When you don't want to be a doctor anymore

Saturday, August 19, 2017 Stef dela Cruz, MD 4 Comments

You’ve probably met the type. Still a doctor in training, he might have said something like, “My mom would love to have a doctor in the family,” or, “My dad, a respected surgeon, wants me to follow in his footsteps.” Either way, you could hear what wasn’t spoken: He wasn’t really into medicine.

reluctant doctor

Or maybe he’s you.

Maybe you’re that med student who doesn’t have a clue about his life. Yes, you can ace each test because – let’s face it – you’re smart. You’ve got the brains, sure, but you just don’t have the heart, and you’re simply going through the motions, hoping against hope that you will one day learn to love the one thing you don’t – just because you’re good at it, just because everyone else says it’s your destiny.

Maybe you enrolled in medical school because you really wanted to heal the sick… except that for some strange reason, you no longer want to.

You will find it hard to say what’s in your heart. Admitting what you truly feel – out loud, with conviction, like a truth that can no longer be ignored once it has been pointed out – feels like a sin.

I don’t actually want to be a doctor. Ugh, no, for some reason, you can’t say it.

“You should be thankful that you have the resources to study medicine. Think of everyone else who would have been glad to be in your shoes! Your parents worked hard to get you here – don’t ruin it.” Yep, they’ll think it, and they’ll even say it.

Oddly enough, it seems that you are the only person who doesn’t know what to do with your life. Your aunt, neighbor, teacher, and mother’s bestie’s cousin’s doctor-buddy all seem to know you’re meant to finish medicine.

Hold on. Maybe you know what to do with your life. Or maybe you don’t, but you know what you don’t want to do. But you’re already a med student/ intern/ resident/ consultant. You’re here, smack in the middle of a situation you can’t seem to get out of without earning a few disapproving stares, and everything you feel can be summarized by one word: stuck.


Stuck in medicine

Sounds all too familiar? Then read this, and read it well. This might be the first (and the last) time you will for some time, and after a week, a month – nah, after you’ve actually graduated and earned your diploma – it might be too late.

Although in all honesty, it will never be too late. But I digress.

I want you to pay attention because this is your life we are talking about. This is not some computer game: If you lose, you won’t have two more lives to make things right.

One life. That’s all you’ve got.

You may eventually decide to pursue medicine and become happy with your decision, regardless of what your parents didn’t tell you about medicine. You may drop it altogether, do something else, and be one of the rare happy people who can honestly tell the world that they have listened to their true calling. Either way, there will be undeniable truths you need to realize now before you take the next step, before you lose the strength to do what you know you should…

…Before you decide to ignore that annoying little voice inside you that made you want to read this article in the first place.

Your life, your expectations

It’s your life. Your life. There are no two ways about this.

Nobody can live our lives except us. As for me, I don’t really expect to live it based on people’s expectations. How about you?

If you have to take up medicine and finish it, do it because it’s your choice, not because the choice was made for you.

You get one shot at this. Two, if you’re lucky. Make the years count because there’s no telling when it’s time to clock out.


You have a calling

Yes, you do. It’s been bothering you, in fact. It’s telling you to listen, whispering in your ear, playing in your mind like that annoying song that has become your day’s official earworm.

It’s telling you to change your mind, to do what you know you’re meant to do.

Or maybe you haven’t heard it yet. Maybe that voice inside you is silent for a reason. Maybe it’s not time for you to be called.

But then again, maybe it’s always been there but you have learned to tune it out. You have gone deaf from the applause your family and friends have given you about your decision to become a doctor. You have convinced yourself that the voice is nothing but an auditory hallucination that will soon come to pass.

Hopefully, that voice will keep bothering you whether or not you decide to have a hearing problem or a self-diagnosed psychiatric disorder. Maybe the next time it starts whispering again, you will finally have enough peace of mind to listen.


Not everybody will have the luxury to heed their calling

Maybe you have a family to feed and you can’t be a starving artist. Maybe you don’t have the resources to pursue your truest, purest dream.

Not everybody can afford to heed their calling. Doing so is a luxury, one of the highest order. But if you do have the resources, you are a fool not to give it your best shot.


Nobody can figure it all out except you

I receive dozens of emails each week, mostly from students who are unsure about what to do next. Should they take up medicine? Is medicine going to solve their financial woes?

Is it medicine worth it?

“I am the best student in my batch,” one student was bold enough to admit. “I feel I have what it takes to be a doctor.”

What was plain in his email, however, was that he lacked the one thing he needed to survive unscathed in his preferred profession: heart.

He just wasn’t into it. His email was not meant to convince me that he would make a good doctor.

He wrote it to convince himself.

Oh, if only life came with a handbook! Oh, if only I had the answers to all his questions! But I don’t. I can say something that may inspire or guide him, but nobody can figure out what he and the many young doctors-to-be out there truly want except them.

Same goes for you.

Go ahead, send me a message. Tell me why you’re confused. Tell me how I can be of help. After all, I know how it feels – been there, done that, and I lived to tell. But I will also tell you that I can’t make up your mind for you.

You will be the one to make the call. You will be the one to choose – left or right? – once you get to the inevitable fork in the road.


You will make mistakes and that’s okay

Maybe the decision you will make isn’t the best one after all. Maybe you’ll falter, perhaps even fail a bit.

Maybe you’ll fail a lot.

That’s okay. Life goes on. Failure can work for you. Hey, maybe your failure is your calling’s doing. Maybe you are being pulled in the right direction by being pushed out of the wrong one.

Survive the fall and things may just make sense yet.


And in case you decide to finish what you started…

You didn’t want to take up medicine yet you did. You didn’t want to finish med school yet you did.

What now?

Keep your chin up. Maybe you don’t want to become the kind of doctor you usually see – that is, one who does rounds in the hospital or sees patients at the clinic. Maybe you can be another kind of doctor: researcher, hospital administrator, legislator who focuses on public health.

Maybe you don’t want to be a doctor at all and you want to pursue a course not related to medicine and health in any way. That’s okay. You can contribute to society in so many ways and that’s the beauty of life.


Besides, do we really want you as anyone’s doctor if your heart just isn’t in it?


So, relax. Regardless of where you are in life, even if you feel more stuck than ever, you actually aren’t. You have what it takes to make a move. Maybe you’re not ready yet, but once you are, you will realize you were never stuck.

You’ve always been free, whether you want to admit it or not.

That’s the gift, actually. Free will. Do you know that free will is the main prerequisite of love? Nobody can force you to love someone – you have to make the decision on your own. Yes, free will is that important. Don’t ignore the fact that you have it.


If you feel stuck, it’s because being stuck is the most comfortable position you can be in at the moment. Being stuck is the only option you want to take, because the other option is making your move (and you have convinced yourself that you’re not brave enough for that).


That’s okay. Become a doctor. Don’t become a doctor. Whatever you decide, that’s fine. You have the free will to get where you need to go.

Whatever decision you make, don’t feel guilty. Don’t feel guilty if you listened to yourself and quit medicine. Don’t feel guilty if you didn’t listen to yourself and you graduated from med school. Either way, you will learn lessons that will help you in the future.

Either way, you will find what you need to get unstuck.

Stef dela CruzAbout the blogger
Stef dela Cruz is a vegan doctor and writer. She received the 2013 Award for Health Media from the Department of Health. She is the editor of The Manila Bulletin's Animal Scene Magazine. Get in touch if you want to invite her as a speaker!


  1. Ako din po ay isang med student na "stuck". I was already in the middle of clerkship when I filed a leave. I'm still trying to figure out my way, trying to get "unstuck". I hope everything will work out.

    1. We all get stuck once in a while. That's okay. Right now, the place you most need to be in is where you are stuck, so that you can look clearly at everything that's happening before you can finally move on and forward.

      Ask yourself honest questions, and answer them honestly, too. You don't need to impress anyone. You don't need to please anyone. Just be honest. That will be the most difficult thing at this point. Once you know the real answers to your life-changing questions, you're halfway out of that rut. :)

      Best of luck, Karla Mae, and do drop by here or on my Twitter/ Instagram to update me. Let's connect on our social media, okay? Hugs!

  2. This is exactly what I needed to hear. Your words are very comforting for my very conflicted mind. Thank you.

    1. You are very welcome, Doris. I hope you find the comfort and peace you deserve!