Making career decisions can be really tough. From childhood through college graduation, everyone wants to know what you are going to do with your life. Some people, a lucky few, know from the get-go what they want to do. Most of us, however, need a bit more time and exploration to figure that out.
A few of my friends in college lamented that they “had no passions.” They liked the usual activities, like “hanging out with friends” and eating froyo, but didn’t have one particular topic or cause that they felt strongly about.
I am lucky that I have been fascinated with health and nutrition and passionate about helping people since I was a teen, but it still took me several years to figure how I wanted to act upon those qualities in the long term.
Thinking you know what you want to do is not the same as having the confidence to pursue it whole-heartedly. Hopefully, the steps outlined below can help you determine your next steps for gaining the insight and readiness to pursue your dreams.
- Make brainstorming lists.
- A list of things you are passionate about or interested in (ex: writing code, empowering others, microbiome, quantum physics, cars, etc)
- A list what is important to you in a career, what you want and what you enjoy (ex: fulfilling elements of a job, schedule, degree of responsibility, salary, level of freedom, creativity, making connections, making an impact, feel expertise,etc)
- A list of what you want your life to look like (ex: having a family, amount of travel, working M-F or flexible, having few/many commitments, being able to afford x,y, z)
- A list of your ideals. Think of this as what the world would be like in your perfect world. What would make you feel uncomfortable if you weren’t working towards it? (If applicable.)
- Compare the options. Let the prior lists you have made percolate in your mind and soul for a while. Then, make a list of the different careers that fit the criteria you have determined are important. If you aren’t sure of all the career options, you can look up what careers exist in each industry and what careers are realistic with various degrees/certifications.
- Eliminate any options that no longer seem appealing. If any options only have financial barriers, look into loans, financial aid, stipends, and scholarships. In order to further narrow, you are going to have to put down the marker and take action.
Common alternative degrees to an MD to research and consider are Masters in Public Health, PhD in your area of interest, and a Master of Business Administration. Note that many schools offer combo degrees such as MD-MPH and MD-MBA.
- This may sound obvious, but make sure you know all of your options. Research and talk to Registered Nurses, Nurse Practitioners, Physician Assistants, MDs, DOs (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine), physical therapists, and psychologists. All of these careers help people in healthcare but have different educational and training requirements. They vary in what they entail on a daily basis, as well as level of responsibility, salary, and flexibility.
- Volunteer at a hospital or clinic. This will give you a taste of what it is like to work as a PA, nurse, and doctor in various medical settings. Develop relationships at the hospital and ask providers how they feel about their work. Work on your patient interaction skills and see if you enjoy working with people in that way.
- Shadow providers. This can be hard to get permission, but public clinics are often the most likely to allow pre-meds to shadow. Look up phone numbers and emails and blast as many as you can with a professional email stating who you are, your background, and why you would like to shadow.
- Try to work in a healthcare setting, such as a medical scribe, EMT, health coach, patient care coordinator, medical assistant, office administrator, or research coordinator. Nothing will help you determine if a career is right for you like doing it – or getting as close to doing it as possible. (Scribing via Google Glass with Augmedix)
- Find a role model and interview them about their path. I found an incredible female doctor who also founded her own tech company and does research and reached out to her via LinkedIn. She chatted with me from half a country away for two hours on the phone!
- Talk to people. Talk to people who went to medical school and dropped out. Talk to doctors who have been practicing for 50 years. Talk to current medical students. Talk to doctors who practiced and then left for another career. Talk to people who left their careers to go to medical school at age 40. Talk to current residents. Talk to leaders in their medical field, innovators, researchers, and interdisciplinary physicians! Get every perspective on your possible future career so that nothing would surprise you if you were suddenly a practitioner tomorrow.
- Sample questions: What is the best part of your job? The worst? Would you do anything differently if you could? What do you think are the most important qualities for a doctor/PA/etc? What advice do you have for someone deciding if it is right for them? Is there anything you wish you could change about your work? What do you look forward to? What does your average day look like? What was school and training like?
- Do these same steps with the other options, or at least interview people with the other degrees or career paths. Make sure you know what the realistic job options are for each degree.
After thoroughly investigating and experiencing your options, you should have a clear sense of
- what each path requires and how much time and cost
- what jobs are realistically obtained with the degree
- what the daily life and long term lifestyle is like
- the pros and cons of the career
- how much each aligns with your personal goals, career goals, interests, and strengths
- alternative careers for the degree and their level of appeal to you
These steps can take years to complete, or as just as long as you need to feel confident in your decision. Its okay if it takes time! Better to be informed and prepared than to make a quick decision and regret it later.
Most importantly, remember to keep everything in perspective. The future is exciting, and having the dilemma of a career change or path is a lucky problem to have! And if one option doesn’t work out, another will, and it will be better suited for you anyway. 🙂
Any requests for the next post? MCAT or application tips? Health or nutrition topics? I’m all ears (and trying to get back into writing regularly!).