Why Med School Wasn’t Even Plan B

I never even considered going to medical school until I was a senior in college, already interviewing for PA school. The idea occurred to me as I was walking across campus one day and thought, “Why not? Why not go to medical school instead of PA school?” 

By that time, I was nearing graduation and hadn’t given the MCAT more than a few moments of my attention. I would need to go back and take trigonometry just to prep for the MCAT (My lack of exposure to trigonometry, by the way, has yet to impact the way I manage patients). While my pre-med friends were taking physics and trig to prep for a test designed to predict their ability to learn more relevant things, I was studying anatomy, physiology, and abnormal psychology. 

Medical school debt would have also been a drag. The average medical student graduates with around $250,000 in debt plus whatever carryover they have from their undergraduate or post bachelor’s program and whatever they accrue in deferred payments while in residency. I borrowed $60,000 to attend an in-state PA program while my sweet spouse worked to keep us housed and fed. I’ve been debt-free for 4-5 years now. 

I had also heard horror stories of 100+ hour work weeks during residency training. Everyone knows, by the way, that your doctor makes better decisions when they are sleep deprived. I’ll admit that a residency is an in-depth way to train capable clinicians but it seemed to me that there was a better way especially when so much of medical school was relearning what could have been learned in college. I wonder if this is why other countries award a Bachelor of Medicine versus a Doctorate of Medicine like we do in the US? 

I also bristled at the thought of being matched into a specialty rather than choosing what it was I wanted to do. That is, of course, if I got matched at all. If you’re unfamiliar with the match system for medical students, imagine if speed dating and musical chairs had a baby. Imagine wanting to be a neurosurgeon but you end up being a gastroenterologist because that’s where you matched (no offense to my friends in GI). Being a PA would allow me unparalleled flexibility or what we call lateral mobility–the ability to train as a generalist and then move between specialties. 

Medical school isn’t a bad choice–it just wasn’t for me. In the time it took my high school friends to finish med school, their residencies and fellowships, begin their practice, and start paying down loans, I had a baby, built a house, paid off my student loans, and went on a couple of cruises! PA school was definitely a good choice. I do wonder, however, if after 8 years of practice as a PA and feeling a bit restless, if I wouldn’t have been happier with all the trappings of a physician: expanded autonomy, more comprehensive training and increased respect. Oh,  and double the income. 

What would it take to go back to medical school now? Besides six or seven years of my life and an opportunity cost of over a million dollars? Well, actually, I guess that is what it would cost. smh. 

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