For the past year or so, I have been struggling to figure out my future career plans. Since I was ten years old I have wanted to become a physician. I can remember learning about the different organ systems of the body and being completely fascinated, often studying the information just for fun. I fell in love with the complexity of the human body and knew that I wanted to work with it as a physician.
So for the past 13 years I have been steadily working towards this goal. I have studied neurobiology for 5 years of college, attended pre-med society meetings, volunteered over 600 hours at the local hospital, heavily engaged in research at a neurology lab, and shadowed doctors. I have done all the things a pre-med is “supposed” to do, but I have just had a revelation: I don’t want to do it anymore.
I recently made the decision to abandon my plans to attend medical school and instead attend graduate school to receive a PhD in neuroscience. I believe that I have known that I wanted to do this for a long time but was too stubborn and afraid to admit it to myself. I was scared that I would regret this decision because I had wanted to be a physician for so long. Maybe even more so, I was embarrassed to tell people that I was no longer going to be a medical doctor, because I was afraid that it would make me look like I failed. I now realize that this was a silly thought and I needed to do what was right for me; I had to gain more consciousness of myself.
Looking back I realized that preparing for med school made me very stressed, anxious, and unhappy. I was constantly comparing myself to others and never felt smart enough or good enough. I hated the competitive “pre-med culture” and to be honest it made me miserable. Then I would go into the lab and feel the complete opposite. I felt excited, capable, smart, and supported. I love the way that everyone in research is working towards a common goal and they often collaborate to do so. It is a much more friendly and inviting environment.
Also, growing up I never planned on being in such a committed relationship so early and I wasn’t even sure I wanted kids. But as you now, people grow up and things change. I have been in a relationship for almost 7 years now and we plan on getting married within the next few years. I have also realized that I definitely want kids some day and when I have them, I want to be able to spend lots of time with them. With the rigid, hectic schedule of medical school and residency (and often even as an attending doctor), I wouldn’t really have much time for any of this. I realized that I would be working away the ages of 25-33, which is a huge chunk of some really exciting years of my life and I don’t think I want to lose them. Although grad school and post-doc will take about the same amount of time, it is MUCH more flexible because research itself, is very flexible. I will still have time to take vacations, get married, and have a family, which is what I really want.
One more thing that really helped me choose graduate school over medical school: It’s free! All neuroscience grad programs (and I believe most other sciences) have completely free tuition. They also give you living stipend (usually between $20,000-30,000 a year) and even pay to fly you out for interviews and visits! Medical school tuition is incredibly expensive, you have to take out loans for living expenses, and flying out for interviews and visits have to come out of your own pocket. At the end of the day, I would have been hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt and although I would be making more to pay it off, I just really didn’t know if it was worth it.
All of these things were deciding factors for me but I think the most important one was that once I discovered this new career path, it felt like a huge weight had been taken off my shoulders. I finally feel like I can breath again and I am so much more relaxed and happy. That was biggest sign to me that I made the right choice. I am aware that graduate school will still be difficult and stressful, but it will be a difficult and stressful that I think I will enjoy. I will get to learn, explore, and solve problems for a living, which I love! (It even fits in with my stengthsfinder top strengths: learner, input, and restorative). I finally feel excited for my future and I can’t wait to become a neuroscientist!
Lastly, I have to thank WILL. WILL has taught me so much and has helped me learn to explore myself as well as open up to others. Without them, I’m not sure I would have made this realization and I definitely wouldn’t have had the confidence to share it on a blog. I am so lucky to have this community and am looking forward to growing more with them this year.
This post is not meant in any way to bash medical school or those of you following in that path. I still love medicine and admire anyone who pursues it because it is very important. This post is about explaining why I realized that path is no longer for me.
Emily Devine is a graduating 5th year neurobiology major, WGSS minor and a second year member of WILL.