I Decided Not to Go For Medical School. Twice.

Today’s guest post comes from Lisa, a mother, scientist, and personal finance enthusiast. She founded Mad Money Monster, a personal finance blog chronicling her and her family’s journey from doing money all wrong to doing it all right.

She and her husband are known as Mr. & Mrs. Mad Money Monster on the site. They pride themselves as being Gen-Xers who have turned it all around and are now charting a course towards financial independence. Their goal is to inspire others just like them to take control of their financial future and realize it’s not too late! 

Take it away, Lisa!

 

Sometimes, just sometimes, a person will have a dream so big that it starts to consume them. They stop spending time with friends, they focus all their energy into that one achievement, and they work their fingers to the bone until that achievement becomes their reality. This is not that story.

Late in high school, after a less-than-stellar academic career, I started to cultivate a dream of going to medical school. That dream simmered on the back burner until I actually realized I could go to college and do quite well. Until one day, I had a decision to make. My medical school decision came around the year 2002. And with that, let me tell you a story.

Medical School Prep

 

Medical School DecisionBecause I came from a lower-income family, there wasn’t any money put aside for college. In fact, I only realized I could pay my own way through school after meeting an engineer at my first real job, post high school.

He laughed heartily at me when I told him I wasn’t smart enough for college and couldn’t afford to go. Enter my introduction to community college. He opened my eyes to an alternative route to the same destination. I took it.

Within days, I had applied and was accepted to the local community college. Of course, I had no idea about open admissions at the time; I was just ecstatic to be a real college student.

I worked during the day and took classes at night. My community college experience lasted for 4 years until I transferred to a private college via an academic scholarship.

I didn’t major in biology. Instead, I took a less traditional route, but still made sure to take most required courses as electives. After all, ALL the books I had read directed readers to major in whatever, as long as you were also taking the necessary science and math classes. Everything I was doing up until that point was focused on getting into medical school. Everything.

Not only was I working my butt off to put myself through school, but I was also volunteering in the emergency department and cardiac cath lab at a local city hospital. That, coupled with my almost perfect GPA and unique story (at least I thought it was unique) meant I was well on my way to that lofty dream I concocted so many years ago.

 

My Medical School Decision Process – Part I

 

And then, something happened.

As I was nearing the end of my undergrad career and gearing up to take a couple more courses I still needed for the MCAT and admissions process, I realized I was already on the other side of 25 years old, meaning I was 26. As I sit here today typing this, it seem silly. But from the viewpoint of my 26-year old self, I was getting old.


At the time, I was in a serious relationship and assumed we would head down the traditional trajectory towards marriage and kids. How could I possibly get married, have kids, and be in medical school all at the same time? Of course people do it, I just didn’t know if I wanted to.

On top of those doubts, I was getting tired. I was getting so tired. My college career started 7 years prior to that point in time, and I was losing steam. Fast.

Remember, I started my undergrad journey at 19 and lasted for 7 years due to having to work full time while getting through community college. For most other people, 7 years gets you an undergraduate degree and one year away from medical school completion.

And the additional classes I needed to take for the MCAT would’ve pushed me back another 2 semesters. Between medical school and residency, I was thinking I had at least another 8 years ahead of me. And those 8 years would’ve been tough years.

In addition to being exhausted, my biggest concern was pushing off pregnancy until I was around 34 years old.  In my eyes, it was a huge gamble to assume my relationship and/or eggs would be there waiting for me on the other side.

 

I Opted Out

 

And, I was tired. Did I mention I was tired? I opted to take the road more frequently traveled. I opted to look for work with my undergrad degree. It worked. Within months, I was gainfully employed by a global pharmaceutical company. And, I was mostly happy. I had relegated my medical school dream to the back burner for good.

 

After a few years working in the pharma industry, I resided right around here on the continuum of regret.

 

 

continuum of regret

Fast Forward 13 Years

 

My life went on, as life does. My relationship disintegrated a few years later and I rebooted my entire life at 31 years old. The only mainstay? My pharma job. Eventually, I met a great guy and married. We now have a 7-year old daughter and life is fabulous. But 2 years ago, that little medical school dream of mine went ahead and reared its ugly head.

 

My Medical School Decision Process – Part 2

 

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was completing my master’s degree and was required to take a few scientific courses. Those courses fueled the flames of that simmering dream. And there I was, 13 years later, considering the possibility of medical school. Again. Except this time I had a husband, a daughter, a house, pets, and all the trappings of an adult life.

I Opted Out. Again.

 

There it was, my medical school decision to make a second time. I had the backing of my husband and enough financial stability to make a go of it.

My reasons for opting out the second time around were more substantial:

  • Distance – Moving wasn’t an option, that meant if I didn’t get into the local med school, I was going to have to commute 90 minutes each way each day. I got tired just thinking about this.
  • Time – I knew the time commitment would be insane. I also knew that having a family while trying to accomplish such a feat is a challenge. And, I wasn’t so sure I was up for the challenge. Just as I wasn’t the first time.
  • Money – I ran the numbers. And unless I was going to come out on the other side with an extremely high-paying specialty, I wasn’t going to be able to pay back the loans AND make up for time lost. In sum, I’d be better off staying the course at the pharma company and maintaining my savings rate. Full stop.
  • My Daughter – The biggest reason of all was my daughter. Taking on the obligation of medical school meant sacrificing my relationship with my daughter. I didn’t see how I could keep up with the demanding work without sacrificing time with her. Add in a 90-minute commute, and I was convinced my family would’ve fallen apart. Essentially, I would’ve been walking away from my 5-year old and husband to chase a dream. I wasn’t willing to do that.
  • The Clincher: When I asked my daughter if she would be proud of mommy if I became a doctor, she looked at me with a puzzled stare and said, “But you already are something. You’re a microbiologist.” My heart melted. She was right. This very statement sealed the deal.

 

The decision was clear. I opted out. Again.

 

NOTE: I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who have done medical school and had a family and came out on the other side successful. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to see myself being successful with so many competing responsibilities. So I’m not saying it’s impossible, I just think it would’ve been impossible for me.

 

After a few years since deciding to not pursue medical school again, I currently reside right around here on the continuum of regret.

continuum of regret

Cons Of Not Going To Medical School

  • Regret Can Be Difficult To Swallow
  • Finding Career And Personal Fulfillment Elsewhere – This Is A Big One
  • Missed Financial Opportunity

 

Pros Of Not Going To Medical School

  • No All-Nighter Study Binges
  • No Massive Medical School Debt
  • I Don’t Worry About Being Sued Too Often
  • Increased Time To Pursue Other Interests
  • Increased Flexibility With Earned Income – No Huge Loans To Repay

Time Passes – Regret Doesn’t

 

I still think about how drastically different my life would’ve turned out had I decided to press on when I was tired and not given so much consideration to my aging eggs when I was 26. Oh well, time passes, unfortunately regret does not. This is a regret but, surprisingly, it’s not a big regret.

 

family on horses

The two reasons for my decision.

 

Overall, I am very happy with my life and my family. Part of me wonders if I am happy because I am truly happy, or if I’m happy because I can’t change it now and I better make the best of it. It’s funny how I can’t differentiate between the two. Maybe that means it’s actually the former.

 


You’re still not using Personal Capital? Track all your accounts in one place like I do.


 

[PoF: Let me start by stating the obvious so we don’t have to rehash this piece in the comments. Lisa twice opted not to apply to medical school, which is not the same as getting an acceptance letter and dropping it the paper shredder.

That being said, I think many bright young students and successful mid-career scientists often face similar decisions. The first time she opted out, she was facing issues that are common among women. What about children? Being a “good wife,” etc… Many women have navigated medical school, residency, marriage, and pregnancy successfully, but it’s a path strife with challenges.

The second time she opted out, family matters were again prominent, but she also had to consider the same obvious factors that affect anyone considering starting medical school around age 40. Up to a decade of lost wages, massive student loans, and being expected to perform at the same level as the twenty-somethings, many of whom will be single and / or childless.

Personally, I think if it was a calling for her, the first opportunity was clearly the better one. However, it’s quite clear she landed on her feet and is on a path to financial independence that might be easier than if she had chosen pursue her dream of becoming a physician. 

Back to Lisa for closing questions — it would be great to hear your thoughts in the comments. If you enjoyed her post, be sure to check out more at her site: Mad Money Monster]

 

What are your thoughts? Did I make the right decision once, twice, or not at all? Have you ever decided against something and then regretted it later? What’s your experience with education/career regret?

 

Subscribe for Free Calculators & More!

No spam guarantee.

40 comments

  • Great to see Mrs. M$M in these neck of the woods! My wife was a year behind me in the medical school decision process and made similar choices to you Lisa. I’m glad you don’t have any regrets. There is definitely no “best” choice when it comes to medical school or family goals. It’s so individually based.
    With suicide rates and depression higher in physicians it’s not a choice to be taken lightly.
    It’s understandable how others feel trapped when they have six figure student loan debt and hate working as a doctor.
    My wife says she made the right decision to not pursue medical school now 17 years later as well.
    We all have something that we wish we would have tried, but a lot of times we don’t count the cost of everything we have now if we would have pursued that other “dream.”
    I recently had a friend go back to medical school at the age of 38. Married with four kids leaving a low six figure job.
    I can confidently say I would not make that same decision if I were in his shoes. The debt, time away from family would be too much for me, but he seems to be doing well so I wish him the best. The way I try to help people with decisions like this is to tell them to imagine themselves in ten years. If they are fearful of a mountain of debt and sleepless nights, maybe it isn’t for them. If they get excited about the thought of talking to good old Mr. smith about why he isn’t taking his blood pressure medicine for the 10 time or putting pressure on the abdomen of some drunk guy that got stabbed in a bar fight, then maybe medical school is the right thing.

    Tom @ HIP

    • Thanks for your comment, Tom! I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who made the decision to not pursue their med school dream. Sounds like your wife and I have a lot in common.

      I really don’t have much of a reason for not pursuing the dream the first time around, other than very little life experience. In my mid-20s I had no idea how much youth was on my side. The second time around really came down to finances and family. All in all, I don’t regret it.

      Lisa

    • “I recently had a friend go back to medical school at the age of 38. Married with four kids leaving a low six figure job.”

      I can’t imagine making that move. It would have to be a true calling that could not be silenced. Dang.

      Best,
      -PoF

  • Great story, Lisa. Thanks for sharing! I think you made the right choice on both fronts. Sometimes the career dreams we have in our early 20s are formed by a romanticized idea and fail to take reality into account. I once thought I wanted the big-city finance life, and now I live in the suburbs of a mountain town. It sounds like you’re thriving in the life you made for yourself and your family; congrats!

    • Thanks, Ryan! I think I ultimately made the right decision the second time around. I probably should’ve put more effort into my dream when I was first able to pursue it. Obviously I can’t change it now. But, overall, I’m very happy with where I landed.

      Lisa

  • Jason

    I think you made the right choice Lisa, both times. I could put a bunch more items in your “Pros of not going to medical school” list to make you feel even better about your decision. But, that 7 year old daughter of yours is probably all you need to know you made the right choice.
    Though my story is a little different then yours in that I went straight through traditional undergrad and straight into medical school, residency, etc….I still ended up with regrets and lots of “what if’s” on the other side. I followed my goals and ignored everything else in life. I was bound and determined to get through medical school no matter what. Now, I’m 35 and my wife is 34 and we don’t have any children (and we’ve been unsuccessfuly trying). I think a big part of that is because of the sacrifices we both made to get me through medical school. If I could go back and do it all over again, I would choose differently. I’m not necessarily unhappy, but I think I’ve learned that following what feels right in life is often the best choice. You paid attention to your feelings (about wanting a family and feeling tired, etc). It worked out well for you:) It’s an important subject to talk about and I really enjoyed your story. Thanks for sharing

    • Thanks for the support, Jason! I ultimately cannot disagree that I made the right decision the second time around. I couldn’t imagine checking out of my daughter’s life for the next 5 – 10 years. All I could think of was how disgusted I would feel with myself as well as the possible resentment she might feel towards me.

      Thinking back, it seems like I was foolish to not go for it when I was in my 20s…but I can’t remember how tired I felt and how the pressure to get married and have children felt. Time passes and we forget. It was obviously enough for me to shelf my dream.

      Time passes and life goes on. I can’t say I’m unhappy with any aspect of my current life. And I can’t say I would be happier had I made different decisions. I’m glad to hear you, being a doctor, think I chose wisely 😉

      Lisa

  • hatton1

    I think the decision to apply to medical school needs to be an all-in decision. If just thinking about it made you tired then you made the right decision. Some people do well being a non-traditional med student but it is probably harder. Being a woman may be harder it is hard to know. I think it was when I did it in 1979. I would not dwell on the decision. You have a nice looking family and some awesome horses.

  • Jon

    Perhaps file this under “Thank God for ungranted wishes”…or something. 🙂 A great story with a happy “ending”…or beginning. I too work for a large pharma company. I too flirted with advanced schooling ( Law School ). Although I play the what if game also…I’m quite confident I’ve made a good decision not to pursue that path. The student loans themselves would have been crippling…not to mention that there are no guarantees I would have finished the process let alone found fulfilling work. Thanks for sharing this story…it’s an excellent one.

    • Yes, sometimes an ungranted wish is still a wish come true! I often look at the Big Picture with most things…sometimes to a fault. But in this case, it was necessary and ultimately guided my decision to not pursue my dream both times.

      There is a small piece of regret that I feel over not sucking it up and going for it when I was younger, but it’s hard to remember the exhaustion and the pressure to have a family I was feeling at that time.

      It sounds like you also made the right decision to avoid advanced schooling. Kudos to us for realizing what we had and for avoiding enormous debt! 🙂

      Lisa

  • Thanks for sharing your story, Lisa! You’re such an inspiration for working and supporting your way through school! You made the right decision for yourself and your family, and it looks like you’re doing pretty well. 😉

  • Oh to be in my 20s again, or so we think. Every moment lived, every decision made shapes us. It is easy to try to look back with 20/20 vision, but “what ifs” work both ways.

    My regret, not finishing college at all. I did even, about 10 to 12-years ago (I would have been around 35), begin to make a second go at it. That didn’t end up working out either. But, it would have meant a lot of sacrifices that also looking back wouldn’t have been worth it and missing opportunities I wouldn’t now have.

    Always strive to be the best where you are. Find a way to push at some level, but ultimately, you can’t live in regret. You can’t go back and change the past, but you can use it to help guide others. Be content in knowing you choose which you shows up today, Mr./Mrs. regret or Mr./Mrs. today I will be my best me. :O)

    • Sometimes the best decision is to keep moving forward. Regret can consume you if you’re not careful. I made my decisions and I had reasons (both times) for choosing not to pursue medical school. I have to trust in myself that those decisions were correct and move forward each day.

      I can say that I am very happy with my life. Would my happiness level be higher if I had chosen to pursue the white coat? I can’t say that with certainty.

      It sounds like you’re also happy with your choices – that is worth its weight in gold!

      Lisa

  • Nice post. It was definitely easier to opt into medical school as a 21 year old boy then it would be for me to do now as a 36 year old father. Similarly, I opted out of Interventional Fellowship (I had been accepted) 3 months before starting because I wanted to focus on my wife and family. Those kinds of decisions are not always easy, but I have found that if made with insight, lead to little regret.

  • I completely agree. I trust that I made the right choices for me at each time in my life. Do I wish I had pursued it a bit more when I still in my 20s? Sure. But, it’s easy to forget the exhaustion I was feeling and the pressure that was starting to build to start settling down into family life.

    Focusing on family was definitely the priority for me during the second round, as it was for you.

    Life goes on and I’m thrilled to be on the FIRE journey with such an eclectic group of individuals, yourself included. 🙂

    Lisa

  • When I was in college, just before the Apple Macintosh was released, I was asked what I wanted to do with myself. The question came from my teaching assistant for a computer programming class. I was in the heart of Silicon Valley just before things took off. I told him I wanted to be a physician. He said, “What a waste.”

    I asked him about his response and he told me that anyone who could get good grades could get into medical school, but not anyone could program like me. (It was one of my strong points) He thought I was throwing away an incredible future in the computer world by going to medical school.

    He was probably right but I really wanted to be a doctor and it had been programmed into my thinking for years. I went on and become a physician and played doctor for 29 years. I always wondered what might have been if I pursued one of my other two passions, computer programming or music. Would I have been a big wig in the dot com world? I was in the exact right time and place. Would I have become a famous recording artist?

    I will never know what might have been had I chosen a different path. I do know I had a fun and great career in medicine and now I am having a fun and great career as a writer, speaker and financial coach.

    • Wow, that’s an interesting story. I suppose we all have our “What Ifs” we need to live with throughout our lives. We will never know how things would’ve turned out had we taken different paths, but I guess that’s just part of life.

      That’s great that you were fulfilled during your career in medicine. And now it sounds like you’re fulfilled in your encore career as a writer/speaker/coach.

      I must say, even though I didn’t pursue medicine, I am content with my career and I’m having a blast as a PF blogger. Sometimes we never know where a path might lead us.

      Lisa

  • Ommd

    She mever applied thus never had the option to go. That is like me regretting not being an astronaut even though I never applied or an Olympian even though I never trained.

    • That is true. As pointed out at the end of the article, I never pursued the dream. I did not turn down the offer.

      Lisa

    • That’s a fair criticism and one I made myself in the commentary:

      [PoF: Let me start by stating the obvious so we don’t have to rehash this piece in the comments. Lisa twice opted not to apply to medical school, which is not the same as getting an acceptance letter and dropping it the paper shredder.]

      Although I would guess it’s more likely that she would have been one of tens of thousands of students accepted into a medical school any given year than one of us becoming an astronaut.

      While a desire to go to medical school combined with a near-perfect GPA and volunteerism sound like a good resume, medical school admission is incredibly competitive and there’s no guarantee Lisa would have realized her dream if she had opted to pursue it.

      Cheers!
      -PoF

  • The Clincher section is beautiful reading. That’s why we work our butts off to be able to FIRE and have more of those one-on-one moments instead of dropping off at daycare and craziness of work-life balance. As Mrs. PIE wrote, there is no such thing as work life balance. Work life imbalance!

    We have much in common and crazy that I don’t know your site. My bad.
    Working for global Pharma company. Mrs. PIE working for a different global Pharma company. I did a Ph.D in chemistry. Mrs. PIE a degree in chemistry. Jeez, one of us may even work for the same company as you!! We hang up our labcoats and business folios for good next year in July.

    We went through the thoughts of Mrs. PIE quitting some 10 years ago when we had our first child. But the trappings of saving more and enjoying quality vacation time – we vacation lots as a family as our getaway from the madness and pressures of big Pharma – kept us in the workplace.

    I think you are on firmly on the right track towards FIRE from reading a few of your posts this morning. And you seem to have found satisfaction in your discipline. Will follow your journey along the path to FIRE for sure. Bets of luck. Keep calm and invest on.

  • If it’s a calling, and a burning desire (in other words, far more than the romanticized and glorified thought of becoming a doctor), I think there’ll continue to be regret down the road. It’s just of those inherent things that I think everyone goes through. But if the desire was mostly for the prestige, and the mid to high six figure income, then yeah I don’t think it’s worth it. Only because I’ve heard of so many people getting burned out, and being depressed going to medical school, and even depressed after (it’s a stupid amount of work and time that they need to do – during and after – add on the debt and wow it’s seriously depressing). I’ve heard similar things from other doctors.

    • You make a great case! Becoming a doctor is definitely romanticized/glorified. I do have a deep, inherent interest in the workings of the human body and medicine. Considering the fact that I don’t live with heavy regret means I either made the right decision, or I’m good at adapting to my situation. I’m okay with either one 😉

      Lisa

  • Thanks for sharing, Lisa! My wife and I have been an item since college, and we both went through the medical school and residency process together (although at different medical schools, but that’s another story).

    There is no way around the time commitment of medical school and residency, you just have to pick your poison. We went straight after college all the way through, finishing at ages 29 (my wife) and 32 (me). It was a difficult decision, but we waited to have children until a few years after I finished, to give ourselves some better financial footing. Of course, that decision to wait has repercussions down the road for the rest of our lives.

    I’m a big believer that there are no true “right” or “wrong” decisions; you never know where a given decision will take you. Many of my medical schoolmates took the traditional path, but we had quite a few older students with families. Either way has its unique challenges.

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment. I know there are plenty of non-traditional students that do take the leap and tackle medical school later in life – I just couldn’t see that for myself. I couldn’t imagine trying to juggle a family and medical school, as well as the possibility of a commute.

      For me, the dream had to die. And that’s okay. Like you said, there really aren’t any definitive “right” or “wrong” decisions. Thankfully 🙂

      Lisa

  • Lisa, I think you made the right choice both times. So many of us are trying desperately to find our way out of medicine AFTER giving up a decade and accumulating > $200K in debt. My advice (for anyone who asks and/or will listen) is that if you can see yourself doing ANYTHING other than being a physician, then run toward it. If you can ONLY see yourself being a doctor, then give it a try.

    I’m glad that you found peace with your decision and hope that you’ll realize more and more over time that you didn’t miss out and many of us would trade places in a heartbeat.

    • Thanks for such a thought-provoking comment! As the years passed I have only ever thought about regret. I never considered the possibility of a less happy life had I followed through and pursued that dream. Wow.

      One thing is for sure, I have little regret over my decisions and I am very happy. These days I’m enjoying my FIRE journey with this most awesome community. Life is good!

      Lisa

  • Sneezedoc

    When you are retired –hopefully FIRE in line with this blog– will it really matter if your pre-retirement labor was as a physician, or as something else?
    If you pull your RV up next to PoF at Yellowstone next year, will your working history really matter? At what opportunity cost?

    Personal worth is not measured in letters after your name, accolades, or positions.

    Many “previously important people” now identify as “a hiker,” or “a biker,” or “a traveler.”

    Moreover, consider how physicians may find it hard to let go… if the MD becomes our identity, our worth, our purpose.

  • EnjoyIt

    Retrospectively If I did not go to medical school and I knew then what I know now, I would already be retired. I probably would not have as much luxuries in my life, but I would also have freedom.

    Which life would have been better? I honestly don’t know.

  • VagabondMD

    The decision to go into medicine was easy– my father virtually made it for me and paid for it, too. It was the right decision at the time.

    Today, if I had to go and pay for it on my own, I cannot say for certain that I would choose the medical career. It really would depend a lot on what other options were out there for me

  • hatton1

    Lisa you made the right decision for yourself. Try not to second guess yourself. Look at all the doctors who blog about burnout, debt, suicide, and early retirement. Something is wrong with medicine these days.

  • HarjotSingh

    Dear PoF,
    This has to stop.
    A person who almost got into medical school? Please. Like it’s a joke. Like it’s just a matter of money otherwise anyone can do it.
    The other day you had a “retired” Obstetrician who lives off of her husband’s salary. They were apparently comfortable, but true retirement means not working – both of them. Not that “We’re financially independent and one of us just works for fun so we must be retired”.
    My friend, you and both I love Joel Stein, but we are not Joel Stein. We cannot claim and write a blog post “I decided not to be Joel Stein. Twice”.
    A lot of 8 year old boys talk about playing for NFL, but very few make the cut.
    Medicine is a life changing experience, and only the deserving get in.

    • Dr. Singh,

      I respect your opinion, but I think it’s worth contemplating and discussing the person who twice opted not to pursue medicine. Granted, she didn’t have a guaranteed path to the profession, but I’m not convinced that matters.

      I’m speaking to a large number of physicians who may be considering leaving the profession much earlier than anticipated. We all had alternative pathways that we could have taken, and it just so happens the author took one of those paths and is now putting herself in a position to retire early. Much earlier than if she had opted to pursue medicine the second time around.

      Regarding Dr. Jones, neither she nor her husband have to work anymore and they got there largely on her salary. He chooses to continue working, but I don’t think that discounts her story.

      You’re a good man and I appreciate what you’re doing, but I feel you’re being unnecessarily judgmental in the case of these two women.

      Best,
      -PoF

      • HarjotSingh

        Dear PoF,
        Do call me Harjot.
        And point taken about being good – it’s hard to improve upon silence at times.
        My suggestion then – Dr. Jones should consider giving some numbers like you do, and MMM does. It would help others to see an example, and chart a path.
        I use these examples in my coaching, including yours. “Wow” and “inspiring” are what I hear.
        Thank you for helping us all.

  • Great story. It’s so hard to tell when you’ve made the right decision when there’s a strong emotional desire. Based on what you’ve written before about liking your current job, it looks like you made the right choice.
    I love the continuum of regret too!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *