Navigating Career Paths — Find Your Holland Code?

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Reader’s Question

I’m a little depressed and irritated.

I’m a male who has dropped out of my second year of medical school in India, and have now joined a local community college to pursue nursing. My parents had hoped I would become a doctor, and I thought it was cool telling my friends that I was going to be a doctor in five years. I know nurses are respected in the United States, but just the word ‘nurse’ is degrading (to me). I have nothing against it, but I’m a little irritated psychologically. Being a male makes it tough to be able to keep my head up and tell people I am a nurse. How do I get around this?

I thought about another career option, but my parents did spend quite a bit on my medical school in India. I dropped out because I didn’t want to end up becoming a doctor in India. The foreign medical graduate pass rate on the USMLE (US Medical Licensing Exam) got ridiculous. I wasn’t even top 100 in my class, so there was no way I was going to get that 99% on the USMLE. So now I’m back to the place where I was brought up, my home in New Jersey.

Since I didn’t want the medical knowledge I learned to go to waste, nursing seemed like a quick fix, a quick way to earn some money, and practice medicine, which I love.

Psychologist’s Reply

What an emotional investment it must have been for you to relocate to another country, only to realize that more barriers existed to meeting your career goals. Good for you for having the awareness to make a change before investing more time and energy into a program that was not a good fit for you and your goals.

Choosing a vocation, or ‘calling,’ can be a complex process. Counseling psychologists who specialize in vocational theory and practice work with clients to explore three elements that are unique to each individual’s career fit:

  1. Interests (what you like)
  2. Abilities (what you can do)
  3. Values (your needs)

In your case, it sounds as if you are very interested in helping people heal and helping others improve their physical health.

There is a wide range of abilities that are required in medicine, however, and a variety of diverse skills are used in different jobs in the healthcare field. You may possess many abilities that would contribute to your success in the field (such as caring for others, having good interpersonal skills, or being comfortable around medical instruments and wounds, for example). However, perhaps you have discovered some skills (such as specific academic courses or areas assessed on the USMLE) that may not come as easily to you.

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Finally, it sounds as if you are beginning to recognize some of your work values. For example, you recognize that you want to be involved in US healthcare rather than in a foreign country; you want to find a way to continue your education in healthcare and be involved in the direct care of patients; and the prestige of a job may be important to you, as may be finding a job that fits with more traditional gender roles. You may want to begin exploring other values-related questions such as how much debt you want to incur in your education, how many years you are willing to spend in school, how you feel about tolerating more licensing exams and residency placement processes, what your needs are for work vs. leisure hours, predictability of work schedule, day/night shifts, etc.

There are many paths to becoming a healthcare provider, and many jobs that exist in the field. Finding a job with a good person-environment fit can be rewarding if you methodically explore your choices. I would recommend first taking a version of the Strong Interest Inventory (with a qualified professional) or the Self-Directed Search to discover where you fit in the world of work using Holland Codes. Once you know your Holland Code, based on your interests, then you can find occupations that match your Holland Code. A great place to start is the US Department of Labor’s occupational website, or O*NET. Start with the page entitled My Next Move to begin the exploration process. Next, you can begin to research jobs that are categorized by Holland Code, and then you can further investigate how those jobs fit with your values, abilities, and interests through the website, professional organizations, and perhaps trying some ‘informational interviewing.’ If you ask, people often love to talk about their careers, answer questions about their daily work, and share their career path journeys with students!

It sounds as if you may be feeling pressure to fulfill your parents’ expectations, and perhaps you also may be experiencing the loss of things not going the way you had hoped. It’s a normal reaction to grieve the loss of a career path, but it does not mean you must pay penance by choosing a career that may not be a good fit for you. It may be helpful for you to share these feelings with your parents — you may be surprised by their response.

Some of the courses you have already taken in India may also be transferable to a university in the US — if not for an MD program, then perhaps for another science or healthcare degree such as a Physician’s Assistant, a Doctor of Osteopathy, a Nurse Practitioner, Radiologist or Physical Therapist. Perhaps the irritation you are experiencing is the impetus that will get you started exploring other university or college programs and visiting with program advisers to learn if your courses might transfer. Moving back to your hometown does not erase the work you have already done and the life experiences you have achieved. Every experience and skill you have can be useful as you work toward your next goal. Recognizing the skills you have obtained overseas and finding a way to incorporate these experiences into your next education and career steps may help to ease your irritation.

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