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I have another interview. It’s been three months since I’ve pulled out my interview suit, but here I am, gearing up for another round.

On the one hand, it’s kind of nice to be doing this after a break. My financial situation is no longer dire, so taking the time and money to travel to the interview isn’t the same bean-counting venture it has been in the past. It’s been awhile since I’ve had to work out travel arrangements, but I mostly have the hang of how I’m getting from point A to point B these days. I’ve done this before, no sweat.

There is also the comfort of knowing that, even if I blow this, I will still be accepted into medical school at some pretty fantastic locations. This school doesn’t have to like me, although it would be splendid if they did. Some of the pressure is off, even if the excitement remains.

But there is also a part of me that is reluctant to go. When I received the invitation I had a good hour-long discussion with myself over whether or not it was worth it to go through the whole show again. I’m out of practice. All the little concerns that I was keeping track of in interviews 1-5 have been shoved off into storage. I’m worried I’ve forgotten their tracking number. Even if this isn’t the interview to make or break my medical school career, I would still like to acquit myself with dignity. Ending my interview cycle on a rejection would not fill me with confidence.

Regardless, the time has been set aside, the friend’s couch has been reserved, the bus tickets are nearly booked (seriously, any second I’m going to get on that.) One more interview to round out my glide year. Here’s hoping I can stick the landing.

As I’ve said a few times in the past, deciding to do the postbac was probably one of the most difficult choices I’ve ever made in my life. Any decision that reverses the expected course of your life goals should take some careful consideration, but even more difficult for me was the idea that I was committing myself to a very challenging new path. There were real questions about the validity of my interest and abilities, the answers to which, at the time, I could only guess at.

It all turned out remarkably well, and, even though my success in medicine is far from set, I feel pretty confident in saying that the postbac was the right choice for me.

Making that choice was a leap of faith, but there were certainly promising signs that I was on the right track. So for anyone out there who might be considering applying for postbac programs, here are some signs it might be the right choice for you.

 1. You can’t stop thinking about it.

Before I even knew what a postbac program was, one of my acquaintances (I can’t even call him a friend; we have been out of touch practically since this conversation took place) called me on one of my passive comments about an interest in medicine. He showed me an alternate viable route toward becoming a physician. I laughed it off at the time and gave him a dozen excuses for why I couldn’t go back to school and why it was too late for me to be a doctor. But the seed was planted.

It haunted me. For weeks it followed me around, popping up at work, in the grocery store, walking past the hospital. I happened to live across the street from a medical school at the time, and I would watch the students and residents walking to work in their scrubs, feeling quietly jealous. I kept returning to the website my acquaintance had referred me to and calculating the time, the cost, the sacrifices that would be involved. Finally I had to admit it to myself: if this idea was so seductive it could bleed into every aspect of my life then clearly it was an idea that needed to be addressed directly.

 2. When you weigh your priorities in life, a career comes out on top.

I have always believed that the key to my happiness lay in finding a career in which I could become immersed. I have a bit of an addictive, obsessive personality. It isn’t necessarily a healthy approach to life, but it is a consistent one. Medicine requires a huge commitment of time, money and energy. Whenever I thought about the things that were important to me, though, having a career that inspired me was always the most important.

This is not always a clearcut choice. Personally I have never been attached to the idea of owning a home, raising a family. Getting married sounds like a lovely idea in abstract, but it has never been a goal for me. That isn’t to say that physicians, even those going into the field later in life, can’t have families or houses, but it is more complicated. You will often have to choose between work and everything else in life. If that is going to be a struggle every time, there might be a better option in the medical field. Which leads me to my last point….

 3. Nothing else will do.

There are a lot of different careers in medicine: EMT, paramedic, nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist, physician’s assistant, all sorts of technician jobs. The list goes on forever. Many of these jobs are more conducive to raising a family or staying out of debt. A lot of them allow for nearly the same level of autonomy as a physician.

At one point, when trying to sort out exactly how I would put myself through school, I became fed up and thought about giving up the notion of becoming a doctor. I weighed the option of becoming a physical therapist or going to nursing school. No sooner than I had the thought than I felt crushingly depressed about the idea. It wasn’t the same. It wasn’t just about wanting to be involved in medicine, it was also about challenging myself, about seeing exactly what I could accomplish if I pushed myself to my limit. No other path filled me with excitement or hope like the prospect of becoming a physician. I couldn’t shake it, no matter how impractical the notion.

For the record, these are all my personal experiences. I don’t think they are typical, nor would I say that without them going into medicine is a bad idea. But I do think that the choice to be a physician is a serious one that should take careful consideration. You’re in it for the long haul. If the passion isn’t there, it’s going to seem a hell of a lot longer.

I am not a money-minded sort of person. I have a very one-to-one attitude toward finances and once I start getting into numbers higher than the thousands it all starts to become a bit beyond the scope of my understanding. Although I’m fortunate enough to have a family to fall back on should anything truly awful ever happen, I’ve never done much more than support myself from paycheck to paycheck.

Which is why the prospect of hundreds of thousands of dollars of student debt terrifies the crap out of me and is also why I think anyone who tells me about how someday I’m going to be a “rich” doctor is utterly insane. It’s not that you can’t become extremely well off as a physician, it’s just that, to do so, you have to go into practice with a sense that making money is a goal and to make choices along the way that get you closer to that goal.

Less vaguely what I mean is that medicine pays well for people who perform procedures. It’s easy to put a price tag on a CT scan or an appendectomy because it is a tangible action that has taken place. It’s a lot harder to put a price tag on a thought process. A doctor contemplating a diagnosis cannot bill for the effort required to make that assessment. So specialties, like, oh say, neurology, don’t pay as well as radiology. Beyond that, the amount a doctor is compensated is a delicate negotiation between insurance companies and individuals who have varying abilities to afford their treatment.

My musings on this subject are nothing new, but this blog post was prompted by an article that CNN ran online regarding physicians who were running into debt. The article itself wasn’t terribly interesting, but it prompted a heated response. One prevailing attitude was that it was so easy to get rich as an American physician that anyone who was not luxuriating upon stacks of hundred dollar bills was clearly mismanaging their funds.

There certainly are some money-grubbing doctors out there. One commenter defended his extravagant lifestyle by patting himself on the back for years of hard work, as though anyone without a million-dollar home and a BMW had spent the majority of their lives sitting on their butts watching the Bachelor. (He earned my particular enmity by suggesting that English majors don’t work as hard because their major isn’t financially practical.) But as in any profession, most people don’t end up wealthy by accident. They make specific choices about their specialty, about the type of practice they are going to run, about the location and types of patients they are going to see. You don’t make it big being reimbursed by Medicaid or seeing patients without health insurance. And yet many doctors do precisely these things, either because they must or because they feel a moral responsibility to the greater good.

It isn’t wrong that some physicians choose positions that don’t force them to deal with populations who can’t pay them, any more than it is wrong for a grocery store to decline  customers who can’t pay for their food. But there is a choice involved, and you could call it a selfish one. By the same token, it would be selfish, but not wrong, of me to choose a specialty like neurology because it interests me more than a needed specialty like family practice. It’s my life and my future; I deserve to be a little selfish.

We, doctors and non-doctors alike, need to keep in mind that medicine is not a singular profession and that physicians are not all of the same mind. They can include both selfish and selfless individuals. And regardless of what anyone would like to believe, it is entirely possible, even easy, for a physician to run into financial difficulty. The truth is that these are probably the doctors who are doing the most for people who have the least.

I would not be going to medical school next year if I had not gone to massage school first. It was my stepping stone, my chance to recognize that I was good at something outside of writing and analyzing works of literature and that my love for biology was more than just a fluke from high school.

There is a lot I love about massage therapy, and if it weren’t for the fact that I physically cannot tolerate a full-time work schedule (few people can; it is a wearing profession and overworking can mean injuring yourself) I might never have looked for more. Before massage I worked in the frantic work of food service, where everything was about multi-tasking and speed. By contrast massage is a blessing; you get to concentrate on one person at a time for long periods in low lighting to soothing music. It’s almost impossible to get stressed out at work.

There is a small part of me that thinks I might be crazy for giving that up. But the flip side to having a job that doesn’t stress you out, is that you are seldom truly challenged. Most questions raised in massage have two possible answers: work the area or don’t work the area. You can use different techniques, of course, and different depths, but in the end there isn’t a lot of variation.

The one advantage (or disadvantage depending on how you look at it) to my background in massage is that I’ve met a lot of people who have a rather negative perspective on Western medicine. When I told one of my coworkers I was going to med school, he looked genuinely sad and said, “Don’t go to med school. It’s like…the opposite of massage.”

I have a lot of clients who have been failed by Western medicine in one way or another. Carpal tunnel patients who are trying to avoid surgery, sciatica patients who want to manage their pain without drugs. Physicians often regard massage therapists with the same skepticism they have for energy workers and homeopathic remedies. Not without reason either; I have met plenty of massage therapists who earnestly explain half-understood scientific concepts to back up practices that are questionable at best.

All this has landed me squarely in the middle of the whole debate between alternative medicine and Western medicine. Taking the middle road seems to always put me on the wrong side of the debate. It seems to me that “alternative” medicine is no alternative at all. The term complementary medicine, which seems to be gaining traction in some circles, is a better description. Practices like massage, acupuncture and meditation should be used to improve quality of life and boost Western treatments rather than replacing them. And even the most rigidly scientific physician should know by now that treating the mind is much of the battle in treating the body.

Much of holistic medicine teaches that we should lead lives of balance, a philosophy that holds in Western medicine as well. Although I don’t expect to practice massage much after this year, I hope that I can hold onto my middle ground (as frustrating as it is most of the time) because I think finding balance between the nearly stress-free world of bodywork and fraught nature of modern medicine is the healthiest way I can live.

Last year, on the day of my dreaded fall final exam in physics (which I will forever think of as the most stressful school event of my life), I was reviewed in the literary blog 3:17 AM. I actually found out about the review the morning of the exam and proceeded to post about it on Twitter and Facebook and was generally over the moon about it for the rest of the week.

For New Year’s Eve this year they’ve given me another mention. It’s a shorter blurb, but also very nice and much appreciated. Above all it’s succeeded in doing what two months of vague guilt and procrastination has failed to do: get me blogging again. (Nothing like a little flattery to fire up the writing muse.)

The trouble with glide year (she whined) is that I am not actively involved in anything that is taking me closer to my goal of entering medical school. I’m playing a waiting game, a large part of which involves going through the motions of being something not-a-future-doctor. I go to work, I pay my bills, I learn how to do new Real Life activities like buying a car (shudder), but all of it feels like treading water until next fall.

It isn’t a great way to live. I have become the sort of person who is all talk and no action. I am constantly explaining my situation (glide year, postbac, applications, acceptances) as a means of excusing my lack of investment in most of my other activities. Yes, working at the massage school is frustrating, but I only have to hang on for another six months. No, I don’t have a particularly large social network in town, but I also don’t know where I’m going to be next year. It’s hard to make commitments when you feel like you’re just treading water.

I am trying to change this attitude. I may not be permanently set up right now, but there is no reason not to try to set down a few roots. Not to mention that this is my last year of “freedom” before medical school, and I should really do something with all that freedom.

So I have a different set of resolutions this year. I am going to try to make some more connections in town. I am going to try to keep up with this blog better so that I have a continual reminder of The Next Step. And I’m going to try to keep working out on a regular basis, because what is a New Year’s Resolution List without some health and weight loss goals.

Huzzah.