I received this e-mail last night:
“I am 21 and recently graduated with my BS in Computer Science this past May. I took a shining to computing at a young age, never really considering any other field to pursue. I have been working in the field for only 6 months but I don't know if I feel fulfilled in it. Yes, it may just be this position I am currently in but I am learning about medicine, just in case.”
“I have been taking some Coursera.org medical courses from Stanford and other great universities online. I find that I am truly enjoying these courses and I may want to pursue this field of study. I don't seek prestige, wealth or anything else. I want to be fulfilled by what I do, regardless of how hard it is. I have always wanted to help others and I love solving difficult problems.
1. How do you determine your calling in life? I know you said you could never consider doing anything but internal medicine in your KevinMD article.
2. Is it too late to pursue medicine?”
First, I did not know that I was an internist until the 3rd year of medical school. When I entered I was considering pediatrics or psychiatry.
Second, it is not too late.
Now for the brief written lecture/advice.
I know many physicians who love the profession. I know many physicians who would quickly leave medicine if they could just maintain their lifestyle. Since you are considering a major life decision, you need more information.
I would highly recommend spending time with a physician (the typical term is “shadowing”). You should see what their life is like. Ask them about the rewards and the costs of becoming a physician.
Try to talk with some 3rd or 4th year medical students and some residents. You should strive to understand the path to being a physician. The path is difficult, long and sometimes frustrating.
I personally am grateful each day that I went to medical school and became an internist. Each day we strive to help our patients, and as an educator strive to help our learners (students and residents) grow into caring physicians.
Your road would start with enrolling in a special pre-medical course to meet the entry requirements. Most students can do this in 1 year (you must have taken biology, chemistry, organic chemistry and physics). Then you would take the MCAT. Your score will influence your chances of gaining acceptance. Your previous medical experience (shadowing, volunteering, etc.) will also influence acceptance.
After acceptance you will have 2 years of mostly classroom work learning the basic sciences of medicine. For many students, these are the dark years. When you finally get to the clinical arena, you will find that much of the basic science you learned is important, and much seems irrelevant.
You are clearly not too old, but you should gain some experience and interactions with physicians, and students prior to committing to that road.
Thanks for asking, I hope this answer helps you with your decision making. I hope some readers will add their opinions and likely correct any mistakes I made in typing this advice column.
db is the nickname for Robert M. Centor, MD, FACP. db stands both for Dr. Bob and da boss. He is an academic general internist at the University of Alabama School of Medicine, and is the Regional Associate Dean for the Huntsville Regional Medical Campus of UASOM. He still makes inpatient rounds over 100 days each year. This post originally appeared at his blog, db's Medical Rants.