By Karla L. Miller
Special to The Washington Post
— Q: I've always wanted to become a doctor, but just getting me and my siblings through college left my family strapped for money. Long story short, I graduated with a loan balance that prohibited me from obtaining my diploma and my transcripts, which I need to apply to med school. I've spent two years paying that off.
A few months ago, I was hired at a prestigious institution offering invaluable medical and research experience. It's a great job for someone with my interests; I work with surgeons every day. The institution likes its employees to verbally commit to staying two years. I was initially fine with that, because I didn't expect to be able to apply to med school this year.
However, a fortuitous turn of events has allowed me to pay off my balance in full (though not all my school loans) and obtain a transcript. I could apply to school this summer, in time for the 2014 term. After the struggle it took to even get to this point, the idea of putting off school another year pains me.
My problem is the two-year job commitment. Unfortunately, medical school is usually an all-or-nothing deal; most med students can't work while attending school.
Everyone says in this economy you have to do what's best for you, but my honor means a lot to me.
A: Honor is all well and good, but my thoughts on this have more to do with pragmatism.
Of course you have to do what's best for you, but "what's best" may mean finding your professional and financial footing first. The experience and referrals you stand to gain from your job should set you apart from younger, greener applicants. Also, don't discount the awesomeness of simply being employed; it might allow you to sock away some mattress money.
And don't immediately reject the idea of working part time; it's grueling but not unheard of. You also might be able to thread the suture needle by applying for deferred acceptance, if your desired school offers it.
Not sure this advice is right for you? Ask a doctor. Chat up your colleagues about their career paths, how schooling affected their other life goals and whether they'd do anything differently. You might even confide your aspirations to a knowledgeable co-worker whom you trust to be discreet.
I realize that medical school, more than most postgraduate degree programs, demands a significant time commitment, so it's not a decision you can dither over forever.
However, that's all the more reason to pause and reexamine what you've "always wanted" before you charge headlong into more years of study, sweat and debt.
Karla L. Miller writes an advice column on navigating the modern workplace. Each week she will answer one or two questions from readers. Miller has written for and edited tax publications for 16 years, most recently for the accounting firm KPMG's Washington National Tax office. You can find her on Twitter, @KarlaAtWork