I Dropped Out of Medical School
Sometimes the best option is to walk away.
Why Did I Go to Medical school?
To put it simply, I went to medical school for all the wrong reasons.
I made the decision at 16 years old when I picked my A levels. I took Biology, Chemistry and Psychology; subjects which I had chosen in order to satisfy the criteria for applying to medical school.
I know a few people who were encouraged and sometimes pushed to study medicine from a young age. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case for me. My parents aren’t the pushy kind.
However, when I told them that I wanted to be a doctor, they reacted in the same way a lot of parents would. I’ll never forget the look on their face when I told them. They were ecstatic.
It’s that reaction that I got addicted to. The admiration on a person’s face when they learned that I wanted to be a doctor. Every single look of approval and word of praise only served to inflate my ego.
That reaction became my main reason to do medicine. I was making a life-changing decision based on how much others admired me for it.
I was allowing my ego to take the front seat and obscure all the other factors one should consider when choosing a degree.
All that mattered was that people were impressed by me.
“Impressing people is utterly different from being truly impressive.” — Ryan Holiday, Ego is the Enemy
Don’t get me wrong, I knew that the NHS was a shambles. I knew that I’d be overworked and heavily underpaid. I knew that I’d have to kiss goodbye to any semblance of a social life.
None of that mattered though, because I’d be on the front line, saving lives. I’d be in what is arguably the most honourable profession on the planet. I’d have a steady job and a good income.
I like to help people, surely this was the perfect career for me?
So when I checked my emails on A level results day, I was over the moon when I saw that I had been accepted into medical school. I remember being so overcome with joy that I cried.
I was intensely driven to grind my way through school for the next five years.
That drive did not last long.
I have never enjoyed medical school. I have just finished my third year and not once have I come back from a day at university and felt fulfilled.
However, in my first two years, I chalked it down to the fact that most of my teaching took the form of many consecutive lectures every morning. I found it difficult to remain engaged due to my short attention span.
Then at the beginning of my third year, I was put on my first longitudinal hospital placement.
The purpose of a hospital placement is to show a medical student what life will be like on the job as a doctor. Students are encouraged to shadow doctors and get involved with any procedures they can.
I started my placement telling myself that I had to observe and assist in as many procedures as I could. I really tried to throw myself in headfirst and enjoy it.
So when I found myself hating my placement I became frustrated. I kept telling myself that I was lucky to have this opportunity. I felt like an exasperated parent scolding an ungrateful child.
Almost immediately, it became apparent to me that I was a burden on the doctors I was shadowing. The hierarchy of the clinical team puts the medical students right at the bottom.
I knew this and could empathise with the doctors. Their job was stressful enough without having to string along medical students.
However, many of the doctors I shadowed barely took the time to learn my name let alone teach me about any of the cases they encountered. They made little to no effort to teach me even after I asked them to. It felt like a waste of time.
Of course, there were some doctors who took the teaching element of their job very seriously, but these were few and far between.
I found it increasingly difficult to stay committed to a team that clearly didn’t want me there.
I found that so much of a junior doctor’s job was writing things down. Rewriting a patient’s history and examination results. Acting as a scribe for a consultant during ward rounds. Writing a seemingly endless amount of discharge letters.
Writing a patient’s notes by hand is fundamentally a terrible idea. It was almost comical to watch the consultants squint at the junior doctors’ spidery scrawl and attempt to decipher what was on the page.
There was one particular junior doctor whose unbeatable work ethic was often praised by the seniors. Yet they divulged to me that his work was practically useless as they couldn’t read what he had written in the notes.
I truly felt for this doctor, shouldering an immense workload but not actually contributing much.
However, this wasn’t enough to completely deter me from medicine.
A Change of Heart
About halfway through my three-month-long placement, I realised that I didn’t want to be a doctor.
I’m not entirely sure what acted as the catalyst for this realisation. Perhaps it was my new habit of journaling. Perhaps it was the conversations I was having. Perhaps it was due to reading more. Or perhaps, it was a wonderful amalgamation of these reasons and a few more.
One thing was for certain, I did not want to be here.
I started talking with the people closest to me about what made them happy. A common theme that I noticed was that people were happy as long as they were creating something. Anything.
My life was a dismally simple cycle. I woke up, attended hospital placement, went to the library to study and then went to bed. Rinse and repeat. There was no time in my day that I dedicated to being creative.
Once I realised this, I quickly tried to remedy it by starting to journal. A straightforward first step but a deceptively difficult habit to maintain.
Through journaling and introspecting, I realised that my mental health was suffering drastically. I felt overwhelmed and pessimistic.
I narrowed the cause down to me being unhappy with my degree choice which was causing me to feel unfulfilled. It was then that I started to entertain the idea of dropping out of medical school.
Recognising that I was unhappy in medical school and that I wanted to leave was the hardest part. I felt guilty for even considering it.
Here I was, contemplating throwing away the education I had worked so hard for. For a while, it felt like I was giving up. Like I was a failure.
My internal dialogue became a constant stream of shame and disgrace.
After a lot of conversations with the people closest to me, I realised that the easiest option for me was to stay in medical school and finish my degree.
Changing my career path was the harder position to be in because it was a road filled with uncertainty and risk.
So I started browsing postgraduate courses at my university and found one that seemed to fit.
I applied and got in. I’ll be starting in October.
What I Have Learned
If I had to sum up my medical school experience in a sentence, I’d say I felt trapped. I was trapped under a massive expectation held by me.
I had the idea that if I left medical school, everyone would think of me as a failure, including myself. So I remained in this horrible situation.
My family reassured me that nothing should come before my health, especially my mental health. And that if I was genuinely unhappy in this environment, it was okay to leave.
I am so fortunate to have had a supportive family, friends and partner who have tolerated my indecisive ramblings.
There are three main things that I have learned through all of this:
- Don’t make decisions based on what others are going to think of you.
- Don’t put so much pressure on yourself and forgive yourself when you fall short.
- Always make time to be creative.
Extra emphasis on that last one. For now, my creative outlet is writing, next year, who knows?