Quitting Residency After Intern Year

Today read about my chat with a general surgery intern who is quitting her residency program! Find out why, and what she plans to do next.

This is part of my “Life after residency” series

Earlier this year, I caught up with the general surgery intern who I had mentored as a med student.  During the conversation, I helped shed some light on what life was like on the “other side” of residency training. We also discussed some things that surprised me about attending life.

It’s only been a few months since our conversation. So I was surprised to hear through the grapevine that she was thinking of quitting her residency program after intern year and leaving medicine altogether!  

I reached out to her and we set a time to chat.

Below is an edited summary of our chat. This time, I was the one asking the questions.

Are you struggling through intern year of residency? Check out this post: How to survive intern year of residency: the basics.

So what’s going on?

Since 4th year of medical school, I’ve wondered if medicine was actually the right decision for me.  I didn’t love my clinical rotations, but I did love surgery. Most of intern year has been brutal, so I was looking forward to a surgery heavy rotation at the VA hospital.  I’m just finishing that rotation now, and it was enough evidence for me to realize that surgery by itself isn’t enough to keep me in medicine.

What about else about medicine turned you off?

It was the patient interaction in clinic, really.  I didn’t enjoy it. I had a vision of myself in the future, seeing patients in clinic and doing their surgeries, and it didn’t excite me.  

Not only was she quitting her residency program, but she was going to leave medicine altogether!

I learned that she had already moved beyond contemplation and had acted!  After months of internal debate, she had notified her program director of her decision to leave the residency program.  

She agreed to finish out intern year so they aren’t down a body. Her program has already found a willing resident to take over her spot starting in year two.

So what are you going to do next?

I’m still figuring this out.  I’ve got a few more months of intern year, but at the same time I’m applying to consulting jobs.  I could also see myself in a health technology startup so I’m exploring those options.

I offered to put her in touch with a couple of acquaintances who have made a similar transition, and wished her good luck.  


The good

There are a lot of positives about her career change.  First of all, it’s great that she figured all this out before finishing a grueling residency program and working for a few years as an attending.  It’s much harder to make a career change at that point, and the golden handcuffs tighten quickly once those attending paychecks starts coming in.  

Also, with the intern year under her belt, she will be a fully licenced MD, with the ability to practice as a GP (general practitioner) if at some point she decides to go back to medicine.  

It’s comforting that for the near future, she can always just change her mind. It won’t be too hard to slip into a second year surgery residency spot if she decides next year that she made a horrible mistake. It might not be a program in Southern California, but it will be a program somewhere.

The value of an MD degree

What’s more, there’s great value to having an “MD”.  As professional degrees go, it carries with it immense social capital.  In whatever business venture she pursues, I anticipate that she will have respect for her intelligence without having to prove herself.  She has already proven herself by going through the rigorous selection process of medical training and emerging with an MD.

The perspective of an MD is invaluable.  It’s one of those “black box” fields where it’s impossible to understand what it means to be a physician without having gone through the training process.  I suspect it’s a similar situation to firefighting or law enforcement. You can’t understand the particulars of their lives unless you’ve walked in their shoes.  

This perspective will make her a sought after consultant for the medical industry.  I just can’t imagine that many consultants are walking around with an MD under their belts.  She will be a rarity.

The bad and the ugly

It’s heartbreaking that she invested so much time in medical school and intern year, only to decide to quit residency.  There is an incredible investment of energy required to obtain an MD. To spend that energy without getting the payout of a long and fruitful career as a physician… it’s just sad.

When I think back to my own path, I never would have knowingly gone through the process if I knew I wouldn’t be practicing medicine on the other side of training. If I was going to end up as a consultant, I’d much rather have gone straight for that industry from the start.

This is so random, but it’s well done and I felt it fit in nicely.


I’m glad my friend had the foresight to envision her life as an attending physician and realize that it wasn’t going to make her happy.  This realization may have prevented yet another unhappy and burnt out physician. I am sad she didn’t figure this out before spending the last decade training for an MD, but c’est la vie!

It takes a lot of courage to quit residency training, so I have a lot of respect for her. I wish her all the best.

Have you ever thought about quitting your residency program? What stopped you? Comment and subscribe below!

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4 years ago

There was an administrator at the hospital I worked who was an MD/MBA in medical admin> I don’t think she even did an internship. Her med school was one of the Caribbean schools. Nothing against them, I have some friends who are very good physician out of the Caribbean. Her “job” was to interface between the medical staff and admin as admin tried to force certain policies on us. I think she eventually went into selling EMR and setting up EMR systems. I don’t find it as a loss. This is America where you can be what you want

4 years ago

I had a similar path, did a prelim year then went into consulting. I would be happy to get on a call with your surgery friend.

4 years ago

I’m currently debating leaving medicine as well, after finding that this may not be what I envisioned for myself. I am in my second year of residency, but feeling lost in terms of where to start looking for jobs outside of residency, especially because I am saddled with so much debt, and it scares me to just leave without knowing what options are out there. Any words of advice would be greatly appreciated!

4 years ago

Thank you so much for your advice! I have never felt more lost and more unsupported in my program, which I think is making my doubts even greater. I have definitely thought about switching specialties, so I may look into that. I also do think there may be other things out there that are not medicine, because I have so many interests outside of medicine.

Again, thank you so much for the info!

2 years ago

What you wrote rings absolutely true. While my career change was medically forced and I now enjoy what I do, if I had known I was going to end up working in business, would I have gone through vet school, internship and two years of residency? Absolutely not. No chance. I would have bailed when we were taking gen chem on Tuesday nights in the basement of that building in Philadelphia.

I do think the MD is more powerful and versatile than other medical degrees and often wonder “what if” that way.

I hope your friend finds success and happiness in her next steps.

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