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A career in medicine is rewarding, but it isn’t for the faint of heart. It usually takes four years of undergraduate study, four years of medical school, and then three to seven years in a residency to be able to practice medicine independently. And that doesn’t include all of the work and study that goes into applying for programs and passing exams along the way.
However, the end result of all that effort is a career full of the fulfilling work of taking care of people at their most vulnerable moments — not to mention getting compensated well to do it.
If you’re considering applying to medical school, make sure you spend some significant time thinking through your decision before you head down this expensive, time-consuming path.
5 Things to Consider Before You Go to Medical School
Why do you want to go to medical school?
After four years of slogging through your undergraduate classes, it’s easy to forget the reason why you wanted to become a doctor in the first place, and it’s going to be easy to forget again as you enter into four more years of memorization and tests.
Before you begin medical school, it’s a good idea to revisit your current motivation for pursuing this career. Ask yourself what you actually want to do now that you’re a few years older and wiser.
If your goal is to become a doctor because your parents want you to, because you’ve already come this far and can’t stop now, or because you want to make a large paycheck, it’s going to be tough to stay motivated while you’re living on loans and pushing through late nights and stressful weekends.
If you want to become a doctor because you find it fascinating and want to care for people, it’ll be easier to keep from burning out and will make all the hard work worth it.
While this is only one piece to the puzzle of your medical school decision, it’s one that you should take into careful consideration before you move forward.
Is it reasonable that you’ll get Into medical school?
This may sound obvious, but it’s a legitimate thing to consider. Even if you graduated with your pre-med biology degree, how did your GPA fare? Could you get a quality reference from your professors? Did you perform well on your MCAT?
If you can answer all of these questions positively, you still might not get into medical school on your first try, but you’ll likely have a good chance of getting in the next year after you pad your application by getting a job or volunteering in the health care industry.
If you answered any of these questions negatively, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t or can’t go to medical school. It just means that the road to get there may be rough or may not happen at all. You should be prepared for this and may want to consider other options in case this does happen.
How are you going to handle it financially?
Yes, you’ll probably be paid well as a doctor, but that comes after four years of no pay while you take classes and then a modest paycheck during your residency, not to mention the time after that you’ll spend paying off your loans.
All this is doable, but you need to make sure you’re ready to live a very modest lifestyle for a while and to take on more student loans.
Medical school is a long-term financial investment that usually pays off handsomely. You just need to make sure that it’s worth it to you personally.
Are you ready and willing to put in the grunt work?
As you’ve probably learned from your undergraduate courses, even if you love your major, you won’t always like every one of the classes you have to take. Medical school does usually involve more clinical opportunities than your undergraduate classes did, but you’re still going to have to grind through some boring lectures and memorization.
In addition to all the studying, medical school and residencies are time-consuming and often require you to work odd hours, which can put a damper on your social life. Are you willing and able to put in this work and adjust your lifestyle for the foreseeable future in order to reach your goal of becoming a doctor?
This is an especially important question to ask if you’ve been out of college for a few years and are out of that rhythm.
In addition, if you have a family, are they willing and able to adjust their lifestyles for you to reach this goal? You’ll be less available and may even need to move them to wherever your residency is, which can be a strain on them. Many people do this successfully, but it’s an important factor to consider when you’re making your decision.
Can you thrive under significant pressure and stress?
From applying to programs to taking classes, to studying for board exams, to figuring out how to operate well in a clinical setting, there is a lot of stress that comes with medical school. Before you take on this endeavor, make sure that you’re in a healthy place to be able to handle this pressure.
You’ll need to be intentional about taking care of yourself and maintaining friendships and hobbies outside of work and school. Keeping your life well balanced in these areas is important to your success both during medical school and throughout the rest of your career.
If you feel like you can’t do this well, consider if there are ways that you can improve, if taking some time off would be beneficial, or if a different field would be a better fit for your personality.
Tips for Making Your Decision About Medical School
Now that you know what you should think through, here are some practical steps you can take to help you make your decision.
Shadow a doctor. Even if you think you have an idea of what field of medicine you want to go into, reach out to several different doctors of several different specialties and ask if you can shadow them.
Talk to your personal doctor, your professors, or any other contacts you may have about your desire to shadow someone. Even if they aren’t willing or can’t do it, often they’ll know of others who will, or they’ll be able to direct you to a specialist you’re looking for.
Seeing what a day in the life of a medical professional is really like can help you make your decision. You may realize that many of your preconceived notions were actually false or that you’re interested in a field you never thought about. You also may experience the opposite and knock an option off of your list, which is just as valuable.
While shadowing can be enormously helpful, you should be careful about basing your entire decision on one day. Talk to the doctors you shadowed to see how much of your experience reflects what their jobs actually look like on a daily basis, and continue the conversation as you pursue your education.
Get a different job in the medical field. If you’ve obtained your undergraduate degree and aren’t sure if you want to go to medical school, take a year off and consider getting a job in a hospital, doctor’s office, or other health care facility.
This lets you see the ins and outs of working in a health care environment, giving you insight into what you do and don’t like about it. You may find that you love working with surgeons, that you enjoy the fast-paced culture of the emergency room, or that you actually would much rather work as a dentist or veterinarian.
Taking the time to do this may seem like you’re wasting valuable time, but often having this year of work in the health care industry can actually help you get into medical school. Many college graduates aren’t accepted into a program the first time they apply but are able to get in after they have a year of experience under their belts.
Because of this, not only will you be more certain of your decision to go to medical school after your time working, but you’ll also be right on track with many of your classmates.
Talk to someone you trust. This is good advice for any decision you make. Talking through your thoughts, goals, and dreams with someone wiser than you can give you clarity and insight that you wouldn’t get otherwise.
They can point out aspects of your decision that you didn’t think about, help you see what would be a good fit for your abilities, and encourage and celebrate you once you make your decision, whatever it may be.
When you’re choosing your person (or people) to talk to, you should find someone who knows what they’re talking about, but more than that, you should find someone who knows you and cares about you enough to tell you the truth. That’s how you know you can trust them and their insight.
You also may want to talk with multiple people who have different expertise. A professor, for example, probably has a good handle on what you’re capable of academically and how that does or doesn’t line up with what medical school will take.
A relative or personal mentor, on the other hand, will know your personality and where you thrive and struggle, so they’ll be able to speak into those areas.
These are valuable people to have around you no matter what season of life you’re in, and they’ll be the ones to support you as you go through medical school or pursue a different dream.
Should I Go To Medical School FAQ
Yes, medical school is really worth it. It’s hard, but if you desire to become a doctor, it’s worth it. If you decide to pursue this path, remember that medical school is not for the faint of heart. You should also remember that having a career you’re passionate about will make all of that hard work worth it.
There are some people for whom medical school may not be worth it, however. If you don’t know that you want to be a doctor, aren’t ready to take on such a big financial responsibility and time commitment, or aren’t sure you’ll be able to succeed academically, medical school isn’t worth it.
Going into debt and giving up so much of your time and energy is pointless and permanently exhausting if you won’t enjoy the career you’re pursuing. Because of this, beware if you’re only trying to be a doctor for its prestige or because you want to make a lot of money — you’ll burn out quickly if those are your motivations.
Instead, you may want to consider another career in the medical field (or a different field) that you’d enjoy more.
If you have any doubt about whether you want to become a doctor, it’s best for you, your potential future patients and coworkers, and even your family if you take your time to consider all of your options before you jump into medical school.
The best age to start medical school is around 24. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, this is the average age of the first-year medical student.
Students in their mid to upper twenties generally are successful in medical school because they have the maturity and life experience that will make it that much easier for them.
Knowing how to function in a high-stress environment, interact with a wide variety of people, and assert themselves helps medical students succeed.
Plus, they’re generally somewhat used to living on a shoestring budget and running on little to no sleep since they haven’t been out of college long.
Even though this is the best age to start medical school, that isn’t to say that you can’t do it earlier or later in life. It just means that you may encounter more obstacles during these seasons.
Younger students will often be more used to the grind of studying and test-taking and have more familiarity with the information in their studies since they just finished college, but often medical schools want applicants to have more work experience than many new graduates have.
This can make it difficult to get into medical school and then to succeed once they’re there.
While older students bring valuable work and life experience to the table, they also often have more responsibilities in their personal lives, making the long, stressful hours of medical school even more difficult.
Whenever you go to medical school, just remember that it may be hard, but it is also temporary and will change the rest of your life.
No, medical school doesn’t ruin your life. If you are passionate about becoming a doctor and have carefully weighed and prepared for the costs of medical school, it will open the door to a lucrative and fulfilling career.
If there is something else, you’d rather do with your life than become a doctor, though, going through medical school will unnecessarily put you into debt and burn you out. In addition, it takes up time that you could be spending on preparing for a career that you care about.
All of that can be hard to recover from if you don’t complete medical school or stop working as a doctor. While going to medical school won’t necessarily ruin your life, even in this situation, it will strain you and your family in many ways, often for many years.
As a result, going to medical school if you aren’t 100% sure about what you want to do for your career isn’t a good idea.
On the other hand, if you do know you want to be a doctor, going to medical school will permanently impact your life for the better. You’ll be able to make a difference in people’s lives, do what you love, and make a handsome salary in the process. Plus, you’ll feel a great sense of satisfaction about having accomplished something so challenging.
No, you don’t have to get straight A’s to get into medical school. Having a high grade point average is helpful and sometimes necessary, but this is only one part of the puzzle that medical school admissions counselors will look at when considering you as a candidate.
They’ll also look at your extracurricular activities, volunteer work, internships, any work experience in the medical field, your personal statement, and your interview.
Medical schools will also pay close attention to the grades you received in your science courses, so if you’re going to put in the work to ensure you get an A, it’s best to do it for a science class.
This isn’t to say you can just let the rest of your grades slide, though. Medical schools will still want to see that you have high grades overall, as you’ll need to be academically proficient to make it through medical school.
You’ll also need to meet any science credit requirements to be eligible for medical school. These requirements also typically include minimum final grades for these classes, so make sure you pay attention to these while you’re still in college. You don’t have to major in a science degree, but you will have to meet these requirements.
So, at the end of the day, work hard in school to get high grades, but don’t think you have to give up your dream of being a doctor just because you won’t graduate with a 4.0 GPA.
Year one is the hardest year of medical school. Many students will likely disagree, but the first year is widely recognized as being the most difficult.
The majority of the first year of medical school is spent in classrooms and labs and requires an enormous amount of memorization. Not only that, but the number of hours spent in those classrooms and labs is often equivalent to a full-time job, plus all of the hours spent studying outside of that.
Many students find this extra difficult to make it through because much of the material they’re studying has little to do with actually being a doctor.
Yes, it’s important to know, but these classes are similar to general education undergraduate classes: they contain valuable information but aren’t necessarily what students signed up for when they chose their majors.
Because of this, it can be difficult for medical students to stay motivated and energized through their studies during this year.
On top of all of that, the first year is the most difficult because students have to adjust to new schedules, instructors, expectations, campuses, and even cities. They often have left their friends behind and have to start over socially while figuring out how to juggle all of their new tasks and stressors.
All this creates a difficult first year of medical school for students. The other years aren’t a cakewalk either, but they often get easier and more enjoyable as the learning curve lessens and the more hands-on, applicable work begins.
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