Determining whether you want to study medicine isn’t a decision to be made lightly. The experience won’t be like Grey’s Anatomy, with drama, intrigue, and valuable interactions at every turn. In fact, much of the experience will be boring, exhausting, and feel like it’s not worth the work.
However, a career in medicine can be incredibly rewarding— both financially and emotionally. If you’re wondering whether the rewards are worth the effort, here are some top considerations before pursuing studies in medicine.
You’ll Be in School for a Long Time
The first thing to understand when deciding whether studying medicine is right for you is the time commitment. Depending on your path in medicine, you could be in school for over a decade before starting your career. It can be a daunting thought to enter university at 18 and know your true career won’t start until your 30s.
Of course, the duration of your studies is dependent on your focus. If you plan to become a registered nurse, your study time may only be five to seven years. You can reduce your timeline with targeted programming, summer courses, etc. Different schools also have varying curriculums that could impact the timeline from your undergraduate to your doctorate.
Consider how long you’re willing to be a student, with the understanding that becoming a medical professional is a lifelong learning process. If your goal is to have the word “doctor” in front of your name, becoming a general practitioner (GP) rather than a specialist can reduce your timeline in school.
The Entry Requirements are Challenging
Before you commit to the idea of medical school, take some time to reflect and determine if you have the educational requirements to enroll. Having strong high school grades can get you into a science-based undergraduate program, but you’ll need to showcase your prowess to get accepted to medical school.
While the entry requirements vary based on the program, you’ll need a minimum 3.7 GPA, a 511 MCAT score, and various supporting references and documents. If you’re serious about pursuing a career in medicine, the work starts as a teenager.
During your undergraduate program, you’ll need to showcase your drive and dedication. Form relationships with professors to secure character references. Carve out time to volunteer at various programs to pad your resume. Finally, consider the essay and application requirements and how you can show your best self to administrators.
It can be beneficial to find a mentor or coach to help you outline your path. Understand that you’ll have to put in a lot of work just to get accepted to medical school— and then the real work begins.
Time Management is of the Essence
Passion and intelligence are essential for getting through medical school. However, nothing else matters without strong time management skills and organization. In addition to attending class and completing assignments, you’ll need to have ample time to study for various licensing exams and clinicals. As you enter your residency or work term, you’ll have to juggle studying with your workload.
Fortunately, time management is a skill you can learn at any time. If you’re considering medical school, take some time to reflect on your current time management skills and how you can improve.
You Must be Resilient
Pursuing an education in medicine will push you to your brink, mentally, physically, and emotionally. You will experience periods of sleep deprivation, immense stress, and potentially traumatic events. When you start your residency, you will feel like you’re at the bottom of the barrel, with everyone handing their grunt work to you.
Resiliency is key when studying medicine, from the early days of exam prep to the later periods of clinical work. Take a good look in the mirror and ask yourself whether you have strong coping skills or tend to fall apart under pressure. There’s no shame in being someone who struggles under periods of stress. However, if this is a common theme in your life, then medical school probably isn’t for you.
Fortunately, you can test yourself and pivot as needed when pursuing studies in the sciences. If you’re struggling during your undergraduate program, you have the benefit of acquiring transferable credits that allow you to pivot into another field.
You’ll Sacrifice Relationships and Socializing
There are many sacrifices when going to medical school. In essence, you can say goodbye to your social life for a while. There will be no such thing as evenings and weekends until you’re well into your career, and perhaps not even then. It can be difficult to maintain relationships— romantic, platonic, and familial— when in medical school. You will miss events and struggle to connect with those who can’t empathize with your situation.
It’s not uncommon for medical students to put off other lifestyle goals, like getting married or having a family. If those aspirations are important to you, consider how your dedication to studies will impact that timeline and your partner’s expectations. Yes, it’s possible to “have it all,” but it won’t be easy.
Determine Your Learning Style Early
It’s important to understand how your mind works before you enter medical school. You’ll be required to memorize endless facts and figures, from dosage requirements to medicine interactions. When you become a working medical professional, making a miscalculation can be a matter of life and death.
Take some time to reflect and better understand your learning style before you enter medical school. Some people prefer to learn with flashcards and repetition. Others do well with classes and in-person lectures. There’s no right or wrong way to learn, but understanding how your mind works will help you make the most of it from day one.
The Financial Strain is Significant
The potential for financial rewards is often a motivating factor for pursuing a career in medicine. While the monetary returns will eventually pay for your schooling, the front-end costs are substantial. The costs will vary depending on the path you pursue and the institution in which you enroll. However, you can expect to pay $250,000 for four years of medical school.
While bursaries and scholarships can help carry the financial burden, you won’t be able to hold a part-time job to assist with the costs of your education; medical school is a full-time job. It’s important to map out the costs and understand the financial pressure you’ll be under while pursuing your education.
You Likely Won’t be the Top Student
If you were the top student in your graduating class for high school, you likely felt like a big fish in a small pond. However, when you attend medical school, you’ll likely find the opposite to be true. While it’s beneficial to be amongst peers who challenge you, it can be a difficult adjustment for your self-perception. You may find the shift to small fish in a big pond demoralizing.
This consideration shouldn’t deter you from pursuing medicine, but it’s integral that you manage your expectations. Remember that regardless of your marks in comparison to your classmates, you all end up being called “doctor” after graduation.
You Might Change Your Mind
It’s not uncommon to start medical school with a certain goal and change your mind partway through— you might even experience this during your undergraduate program.
You might start medical school with the goal of becoming a surgeon and decide partway through to become a GP. You might start a science program with the intention to become a doctor and fall in love with nursing instead. If you decide to pursue medical school, keep an open mind.
You’ll Need to Make Time for Wellness
As you learn to take care of others, remember to take care of yourself. Your body and mind are your career when you pursue medicine. As such, taking time for self-care and wellness is essential for long-term success. You’ll need to find time to explore other passions and to take time to unwind.
Making time for yourself ties into developing resilience and time management skills. It may seem ridiculous to add time into your schedule to watch Netflix, but it’s the reality for med school students. Taking this time to disconnect from your work will help you build resilience, manage stress, and prevent burnout.
If you’re someone who struggles with setting boundaries and practicing self-care, you’ll need to develop this skillset or reconsider medical school.
Paper and Practice are Dramatically Different
Understand that no amount of studying, memorizing, or exam writing will mentally prepare you for your first hands-on medical emergency. There’s a significant difference between writing medical papers and practicing medicine.
Part of the reason that medical school is so challenging is to try and prepare you for the difficulties of practicing medicine. You will make mistakes, you will walk into your first emergency situation and forget everything you learned, and you will be human. It’s important to understand and expect these things before enrolling in medical school.
Medical school and a career in medicine aren’t for everyone. Consider your motivations and why this path appeals to you. Then, determine if the sacrifices and commitments are worth the reward.
There are no right or wrong answers; deciding to study medicine is a personal decision that only you can make for yourself.