Every year about this time, medical students at all levels of their training begin questioning if they’ve made the right decision in life by pursuing an M.D. Whether this issue arises as a result of the first bad grade received on an exam or it comes from looming uncertainty of becoming a clinician for 20+ years, many students will eventually wonder if they can pursue careers outside of medicine.
Unfortunately, I can’t imagine many reasons for employers to seek physicians on any other grounds other than their medical acumen. While the C.I.A. is looking for health analysts, similar jobs are hard to come by. By its very nature, medical school is designed to give professional training for a occupation with a narrow focus. If it trained any more broadly, we’d call it business school and give everyone an M.B.A.
Sure, we can point to famous physicians such as Sanjay Gupta, Michael Crichton, and Howard Dean, but none of them really needed a medical degree to pursue their current careers. Gupta is merely a reporter; Crichton is a science fiction writer; and Dean long gave up anything remotely related to health or science. If anything, these men took on needless amounts of debt and schooling only to keep someone else from that spot in the applicant pool from becoming a real clinician.
Some readers will bring up the idea of health managers—hospital and health plan directors who don’t see patients, but still need some amount of medical knowledge before setting up shop. My answer to this objection is to look at the ages and resumes of these administrators. Many of the M.D.’s started off in practice and gained experience before transitioning over to leadership roles. Further, the field is full of managers with no firsthand healthcare skills. Duke University offers a degree in health sector management without any requirements of prior medical training. You don’t necessarily need to be a doctor to know how to lead other physicians. And given how poorly medical schools and residency programs are already run, I’m glad that others realize that having doctors in charge is a bad idea.
I realize that the thought of seeing sick patients for the rest of your life can seem unflattering. I also realize that there are warrant fears of getting sued, getting sick, or losing out on family time. However, anyone thinking of applying to medical school needs to understand what this life entails. The blogosphere is full of horror stories of medical training and practice simply because many of the things we experience are so painful. If you’re still in the pre-med phase, take a while to evaluate what an M.D. really means to you. You can certainly find other ways to gain money and respect without taking this route. If you’re already in medical school or residency, things get trickier. While Hoover was willing to leave, others may not be willing to make the same move so early. I’ve already seen so many classmates regret the choices they made in coming to medical school. Getting accepted is difficult enough; being able to admit to such a mistake is even harder.