Do mental health issues caused by being a premedical student get better when accepted to medical school?
Being premed is not easy with all the premed stress. Premed stress can be worse than medical school stress for some students.
Practicing doctors may not recall what it was like being a college student with the intention of attending med school. Premed anxiety and premed depression can be serious issues. I know of several premedical student suicides.
I’m Dr. Pamela Wible and I run a doctor suicide helpline. I also hear from medical students and premedical students who may be suffering with suicidal thoughts.
Premed students often study around the clock. They are focused and determined to be successful. Getting into medical school is their ultimate goal. I was a nervous wreck as a premedical student studying for the MCAT. I broke out in a full-body psychoneurotic rash during the exam.
What about premed student burnout? Premedical students work hard and study hard, often forgetting to take care of their physical and mental health. We often discuss physician “burnout”—which is really the result of abusive employers and hazardous working conditions that may lead to suicide.
Premedical students may develop a mental illness or physical illness, such as high blood pressure. Premed depression can result from identifying closely with academic success, and not taking time to rest and recover from an ongoing intensive workload.
Are premed programs good for screening out candidates who will not survive med school?
Some premedical students get “weeded out” during the process of preparing to apply to medical school. Unfortunately, they may be the very people who would have made excellent doctors.
Imagine a student who realizes that the emotional exhaustion caused by an intensive premed program is not worth the stress—and then decides to change majors and career plans.
For students who realize they do not want to pursue medicine early on, while still premed and in college, they may have dodged a bullet. Working in medicine causes severe anxiety for many doctors—a profession with a high suicide rate.
Students who thrive in premed and continue thriving in medical school are the ones who are willing to take on any amount of work and stress, regardless of the toll it takes on their health. The medical education system screens for people who are willing to submit to abuse.
How can premed depression be prevented?
College students in a premedical program should be better prepared for what’s coming ahead. Rather than focusing on acceptance to medical school as the ultimate goal, they should investigate what life will be like as a medical student and a doctor.
Many doctors are plagued by suicidal thoughts—especially when they discover that a medical career is not what they expected. Doctors have one of the highest suicide rates of all professions.
If students in medical schools (including allopathic medicine and osteopathic medicine) are unprepared, they may find themselves in a difficult situation later in their career. Yet the best time to prepare is during undergraduate education.
Premedical students can learn the truth of their future career early. Rather than being overly focused on academic success, it is a good idea to research what makes doctors unhappy in their profession.
An important point is to not focus on money as a career goal. Focus on freedom and happiness.
A medical career does not have to be stressful. It is possible to design a lifestyle around a career that is thoroughly fulfilling.
Where can a premed student learn more about designing a happy doctor life?
It is never too early to plan for the future. In fact, writing down your one-year, five-year, and ten-year plans is good practice.
Where do you want to be ten years from now? A senior premed student is less than ten years away from working at an abusive healthcare job.
Exciting milestones pave the way—scoring high on MCATs, graduating from college, getting accepted to med school. Then passing board exams, matching at a residency, and getting your medical license—all reasons to celebrate. Doctor jobs look so attractive with high salaries and excellent benefits.
You may imagine a happy practice, where you take your time with patients and help them with their problems. Being a doctor is about teaching people to live healthier lives, while always learning how to be a better doctor.
Imagine relaxing coffee breaks where you meet with happy doctors in your clinic to discuss your cases of the day. Working as a doctor sounds stimulating and rewarding.
I know doctors who are so fulfilled at their jobs they can’t believe they are getting paid. A few doctors have told me they love their jobs so much that they would work for free!
A zen poet said, “A person who is a master in the art of living makes little distinction between their work and their play, their labor and their leisure, their mind and their body, their education and their recreation, their love and their religion. They hardly know which is which and simply pursue their vision of excellence and grace, whatever they do, leaving others to decide whether they are working or playing. To them they are always doing both.”
Have you ever seen the face of a doctor returning to the US after an overseas medical mission? They look very happy and fulfilled after working for free.
Yet many doctors never experience true happiness in their US corporate jobs. Many doctors feel trapped.
How can a premed student learn not to fall into the unhappy doctor trap?
Modern medicine has set up a trap that lures in new doctors with false promises. Most doctors have already fallen into the trap—long before getting their first job—without even realizing it.
The doctor trap is similar to indentured servitude from the Middle Ages—essentially slavery. Once doctors get used to a certain lifestyle, requiring a specific budget, they must work to keep funding this budget.
Doctors are expected to drive nice cars and live in nice houses, like the well-known doctor McMansions that are difficult for even a high-paid specialist to afford.
In addition to these extravagant expenses, premed students get into debt early, sometimes by taking on credit card debt, and also from student loans. Medical students often take on educational loan debt, because it is the easiest way to pay for medical school.
Banks make it very easy to sign your life away for huge school loans that take decades to pay off. On top of the heavy load of debt and living expenses, then comes the marriage, mortgage, child care, private schools, and other unforeseen expenses.
Doctors work long hours with no labor law protection. Some work eighty-hour weeks (plus call) and I’ve met many doctors who have not taken a vacation in decades! Such work schedules expected of many doctors creates more need for personal services—after-school programs, restaurant food, nannies, housekeepers—to make it possible to stay late at work, seeing more patients and entering more EMR data.
I know doctors who work at their clinics until midnight. A few have told me they’ve slept in their offices (with a change of clothes) so they can finish charting before morning.
Doctors believe they can never quit their jobs.
Each new expense adds to the monthly budget, which seems manageable, yet traps doctors in their abusive job that requires all the new household expenses. As the doctor trap tightens its grip the prospect of quitting seems more impossible.
An alert premed student can see the trap coming—even before applying to medical school. Imagine being able to protect your freedom by planning ahead.
The solution to high stress is not shopping for a luxury car. Just because you can afford the mortgage payment on a small mansion doesn’t mean you should buy one.
While it is possible for a doctor to claw their way out of the doctor trap, it is not easy. It takes time and planning.
Because of this, I recommend that premed students start thinking about their future as early as possible.
Avoid the doctor trap by practicing medicine on your own terms.
Should premeds simply change their major and forget about medical school?
Some premeds, if honest with themselves, should consider dropping out and changing their major. There is no shame in realizing that a career in medicine is not for you.
If you are a premed, and you have a dream of doing something else with your life, you are way ahead of the game if you decide to pursue your true passion. You do not have to be a doctor. Don’t let anyone pressure you into a medical career that you do not want.
If you truly want to become a doctor, it is possible to practice medicine without the stress and abuse caused by working for abusive employers. You can go into business for yourself and have unlimited potential.
Is running a business difficult? Running your own practice can actually be simpler and easier than being a physician employee. If structured properly, you can work less and earn more.
Avoid getting trapped in the false sense of security of working for an employer. Employers would like their doctor to believe that they are safe and protected as employees.
The truth is employers have no interest in protecting their employees. Their only motive is profit.
If you are a premed with a dream of helping people, consider starting your own practice. Your ideal clinic can provide ideal medical care to your ideal patients, giving you with a life of happiness and fulfillment.
My best tips for premeds in my keynote—Secrets to Loving Your Life in Healthcare.