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Can I have a career in medicine and computer science?

The Question

I don't really know which way to go with my career. Since my childhood, my dream career has been to become a medical doctor. But early last year I started Web development just to pass the time since I am not yet in university, and now I'm also thinking about studying computer science. However, I still have a desire to be a doctor. I don't know what to do. Should I make a decision now to do just one of the two courses or could I do both course, maybe one after each other?

The Answer

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It is common to have a variety of career interests at different times in your life. I understand your confusion and desire to explore your options for careers in both medicine and computer science. You need to consider the education, training and career paths for these two options.

Clarify your vision for your education, career and life. Reflect on what it is that you would like to devote your life and career to. Consider your strengths, talents, experience as well as your weaknesses.

Find out the qualifications and experience required to enter the two fields of study. Medicine usually requires at least three years of an undergraduate degree with a number of prerequisite courses, completing a medical career aptitude test (MCAT), interviews, volunteer work and meeting a minimum grade point average. Computer science studies usually start with a diploma from a college or technical institute or an undergraduate degree in computer science or engineering.

Speak to academic counsellors at universities and colleges where you are interested in studying. They will help you determine if you meet the entrance requirements for these programs. They can also help you figure out the cost of your education. You also need to consider the length of time it will take to complete your training – for example, three to four years of undergraduate studies, then four years for medicine, one year for an internship, and four to six years to do a residency in a specialty. If you choose to pursue a master's degree in computer science then that will be an additional two years and a PhD is another three to five years. The thought of all this post-secondary education can be overwhelming. Take it one step at a time.

Consider taking courses in computer science and the life sciences such as biology and chemistry in your first few years of undergraduate study to see what interests you most and what you do well in. If you continue to have an interest in both areas then you can do a double major in computer and life sciences. Make sure that you take the right prerequisites for medicine and a post-graduate degree in computer science so you will have the choice of applying to either or a combination of the two.

Set up interviews with individuals who have combined the two fields. You will find professionals in the research and academic areas of medicine as well as in the clinical areas of medicine such as radiology, nuclear medicine, laboratory medicine, genetics, epidemiology and biostatistics, public health and population medicine, and others. Biomedical engineering may be another field to explore. Ask these people about what attracted them to the field, what they love about it and what they would do differently. Ask for their recommendations on how to combine your interests in both medicine and computer science. Take notes and figure out what will work for you. Your education and career path will be unique to you.

Look for summer and part-time jobs in hospitals, research labs, or computer labs where you can get the experience of working in the field. This will help you decide the direction you take in your education and career paths.

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Bruce Sandy is principal of and Pathfinder Coaching & Consulting.

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