On A Leave Of Absence From Medical School, I Really Need Help. Please.

Hi there everyone.

I am normally not the person to post anything like this in a public forum -- I'm not a very open person. But I am desperate and need any help that anyone can give. Please.

I am on a leave of absence from medical school and am very haunted by the fact that I may be giving up on my life dream. Since a kid I have had thoughts on and off about being an incredible doctor. When I started college, I really started to buckle down and push to get into medical school. I was on such a high and had such a strong sense of purpose in life up until I got into medical school.

I was having several panic attacks every week in school - I had never had any before. I was disengaged and barely got by in my classes. I knew that if I didn't decide to take a leave of absence myself that they would have asked me to leave, because I was getting very depressed and would soon not be passing my classes. I felt so trapped while I was in school, that I was giving up my life. I even saw a couple of therapists who gave me exercises to determine my true values.

I decided to take a leave of absence and I was so sure of my decision. Elated, I left school after I convinced myself that it wasn't the profession for me and fell in love with other options. Now, about 5 months after I left, I have very haunting and dark thoughts that distract me from truly connecting to the people I care about and to the absolutely beautiful outdoors where I live.

Here is part of a journal entry from last night: "Why didn't I stick it out? What happened to me? I came so far and gave up. I am still a good person but it is hidden under all these dark clouds. I don't even want to be around people anymore. Will I have a numb life? I have never worked so hard for anything in my life. And I just give it away. I'm not proud. Will anything be as gratifying as the life journey as a physician? But what happens if I go back and the same thing happens again? Then I would go insane."

I've thought about other careers in the health profession: getting an wilderness EMT and then becoming a PA, or PT, etc. But none of them gets me really excited. It could be that I am depressed right now and it's hard to get excited...

I tend to idealize everything and overlook the realistic side. So I know that I put the whole doctor thing on a pedestal...but is it a true dream? Why did I freak out in med school? I feel like I came so far and am giving up. Will I live a life in quiet desperation if I don't go back?

And if I do go back, what happens if I get into the same situation and become depressed in school again? This is a double-edged sword. I really do not know what to believe anymore with myself and am experiencing a lot of pain and confusion.

Please help.
anon567 anon567
11 Responses May 17, 2012

Hi anon,

I am at the same place as you were. I took leave of absence because of multiple panic attacks and being signs of possible depression. I had never experienced anything even close to it so it scared me a lot. Now that you are back, I wonder if you were able to get any hopes for residencies. I am determined to go back but it sometimes haunts me that I might never end up with a residency and will never be able to accomplish my dream.
Please let me know how you overcame the whole thing - How did you re-gain your confidence and peace? How are you holding up right now?

I stumbled across this randomly and hope you still check it from time to time. I ended up exactly in your shoes. Worked hard for a long-time, got to medical school, lost purpose and started to have panic attacks. I want to go back, but I'm scared of a repeat. How did you ensure this didn't happen the second time around? Also, what study strategies did you use to make sure you were successful. Your story is truly and inspiration and I'm glad you decided to go back. Leaves folks like me with hope.

Hey everyone, I just wanted to thank you SO SO much for your support and I am so grateful for all of you. I am back in medical school now after a year of very intense reflection. I know my exact purpose in medicine and while we are taking all this information in and feel like zombies, I do everything I can to remind myself why I am here by giving back to the community through medicine, etc. It is very rewarding. Please don't hesitate to message me on here if you need any advice at all. xoxoxoxox.

Hi, anon. I found your post when I was googling on withdrawal letters as I am on the edge of dropping out of medical school. Reading your post and all these replies have only highlighted my urgent need to inevitably quit.

Let me tell you my story.

I am 27 and I've had things going for me despite my work life being somewhat erratic. But surprisingly since last year, I’ve been thinking long and hard about returning to my dream of pursuing a medical career. You could say I was always primed for it as I grew up in a medical family, having both parents as doctors, and for years I have been regretting my career choices- deviating from the life they have groomed for me. Finally, I decided to give it one more try. Why did I wait that long since graduating from my pre-med course? I knew if I wasn't 100% sure about a decision that would change the course of my entire life (especially at my age), I would not be able to pull through at all. Something happened this year to change my doubts. My father was shot to death. I cannot express into words what this has done to me and my family up until this day that I am writing this.
My 80% turned 100%. That's what it was. I would go into medicine, especially since that's one way to be closer to my father, and in dedication to my mother as well. This- besides my incredible desire to finally do something good, meaningful and rewarding by being an exceptional doctor just like my parents. I fought with myself numerous times, but I found in me a passion I never thought existed.
I did very good in my entrance exam admissions. It was my first 'sign' that I was meant for it, so to speak. The first few months were also forgiving. I passed exams, joined some extracurricular clubs, even became a class officer. I took all this like a bracing someone drowning would need. Being tremendously busy at that time in my grief shrouded some of it in a way that the “alternate reality” school threw at me became somewhat… relieving. The urgency the real world needed took a back seat behind the piles of books I had to read every night. Soon enough, the lines blurred. Medical school began to weigh heavily on me and my role confusion as a student, a daughter, a sister, and ultimately as the new “paternal figure” set in.
I’ve stopped passing. In fact, my grades have gone downhill and there seems to be no way to crawl back to steady ground. I’ve left whatever social group I’ve joined to hide away. The house is literally a mess being ignored repeatedly. I’ve become disconnected to the people in my life, most especially my own small family as I had blinders on every day… and every night. Just because I wanted to pass my classes and survive going to school 5x a day without rest on weekends. I thought I was numb in my reclusion but bursting into tears at the most unexpected times negated that. I doubt that the reason of my losing grip on being a doctor stems from taking things too seriously as the core of my strength lies in “taking it one day at a time”. I did. I am. I’m still trying. All this in only my first year.
All I know at this point is I’m tired beyond words. I drive to school wishing I could take a detour to someplace I can stare blankly at nothing and be free of everyone and everything. I realize now as I step back that medical school has changed me in a way I did not expect it to. I am disliking this new person I call myself. Perhaps I have not thought this through as much as I knew how. Perhaps we all still have not properly grieved the untimely passing of my father and yet I jumped into the fire instead of taking the time to heal and be at peace. Perhaps now is the time to stay still and reflect before I pick up the pieces again. If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that nothing is permanent. I know that the feelings of shame, loss, and regret are waiting for me when I decide to hand in that withdrawal letter but I will not wonder anymore. No more ‘what if’s’. And after everything, I suppose I’m ready for it.
Everyone has their own reason for leaving medical school and no comparisons will justify each. I thought I was brave when I decided to leave the life I knew for something entirely different. But in the end, it is indeed braver to be honest to yourself and abandon that life to start all over again. 2013 has been a tragic year and yet filled to the brim with new beginnings. I am grateful, still.

Hey I am trying to send you a private message but it isn't working. I am back in school now after intense reflection over the past year and am actually enjoying it. Can you send me a quick message? I might be able to help you.

*Back in medical school

are you being treated for depression or anxiety? b/c it sounds like you are suffering from depression AND anxiety issues. these are common, and as AmorVincitOmnia01 already said,everyone in medical school deals with it to some extent (but for some it is worse, and sometimes requires treatment).i struggled a lot with that during medical school (I took a year off as well), and still have tremendous issues with it during residency. during my year off i struggled with similar "inner issues", but i can say that much of my depression went away (only to come back in late 3rd/4th year). i wish i had paid more attention to that fact at the time.

I understand you.I, myself, had similar thoughts to yours when I was in med school about 35 years ago. There is no doubt that med school is tough, unnecessarily rough on the mind and body, and it does take a toll on every student...definitively. Every single student feels its stress, and more importantly, some are more sensitive than others, and express it more. (I personally just focused on small goals one at a time, like finishing the present rotation, gradruating...one little step at a time...because otherwise, everything seemed too overwhelming. And it worked.)For sure you are a brilliant person and definitively can find and reason your way through anything. So, I feel that you only need suggestions and then you can design your own intelligent approach. Believe me, you are brilliant and super perceptive and can achieve anything you choose to achieve. My only suggestion is to go little step by little step. That is, focus on small, little goals...like finishing this week, or just passing this exam. Then, for sure, be absolutely sure, be certain, to reward yourself! Get yourself a gift, or go to a place you like...you get the idea.Being a physician is rewarding. For sure you know the feeling of helping people and of the great joy of learning things to improve your own life as well as the lives of others.Also, remember you are the most important person here. Ignore what others think (this is really important!). Focus on yourself and on yourself only, for you are the most important person to yourself. Once you are in residency/practice, most likely you will barely remember your classmates and they will barely remember you. You are really important. And you should proceed in ways that make you feel happy, appropriately challenged, and fullfilled. That's what life is about!Take good care of you great mind. Exercise, breathe deeply often (always, always remember to breathe deeply often, especially when feeling stressed...as you know, it increases your O2 saturation and helps you feel better...besides, it will help you prevent panic attacks), be sure to eat wholesome foods, keep well hydrated, listen to great music, surround yourself by things and people you love and trust, and always think positive thoughts. You are a brilliant person and you can do anything you choose to do. I know you will do great!Best wishes.

Thank you very much for sharing your story. I think I can really resonate with your story because I had a very similar experience. I'm 3 months into my leave of absence from med school, after trying to stick it out my first year. I started feeling disillusioned and unhappy with medicine halfway through the year. I think that it was definitely the right choice for you to take the leave when you did. I tried to work through my feelings and stick it out, and I started to run into academic trouble. Throughout that year, I went back and forth about whether medicine was for me; I felt trapped in a long and narrow path, lost sight of the vision I had for myself as a doctor. During labs, lectures, exams, I felt alone in my unhappiness, surrounded by seemingly happy and purposeful students. I took a LoA, and I was convinced that I would take another path. But I ended up taking a research job at a medical center, to pay off the debt and for generous tuition benefits. I work to coordinate clinical trials, and a few days ago, I was scheduled to meet a patient at the hospital. He got to the hospital in such acute abdominal pain that he could barely speak or move, groaning and complaining of shortness of breath. I took him to the ER, and as I watched the staff triage, diagnose his condition (superior mesenteric artery thrombosis), and treat him so that within an hour he was calm and breathing normally, I felt elated - this was the power of medicine, this is what medical science is able to accomplish. On a more superficial note, I had described his medical history in detail to the staff, and wearing a long white coat, I kept being referred to as doctor. Since that day, I've been haunted by "what might have been," I've started reading my old notes and textbooks, trying to envision myself once more as a doctor. I'm still not sure where my story will lead me. I hope will overcome these obstacles (logistical and mental) and become a doctor. But, if I don't, I will have no regrets about my time in medical school. I hope you know that you're not alone. I think this leave of absence will help you to understand what you're meant to do, and I hope that you'll find clarity.

there is "power" in many things. religion, money, advice from elders, etc. etc. work through your academic course load and understand that this is a profession. the emotional stuff is good but won't pull you through. you have to like your work to the point that it is what you think about night and day. the doctors that i have been to love what they do, even if it means giving up time with family and their youth. this is something that they value. with obamacare coming, there will be more paperwork as well as with the fall of medicaid and medicare. these are issues that will always be there. the power of medicine will always be there as there is power in religious beliefs, money, and so on. those are just minor details. the key thing to look at is you must dedicate your entire life to practicing medicine. this is not a job. it's a complete lifestyle. some people cannot handle that. some can. all that matters is if you are happy in the end. examine your own values. some people value their profession. some value spending time with family. some value moderation in their lives (life work balance). you have to be honest with yourself because getting through medical school doesn't mean you're finished. it's a very long journey. it's a journey you would want if it aligns with your values. remember that life is short. no one is guaranteed a high income or a happy retirement. use your time wisely and make sure you know thyself.

i completely agree with this post. these are the exact things that i struggle with, and that makes every day feel like a grind.

most people nowadays become doctors for social status. the money is a JOKE compared to liability assumed, as well as malpractice lawsuits, tuition cost, and the 10 years of your YOUTH which you give up and will never get back. you never know when you will die. no one is guaranteed tomorrow. try and strike a good life work balance for optimum happiness. in the end, social status is useless. no one cares about you more than yourself. do what makes YOU happy, not what others perceive you as being.

This is so true. Every pre med should read what the guy above me posted. Humans do insane things for social status. Medical school is one of them. Parents often force their kids into this. Instead of teaching their kids to happy, they teach their kids to be rich. It so ridiculous.
How can anyone justify spending the ages of 25-32 ( prime years) in school. For most of human history people died even before 40 yrs old. You would just be done paying back loans by then. The only reason to go into medicine is if you really really really just love to memorize vast amounts of facts on the pathology of disease. That is what most of medical school is, raw memorization of facts. Period.
Society has idealized this profession so much that people get blinded by the hype. You only live once. Make sure that you find you true calling. Everyone is given a talent. It would be a shame not to use your talent because you were forced to go into medicine. if your calling is medicine, then go for it! But make sure you are doing it only because you like medical facts. If you are doing it for ANY other reason you will be miserable. Check out this blog on this topic.

I have a similar experience to both of you and I found your stories very helpful. I am also currently on a LOA. During my first semester of med school this fall I started realizing that I wasn't getting the same satisfaction from the process as the other students around me. I felt so out of place that I didn't know who I was any longer. It was such a difficult thing to come to terms with for me because I had, for a long time, identified myself as a future doctor. Who am I if I can't make it in med school? It's funny you mention looking out the window during studying because I also looked out the window and fantasized about running away from med school and starting a new life somewhere else. In essence, that’s what I did. <br />
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My solution was to finish up the first semester on a good standing, take my LOA, and find out who I really am. That would also be my suggestion to you but it sounds like you're already on that process. It makes logical sense that if you really aren't meant to be a doctor, then there is some mysterious calling that you have yet to find. If you look at it that way, a LOA is actually an exciting time. I know it has been for me. Maybe you've realized this too but I'm amazed at how much stuff you can get done when you turn your attention away from med school towards other tasks. I really do hope you find you special passion, something you have an aptitude for and you like doing. <br />
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There will be dark days as you mentioned. I'd consider dropping out of med school my greatest tragedy, and I'm often haunted by the memories of school, the town I lived, the girlfriend I had, the friends I made, even the emails that I occasionally get from the school can bring me down. Just don't forget that you're not alone! Also, don't forget why you left. In fact, when I first started my LOA, I wrote a letter to myself explaining my choice in taking a leave. I did this so I wouldn't forget my reasons, and so I would work hard towards finding a career choice that would bring happiness into my life rather than pain. <br />
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The Japanese life principle “Ikigai” translates roughly to that sense of purpose that one wakes up for in the morning. I hope you guys find yours!

Hi - I am very glad to read these stories as I myself decided to drop out of medical school this year. It was a very difficult decision to make, since I did fight my way to get in, which I'm sure you can relate to. I do at times feel like I am a failure and I've lost my "identity". For the past 4 years I've been determined to become a doctor and to have told everyone that I wanted to be a doctor narrowed my vision. I was excited to begin the medical journey, but as the M1 year went by, I learnt more and more that this was not for me. <br />
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I used to enjoy learning, meeting patients, and the long-term goal of "helping others". During M1, I realized that as much as I fantasized about medicine being a noble profession and improving people's lives, the field itself is just a business. As medical students we had to memorize insignificant details and sit in on politically correct classes and later would have to pay the school to "work" for "80 hours/week". Once I realized that medicine is just a business and with the amount of student loans I would accrue, I understood that I would not be able to practice medicine the way I would have wanted to. I want to help others and I strongly feel that by being a doctor, I would not be able to greatly affect people's lives as much as I idealized it to be.<br />
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In retrospect, I should have listened to my heart and the signs of other physicians/surgeons being disgruntled about their chosen profession. So I decided to leave medical school, because I believe there is more than one way to improve people's lives for the betterment of society. I thought that by being a doctor was THE profession, but the lifestyle of a doctor I believe is not conducive for most people. I feel that it is important to take care of oneself before taking care of others. I, for the first time, reached a depressed and burnt out state during M1, even though I had a lot of social and psychological support. I found this surprisingly odd and I took an entire year figuring out whether this was just a phase.<br />
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I think that re-evaluating our values in life is beneficial through this very tough time in our lives and to be steadfast in our values. I reflected back on things that I knew made me happy and began pursuing happiness in a new career choice. I find that setting new goals keeps me moving forward little by little.<br />
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I hope that I have conveyed a small tidbit about my reasons for leaving and to let you know that you are not a failure. This part of our lives is just a roadblock to what we are truly meant to do in our lives. We had succeeded into entering one of the most selective professional schools, so if we can beat those odds, we can surely beat any other odds against us! We will stand strong together as the smart drop-outs! If you don't believe me that we are smart, Google famous medical school drop-outs. There are so many who took our path and found success and happiness!<br />
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I hope that my post is of some benefit to you and anyone else who is in the same boat. It isn't an easy path for us, but we can definitely dust our shoulders off, stand up, and fight for what we believe in!

Hi,<br />
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I have never left a comment online either, but you seem like you really need help. The following post is going to be pretty long, so bear with me here. I took a leave of absence from medical school this past year as well. Last year around this time, I got accepted to a highly ranked medical school and like you thought all my dreams were coming true. However, a couple of weeks into the program, I began to seriously doubt my decision. I just couldn't handle the amount of material being thrown at me and was bored to death by what I was studying. Moreover, I wasn't myself. I was literally crying myself to sleep every night. While studying, I would look out of my window and wish I could run away and never come back. I always knew that medical school would be hard but I didn't expect it to take away so much of my freedom and happiness.<br />
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I took a good look at the students around me and was startled to discover that while they too found medical school to be difficult, they also kind-of enjoyed it. I thought they would be sharing my pain, but they were fine. Something was clearly wrong. And so, after a couple of months, I asked for a leave of absence. When I left medical school, I was a completely wreck. First, I was ashamed because everyone I knew thought I was going to be a doctor and lo and behold I quit after such a short time. Secondly, I felt like I betrayed my idealistic self. Society imparts such a negative stigma on giving up. It just sucks to be labeled as a quitter. Thirdly, I felt like I lost my identity. My dream of becoming a doctor was such a huge part of my life growing up. It was the reason I worked so hard throughout high school and as an undergrad. All those volunteer hours, the nights spent studying, the stress I put on myself to achieve high grades - did it all mean nothing?<br />
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That fall, after I left medical school, I began applying to other programs to give myself options other than medicine. This helped me take control of my life. Another thing that helped was that I purposefully isolated myself from all of my undergrad friends. Regarding medical school, I told them that I wanted to take some time off of school and left it at that. My family was my rock during this time. Moreover, I figured that while I had some time off, I would pursue cool things that I always wanted to do - random hobbies that I never had the time to pursue before. Having the right attitude helped me overcome the roller-coaster ride of this past year.<br />
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By spring, I got accepted to the other programs I applied to and now had options to choose from. I ultimately decided to NOT go back to medical school and to pursue another graduate program instead. I am not disillusioned. I know that life is hard and that you must work for everything you have. However, I honestly believe that staying in medical school would be unhealthy for me. I want a balanced life and I don't think I could achieve that in medicine. Others might be able to - but ba<x>sed on my personality, medicine would take too much out of me. On the plus side, I am SO excited to start my graduate program this fall. It's in a subject that I am really passionate about. Also, it's not a risky field - it pays really well and is appropriately challenging for me. <br />
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And so, after all that, here is my advice to you. First of all, if you are severely depressed right now, seek help from family, a close friend, or from your physician. Having such strong negative emotions can be really adverse for your health. It's not something that antidepressants can get you through - only your willpower will help. I have no idea if you are depressed but I figured I would mention that note just in case. Secondly, stop beating yourself up about leaving medical school. If it wasn't right, it wasn't right. Think about someone who is in an abusive relationship. Would you tell them to just stick it out? NO. If something is severely hurting you, by all means, leave. Also, quit early because you won't have a trail of loans and wasted time following you. You were very strong in leaving when you knew something wasn't working for you. Give yourself some credit. Thirdly, I cannot tell you if you should or should not go back to medical school. It's a deeply personal decision. But I highly advice you to think about it rationally instead of emotionally. Do you want the lifestyle of being a med student for the next four years? Do you think you can stick through residency? Do you have plans to start a family in your 20s? What other programs could you apply for this fall that would give you the lifestyle you want? Maybe public health? Optometry? Pharmacy? Dentistry? Law School? Work then pursue an MBA? Your future is full of potential and medicine is not the end. <br />
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More specifically, if I was you, I would tell the medical school that you're coming back for now. Yet, during this summer take another academic exam (DATs, LSATs, PCATs - whatever interests you) and work on getting a job lined up for this fall after that. Explore other careers this summer and you might find as I did that medicine is overrated and you can help others and contribute to society in virtually any field. If you don't like anything else, you can always go back to med school this fall. But give yourself the right to choose. <br />
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Lastly, life as a whole is short but it also can be very long and painful if you don't enjoy what you're doing. You failed at something. It's unfair and it sucks. Why did the other students succeed while you failed? I'm not sure - I ask myself that question sometimes. I know I'm intelligent and I am not exactly sure why things played out as they did. But everyone fails at some point in their lives. You just got yours out of the way early. Moreover, maybe you were meant to do something better. Ever thought of that? I don't know if you're spiritual, but I am. So from my perspective, maybe God has something beautiful planned for your future that you never imagined for yourself. The universe works in mysterious ways and sometimes you sorta have to go with it and pray that everything will work out. <br />
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I hope my post helps you. I will pray for you because our journeys are so similar. Isn't it weird how you can identify so much with a stranger. Take care =)

You have no idea how much your story has impacted and helped me.

I am seeing a couple of career counselors soon and will be hashing out careers/dreams/values.

I can't wait.

You are an incredible person and I am definitely keeping in contact with you :)

I'm glad I helped you. Counselors are cool and all, but you should definitely experience the career you are interested in by direct exposure. Work in a lab if you are interested in being a researcher. Be a pharm tech if pharmacy interests you. Get creative and have fun. Meanwhile, take up a hobby in your spare time. Ever wanted to learn how to play the guitar? Well, my friend, here is your chance. Also, if its any consolation, nearly everyone our age has no idea where their life is headed. A lot of really successful people take time off to get themselves together before moving on after college. I do caution you, however, don't expect perfection in any one field. Every occupation has its own challenges and life is hardly ever perfect.

"So from my perspective, maybe God has something beautiful planned for your future that you never imagined for yourself. The universe works in mysterious ways and sometimes you sorta have to go with it and pray that everything will work out. "

I am in similar situation with anon567 and I have ve been praying for enlightenment in making the right decision. I took time off from med school after 1 year when my Dad suffered from stroke... when i look back to it, it seems like i just made that as an excuse when actually I was already 'lost' even before that happened. But after a year off,like right now i'm thinking if i should go back to med school. I know ever since I was little I already looked up to my parents who are both doctors and i already had envisioned myself to become one. But at this point, I am filled with fear and what if's-- what if i find myself giving up again...

Thank you!! This helped a lot!

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