5 reasons why you shouldn’t go into medical school

The gall, you might think to yourself as you click on this link in disgust.

Before you write that brutal retort which I may/may not deserve, some simple disclaimers before we tackle this subject:

  • This is not a ruthless attempt to crush your dreams and passions
  • This is not an op-ed on our current healthcare system
  • This is targeted towards individuals who are considering medical school in order to practice clinical medicine
  • This is being written by a physician in postgraduate training

Okay.

You probably shouldn’t go to medical school if:

1. You do not consider yourself a life-long learner. The field of medicine is like space and time, ever-expanding and full of the unknown.  In order to be competent in med school and beyond, it is important that you not only recognize the sheer magnitude of knowledge to be learned but also look forward to learning it.

If you think medical school is the last of your schooling and are excited by this idea, then you are both wrong in your assumption and likely in your career choice.

2. You are not capable of jumping through hoops. Do not be fooled. No, there are no assigned cubicles and ‘casual Fridays’ in medical school.  But the first few years of medical training contain most of the professional growing pains that you attempted to avoid by considering this field in the first place.

Truth be told, medical school is as full of red tape, hierarchy and counter-productive competition as any entry-level corporate job.

If you do not think you can tough out the unavoidable politics of medical training, then you might want put your vote on another career.

3. You do not enjoy working with peers. Sure, you can be a pathologist or radiologist.  You can start a solo practice.  Even so, other physicians will likely treat the same patients that you will see in your office.  Fact.

Be prepared to communicate professionally with your peer group, because this is an unavoidable component to your future career and in invaluable one to your patients’ care.

4. You are not interested in how diseases develop and why treatments work. The first few years of medical school are like the childhood game Memory™ x 1 billion.  Be prepared to memorize countless lists, acronyms, flow sheets and diagrams.  This will be an undeniable part of your medical training (see reason #1).

As you mentally coach your brain to absorb various lessons regarding what drug to give for what disease and what complications can arise from what procedure, be aware that this skill-set alone is insufficient to practice medicine.

In order to competently treat the many sick patients that lie ahead, you must have the desire to comprehend why these therapies work and how these complications become manifest.

You will soon recognize in your medical training that not all patients present as they do in your illness scripts; that’s when your appreciation of the mechanisms of disease and treatment will be invaluable to your clinical decision-making when you need it most.

If this multi-dimensional thinking does not tickle your fancy, please spare the patients.

5. You are not capable of temporarily sacrificing other aspects of your life. The field of medicine is amazing for many different reasons. One that I am particularly fond of is the ability to structure your medical career as you see fit.

Do you want to raise a litter of children at home while working part-time at a local clinic?  No problem.

Do you want to be a cruise liner physician, treating sea-ship vertigo to the mellow vibes of Jimmy Buffet?  Count me in, too.

Before you get excited about the incredible flexibility that the field of medicine has to offer, remember this: freedom comes with a price.  And that price involves more than the exorbitant cost of medical school.

To at least some degree, your first few years of medical training will involve putting plans on hold and reassuring friends and family that your absence is not an indicator of a willingness to pull away.  Your guitar in the corner may collect dust and your American Novel of the Century will likely go unwritten.

If you can’t wrap your mind around putting most of your waking hours into your training for the first years of your professional life, then this field will likely break you down before you have the freedom to personalize a medical career that best fits your needs.

Take home point

Although these are just a few of the many reasons why medical school may not be right for you (the reader is most welcome to put in his or her two cents below), it is you and you alone who will rightly decide what’s best for you professionally.

As for me, it was the best decision of my life.

Brian J. Secemsky is an internal medicine resident who blogs at The Huffington Post.  He can be reached on Twitter @BrianSecemskyMD.

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