Many students, even before graduating from college, know exactly what field they want to go into. Some want to go straight into the workforce; others continue on to graduate school to earn their master’s. Some opt to go the pre-law route, while many others carry the dream of becoming a doctor. While these students may have made all the right moves in college to assure their medical school acceptance, there are still a plethora of things to consider before applying.
Though the prerequisites you complete in your undergraduate degree will prove to be invaluable throughout medical school and your career, there are some that just aren’t taught within the curriculum. The first, and most important, motivator a student must have is a love of science. Without this key interest, success in medical school – and within the practice of medicine itself – is far less likely. Understanding pathophysiology and being able to create a network of facts, allowing you to diagnose and treat diseases, requires not only a proficiency in science but an undying interest as well. While pre-clinical years are mostly spent memorizing facts, once you enter the wards, there are no multiple-choice questions. You must understand the scientific underpinnings of diseases, be capable of generating hypotheses, and know how to test them. Without a sound understanding of scientific logic, poor decisions are more likely to be made, resulting in errors and wasted resources.
You also need a sense of altruism and a desire to improve the health and well-being of mankind. Students who have a desire to help others are more likely to provide “patient-centered” care, which all experts agree is the ideal form of care. Interpersonal skills and bedside manner were once considered the most important characteristics of an effective physician. However, with the explosion of sophisticated procedures and tests, technical expertise has been emphasized throughout the last three decades, to the detriment of interpersonal skills. Patients often complain that their physicians fail to listen to them and don’t seem to care. After working with residents in the wards, many students begin to see patients as objects; they’re viewed as work units, rather than human beings who are suffering and require help. If a student chooses to become a physician simply to make good money, he is less likely to provide this physician-centered care. Students who are in it for the money also tend to choose procedurally lucrative specialties, such as orthopedics, neurosurgery, invasive radiology, dermatology, cardiology, and gastroenterology. While this will help them overcome their student loan burden, our health system has begun to suffer the consequences as there’s a severe shortage of primary care physicians in the United States.
While those are two of the most important aspects to consider before applying to medical school, there are also several life skills which you should have a good grasp on before applying:
- Be organized : Medical school is extremely demanding. Without organization and the proper balance of work and recreation, you are more likely to become overwhelmed and drop out.
- Develop problem-solving skills : Know how to generate a hypothesis and test it. Modern healthcare will require a vast understanding of systems. Since manufacturing businesses have applied systems most effectively to reduce errors and improve efficiency, taking a course in manufacturing systems is recommended.
- Be able to work as a team: Too often, premed students study alone and keep to themselves in order to not become distracted. On occasion, though, students should embrace team learning. Joining an athletic team also provides valuable lessons that can be applied to healthcare.
As noted before, another reality medical students must face is walking away with student loan debt that’s equivalent to a home mortgage (ranging between $100,000 and $200,000). Just like a home mortgage, repayment will likely take 15-20 years. Thankfully, there are ways of reducing loan burdens after graduation. One way is to participate in biomedical research funded through the National Institute of Health (NIH). NIH investigators are eligible to receive loan payments of approximately $30,000 for every year of research effort. Another way to gain assistance with loan repayment is to work for the U.S. Public Health Service for several years as a primary care physician in an underserved area of the country, from large cities with high concentrations of specialists to rural areas with overworked physicians.
Choosing to attend medical school requires ample thought and consideration. It’s more than just achieving a childhood dream of becoming a doctor. Attending medical school, in all reality, requires you to transform yourself from student to medical doctor. There is no easy way to go about it, but by assuring you have proper motives and a good understanding of what you’re getting into, you will be ready to experience the joy of healing those who seek your help.