I get a lot of emails from prospective medical students who come across my blog. I always encourage students to contact me with any questions that they have about anything related to medical school. It is a tough process to navigate and I really wished that I had someone to talk to about the process when I was just starting out. I am so happy to be that person for so many different people.
By far, the most common email I get is an email from someone who has come across my blog and is trying to decide whether or not they should go to medical school. They typically explain their situation, tell me they are considering applying, and ask my opinion. This is such a hard question to answer! Deciding to go to medical school is such an enormous personal choice that only you can make for yourself! This post is dedicated to those people who are thinking of going, but really aren’t sure.
The long and short of it is this: it’s a huge, life changing decision that you need to make all on your own. You need to know yourself well. You need to know your own personality and own skill set in order to make the decision. Medicine is a lifestyle that you will be committing to! People have a lot of different reasons for wanting to become a doctor. The people who really succeed have one big thing in common: passion. You have got to be passionate about medicine in order to thrive. You should want to practice medicine so badly that you literally can't imagine yourself doing anything else.
I am going to do this a little backward, and talk about some reasons you should NOT go to medical school. I want to preface this by saying that I am certainly not trying to discourage anyone from going to medical school. It is the best decision I've ever made. I truly feel like I have found my life's purpose and I wouldn't change my decision for anything.
You probably shouldn’t go to medical school if:
#1 - You think you should go because people have always told you you’re super smart
Yes, it takes a really smart person to successfully complete a medical school program. That being said, being really smart in no way means you’ll be a good doctor, and definitely doesn’t mean that you will enjoy it! If you are super smart, use those smarts to be the BEST at something you love to do. If medicine is your passion, great! But if not, use that brain power to do amazing things in a field you’ll love. From the first day I started working in the medical field as a health care aide, I was completely drawn to and astonished by medicine and that hasn’t changed a bit.
#2 - You want to make lots of money
Sure, physicians generally make a pretty good salary, but doctors these days work a ton of hours to make the money they do. They also don’t make as much money as they a lot of people think. There are so many other ways to make a high salary that forego the grueling process of becoming a doctor. If you are going into medicine (or anything for that matter) strictly for the money, you will be very disappointed.
#3 - The TV medical dramas make becoming a doctor look like fun
OK, I shouldn’t have to even say it…but those shows are not realistic! These shows completely glorify what it is like to be a medical student or doctor. Think of other shows you watch. Is high school really like they make it out to be in Gossip Girl? Does Criminal Minds accurately display the life of police officers? Absolutely not.
#4 - You want your parents to be proud of you
I work with students all of the time who admittedly go to medical school because it was an expectation that their parents had for them, or they just think it will make their parents proud. If you aren’t going into medicine for you and because it is your passion, you WILL be miserable. Medicine is not for everyone, and if you aren’t going into it because it’s what you truly want you will surely be dissatisfied.
#5You don’t enjoy working closely with others
No matter what field of medicine you end up in, you’ll be working on a team. Starting day one of medical school, you’ll have projects and presentations that you’ll have to do in groups. You’ll rotate with groups of other students and be glued to a resident, fellow or attending. As a physician, you’ll be involved in interdisciplinary team meetings, grand rounds, and journal clubs. When you work in medicine, it’s people, people, people all day long. Even if you go into something with more “solitude” like radiology or pathology, you will have to communicate closely with the physicians who are taking care of your patients. There is no way around this. You’ve gotta be able to communicate with and work well alongside other people.
#5 You don’t truly (at least a little) enjoy studying
In order to be successful in medicine, you have to be a lifelong learner. You don’t simply get through medical school and stop there. If any field is constantly changing, medicine is it. As technology advances, so does medicine. There is ongoing research being done, protocols being changed, and medications being discovered. Once you are working as a physician, you need to stay on top of what is current. If you don’t enjoy this process, it will become a big burden in your everyday. For me, studying is almost a hobby. Sure, there are times I really don't want to even think about opening a book. For the most part though, I am excited and enthusiastic to continue learning the craft.
#6 You aren’t capable of temporarily putting your life on hold
A lot of people are drawn to medicine for the flexibility it brings. This is so true! Once you are a doctor, you can decide how much you want to work and where. If you want to travel and do outreach medicine, you can. If you want to work 2 days a week at an office nearby, you can do that too. While in medical school and residency though, there are a TON of sacrifices that you are going to need to make. It will be difficult to keep in close touch with your family and friends at times. You will miss out on things - weddings, birthdays, vacations…you name it. You might have to start your family later than you planned. Your hobbies will likely be pushed to the side for awhile. The truth is, the majority of your days will be spent investing in your career and this is just unavoidable, you won’t be successful otherwise.
#7 You want the prestige of being called “Doctor”
Having an MD at the end of your name does not necessarily mean you will be respected. In order to become a respected physician, you have to put the time and work into it. The prestige and respect come from doing a good job and helping others, it isn’t automatic.
#8 Routine and predictability are important to you
Medical school and residency are extremely chaotic times. Your situation is constantly changing. Semester by semester you are in different classes. You start clinical rotations and every 4-12 weeks you are working in a different area, with a different attending, and different students. A lot of the time, at many different hospitals and clinics. You rarely have a schedule that tells you what you are doing after tomorrow. Patients conditions can change at the drop of a hat. It is rare to find a routine or predictability in medicine. You get very little say about where you end up for residency training - on match day you could get an email telling you that you’re moving to the other side of the country. Personally, I would be bored stiff working a 9-5 and doing the same thing every day. I like to work hard, be very busy, and be in ever changing situations. Other people like predictability and routine, you’ve gotta be honest with yourself about what kind of lifestyle you want.
#9 You struggled a lot in undergrad
You need to be honest with yourself and evaluate what you are capable of. How was undergrad for you? Were you studying all day every day and still struggling? If you had to work a lot harder than others in your program then you will likely have a hard time in medical school and a hard time passing the required licensing exams. If you had a pretty easy time in undergrad, then it’s really not so bad. Maybe you couldn’t study for the life of you because you can’t sit down at a desk for hours on end. Everyone is different. I have really been enjoying medical school. Sure, it is stressful and some days are harder than others - but I enjoy the learning, the challenge, and the pressure.
If at the end of all of your reflecting you decide that medical school is indeed for you, give it your absolute all! It is going to be hard. It is going to be stressful. You're going to wonder how you'll ever finish or how you'll ever make it through. You're going to struggle financially. You're going to be tired. You're going to question yourself. Stay true to yourself and know that whatever obstacles come up can be overcome with hard work and perseverance. Medical school isn't easy for anyone, but it can be the most rewarding thing you do with your life if it is the right thing for you 💗