Medical school is a quite of passage for many people, and is almost more of a calling than a career for most of them.
Yes, the money can be good, but should not be a reason to pursue a path into the field. (If money is your goal, prepare to burn out fast after your third 20 hour day during med school.)
A commitment of mind and body, the rigor of a medical career places the position of physician within society as far and away the most prestigious job available. If that sounds daunting, it’s also important to realize that one of the main attractions of a medical career is that one does not have to be a genius to be doctor; in fact, what is really required is a meritocratic attitude and dedication to hard work, honesty, and self-discipline that anyone can practice to perfection.
When to go
Deciding on med school will depend on a variety of factors, each of them requiring different outlooks. Are you a freshman in college, starting a degree in the hard sciences? Were you a humanities major who completed your undergraduate degree ten years ago, and now have a family and a job? Both types of potential doctors have similar chances of acceptance to medical school, but their approaches will by necessity be different.
If you’re college age
If you’ve known from an early age that you wanted to be a doctor, congratulations: Starting as an undergraduate will get your prerequisites out of the way sooner. Shoot for excellent grades, and if your grades do suffer, consider applying to Osteopathic schools in addition to Allopathic medical schools. Osteopathic schools often allow for grade replacement, which means retaking classes and substituting new grades into one’s GPA is acceptable.
Be sure to also shadow physicians in different fields and to volunteer. Have an idea of what the actual workday of a doctor is like before you begin your long journey towards practicing medicine, you may find that your passion grows, and you may find your interest waning during long nights in an E.R.
If you’re a mature student
If your dream is to be a doctor, but you put that dream aside (or didn’t realize it) until your late 20’s or beyond, have no fear. Even if you didn’t study the sciences as an undergraduate, and you don’t know how to do technical things like use histology dyes for cellular anatomy, there is still hope. You need to understand that many reputable colleges and universities offer post-bacis and master’s degrees specifically designed to allow mature students to take prerequisites or develop higher GPAs for Grad School.
Be careful with the cost of such programs, but also know that it’s never too late to pursue your dream of being a doctor. Know the time sacrifice, and remember to set aside personal time. This is especially true if you have a family: Explain to your children and significant other that your time will be scarce in your third year in medical school and during your residency, but the pay-off of a rewarding career may compensate for this loss of personal time.
At the end of the day, what will matter most is your attitude, your grades, and your test scores, so if your work ethic is lagging, find out what is wrong and fix it! If the MCAT didn’t go well the first time, don’t be scared to retake it.
Have faith in yourself: being a doctor is a demanding profession, but if you can master the art of working long hours, show responsibility as a person, and put in the time, you’ll be a shoe-in. Then begins the important work of making a difference for people and for society!
By Marlena Stoddard