Are You Sure You Want to be a Physician?

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OPM 215: Are You Sure You Want to be a Physician?

Session 215

With so many ways to make a difference in healthcare, how can you be certain you want to be a physician?

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Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

[01:20] OldPreMeds Question of the Week

Hi Everyone, I am going to spare you the details but I have been exploring medical school and a healthcare career path now for the past 3 years. I graduated with an undergrad in Industrial Design, focusing on med tech and assistive technology. 

Burnout from my start-up life brought me to medicine and interest in preventative, medical technology, and my athletic career to ortho and rehab. Then burnout during my post-bacc had me questioning the medical school career path.

However, I realized in my last, and current position, that I want a career that can provide variety (admin/research) with one-on-one patient care (something I am currently missing from my current research administrative position). 

I’ve shadowed about 5 different specialties. Some energize me more than others – PTs and Dieticians in both inpatient and outpatient settings. I can see myself as either a PT or MD (I’ve eliminated dietitian).

My personal long-term career goals are to:

  • Improve the time it takes for research to get put into practice (translational research – think STTR, SBIR, NCATS, i-Corps)
  • Improve preventative medicine, public health and policy
  • Start a private practice or health related business

A few concerns I have about medical school that I would like advice on are:

  • Finances – I’m still in debt from my undergrad and pursuing a start-up after my BSci.
  • Pre-requisites – I still have some pre-reqs I would need that cost time and money. However, I have been exploring some of the programs that don’t have specific course requirements and tuition reimbursement. Are there other programs similar to University of Michigan that accept other types of experiences other than coursework?
  • Test taking – My undergraduate was heavily project and paper based. I haven’t done terribly on tests in my prereqs so far. But I know I am not the best test taker. I also know medical school requires so much test taking and I’m not sure if I just haven’t developed the right study skills yet. Or if I’m just not made to take tests well. Will this have a big impact on my success in medical school?And can I improve my test taking abilities?
  • Time – My entrepreneurial tendencies have me wanting to get to my next step quickly. And I have trouble relaxing and waiting for my time to come. I want to create impact fast, but I know becoming a physician will take more time. I have considered trying to create a side hustle while I go through med school. But doing pre-reqs and full-time work has been difficult enough and doubt I’ll have time while in med school unless I can get something working autonomously by then. Is it possible to tie this into a career or any advice to hold back my inhibitions?
  • Patient relationships – MD or PT? Can I get the same time and relationship with patients as an MD as PTs do?

My decision currently is between PhD or MS in engineering alone, MD (or MD/PhD), PT (or PT/PhD), or MBA. They might seem unrelated but all with a similar focus.

All and all, every time I walk into the hospital I feel like I want to and can be doing more, and that medical school is my route. I think if I continue to wait and not pursue it, I will regret it.

[04:35] Are You Cut Out for This Path?

These questions being asked honestly make me concerned that this person is potentially not cut out for this path. It’s not that they can’t do it, but in the sense that they’re not patient enough. 

[05:06] Finances

The finances are always going to be an issue. Students fret at the debt that comes from med school. Obviously, being in debt already from undergrad, it just piles on. 

“A lot of students do it just fine. Debt is debt. It's going to be there.”Click To Tweet

Debt is going to be there, but when you’re going through the training, you take the money out and pay it back later. 

[05:37] Taking Your Prereqs

Prereqs are required. Even for programs where it’s not required like the University of Michigan, there are a lot of schools going away from pre-reqs. 

But the MCATs still tests on it. And to do well on the MCAT, you’re going to have to have those prereqs under your belt. Therefore, you need to take those classes to help prepare for the MCAT, if not to widen the availability of applying to other schools that do require courses.

[06:15] A Mindset Shift in Test Taking

When you say you’re not a good test taker and you’re not going to be a good test taker, then you are improving your test taking skills. 

It’s just a change in mindset from “this is just not something I can fix because I am a bad test taker” to “something that can be fixed.”  And med school really forces you to do that because there are so many tests. 

“You become a professional test taker in medical school.”Click To Tweet

If you do well enough in your undergrad classes in your pre-reqs, then you’re probably building those test taking skills. And the MCAT, obviously, will challenge that as well. Then when you’re in medical school, you’ll figure it out.

To say that PT schools have a lot of tests is probably not a guarantee either. And so I wouldn’t pick one or the other based on what is going to be “easier” for you.

[07:46] Burnout or Boredom?

This student talked about burnout in multiple places but it doesn’t sound like burnout. It sounds like boredom. This student is just getting bored about what they’re doing. They’re frustrated that they’re not at their goal yet. 

Students who are in this position are always unhappy because they think that they should be at the goal line all the time. 

'In this process you have to enjoy every step of the journey or else you will not be happy and you will struggle and you will be burned out.'Click To Tweet

You may be depressed and you may be another statistic. So you have to enjoy going to class and learning. You have to enjoy preparing for the MCAT. You have to enjoy the tests in medical school. 

You have to enjoy that whole process. You can’t wake up every day and go, have I graduated yet? Am I a physician yet? Am I there yet? Because it takes a long time. 

Guess what? When you graduate medical school, then you’re a resident and you’re going to be asking yourself, am I an attending yet? Am I done with training yet? Am I done with my fellowship yet? Am I done? Am I done? Am I done? And then when you’re an attending, you’re going to have the same issues. 

If you have this mindset, you are going to be unhappy, not just in medicine, but likely in a lot of different places. 

And you’ve proven that already with burnout in multiple places. So I would work on that first and foremost. 

You do not have time for side hustles in medical school. And I actually get very mad at medical students who start businesses in medical school. It’s just not something that you have time for. Your job as a medical student is to be a medical student. Your job is to learn, to expand your career and learn.

[09:47] Patient Relationships

The PT versus MD relationship is very, very, very different. PTs spend a good amount of time with their patients doing a lot of hands-on therapy with their patients and that physicians just don’t do. 

That relationship potentially is different. You may enjoy one of them versus another. You should just continue to shadow and get that experience to see which one you enjoy more. 


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