, see whether these are things you would enjoy.

Don't worry about the family stuff. You can get married and have kids any time, including during professional school or further training. It's not easy, but people do it all the time.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:17 PM on February 14, 2015 [28 favorites]

It might be worthwhile to ask yourself what it is that you're really looking for in medical school and in being a physician. Is it helping people, or is it being respected by friends and family, or is it the science, or is it the intellectual challenge? Because all these things can be done without going to medical school. You can help people as a nurse or teacher or social worker; you can gain respect by achieving a goal (any goal, not just medical school) and mastering it; you can work in science and find intellectual challenges almost anywhere.

Your essay indicates that you're a thoughtful person who knows a lot about struggling with depression and anxiety and pressure. Perhaps your real strength, and your real calling, is in psychology or counseling?
posted by math at 6:36 PM on February 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

This started in your third year, right? Is it research and writing that trigger procrastination and anxiety, and not exams? Are you fine with timed exams?

(There's a lot in your post I can relate to, about the above and consequent outcomes and responses to them; I may write later but wanted to clarify this point for other answerers.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:11 PM on February 14, 2015

So look. I don't know the Canadian medical school process or your exact GPA or what you could get on the MCAT or anything like that. All that said, I do believe that if you pulled it together, you could get into a med school.

But, like others, I'm not getting from your question a strong desire to be a doctor. I'm getting a strong desire to get into med school, maybe to make your parents, your community and yourself feel like less of failure? Maybe just so you can achieve the dream you've always had? But what comes after that dream? Obviously I don't know you so maybe you do have a burning desire to become a great physician. If that is the case, I think you should try your hardest to finish your second bachelors well while getting therapy and keeping a healthy lifestyle and treating your depression, then taking a year off for a break and to apply to medical and to maybe do some lowkey research or med volunteer stuff. But I really think you need to examine whether it's really the only path for you. There might be something you love equally as much that shares some similarities with medicine (helping people? health sciencey stuff?) that you are more suited to and is way less of an uphill struggle for you.
posted by hejrat at 7:51 PM on February 14, 2015

Even if you were 100% sure about a career path as a physician, you'd still be looking at a very uphill battle to get there. I think it would be worth your time to explore the other health careers - not just to see if there's a non-medical school alternative that might mesh better with your own health and finding life balance, but also because if you do end up being sure about med school eventually, being an EMT or a CNA or a tech or a counselor might help you a lot more than however many more years of undergrad study. And it'll give you some real world experience to think practically about whether medicine is the right path for you.
posted by deludingmyself at 8:57 PM on February 14, 2015

I think I concur with everyone else: medical school is not for you. I think you would have to REALLY REALLY REALLY have the depression squared away before you attempted med school....and that's probably a long way off at best because it sounds like you are still really struggling. There are plenty of related helping/health fields you can get into that aren't this freaking hard even on non-depressed people.

" I'm getting a strong desire to get into med school, maybe to make your parents, your community and yourself feel like less of failure?"

Me too. I don't see you mentioning a lot of "I want to help people" so much as "I used to be a really smart impressive person and now I feel like a loser and I really wish I could impress people, like my parents." You mention immigrant parents, which makes me suspect that "doctor" (or lawyer or something else high-powered) might be the only "acceptable"/impressive professions that will please. I'm reminded of a friend of mine who did not have super perfect college grades but kept applying to only the fanciest of grad schools that would never let her in, because she HAD to be impressive. Eventually she had to lower her standards to get in somewhere. I also used to have another friend who would beat herself up that she HAD to be a doctor even though it really would not have suited her. Then she was considering nursing school. She eventually decided to go to grad school in nutrition to satisfy her health bent in a less stressful way.

I unfortunately don't know how to make you impressive to your parents at this point. It is entirely possible that maybe you never can be. I think the goal you need to work towards is trying to come up with something you can do that you can eventually be happy with, even if it's not medicine.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:05 PM on February 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

Sent you MeMail. =)
posted by ianK at 10:56 PM on February 14, 2015

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for all your responses. I really appreciate it, and it's given me a lot to think about.

Just want to add some things. You were all on spot on about the fact that a large part of my desire to get into medical school and become a physician is because of the social status, impressing my parents, etc part. I can't deny that. Intellectually, I completely understand how silly and even ludicrous it is to go down such a difficult path just for this reason. But it's almost like the 5 year old girl inside me who desperately needs the approval of her family and community still reigns over my subconscious mind and won't let go no matter how hard I try. It guides all my decisions in life which, ironically enough, has led me into the exact situation I always feared and tried to avoid. I know that no career will change these deep-rooted securities in me, physician or otherwise, and it's going to take a lot of therapy for me to accept myself as I am.

Having said that, the status isn't the sole reason I wanted to become a physician. I have always and continue to have a genuine desire in helping people live the best lives they can and I have a keen interest in health sciences. I definitely need a career where I am interacting with people and helping them in some health-related capacity. That would make me the happiest. I guess when I was younger, the immediate career that fit these interests was that of a physician so I developed the "I'm going to be a doctor no matter what" attitude and stuck with it. Until of course, I blew it.

Someone mentioned psychology. Actually, that has also been a very strong interest of mine even since high school. I was going to have my research paper on a mental health related subject published as well before I had my meltdown. And going through my own struggles allowed me to gain a greater appreciation for it. Even when I was doing well in school, I had an honest conversation with myself and evaluated which of the two fields would be a better fit for me. And it was always psychology, and still is. But when I spoke to some mentors and people in both fields, they had discouraged me from pursuing it because they said the competition for jobs in this field is cut-throat. They said if mental health was my interest, my best bet would be to go to medical school and become a psychiatrist. So I stuck with that plan, and thought psychiatry would give me the best of everything.

But of course, as you all mentioned - not everyone is cut out for the rigors of medical school or the life of a physician especially if there are mental health issues. And realistically, that's something I might have to deal with for the rest of my life. Whatever path I choose will require an uphill battle either way because I have to makeup for my earlier academic setbacks. I just want to make the most informed decision, without letting my emotions or fears interfere. I have a lot of soul searching to do. Thank you again everyone for all your feedback, it has really helped. If anyone has similar issues they are going through and want someone to discuss them with, feel free to MeMail me.

cotton dress sock - I almost forgot to address your question. Yes, that is absolutely correct. It was always the essays or any assignments that required lots of writing that gave me the greatest anxiety and did me over. Timed exams did make me nervous, but it was nothing unusual of what most students felt. If I was well prepared, I was fine with those. Ironically, I edited papers for so many students and helped improve their writing skills. Yet, when it came to my own papers - I developed severe writer's block any time something was due and just couldn't focus. Writing is one of my strongest skills, but I always crack under pressure when I have to write something for someone else. I don't know why that is.
posted by KTN at 1:26 PM on February 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you're still absolutely dead set on being a competitive candidate for med school, you absolutely need to build a strong portfolio on volunteering in healthcare.

In addition to "doing the time" (altruism, commitment, dedication, leadership) and "demonstrating passion for healthcare" you will also see what being a doctor requires on a day-to-day basis as well as being able to demonstrate to potential recommendation writers that you are a good candidate for med school. iirc, UBC used to require something like 5 letters of recommendation and it's only gotten more competitive over the years. Who wrote those letters matters as much as what's in those letters. Emergency trauma surgeon in an impoverished neighbourhood >>> some community college prof.

That is something that you can work on right now, and who knows, you might find that you have a passion for- and receive satisfaction from- some careers in healthcare that doesn't require a path through medical school.

Volunteering may also help with some of your mental health issues; helping others and socialising in a structured setting without some of the stresses that come with a paid job, yet still with an obligation to stay committed.

Do not pursue a PhD. Given the background that you have shared, it is highly unlikely that you will enjoy the process much less the aftermath.

I knew a lot of people who went the life sciences MSc route while waiting for "next year's med school application." A few got in somewhere, a lot ended up wasting their time and ultimately got jobs unrelated to their MSc. Some ended up with comfortable jobs in their MSc fields.

If med school is still for you, don't worry about the costs especially in Canada. A friend of mine got his PhD and got accepted into medicine at UBC. Went to the bank, told them he got an acceptance, bank signed him up right away and he projected that he'd be able to pay if off sometime near the end of his residency/ies.
posted by porpoise at 2:15 PM on February 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Well, let me say first that I'm fairly sure we suffer from a near-perfect match of academically focused anxieties (you're welcome to check out my many questions and answers to see). I get it. It really has been almost exactly the same for me, down to editing others' work - even for money - but being incapacitated with regard to my own. You were bright early on, and were labelled that way, and it's harmed you, it has. And anxieties around that have dovetailed with other factors in your immediate environment, some relating to your family (here we differ a bit). And now you've got this long and painful memory, and it's made everything worse. I really get it.

I also understand why you spoke earlier about "medical school". It's because just getting through the first hoop has taken so long that you haven't dared talk or think about going further. Getting in has been the main obstacle, and you've been stuck on it. I don't think your ambition is any more suspect than thousands of other would-be and actual doctors' were at the undergraduate level.

All that said: I think you could get in. If you chose a major that involved almost 100% assessment by exam for almost all of the courses, and almost no writing. (That won't be psychology, by the way, unfortunately. It would need to be something like biology, physics, maybe kinesiology - do your research on this.)

What distinguishes the premeds I know are: stamina, good self-care, and life balance (which is required anyway for the ECs). Additionally and related: most Canadian med schools only accept applicants that have taken a full course load (five courses) in the fall and winter terms; summer courses don't count. Could you handle this? I think maybe you could, if you extricated yourself from your home environment (which you would, since I guess you're not Canadian), and put yourself in the appropriate school environment. Maybe that's a smaller university. Though it'll come down to who's accepting second-degree applicants (although the fact that you're international and will be paying three times the fees may make a difference).

Lastly, doing a second degree as a mature student with a high GPA target is a lot of pressure. That ratchets up as the years go on. Every exam counts. It might be that only having to do exams will lessen this. (It definitely has for me, for the courses that haven't required writing. I've pulled off 100% results on exams on sheer adrenaline. Because the time constraint means you naturally give up the ridiculous expectations you hold for yourself for writing, and the anxiety can actually become functional.)

I think you could do this. It's vital that you give yourself a plan B, though, so that in case something happens and you don't get an A in a critical course, you have an out, and haven't wasted two years on an academic subject. That's fine - pick one of the allied professions that train at the masters-level (SPT, OT, etc). (I agree with the poster above me, though - whatever you do, no PhD.)

Good luck.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:28 PM on February 15, 2015

Also - read The Now Habit.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:31 PM on February 15, 2015

Also - not sure how it is in the States, but for Canadian med schools, a master's won't help with entry; they're only looking at the undergrad GPA, so it would have to be another undergrad.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:47 PM on February 15, 2015

Lots of good comments here so far. Are you currently in university? This idea might be kind of out there, but to get you thinking: Have you thought about going back to college for an allied science profession? I'm thinking of something like x-ray tech, nursing, etc. Your local college would be an excellent place to start if you decide to start explore other health related careers. My cousin went back to school to get his X-ray tech after getting a university degree in biology and is loving his job (pays really well with benefits. He had no problem finding a job). I would do some research in what kind of health care related jobs are in demand in your area, and start looking at ones you may find interesting. Your local college would be able to help with this (For non- Canadians, our version of college is more like technical school and typically focuses on practical application)
posted by snowysoul at 10:00 AM on February 16, 2015

...allied professions... Thanks cotton dress sock!

Ah, that's the term that escaped me. This, yes. I would really think hard about careers in the allied health professions.

Salary ranges (and more career examples) for some allied healthcare professionals through Providence Health Care, one umbrella healthcare employer in British Columbia. Some of the technologists (especially nuclear/radiation) positions have rather minimal interaction with actual sick people.
posted by porpoise at 3:25 PM on February 16, 2015

Let me attempt to answer your question in an oblique manner. Let's assume you get in to medical school. Let's further assume you get out and are now a doctor. I grew up with some though not all of the cultural traits you did. I ended up doing poorly as an undergrad for similar, though less severe, reasons as you. After graduating, I became obsessed with grad school in my undergrad major. I wanted to know if I could really do it, since I'd done so poorly the first time. I did get in to two rather mediocre programs, and I went to the better of them. I struggled with the coursework, but over time I realized I was perfectly capable of understanding the material. I ended up getting a PhD in a discipline with a reputation for being extremely competitive and difficult. I am now a practitioner of this discipline. Nothing is easier than it was when I was a struggling student. I remain wracked with doubt, and I have never recovered from my earliest faults: I still struggle with completing things due to anxiety. I have a tenure track job, which is the gateway to success in my field. However, it is at a school that is so bad in every respect that I sometimes marvel at its continued existence each day. I make less than the average starting salary for new graduates in almost every technical field, and I am 37 years old. I have almost no chance at getting a better job, unless I change fields. What is the point of all of this? Prestige is a fool's gold. Unless you desperately want to be a doctor and you can't possibly imagine doing anything else, the fact that you may be able to get into school after a rough start is simply not enough reason to go. If you think giving up the dream is hard how, imagine doing it in a decade after moving a few times for school and residency and finding that just being a doctor is not enough. Will you be satisfied with being a doctor at a for-profit clinic with low ethics and a focus on extracting health insurance dollars? Only if you truly believe in what you are doing. Because at least for me, even though my parents think I have a high prestige job, I know the truth. And it kills me.
posted by q9f9A at 7:33 PM on February 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I am so thankful for all your responses, guys.

The suggestions for allied health careers are excellent. That's a great list, porpoise! X-ray tech/radiation and occupational therapy actually seem quite interesting, I'll have to look into those further.

cotton dress sock - you've really hit the nail on why I've been focused on the "medical school" part so much. That's actually how my mind works in general. When there's a high chance of rejection or even some level of judgment involved in any given task, I become fixated on it and can’t seem to think too far ahead. The fear incapacitates me and this has hurt me in more than just academics. But ironically, I think hitting rock bottom has helped with that. I failed miserably by my own standards. And lived. It kind of takes off some of that earlier pressure I always carried around.

I really appreciate your encouragement. I think a smaller university would be a much better option if I do decide to do a second undergrad. And getting away from home of course. I’d have to change up everything that contributed to much of my depression/anxiety in the first place, which is quite the task and will involve some battles with my family.

I just read through all your questions and you're right, I can relate to so much of what you're going through and have gone through. I read your story and I'm actually amazed by you and your persistence in the face of all the struggles. I don't know how you manage to juggle so much, especially with the ADD. I feel like more than anything else, my attention problems have been my biggest obstacle. At least when I've gotten the depression and anxiety under control, I can live a semblance of a normal life and focus on what needs to be done. But the ADD never seems to leave, and it's why I had so much difficulty finishing tasks and continue to. It's strange though that it's at its severity when a writing task is involved, and I know others who have the same problem. I was wondering, did you and porpoise mean a PhD in any field would be a bad option given my situation, or just one in a writing-intensive field. I totally get why psychology is out now, but what about a life science field? Or is the process itself just filled with too many land mines when mental health issues are involved?

That book is excellent by the way, spot-on and gets right into it. I've been listening to the audio version all day. Also, I actually am Canadian, not an international student. I'm in the GTA area as well. Thanks so much for all your insight. for what it's worth - I'm rooting for you.

q9f9A - I read over your story several times. Everything you mention is exactly what I fear. I think the reason I’m torn is because even though the prestige factor is there, I also do have a genuine interest in medicine. If it was solely the prestige I was after, I would have let this go ages ago. The problem is that on my good days, I can accomplish things and I have energy and vigor. This me is confident and resilient and in spite of all the earlier failures, has confidence in her dreams. On my bad days, just getting out of bed in the morning is a victory. And there's no guarantee that the bad days will ever completely go away. So I’m struggling to decide which me should make this decision, the one that will leave me with least regrets. I really appreciate you sharing your experience. I really hope you are able to find your happiness.

Also, I apologize everyone if I’m violating metafilter social code by jumping into my thread again and again. I’m new to this and not really sure what the commenting rules are yet.
posted by KTN at 1:05 AM on February 18, 2015

There aren't many formal codes other than general decency. I try not to be an a-hole and try to be kind. But I've only recently come back after an absence.

People will let you know if something isn't acceptable, so no worries. Welcome to Metafilter!

posted by porpoise at 8:56 PM on February 18, 2015

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