is medicine for meDear Paul,

I am in an interesting situation.  After working in several non-medical areas, I am looking at going back to school to do something different.   My problem is I have never worked or volunteered in the medical field and don’t really have a lot of time while supporting my family to go shadow someone.  In all honesty, I have no desire to work as a CNA or EMT.  I would love to work in family practice simply because I’m good with people and would be EXCEPTIONAL at helping them feel at ease.  I don’t enjoy body fluids or blood and guts — they don’t make me sick, but it’s just not fun for me.

To sum it all up, I would love the stability of this career and the chance to help people, but I don’t know if the medicine is for me. If I could go straight through school into a family clinic, I think I would love it. But the idea of having to work as an EMT or CNA first does not sound like something I would enjoy at all.  So how to know if the medical field is right for me when I am too busy supporting my family to go shadow some one for a decent amount of time?  How do I get past having no desire to work any of the jobs that get me the experience I need to go to school?


[name withheld]

Dear NW:

You are in an interesting situation.  Medicine is not for some people.  Since you don’t like blood and guts or the types of things that you would be doing as an EMT or CNA, you should know that in medicine, as in life, there is no free lunch.  That said, a career as a PA will offer you a trade.

First, the DOWNSIDE of that trade if you choose Primary Care: some of your time will be talking about, touching, smelling, and caring about people’s’ stool, urine, blood, pus, feet, bottoms, armpits, bad breath, penises & vaginas, wounds, dandruff, fungal infections, colostomy bags, urinary catheters, body odor, “toe jam,” mucus, and items lodged in the rectum/vagina/penis (more on this last one in a forthcoming article).  Did I put too fine a point on it?

The UPSIDE of the trade: you will do amazing non-yucky things like change the way your patients live, not kill themselves, feel better, have better relationships, understand how precious their health is, and yes, you will actually save lives.  And if you are good, you will do it all for high pay and praise.

If the trade doesn’t sound good to you, then Primary Care (and possibly medicine) probably isn’t for you.

But before you despair, know that many books have been written about people in medicine who don’t like touching patients (click to see one) and often those people enjoy medical careers in the No Patient Care (NPC) specialties.  The NPC specialties are generally considered to be Radiology, Anesthesiology, Pathology, Dermatology,
Ophthalmology, and Psychiatry.

But at the very least, you MUST shadow.  It will tell you if you can do this work or not.  Do yourself a favor and shadow several people (docs, PAs, NPs, whatever) in different specialties and different settings (hospital/clinic/other).  You might find that you can stomach some of the things you don’t like if they are 1) temporary and 2) aimed at eventually getting you into an area that you like.  Being squeamish about blood, for example, is not mission-critical.

With all that said, it is your last sentence that concerns me the most.  “How to I get past having no desire to work any of the jobs that get me the experience I need to go to school?”  Yes, you have a family to care for, but would you rather they see you doing what it takes to get out of the rut, or resigning yourself to unfulfilled work?

Changing careers involves risk.  I worry about someone who wants this career, but doesn’t want to sacrifice the time, money, energy, and comfort to do what it takes to make the leap.  If that really is you, forget about lunch — medicine won’t even get you a free refill on your soda.