How to quit medicine and still be on my feet?
August 9, 2008 7:34 AM   Subscribe

What can an overworked English BA do now that he has realized Medicine was a ginormous mistake and he wants out of his residency?

I was initially an undergrad education major, then decided I wanted to "challenge" myself and did premed on top of an English/Writing BA.

Now I've been to medical school--partially scholarship-funded, so I'm only ~$100,000 in the hole (my colleagues are much, much deeper). I did my intern year at a marvelous place that was just tolerable enough I could get through it for all the supposed benefits a completed intern year gives you, such as eligibility for a license, real work experience, etc.

The whole time in intern year though, and even before, I strongly suspected medicine was not right for me. Now I have started a new residency and it's horrible. I can't stand being there and I can't see toughing through three years of it just to be an attending physician, which I no longer think I'd even like.

Really, I'm tired of climbing up the medical professional hierarchy and each rung hoping it'll be better and finding instead that it's much worse.

So, but what are my options if I quit? I'm married and it would be hard to adjust to a salary less than $40,000 (she's not working yet).

Yes, the job market sucks and I should be glad just to have a place that pays me, but I truly find every single day execrable and without redeeming qualities. If I go on like this, I'll be a miserable, depressed, divorced, and alcoholic grump.

They say medical training really only prepares you to be a physician--but what can I look for in a moderately large metropolitan area with the heterogeneous education I've got?
posted by adoarns to Work & Money (20 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
How are your editing skills? You could try medical editing. (I'd use something like Indeed and search on "medical editor + your city" just to see what's out there and whether it interests you.
posted by Airhen at 7:42 AM on August 9, 2008

The fact that you dislike the path you have to take to get somewhere, doesn't mean you will dislike the place it leads.

Be careful about bailing out on your medical career. Doing so could be a mistake you will regret for the rest of your life!

The ability to help people as a professional (like a physician) offers a level of satisfaction in helping people --- as well as a level of compensation --- that is hard to match in other, more ordinary careers.
posted by jayder at 7:54 AM on August 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

An MD pretty much lets you write your own ticket in the biotech world. Even though your training is not directly related, you could get any number of management-type positions at a biotech company, from regulatory to clinical to even basic research. These people spend a lot of time interacting with the outside world (regulatory agencies, investors, etc) so there's a lot of reading and writing involved. If you could stand being somewhat medically related, the biotech world is your oyster.
posted by Quietgal at 7:58 AM on August 9, 2008 [3 favorites]

I was thinking what Quietgal was. I have no idea how far into your residency you are, but there are lots of positions open to someone with than MD that aren't being a "seeing patients in the hospital" type doctor. Everything from government to research has positions that require the knowledge MDs possess but has nothing (directly) to do with patients. Might be worth considering this before you throw away literally hundreds of thousands of dollars and years of study.
posted by Nelsormensch at 8:06 AM on August 9, 2008

Medical Examiners are licensed MDs, and it's much different than being a physician.
posted by rhapsodie at 8:16 AM on August 9, 2008

You can use your BA writing skills to write a book telling us about why becoming a doctor was such a horror show that you decided, just into your residency, to chuck the whole thing, default on your student loans, and teach hateful, ungrateful kids in Harlem to write things they don't give a damn about. That's the heroic path, and the fools.

You might not like any other work more than you like medicine -- consider this. It's possible that you are unhappy, or depressed. Though what you've gone through to become a doctor, and are going through as a doctor, could of course lead to depression if medicine really isn't your gig.

I like the post by Quietgal, maybe, hopefully it opens out lots of options you'd not considered.

I wish you good luck -- the position you are in does not sound comfortable.
posted by dancestoblue at 8:24 AM on August 9, 2008

Work in general sucks. I would deeply analyze whether it is something specific to the med profession or just work in general before burning a highly respected and well-compensated job while massively in debt.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 8:34 AM on August 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Write. Teach. Consult. Good luck. And if you do "escape" and find success and happiness -- way, way cool.
posted by davidmsc at 8:50 AM on August 9, 2008

Is it possible to abbreviate your residency and work as a general practitioner? Or could you transfer to a different residency program?

The 80+ hour work week of a resident is brutal, and since it sounds like it's your new residency that is the major source of unhappiness, you might enjoy working part time as a physician, and freelance writing the rest of the day. There's always per diem or hourly work available at hospitals if you don't want to commit to working full time in a single hospital.

Your medical training could be extremely useful in journalism or medical editing. There may also be medical librarian jobs that would be suitable for an MD.
posted by abirae at 8:54 AM on August 9, 2008

An MD also lets you write your ticket in biotech investment - venture, investment banking etc. And salaries are HIGH. Of course, you might want to wait till the banking sector gets through its implosion.... best place to wait will either be finishing the residency or in a biotech company.
posted by zia at 9:02 AM on August 9, 2008

Med school is difficult. Internship sucks. The first year of residency sucks. But the second year of residency is better. And the third year of residency (and each successive year) is even better than that. Fellowship, if you do one, can be even better. As you go more and more down the path of training, you know more and more (which helps with the stress level) and you are on call less and less (by comparison to what you did before). By the time you're an attending, the schedule is pretty sweet in comparison to how brutal call is for doctors in training. It seems like you're almost through the hardest, toughest parts of training -- so why stop now, when you're so near to seeing the light at the end of the tunnel?

I am not a doctor, but I am married to someone who has spent the last 13 years doing a post-bacc, med school, internship, residency, fellowship, and finally becoming an attending. He did this all after having worked for 6 years after college, starting med school at 30, and with a young family, so it was both a more considered decision (that is, he knew what work life was like and what he might be getting into going back to school) and a huge leap of faith (what if he did all this expensive training and then didn't like it/failed/whatever worst case scenario could be imagined?). It was difficult, both for him and for me. But I can tell you it would have been far more difficult if he didn't like the work he was doing.

It's hard to tell from your question if you're just at a horrible, sucky point in your training that will get better as you move on, or whether it's really not for you, no matter what point you're at. If you decide to move on, though, an MD is a pretty useful degree to have. The folks we know who trained to be MDs and decided it wasn't for them took lots of different paths: some got out of clinical medicine and became researchers, some went to work for pharm companies, some went to biotech; some became teachers; some went to Wall Street. Others went back to school to get PhDs, to study engineering, or to get business degrees. Those who stayed with medicine but were dissatisfied with their fields changed their trajectories completely -- the ENT surgeon quit residency to become a pediatrician; the thoracic guy became an anesthesiologist; the internal medicine person switched to derm.

Even though I'm sure it doesn't feel like it, you have a lot of options -- including, of course, sticking with what you're already doing. It's a tough call. Good luck.
posted by mothershock at 9:06 AM on August 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

I had a cousin through marriage who was on his way to becoming a doctor and decided that he was not the type to be involved with patients so he went into medical research. He loved the researching and the away-from-people aspects of that and delighted not to have to deal with patients and their families.
posted by Postroad at 9:29 AM on August 9, 2008

You are qualified for lots of other things, including the range of stuff that any intelligent person with a BA and an aptitude for science could do.

But the quality of the advice offered is going to be inhibited without knowing why you can no longer stand being a physician. Maybe you hate the subject; maybe you hate hospitals; maybe you hate touching people; maybe you hate long hours; maybe you hate working the same shift with Meredith and Izzie.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 9:36 AM on August 9, 2008

As a writer, you have a very fortunate (and expensive) inside track into the world of medicine (or at least the training for that world). You'd probably have to do something that pays the bills, but would you be interested in writing medical-themed fiction (or non-fiction, as someone here has already mentioned) on the side and seeing if that takes off?

Work in general sucks.
I used to think that until I got a job I really like. It's not necessarily a reaction against work per se that the OP is experiencing.
posted by Rykey at 11:15 AM on August 9, 2008

Pharmacist. The pay is great, the medical knowledge has probably put you 90% of the way there, and there's always demand in large cities.
posted by MaxK at 12:06 PM on August 9, 2008


Uh, it's not quite that easy. To become a pharmacist, the OP would have to go back to school for a PharmD (and other ~$100k of debt).
posted by geeky at 6:48 PM on August 9, 2008

Response by poster: I thank everyone for their advice and encouragement. If it helps, a little more info:

I think that basically I embarked on a career in Medicine for the wrong reasons. I never even considered it until college, and then it was sort of part of an auto-revanchist-revisionist reinventory of my life choices that made me want to aspire to something I thought was...I guess higher. Except I didn't know that for whatever the public thinks of physicians, the actual job is a lot of rutting and slogging and running after problems that rarely get fixed.

Moreover, the actual job means often being the last man responsible for someone's life. It sounds heroic and cool as an undergrad but at 0300 and bleary-eyed it sounds horrible. And for someone who has always learned by tinkering and making mistakes and trying again and again--well, that's not a good way to approach life-saving care. Plus I worry constantly and physiologically about my patients when they're really sick, which is probably preferable for a doctor but puts me on edge in a way that I couldn't possibly sustain without burning out very quickly. Not to mention dramatically.

I've been unhappy for awhile, but at times the work wasn't so brutal and I could glide through. Now the work is brutal and I'm at an impasse. They say that residency is unlike actual practice but that just makes me resent it more. Why go through the ordeal essentially for nothing? My self-denial and naive challenge has brought me mostly misery, but a little bit of accomplishment and a tiny aliquot of good. I don't honestly see this ratio changing. I feel I've made nothing but bad decisions for the past six years (excepting my marriage) and that it's time to end the perverse mode of thought that keeps me in that track. Which would mean finally forsaking this dead-end road.

I am interested in pursuing writing, especially about my experience. But first things first, I've got a wife to support and a new lease to make good on.
posted by adoarns at 7:43 PM on August 9, 2008

Best answer: There are a lot of things you could do. If you're willing to pursue more study, you could become an epidemiologist, an MD/JD medical lawyer, or an MD/MBA medical administrator. If you were willing to take some courses on biostats and how to conduct trials, you could go to work for Pfizer or Merck for low-six-figures and do a 9-to-6 gig, which isn't bad.

When I was a resident, my judgment was severely impaired. It took me a couple years to get my head back on right. I do like being a doc; residency was an unhappy time that had little to do with what I do now every day. But when I was a resident I was always glad to be doing what I loved and miserable because I had to do it about three times as much as I wanted to. If you don't get the feeling from time to time that you're doing what you love, bail out right now - eject - because you'll just get in deeper.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:38 PM on August 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

JD/MDs can pretty much write their own ticket. IP/biotech/patent stuff on the legal side is huge right now, and lawer work is a lot of writing/analysis which fits with your english degree. It would mean more school and more debt though.

Or look for something in biotech on the business side as described above.
posted by T.D. Strange at 3:20 PM on August 10, 2008

As others have noted, you have a lot of good options open to you -- your writing skills will be an added bonus advantage on top of your MD.

If I were you, I would look into a job as a medical science liaison or medical advisor, or a drug safety physician with a pharma company. McKinsey (the management consulting firm) also seems to like hiring MDs.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 10:46 AM on August 12, 2008

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