Quitting medical school is a serious decision. Rather than acting emotionally however (as we are sometimes prone to do when tired, fed up and sick of the routine), we’ve got to act rationally. We owe that to the sacrifices we’ve already made getting here.
I’m writing this as if I’m speaking to myself. Waking up this morning, tired from another night spent working late, the prospect of quitting appeared again. Being a medical student, especially one that’s no stranger to the grind, you’ll probably face the same from time to time.
Rather than acting impulsively though you’ve got take a moment to pause and reflect. Here’s where self-questioning comes in – something I’d strongly recommend doing if you’re feeling overwhelmed or on the verge.
In my case, whenever I feel like quitting medical school, these are the questions I run through in my head. Maybe exploring each could maybe help. After all, I don’t want either of us to make the wrong decision.
- How long have you been feeling like quitting?
- How are the other aspects of your life?
- What’s making you want to quit exactly?
- What would you do if you quit?
- How did you get here in the first place?
- Would you regret quitting medicine?
Now let’s expand on each a little. I’d like to give each question more context.
How Long Have You Been Feeling Like Quitting Med School?
This is probably the best place to start, working out how long you’ve had your negative feelings. You’ve got to be honest here and make some kind of estimation; how many “bad” days vs “good” days?
I know for me at least, for every rough day I feel like quitting, I’ll get a couple come along where I’ll get reenergised and enthusiastic again. It’s just a fact of life. Not every day is going to fill you with excitement and drive. No career or field of study does that.
So don’t feel that quitting is the best option just because you’ve had a bad day or two. This is sometimes what a lot of first year medics do, unaware that things get better just around the corner. I’ve written as much in my advice to them.
But if you do feel like the “bad” days vastly outnumber all the others, then quite rightly you’ll find it difficult to bring yourself back from the negatives.
So what I’d emphasise here is to breathe. Try and calm yourself down. Understand you’re not the only one going through it.
There’s lots of stories on YouTube discussing it…
I don’t want to link to these stories to scare or discourage you however. Rather, I just want to show you that wanting to quit is normal.
But you have to be honest about whether its a temporary or long-standing feeling.
How Are The Other Aspects Of Your Life In Medical School?
Not having free time in medical school, or feeling anxious and overwhelmed, can compound and add to your desire to quit. The same goes for any other problems or pressures causing your life to be thrown off balance.
Addressing each of these, figuring out if there’s anything you can do to improve the situation, is the right way to go about things. You might find that it can help lessen your feelings of wanting to drop out too.
It might mean addressing the way you study to see if there are things you can implement to help save time. It might mean relaxing on your grades and going at your own pace. Whatever works.
The key thing is to try and make small changes to ease these stressors first before throwing the towel in.
What’s Making You Want To Quit Exactly?
This question follows on from the last; what is it, exactly, that’s making you want to quit?
For most med students it’s usually one or a combination of the following:
- Money and finances (anxiety over debt etc)
- Social isolation
- Stress of exams
- Pressure from parents, family, peers (even self-imposed pressure)
- Future uncertainty (not sure if medicine is right for you)
These are all normal concerns – and ones that often have me backed into a corner arguing to myself whether I should drop out or not.
But each also has solutions too. Or at least decisive points of action that can help lessen them as problems.
Money can be budgeted or earned (take a look at some of my business ideas for med students for example), isolation can be helped by efforts to be more social and exam stress can eased by framing your mind not to worry about your grades so much.
You just need to sit down first and work out what’s going.
Fixing them won’t be easy of course. But it might be less tough than failing out, carrying a lot of debt and not knowing where to turn next.
What Would You Do If You Quit Med School?
This is perhaps the key question; if you do decide to drop out, what’s your plan B?
I’d argue this needs to be pretty solid if you’re to avoid further spiralling downward and feeling mentally vulnerable.
Imagining this scenario however, for many of us, is often enough to keep us going. The terror of not having a plan is worse than whatever temporary blip it is we’re going through. Somehow we know we’re better off in the long run.
I know what I’m saying here could be a little controversial. Sometimes things can be so bad in med school that almost anything else could prove better. But I think it’s absolutely necessary to consider.
Especially if you have zero idea of where to go or what to do next.
(And if you do, then perhaps consider go through another cost and benefit exercise weighing up the path you’re on now with the path you could potentially be on in the future).
How Did You Get Here In The First Place?
Sometimes feelings of negativity can cloud original intentions that still live on somewhere in your consciousness. That’s why it’s important to try and answer this question, try and uncover your reason why you became a med student in the first place.
Thinking about my own personal story, the struggles I went to in my 20’s attempting to figure out some kind of “path”, are enough to calm me. Recognising why I started on this journey in the first place; to bring meaning to my life, to bring some stability and order to my future etc, helps me rid myself of the notion of quitting. The same could work for you.
A key tip here might be to write all this down. The process can be cathartic. It can also help open your mind up and shed clarity on what it is you’re going through.
If that doesn’t work then try and speak to someone close to you who’s not so invested. Someone who can listen and ask similar sorts of questions. A open-hearted conversation can be just as useful in helping identify if your “why” for medicine is still there.
Would You Regret Quitting Medicine?
The all important question is last for a reason. Few who quit medicine, both during med school or following life as a doctor, ever go back. How would you feel if that was you?
Depending where you are in your studies, your answer will probably vary. For first year medics, a couple of weeks in, the impact wouldn’t be as big. Those more invested who choose to quit however, might find regret creeping in as soon as the emotional release of leaving ends.
It’s a gamble you just can’t know the result of. But it pays to be aware.
The thing that keeps me going, a lot of the time, is stubbornness. I want to see things through, and complete them in their entirety, before moving on.
No matter how painful the process may seem at the time, I know, deep down, the act of quitting and leaving something unfinished will be far more painful in the long run.
Going back to the last question, this is also one of the main reasons I wanted to go into medicine in the first place. Wanting to prove to myself I could commit to something and see it through, I know the regret of not doing so would weigh heavy.
Now, I’m not assuming you’re anything like me, but the question still stands. If you’re fairly sure you wouldn’t regret leaving? Then perhaps the decision’s a right one.
Wanting to quit med school is something a lot of us will face as students. The pressures are immense, the routine is tough and the outcomes can be uncertain.
But the rewards are great also. As many doctors will tell you.
Asking yourself some serious questions and getting to the bottom of your feelings? Can really help you out of a rough patch. Only after very careful consideration should you make such a drastic decision.
Image Credit: @wflwong at Unsplash
Born and raised in the UK, Will went into medicine late (31) after a career in digital marketing and journalism. He’s into football (soccer), learned Spanish after 5 years in Spain, and has had his work published all over the web. Read more.