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.

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