I dropped out of my master’s degree program at NCNM after my first year. I’m still in pursuit of my doctorate in naturopathic medicine, but frankly, I’ve been seriously considering dropping out of that program as well.
There would be many legitimate reasons for quitting: It’s too difficult, I can’t keep my grades up, I’m struggling, it’s making me miserable, I’ve found something I’m more passionate about, etc. But it’s none of these things.
I’m doing really well in my classes. Better than I expected, even. I enjoy learning. In my free time, I read about disease, cancer, health, potential cures. It’s all I think about. If anything, my passion for medicine is growing.
I was working towards a master’s degree in integrative medicine research. Specifically, I am interested in researching metabolic and nutritional approaches to cancer care in terms of improving the efficacy of chemotherapy treatments or even working independently to slow, stop or reverse the growth of cancer cells in the human body. There is massive potential in this field.
I’ve been in school, mostly living off of student loans, since 2008 when I started my undergraduate pre-med/biology education. I had an income for much of my undergrad career, but I was barely able to earn enough to cover my living expenses, let alone tuition or books, so the debt kept piling up.
After I graduated, despite having a job, I quickly fell behind on my student loan payments and annihilated my credit-rating. Over the next year and a half, I was able to start earning enough to keep up with my $1000 per month student loan payments, cover my living expenses and even put some money into savings.
It wasn’t really a sustainable road to debt-free happiness, though. I was working every single day as a massage therapist. The only time I took a day off was when my arms and hands hurt so much that I was physically unable to give a decent massage.
In order to totally pay off my undergrad student loans, I would’ve had to continue that for the next 15-20 years. I don’t think I am physically capable of lasting that long as a massage therapist. This dismal reality, combined with the fact that I was still outrageously passionate about becoming a doctor, inspired me to take my savings, move to Portland and start med school. At least I’d be able to defer my loan payments.
My ambitions widened immediately after starting school, when I realized that I might be able to contribute to cancer research through the master’s program. I applied and was accepted. My federal student loans were enough to cover the tuition of the medical program and some living expenses, provided I lived extremely modestly, but were not enough to cover any of the costs associated with the master’s degree.
I wasn’t worried. I was armed with my small amount of savings, relentless ambition and an unstoppable confidence. But I should’ve been worried. I burned through every penny of my emergency savings on the additional tuition. As it turns out, while confidence and ambition are invaluable tools for a student, they are worthless if they aren’t combined with adequate finances.
Recently, during one of my many sleepless nights, I was thinking about how I’m going to afford to live during the upcoming school term. I came to the obvious realization that, at the very least, I’d have to drop out of the master’s program.
In retrospect, I realize how financially irresponsible and stupid it was to enroll in the master’s program to begin with. I was a bit idealistic, I suppose. As much as I tried to deny and ignore it, the limitations to what I can achieve as a student do not come from my drive or intellect. The ceiling to my academic potential is currently an issue of money.
In order to officially withdraw from my master’s degree, I had to meet with deans from different departments. During one meeting, the woman I was speaking to immediately saw how devastated I am to drop out of the program and began to brainstorm ideas for how to keep me enrolled.
We didn’t come up with any solutions, but during our conversation about my interests and intended path, she perked up. She told me of a personal friend of hers who is in my field of interest and completed a residency at the same hospital that I hope to do mine. She earns around $250,000 a year. This was intended to be inspiring. At first, maybe I was slightly filled with hope, but it quickly turned into another source of disappointment for me.
When I first decided to pursue a career in medicine, I didn’t think about the size of my salary. I didn’t care about money or earning potential. Now it’s all I think about. And hearing that in 5 to 10 years I could possibly start earning $250,000 a year isn’t all that comforting.
When I started, I expected to be pushed to my limits. I expected to work relentlessly. I knew it would take everything I had. But I didn’t expect my main source of stress to be from my upcoming rent payment. I didn’t realize that success as a med student meant graduating with student loan payments equal to the salary of a typical American. Becoming a doctor has been referred to as ‘the million dollar mistake’ by CBS news, when loans, interest and opportunity costs are taken into consideration. While that might be a slightly over-dramatic assessment, I don’t think they’re too far off.
I’ve been thinking about quitting a lot. I’m constantly asking myself if it’s worth it, especially now that I’ve been forced to drop out of the master’s program. I really don’t know if this outrageous financial investment was a good choice.
But the thing is, this is who I am. I can’t not do this. There is no question in my mind that I will contribute a great deal to this field and there is nothing else I can imagine myself doing. So I can’t quit. I have to keep going. I am painfully and relentlessly determined to become an amazing doctor, whether it’s a good choice or not.
I’m going to be in fairly severe financial trouble for quite some time and, while that really sucks and I’m hoping it doesn’t last forever, it’s not necessarily the issue that upsets me most. What upsets me is that I sincerely wish this wasn’t my passion. I wish I wanted something else, anything else. I’m working towards a goal that I’m not comfortable recommending to others. I find myself daydreaming about having a passion that doesn’t require me to throw myself into a financial black hole. I hate that this is what I want.
My second year hasn’t even started yet and I’m defeated, angry, bitter and burnt out. My confidence is shattered. I’m embarrassed. But I’ll continue studying and hope it proves to be worth it in the end. In the mean time, I’ll keep asking myself: Why, oh why, couldn’t I have wanted to move to Hollywood and work as a waiter while trying to make it as an actor? It would’ve been a much more financially responsible decision.
This situation has caused me to think about turning my writing into a source of income, but I realized that asking anyone to pay money or deal with annoying pop-up ads for my mediocre, amateur writing is pretty ridiculous.
I’ve instead decided to add a Paypal ‘donate’ button. Of course, I don’t expect anything from anyone, but in the event that you feel compelled to donate, all of the money I collect will go directly towards funding my education.