Help me decide on a possible (medical) career
September 1, 2015 6:21 PM   Subscribe

I am a floundering college graduate with a degree in English trying to figure out what to do with my life. I always thought medicine was fascinating and recently decided hey, why not try to get a job in that field? But I'm not sure. And I'm torn on what to do next.

Some background: I went to Africa three years ago with some volunteer program. I volunteered in a school and in an orphanage, but I quickly realized that what interested me the most was the medical aspect of it. I wanted to be in the hospital. I helped a local man do a presentation on the transmission of AIDs to a local church and I absolutely loved it. I wanted to do that the whole time, but a variety of circumstances prevented that. I came home absolutely wanting to be a doctor... but doubting myself. I got B's and C's in high school. I took a Biology course for kicks, told myself that if I got an A, I'd do it. I got the A. But I doubted myself. I was a humanities girl my whole life. I grew up in the arts. Clearly medicine wasn't meant for me.

So I floundered instead. I majored in Psychology with the end goal of working with autistic children through ABA or some similar therapy. I had volunteered with special needs kids for years and also loved that. Then I felt I had had an epiphany and decided to become a teacher. HATED the ed program. I dropped it after less than a semester, and wound up in English, where I excelled. I graduated with a 3.85 GPA and got an A in every course but one. For a while I thought I would get a PhD in English and stay in school forever. By my senior year, though, I was floundering again. One classroom that I had class in had a sign about becoming a doctor and reading it.... hurt. It filled me with regret. My favorite class featured a very long unit on breast cancer and how environmental influences may trigger the development of cancer. I was enthralled. I read every word.

SO.... now I'm home. And I don't know what to do. Right now I work in a daycare, which is less than enthralling, though I love kids. I've always assumed I'd work with kids. I decided briefly that I would study public health, with the end goal of doing work with developing countries (i.e. with organizations like WHO), and possibly also doing community work (what would interest me most is healthcare access in impoverished areas). I was set on this. Then... I started to worry that I'd hate it because, really, I like people. I've always envisioned myself working hands on with people. Not in an office. I don't know if I'd like the behind the scenes. I applied for a variety of relevant internships and haven't heard. I need to TRY THINGS. I need to make up my mind by diving into these careers and seeing what they do. But I don't have time to wait for these people to get back to me to start my life.

I've considered Dietetics. Before I switched to Education I took a Nutrition course and very nearly decided to become a Dietetician. I've revisited the idea. I loved the material. It enthralled me. I could talk about it to anyone who would listen for hours. But.... I just don't know.

I've considered looking into some kind of therapy, like occupational therapy. It's medical, you work with people, I could specialize in pediatrics. I will likely look into shadowing an OT to see what he/she does.

I also LOVE nature, and really care about the environment, and I've considered a job that would allow me to do.... something environmental. Something in preservation. Maybe environmental health.

And then... medicine. I feel like it's always been in the back of my mind. But I've paused for a variety of reasons. I get now that the English degree doesn't mean jack shit. But what if I dove into this and later decided I HATE it? CLEARLY I change my mind every time the winds change. I think it's fascinating. I can watch Discovery Health for days. My local hospital puts on a show discussing various diseases and I can watch it for hours. Growing up, I would get bored and randomly intently research random diseases. I've been ill, chronically ill. I've seen family members be chronically ill. It would allow me to both deal with people and immerse myself in something fascinating. I don't want to do surgery or anything. I just want to work in a office, 9-5 or 8-4.

The cons? I've read horror stories from people who regret it. It's really expensive. People make it sound like it takes over your whole life, like you can say goodbye to any hobbies. I know that insurance companies suck and I will be immersed in paperwork, which I will likely despise. Patients can likely be terrible and I know I will have bad days. (But... isn't that true for ANY profession?)

I don't want to throw myself into this and regret it. I keep waiting until I'm sure of myself, but I'm NEVER sure of ANYTHING, so that's a problem. I love to write and I really want to chose a career that will allow me to keep that part of myself alive.

So... tell me your experiences. I know this is garbled. I'm just overwhelmed and I feel lost. Also, silly as this may sound, my parents REALLY want me to be a writer. I'm afraid they'll be disappointed.
posted by Amy93 to Work & Money (9 answers total)
Why don't you go into public health, but focus on health education? Then you can work with people and do international work.

You can also go into medicine, but if you haven't taken the prereqs, keep in mind that you have 2 years before you can apply.
posted by superfille at 6:26 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

9-5 jobs that would fit your interest and background would seem to include clinic admins, client service staff/patient advocate, media services staff, research coordinators, medical sales reps, and manufacturer education/client liaisons, etc. I've seen people at each level succeed with non-science degrees as long as they have a strong interest in science and a desire to help the clinician/patient interaction go as absolutely smoothly as possible.

Perhaps poke around on the website for your local hospital/med center and see what you're eligible for. Keep in mind that you might feel you are underqualified for a particular job but apply anyway as you're likely not particularly for entry level. If you can locate an appropriate person, do a direct contact; HRs at these places can be problematic but requested apps almost always succeed. If nothing else, with this experience, you can transfer departments or go back for an advanced degree.
posted by beaning at 6:56 PM on September 1, 2015

Current resident here. It sounds like you've given this plenty of thought already. Lots of people become doctors because they like science and like people and it's kind of the default path, and they turn out as competent, relatively happy doctors. So you might as well start taking some prereq coursework now and see how you like it, since it'll take you a couple years unless you do a full time dedicated postbac program. The English degree is not a disadvantage when you apply so long as you do well in your science classes.

In terms of it taking over your life: after the first two years of med school, at least in the US you consistently work between 60-80 hours per week for a minimum of 5 years (2 years of school + 3 years for the shortest residency). Assuming you sleep 50 hours a week that leaves 38-58 hours to handle all the rest of your life. Watching my peers, it seems like this amount of time can accommodate 1-2 of: social life, hobby, partner, kids. It doesn't entirely take over your life, but it does definitely limit the time and energy you have for other things. The other source of conflict is that you will definitely miss some holidays and milestones in the lives of those important to you because you will be working. So it does have to be worth it to you.

After residency it gets easier but 8-4 is still probably not realistic hours for most specialties.
posted by ellebeejay at 7:33 PM on September 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

I love to write and I really want to chose a career that will allow me to keep that part of myself alive.

"How to get into medical writing" and "Getting an internship in science journalism" suggest a couple of paths that combine your interests. There's human contact there in interviewing folks at least. It could take a while to establish a career, but then I know someone who was hired right out of college with nothing but an English degree to do editing work at a major medical research center (helping their researchers get published), so that happens too. Incidentally, you might try reading So Good They Can't Ignore You for more general tips on figuring this stuff out, and I really wouldn't worry about what "kind" of person you are. It sounds like you could probably achieve any of the options you've considered.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 7:34 PM on September 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

I love to write and I really want to chose a career that will allow me to keep that part of myself alive.

Check out the field of health communication. Tufts University and Emerson College in Boston both have master's programs in it. There's a lot about writing (and other types of media creation) applied to medicine, healthcare, and public health.
posted by cadge at 8:18 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you can see yourself happy doing something else, don't go the MD route. It's absolutely, absolutely possible, but based on what you describe as your interests and desires for a career, I do not think it is right for you. There are a few people in medicine who work 9-5 or 8-4, but you will be spending a significant amount of time (think a decade) working much longer hours before you even get the chance to possibly have that schedule.

I think a career in one of the allied health professions could be great for you. They tend to have more opportunities for flexible scheduling and have shorter/cheaper paths to licensure, generally.

All of this thinking (and watching Discovery Health) though is really worthless compared to the value you will get out of shadowing or volunteering. Being a care provider has very little in common with being a patient. What you imagine your day to day would be like based on having been a patient is probably very different from reality. You could love it or hate it, but you'll find that out in a few weeks (or days or maybe hours!) instead of vascillating forever based on what you already know. Many programs won't take you if you haven't done this kind of research, anyway, so you might as well start now.

In the meantime, you mention having a lot of impatience to "start your life now!". If you're not particularly tied to your daycare job, check around to see if any of the local facilities are hiring phlebotomists. Often you will receive on the job training (ie get paid to become a certified phlebotomist), you'll get to work in an environment you want to learn more about, and you'll most certainly be working with people all day.
posted by telegraph at 5:06 AM on September 2, 2015

I've always envisioned myself working hands on with people. Not in an office.

I don't want to do surgery or anything. I just want to work in a office, 9-5 or 8-4.

It sounds like you don't know what you want. That's fine. It also sounds like you're in your early 20s which is prime time for having doubts and uncertainty.

One of the cool things with the fields related to health and medicine is that there are so many options now. You can become a nurse, physician's assistant, pharmacist, occupational therapist, health communications specialist, public health professional, etc. Thankfully, the route to a career in health is no longer medical school --> MD. Which is great because that is a long, grinding path.

My sister is an MD. She finished her bachelor's degree in 2003, earned an MPH in 2005, graduated from medical school in 2009, finished her residency and is now an attending physician applying for fellowships in her specialty. She is going to be 36 when she finishes the fellowship for which she is currently applying. Since she started medical school, her schedule has not been her own. She's getting offers for interviews now and they're saying, here's the date, if you can't make it, that's too bad. Fortunately, she went to medical school near family but if she didn't, I don't think we'd ever see her for holidays.

Part of the reason she has stuck with it is because she's always wanted to be a doctor and cannot imagine doing anything else. That passion has helped her keep going. If you don't have that, it will be a lot harder to be successful. But if you want to start your life now, medicine might be a terrible idea for you.

If you want, you can take the prerequisites for medical school if you didn't cover them in undergrad. You can get an MCAT study book and start taking practice tests. But really, I think that the best thing that you can do is start learning to be more comfortable with uncertainty, because that will be a part of your adult life no matter what career you pursue.

You said, "I don't have time to wait for these people to get back to me to start my life." As an adult, you have to find a way to do these two things at once - wait for something and live your life. My sister has to live her life while waiting for people to confirm her interviews and decide whether to hire her. I have to wait to hear back from people all the time. That's life.

You also repeatedly say that you don't want to throw yourself into something and regret it. I think that you should 1) not throw yourself into something - always have a plan B and C, and 2) recognize that even if you do throw yourself into something that doesn't work out, you don't have to regret it. You say, that was a learning experience, I learned X, now on to something else.

Becoming more comfortable with uncertainty and feeling impatient is easier said than done. But those are life skills you will need no matter what you do.
posted by kat518 at 6:52 AM on September 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Consider an MPH program. 2 years vs. 7+ years of med school+residency (plus it sounds like you'd need to take a lot of courses just get into med school). Much lower cost. You could be engaged in healthcare science and education. Look into it.

telegraph's advice above is also good.
posted by Wretch729 at 12:20 PM on September 2, 2015

If you want to check out the world of medicine without the commitment of a degree you might consider working as a pharmacy technician. Depending on your state you might have to take an exam or certificate course to get started. Pharmacy is a great field for the generalist. It's actually a great field for a writer. If you like it, pharmacy school is an option - but it actually is a major schooling commitment, 4yrs of professional school once you've fulfilled the 2 years of pre-requisites.
posted by selfmedicating at 2:23 PM on September 2, 2015

« Older appreciative apartment-dwelling Germanophile   |   When to put a dog to sleep Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.