Why I did not want to go to medical school

by Christina on March 22, 2011

I blocked this memory out for a long time but it’s now coming back to me clearly.

During college, I got into a huge fight with my dad after deciding I no longer wanted to go to medical school. I feared that medical school would consume and narrow my life at a time when I wanted so many other things.

I had just got home for summer break and was in the car with my dad when I brought it up. He was furious. I remember him saying he worried that my college education would be a waste and that I would be of no use to society.

I felt hurt, angry, and misunderstood. Not knowing what else to do, I wrote him a letter.

As I was clearing out my room this weekend I re-discovered the letter. It’s been fascinating for me to read now, 8 years later after all of this.

Here it is, dated June 15, 2003 (I was 21).

Dear Dad,

I did not want to talk about this last night because I am scared of what you will say. I want to make sure I explain everything I am feeling before you judge my decision. I want you to understand me, and I hope that if you understand me then you will accept my life choices and be happy for me, because I am happy.

I have thought about my life and my future a lot. I have followed your advice and kept open all possibilities. I have done as much as I can to figure out what I really want in life and what makes me deeply happy and fulfilled.

At this point in my life, I have decided that I do not want to continue on this path to becoming a doctor. I will not take the MCAT in August. I have followed your suggestions my entire life, but I need to start making decisions for myself and create my own life.

I fear that you think this is the “easy” way out which I am making without careful consideration. You think I am giving up a good, rewarding career and stable income. But Dad, this has not at all been easy. This has been one of the hardest decisions I have had to make and I have talked to many many people about it. What I have realized is that it is my decision; it is me who is going to be living my life.

You came to America, you love America, because people are free to create the lives they want. And I will create the life I want. Yesterday in the car, I was thinking about you and mom when you were my age. You had a degree in Engineering, but you did not enjoy it. It did not fulfill you and you wanted something more. You found your way; you worked your way towards what you wanted to be doing. You did not have a stable, set path ahead of you. Both you and mom work for non-profit organizations! That is inherently unstable! You did not know what you would end up doing, but you figured it out. And so did mom. Along that way you have had a lot of adventures and experiences that have shaped and changed your life.

You raised Kim, Jen, and me to be the best people we can be – to love, to give, to work hard, and to be passionate. I do not feel passionate about going to medical school and being a doctor. That is not what my heart wants. You always said I would be such a good doctor. Many people have told me that. I know I could be a good doctor. I know exactly what it would take to get there. For me, taking that path is the easy way. It is the weaker path because I know the road and I know the destination. It is the easier, more stable and sure path, but I want and I am asking for the more challenging, exciting, and rewarding path.

Your first reaction last night was to ask what am I going to do with my life then. I could not say anything then because anything I wanted to say would sound too small to your ears. There is so much I want to do in my life Dad, that is the answer. I don’t even know where to start. I know you can understand though, because you love life and you love learning. I have so many dreams and ideas. I want to do Americorps, Teach for America, the Peace Corps. I want to go back to Costa Rica and write a book about street kids. I want to teach, to grow a garden, to cook. Maybe one day I will get a masters degree in education. Maybe I will go to culinary school. Maybe I will go to medical school one day.

I do not know exactly what I will do but I have dreams and ideas and that is what I LOVE and that is what gives me fire inside. To know that I can do anything and change and pick up something new is the life I want to live. And I want to be able to share my dreams with you and for you to understand.

I may not find success in the way that you define it. I may not be a top doctor with an M.D., I may not make a lot of money, but I will make enough. I know that I will find my way. I will figure it out, just like you and mom did, and just like everybody has to do. I will face challenges and I will suffer like everybody. But I will not regret anything because I will be fully living in the way I know how and the way that makes me happiest.

I need to know that you and mom will be proud of me no matter what I do. I think that is the greatest gift a parent can give a child: to let them create their own lives with them knowing that they are loved but they are free.

Thank you for understanding, Dad.

Love,

Christina

Of course, I changed my mind at some point down the road, but it took a few years of exploring other paths first. Medicine was a decision I had to come to on my own and for my own reasons. I needed the time and space and freedom for the passion to grow.

I also now see that I was wrong about a few things:

  1. Medicine is not a stable and easy path (especially not now with all the change that’s going to be happening in primary care).
  2. Medical school has not been a waste and narrowing of my life (instead it has opened my world up immensely).
  3. It is possible to be creative and innovative in medicine (especially if you surround yourself with people and mentors who inspire you).

So anyone reading this who is questioning medical school – go ahead and question. This is a decision you want to own for yourself. If it’s not medicine, find what you are passionate about and go do it!

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Nobel March 22, 2011 at 9:11 pm

Hello Christina,
thank you for sharing. This is very inspiring, and reminds me of my own experience. For me, the situation is in a way the reverse of yours: I wanted to go to philosophy grad school, but my dad did not think I could make a stable living from it (He would rather I had gone to law school). But I think the fundamental issue is the same: Differences with one’s parents who mean the best for oneself.

Well, I did go to philosophy grad school, graduated with a PhD, and am now teaching philosophy. But I have yet to land a tenure-track position, so I don’t have a stable job yet, if by “stable job” one means a job which one cannot lose, and which can guarantee one a lifelong source of income.

But then again, as you observe, who really has a “stable job” these days? Tenured professors, maybe? 🙂 Even then, with all these frightening moves by politicians to get rid of tenure and make it easier to fire tenure faculty, I’m not even sure if tenure means as much as it used to. To cut a long story short, I can’t think of any job which guarantees you an income forever. Not doctors, as you mentioned, and certainly not lawyers.

So where does this leave us? I think this means the only sensible career choice to make is one where you can feel that you have enough passion about to make some meaningful contribution both to yourself and to people around you. Follow your heart, in other words.

Gee, that was a lot of ranting in one comment 🙂 But really, thanks for writing this. It really resonates with me.

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Christina March 22, 2011 at 9:27 pm

Hey Nobel,

It’s really nice to hear all of that – thank you.

I think you are exactly right when you say the only sensible career choice is to make one based on your passion. I’m so glad to hear you followed your passions and are now doing what you love! That is inspiring.

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Claudia March 23, 2011 at 10:27 am

Thank you for sharing that personal letter Christina, it is beautiful and speaks of your desire to come to your own decisions, to be your own woman, I love it. I know that your father must be very proud of you, I also sense he loves you oh so much!

I find it very important for kids to have some time on their own before comitting to a path as demanding and challenging as medicine or law… I am happy you finally found your way in your own terms and that you are happy with it!

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Christina March 23, 2011 at 11:15 am

Thank you, Claudia!

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Emily March 23, 2011 at 10:36 pm

Thank you so much for sharing this, Christina! What an inspiring letter – and such an encouraging story!

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Christina March 24, 2011 at 12:00 am

Thanks, Em! So good to see you today, it’s always energizing and inspiring to spend time with you 🙂

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KN May 16, 2011 at 4:45 am

Like the others, I too found this too be an incredibly insightful post. I’m going through the exact same thing right now – deciding whether medicine (what I thought was my life-long dream) is right for me. And like you wrote in your letter to your dad, it is a VERY difficult thing to decide regardless of the outcome. I’m really happy that you found the path that was right for you on your own. I hope I can do the same. Will be a regular visitor from now on.

regards,
KN from Toronto

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alex October 15, 2011 at 9:32 pm

thank you Christina,
such an inspiration. I am currently studying for MCAT again. I have to retake the MCAT due to my low score in verbal. It was a little difficult to pick up a book to study again, but I managed to. The Verbal section is a challenge for me since I am a second language student. However,I feel that if my heart is in the right place, I can overcome any self-doubt or hardship. Your blogs give me an extra boost of energy and passion in my heart to keep fight on and lock sights on my target. You showed a lot of strength and courage on your letter to think and write what you feel is right. I respect that very much. ~~~ wish you the best!

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Nic November 1, 2011 at 12:42 am

Hi, I just came across your blog myself and am having similar thoughts to those you initially had, except that I am in a slightly different position…I have currently started my first year of medical school. Before entering school I took some time off to “discover” what were my true interests. However instead of taking the time to do just that I kept plugging along the medical school track because as a science major in college that was where I felt i should be in order to achieve the pinnacle of success in my field. Although I have always had other interests, medicine seemed to be a good option, a stable option, and a field that I thought I would enjoy.

Now, as I begin, I am starting to question whether my decision was the right one. I feel as if i am slogging away and missing out on the “other things” in life that I would love to be doing. The material is relatively interesting and i love my classmates and faculty, but something in me says it’s just not where I’m supposed to be. I feel as if I have suppressed this feeling for so long because it is the ultimate career in the eyes of my family (although they never pushed me into anything) and at one time, myself. Actually being in medical school I find it hard to balance time for myself, feel anxiety, and can’t seem to find the spark that initially made me want to attend, and I am potentially thinking of leaving.

I am wondering if you ever had those feelings when beginning medical school. I don’t just want to quit, because that has never been my mentality. But if something is not right, I don’t know that I should prolongue my course of study. I do love working with people and healthcare, but the time commitment scares me. What is your advice for a scared medical student?

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Christina November 20, 2011 at 10:19 pm

Hey Nic,

Really great to get this comment from you, and I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to respond. I’ve been buried in the busy-ness of intern year. I have to say that this has been the most challenging year of the whole process so far, and I’m most at risk of losing that spark that initially fueled me.

It’s hard for me to remember right now, but yes, there were moments in medical school when I was not sure I made the right decision. For the most part though, even in my hardest, most exhausted moments, I knew I wanted to be doing what I was doing. A really useful thing I found was keeping a journal and things around me to remind me of why I’m doing this and what is motivating me (something I need to work on doing more of now).

It is a long long road, and we do have to give up some things along the way. But if we have the drive, and we know why we’re doing it, and we don’t lose ourselves in the process, then I think it’s worth it. Think about what how you see yourself in 10 or 15 years and the kind of doctor you want to be (then write down your goals and post them in your bathroom to see every day so you don’t forget.) Maybe you’ll decide medical school is not the right path in the end, but sometimes we just need a little space and perspective to see where we are and where we’re going.

I’d love to hear more about all this and what you’ve been thinking about… feel free to email me (under “contact me” tab!)

Christina

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KG July 12, 2014 at 4:54 am

Christina-

I stumbled across your blog by chance and glad I did. I graduated in nutrition in hopes of continuing on to medical school. I am passionate about health, wellness – and recently took up yoga finding it to be very rewarding! These are the reasons I wanted to pursue medicine and hoped I could integrate these philosophies into my practice.

Unfortunately, as I study to re-take the MCAT at the end of August I am feeling similar to the feelings you described to your dad in the letter from your post on March 22, 2011. I already feel like I am missing out on life as I sit in my room studying while my friends are moving to new cities, meeting new people, embarking on their careers. I think about the challenges that lie ahead in medical school and how many more increasingly difficult exams I will have to take and how many more times I will feel this way like I am missing out. I am incredibly scared I will get to a point where I am 35 years old – in $200, 000 + of debt and have lost my passion for promoting health and wellness, from having worked tirelessly for the last decade in medical school and as a resident. I fear once I get out of school I will have to work endlessly to make enough to pay off my debt and look back on my life when I retire wondering where it went.

I am so excited by the idea of getting a job that pays me, lets me travel, moves me to a new city, allows me to meet new people. On the other side I feel scared I will be 35 in a mediocre 9-5 and look back on my life wondering – why didn’t I go to medical school?

What things did you try-out when you were 21 that led you ultimately back to medical school? What advice do you have for someone in doubt?

Thanks for listening,

KG

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