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My name is Shirag Shemmassian, and I’m the founder of Shemmassian Academic Consulting.
When I was growing up, it was almost preordained that I was to become a physician myself.
In the Indian community, families really push their children to become “one of the big three” with regards to profession: doctor, lawyer, or engineer.
Anything less than entering one of those professions felt as if you failed your family (and I am sure other members of the community would think your parents did not raise you properly).
As my father was an Internist and a source of inspiration, the path of medicine to me was the easiest and most logical.
Few, however, really know the struggles there are to not only become a doctor, but continuing to practice as one.
The jury is still out about how I feel when my daughter told me she wanted to become a doctor a year ago.
I thought it would be nice to have a series regarding individuals who had the opportunity to become a doctor but chose not to, and find out if there were any regrets or not.
I received the following via my Contact form which led to the very post you are currently reading:
My name is Shirag Shemmassian, and I’m the founder of Shemmassian Academic Consulting. We help high-achieving students get into top medical schools and residency programs.
I learned about your site after contributing to the White Coat Investor and Physician on FIRE. I admire the resources you’ve also created for high-earning medical professionals pursuing financial literacy. My brother is a physician and he discusses how little financial education they receive, if any.
I noticed your request for guest posts from folks who almost went into medicine and I’m writing to share my story below
Sometimes it does indeed pay to be a prolific commentator on other sites 🙂
Please provide some background about yourself:
As the sons of two Lebanese immigrants of Armenian descent, my brother and I were expected to attend great schools and pursue stable, high-earning vocations in fields like medicine, dentistry, or law.
This expectation was pervasive throughout the Armenian community in Los Angeles, where I grew up.
I think it had pros and cons.
On one hand, the expectation to work in certain fields encouraged me to achieve at a high level.
On the other hand, it restricted my thinking about what other opportunities were available to me.
How far along were you in the path to become a physician when you first felt any doubts about your career choice? (high school, college, medical school, residency):
I attended Cornell for undergrad and completed all of my medical school prerequisites, graduating with a 3.9 GPA.
I also participated in all of the necessary extracurricular activities, including physician shadowing, volunteering, research, etc.
If you reviewed my resume at the time, it screamed “pre-med!”
However, when I sat down to study for the MCAT and reflected on my desire to go into medicine, I decided to pursue a different career opportunity instead.
What were some of the factors that you weighed when considering whether or not to continue the path to becoming a physician?
I grew up with Tourette Syndrome and have long been fascinated with addressing mental health stigma, completing mental health research, and supporting individuals with various mental health conditions.
I knew that if I pursued medicine, I would go into psychiatry or neurology, and I didn’t want to focus on other areas of medicine like orthopedics or cardiology in the interim when I knew where my passion was.
In addition, I was concerned with the high cost of attending medical school.
I grew up in a solidly middle-class family, and my parents couldn’t help with my college tuition, let alone my medical school tuition.
While I received enough grants and scholarships to graduate from college debt-free, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to take on over $200,000 in medical student loans, especially since I was beginning to have doubts about my desire to become a physician.
I also considered the opportunity costs of spending so many years in medical school, residency, and fellowship.
For instance, had I pursued child psychiatry, I would have had to train for 9 years post-undergrad, perhaps live somewhere I wasn’t particularly excited about, and not be able to pursue other work that excited me.
Of these factors, which one did you feel had the most significant impact on your decision to leave the medical career path?
Ultimately, it wasn’t one thing that led me to pursue a different career, but collectively, I didn’t feel comfortable going into medicine when I didn’t feel fully committed.
What profession did you ultimately decide to pursue? What were some of your deciding factors that led you to choose this career?
I chose to complete my PhD in Clinical Psychology at UCLA because it offered everything I was looking for:
- The opportunity to conduct research under the mentorship of world-class faculty.
- The ability to study mental health rigorously.
- Learn how to effectively diagnose and treat mental health conditions to help people lead more fulfilling lives.
There were two additional bonuses:
First, I completed my degree in five years and found interesting work developing psychological tests.
Second, my education was completely paid for through various scholarships and fellowships I obtained.
Graduating debt-free has been hugely helpful because I have been able to pursue work I’m greatly interested in, with less concern about finances.
This freedom has allowed me to think bigger and achieve a flexible schedule.
Are you happy that you chose to pursue your current profession or do you have any lingering regrets about giving up a medical career as a physician?
I’m certainly happy with my decision not to pursue medicine.
Interestingly, however, I no longer work as a clinical psychologist.
After years of helping friends, family, and others get into top colleges, medical schools, and residency programs, I decided to found an admissions consulting business.
Now, I focus on this work full-time, from helping pre med students craft a compelling medical school personal statement to prepping current medical students for residency interviews.
It’s such a joy to get to know bright students and supportive parents, and a privilege to help others achieve their educational and career goals.
As far as financial ramifications of your decision, do you feel you are currently financially ahead or behind where you would be if you indeed had become a doctor?
At this point, I would say that I’m either at or ahead of where I would have been along my financial path had I pursued a medical career.
I attribute this to graduating with no debt, as well as earning a respectable income and investing.
On the admissions consulting side, word of mouth has spread because our students have been highly successful in getting into top medical schools for years.
If your child or a close family member confided in you that they were interested in becoming a physician, what advice would you give? Would you dissuade or encourage them along the medical path?
I think that medicine is a great career choice for so many people.
It’s intellectually challenging and you play a central role in helping people achieve and maintain sound health.
While the journey is long, I know from speaking with friends and family members (my brother is a physician!) that it’s also incredibly rewarding.
If my child or close friend wanted to pursue a medical career, I would encourage them to carefully weigh the pros and cons of becoming a physician, as well as potential alternatives.
If medicine is far and away their most compelling option, they won’t receive any push back from me.
I just believe that selecting a career path is a highly personal decision, one that should be approached with thoughtful deliberation.
Shirag Shemmassian, Ph.D.
Founder | Shemmassian Academic Consulting
It is interesting that the familial pressure to obtain certain white collar jobs is similarly seen in the Armenian community much like the Indian community.
Shirag is fortunate that he came to the early realization of not wanting to become a physician and therefore did not have to waste time or money attending medical school or residency first.
It is tough to go against one’s “parent’s wishes,” but too often those that do not find themselves in an unsatisfying career and at a much higher risk for burnout than those that go into the field of their own volition.
If you, or someone you know, initially pursued a career in medicine but have since done an about face, I would love to hear your story and possibly share it with my readers.
If you are in search of financial help, please consider enlisting the service of any of the sponsors of this blog who I feel are part of the “good guys and gals of finance.”
Even a steadfast DIY’er can sometimes gain benefit from the occasional professional input.
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Interesting story. My take home from this is, even despite pursuing his passion, the author ended up not practicing clinical psychology nor doing research in the field. As life evolves or changes the parameters for our happiness, our passions ebb and flow. What charmed you at 20 or 30 may lose your interest by 40. Most physicians would be wise to consider this possibility.
Well said CD. When I was younger, I was procedure oriented (hence being drawn to General Surgery and then finally Interventional Radiology). However as I have gotten “more mature” I no longer gravitate to those areas. Age can cause you to pivot multiple times.
Thanks for your comment! That’s an interesting observation and indeed highlights how interests evolve.
When I pivoted into clinical psych, I was sure I wanted to become a faculty member one day, and then a clinician, and then work in industry, and now I work as a full-time entrepreneur. I’ve observed “interest evolutions” in my physician brother as well, and definitely agree that folks should consider such changes before pursuing medicine or any other career. Fortunately, there are so many things you can do with an MD degree…