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I quit medicine for a corporate grad job. I felt behind but didn't have the passion to become a low-paid doctor.

Charissa Cheong   

I quit medicine for a corporate grad job. I felt behind but didn't have the passion to become a low-paid doctor.
  • Salaha Ashraf spent her last few years of medical school feeling stressed and anxious.
  • She said hospital wards were under-resourced and busy, and she knew she wanted to quit.

This as-told-to essay is based on a transcribed conversation with Salaha Ashraf, 28, from Bolton, a town in the northwest of England. Ashraf went to medical school in 2014 but pivoted into a corporate career after deciding she didn't want to be a doctor. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

There wasn't a defining moment when I decided to go into medicine. I sort of fell into it. In my South Asian culture, medical professions are highly regarded. Plus, my siblings worked in the medical field, and I could see them doing well.

During my time working in hospitals for my medical degree, I experienced a lot of anxiety and stress. I was working long shifts and felt like I was being thrown into the deep end.

I decided to leave the medical field in 2020 after finishing my degree. I got on a corporate graduate scheme at 25 and now have a 9-to-5 in HR. I've never looked back.

I struggled with the UK's understaffed hospital environment during my studies

I started my five-year medical degree in 2014 at a university in northwest England.

The first two years of my course were focused on learning theory about anatomy and physiology and the last few years were spent in hospitals, learning the skills and techniques I'd need to be a doctor.

I enjoyed the first few years, but I began to struggle in my third year when it became more hospital-based. In a lecture theatre, I was shielded from the realities of being a doctor.

The NHS has been under increasing pressure. When I worked in hospitals, the wards were understaffed, under-resourced, and extremely busy because of a lack of government funding. It was a tough environment to learn and practice skills. Doctors were being pulled in all directions. Finding one with the time to watch me practice and teach me was hard.

I also had reservations about junior doctors' salaries. Junior doctors in the UK have been striking for years over low pay. My peers had such a passion for medicine that they were willing to be doctors no matter what. I didn't feel I had enough passion to compensate for the lack of fair pay.

I found a new passion for business management but decided to finish my medical degree before switching career path

I dreaded going into my fifth year of medicine and decided to take a year out and do a master's in business management. I wanted to explore areas outside the medical field.

I felt more passionate about business management after one year compared to four years of medical school. I attended lectures because I wanted to, not because I had to.

I knew I wanted to quit medicine, but I was so close to the finishing line after passing my fourth-year finals before taking a year out. Logically, it made sense to finish my medical degree. I was meant to graduate in the summer of 2020, but it was brought forward to April because the pandemic hit.

In the UK, we have graduate schemes that help you get your foot in the door at an industry

During my fifth year, I started applying to graduate schemes. I'd heard about The Times newspaper's book of top 100 graduate employers. I looked through it and applied to a range of companies. My choices were mainly based on location, as I wanted to stay in the north of England, close to my parents.

The application process was harder than I expected. I didn't realize there were various stages, like personality and situational judgment tests. I messed up the first video interview I did. But my technique improved after a few other interviews.

I made it to a final interview with an aerospace company and got offered a remote job as a graduate commercial officer, managing contracts for the company. I started in January 2021.

There was a cohort of around 30 of us on the grad scheme.

I was 25 at the time, and many of the other grads were younger than me. I felt behind and like I should be further in my career at this stage, but I had to remind myself I had the maturity and professionalism that the 21-year-olds didn't have.

I learned a lot about communication while training to speak with patients as a doctor.

The perks of a 9-to-5 job are great

The scheme officially ended after 18 months, and I was given a permanent role in contracts. The company let me pivot into HR six months later because I wanted to do something that would incorporate my people skills.

I felt my medical background made me suitable for HR work. Doctors improve patient's lives, and in HR, I'm improving employee's lives. I left that company in September 2023 and now work in HR at a pharmaceutical company.

In a corporate role, I get my weekends off and have more control over my annual leave. I take an hour lunch break, whereas when I worked in a hospital, I would skip meals to keep up with the workload. I also work from home at my current job, which allows me to spend time with my family.

I feel I'm in the right career for me.

I don't wish I was a doctor

I try to look back at medical school in a positive light. I'm glad I did it because it taught me useful skills, like how to communicate clearly.

If I truly asked myself at 18, "What do I actually want to do?" I probably wouldn't have enrolled in medicine. If I felt empowered to follow my passion, maybe I would have studied psychology, which I found interesting at school. I'm glad I'm thinking about what I want now — better late than never.

I don't for one-second wish I was a doctor. I greatly respect people who are, but I strongly believe it's the passion that drives them — and that's something I ultimately never had.

In response to a request for comment from Business Insider, an NHS spokesperson said:

"There are more doctors working in the NHS than ever before, with more than twice as many people joining the medical register as leavers, but we know there is more work to do to retain our hardworking staff. As part of delivering our NHS Long Term Workforce Plan we've taken action to improve working conditions and improve retention, including increasing choice and flexibility in rotas and reducing duplicative inductions and training so clinicians can spend less time on admin and more time treating patients. At the same we are continuing to expand education, training and recruitment, including a 25% increase in medical places and an expansion of specialty training places, to ensure we have the staff we need to meet the changing needs of the population."

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