The following is a blog post that I posted the day that I graduated medical school. Since posting this, many people have reached out to me expressing how they relate to my story. I hope that by reading it, it can be meaningful to you too.
Original post date: May 18, 2020.
Today I graduated from medical school alongside 100 of my classmates, but I am certain my M.D means something different to me than it does to most of my now-hooded peers. That’s due to the fact that after four trying years of medical school, which consisted of rigorous classes and anatomy labs, endless days and late nights spent cramming an almost unbelievable amount of medical trivia into my head for a series of board exams, and challenging rotations in Internal Medicine, Surgery, Pediatrics, OB/GYN, Primary Care, and Psychiatry, I will not be practicing clinical medicine. I’m taking my M.D somewhere else.
Medical school was difficult for me. The first two years started off well enough. While I noticed some of my classmates seemed a bit more interested in our preclinical courses than I was, I chalked it up to a normal case of imposter syndrome, and repeatedly told myself that once I started rotating through the local hospitals and getting my hands dirty my excitement about medicine would finally catch up to theirs. When rotations did begin, I desperately searched for the corner of the hospital where I belonged. Some days were okay and some nearly broke me. Months went by and I still could not find a specialty that spoke to me. To ease the growing feeling in the pit of my stomach that there was no role that would satisfy me in traditional medicine, I started looking into non-clinical career paths for doctors. Management consultant, data scientist, medical director, medical writer, medical liaison - you name it, I considered it.
While I continued to do well in my rotations, receiving passing grades and the occasional honors, and always making good connections with my patients, I struggled to play the role of an eager medical student while secretly searching for some way out of the hospital. I balanced my hospital duties, classes, and exams, with other extra-curricular activities I picked up to help me see what else was out there, like designing medical scenarios for a startup that made virtual reality simulations. In the back row of didactics, I angled my computer away from my classmates while I browsed websites and forums that listed non-clinical careers for doctors. At the same time, a Google search for "easiest" or "shortest residencies" was as commonplace on my phone as a search for the day's weather report, as if suddenly there would be a new result of a residency program perfectly designed for me on the fifteenth page refresh. The days rolled on, and the stress of entering into a demanding career that would leave me exhausted and unsatisfied ate at me.
I remember the day I decided not to pursue a residency perfectly. I was deep into my third year of school and in line at a CVS minute-clinic with my pregnant wife who needed the Tdap vaccine. While we waited for the provider, I sat with my temple in my palms, grasping at my hair, speaking out loud and in circles about the pros and cons of doing residency versus pursuing a non-clinical career. It’s a conversation we have had thousands of times before that I was sure she was sick of hearing, even if she would never admit it. If I wasn't having this debate out loud, the conversation was torturing me internally, constantly playing in my head. As we exited the store, somewhere between the deodorant and shampoo aisles, I turned to my wife and blurted out that I just had to make a decision about my future. She agreed. The next words that came out of my mouth must have been sitting on the tip of my tongue for some time because I could feel them pressing my lips forward, begging to be released into the world. As they poured out, I felt the weight of one thousand lead shields lift off my shoulders. “I am not doing residency.”
There are a lot of reasons I don’t want to pursue a residency. For a long time when people would press me about my decision, I would find myself naming every reason I don’t want to be a clinician, and trying to convince them that the reason to become a physician can not simply be summarized by their suggested, "what could be better than helping people!" As I started interviewing for other jobs and my lighter fourth year schedule allowed me to spend more time with my newborn daughter, I realized that I did not owe it to anyone to justify my life choices. I made the decision that allowed me - and my growing family - to be happy. To be a role model for my children. I do not view the years I spent training to be a doctor, the dollars spent, exams taken, and nights wrapped in paper-thin sheets grabbing ten minutes of sleep in an on-call room at the hospital wishing I was in my own bed as a waste. They brought me to where I am today.
As I hold my Doctorate of Medicine degree in my hand, I feel immensely proud. My M.D means something different to me than it does for most of my classmates who will be heading into the hospital this coming June. I struggled in medical school, but I held out. I came into medical school with the intention to become a physician, but was able to pivot in my career when things didn't go as planned, and utilize my degree to land an exciting job where I will work closely with healthcare and biotech startups. My M.D is marked with blood, sweat, and tears. It is a symbol of not only the clinical knowledge that I gained over the past four years, but the critical thinking, leadership, and teamwork skills I learned along the way. Most importantly, it is a symbol of the journey I went through to discover what I wanted the rest of my life to look like. As perfectly summed up by the greetings card my wife got me for graduation, “I am exactly who I am supposed to be.”
If you are a medical, high school, or college student, or maybe you have been in an industry for a long time and thinking about a change, feel free to contact me. We can talk about our experiences and maybe I can even provide some helpful points of view or guidance. I am by no means an expert in career paths, but I have gone through a major change and I know how difficult it can be to go against the grain. You are not alone. And remember, the only right decision is the decision you can live with. We can do it.
Amiad Fredman, M.D