As a high school student, you might be wondering, “Why do I need to start thinking about medical school now?” The answer is important because there is a lot to sort through before you even get started. While the US requires you to complete a bachelor’s degree before you can apply for an MD programme, countries such as the UK, Ireland and even St. George’s University in Grenada allow you to apply to medical school directly after grade 12.
To give you a heads up, we created a list and asked a couple of physicians to share what you should know before becoming a medical student:
1) Decide if medicine is right for you:
“Should I become a doctor?” This is the most important question you need to answer so it’s worth spending some time thinking about whether a career in medicine is the right fit for you. Completing medical school requirements, obtaining your degree and going through postgraduate training is a long, but fulfilling road so take a moment to reflect on your motivations.
2) Understand what practising medicine is really like:
Becoming a doctor isn’t exactly like what you see on TV. It can be overwhelming. Many students who’ve always been star pupils find themselves struggling in medical school for the first time in their lives. Also, long hours are an inherent part of the profession, even after completing medical school. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) also points out that it’s common to work 60 or more hours per week and take calls as needed.
3) Take stock of all the required steps to become a doctor:
Medical school itself includes many important milestones. At St. George’s University, for example, you’ll devote two years to clinical sciences and then spend your final two years completing clinical rotations to start getting your feet wet. St. George’s University also helps you to prepare for the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) series right from day one; this is built into the curriculum. During the latter portion of medical school, you’ll need to start applying to residency programmes, which can range from three to seven years, depending on your preference of speciality.
4) Recognise that practising medicine isn’t always clear-cut:
When you think of medicine, you probably think of it as a purely scientific discipline. While this is mostly true, it’s also quite nuanced. It’s very rare that actual cases will align perfectly with what you study in your reading material.
“Going into medical school, I assumed that evaluating symptoms would be an easy part of the job,” says Dr Sandra Morris, Minnesota Area Medical Director at MedExpress. “But sometimes looking at symptoms alone can be misleading.” You need to take a look at the bigger picture to accurately identify a medical issue and devise an appropriate treatment plan. The sooner you get used to that idea, the better off you’ll be in medical school and beyond.
5) Obtain clinical experience:
Now that you’ve understood what being a doctor is about in theory, you need to experience it to get a true idea. Exposure to patients is essential for pre-med students and you should start thinking about incorporating this into your medical school application timeline sooner rather than later. There are many ways to get involved in clinical activities, including working as a scribe, volunteering as an emergency medical technician (EMT) or even shadowing physicians.
A physician shadowing experience is a rare opportunity to see a doctor at work and will not only help you understand the discipline more, but it is also a great addition to your resume and can also help you secure a strong letter of recommendation for your medical school applications.
6) Participate in volunteer activities and other extracurricular activities:
Many students wonder how many volunteer hours they need for medical school. There isn’t a specific number as service isn’t usually listed as a medical school application requirement. But that doesn’t mean you should skip it. Every MD programme, including those at St. George’s University, looks favourably on candidates who’ve been involved in volunteer activities because it shows the kind of dedication to service that’s essential for working with patients.
There are many ways to get involved in your community. Not every experience has to be medically related, either. Whatever you decide, keep in mind that medical schools like to see students who’ve demonstrated these 15 core competencies:
- Service orientation
- Social skills
- Cultural competence
- Oral communication
- Ethical responsibility to self and others
- Reliability and dependability
- Resilience and adaptability
- Capacity for improvement
- Critical thinking
- Quantitative reasoning
- Scientific inquiry
- Written communication
- Living systems
- Human behaviour
7) Be flexible in your medical career path:
This might seem odd at first, but it’s incredibly common for medical students to have a change of heart once they get to medical school. Even if you’ve always dreamed of being an orthopaedic surgeon, had your sights set on cardiology or feel certain of pursuing a particular field, try to keep an open mind.
“I wanted to become a surgeon, but I ended up switching to emergency medicine, and then again to cosmetics,” says Dr Alain Michon, Medical Director at the Ottawa Skin Clinic. Once you begin digging deeper, you’ll find you may be better suited for certain specialities, so try to avoid having tunnel vision.
Physicians often say every day is different, and that you can never be sure what to expect. Their jobs simply involve a certain amount of unknown which is also true of your MD education journey. No matter how much time you’ve spent preparing to become a medical student, you’re likely to encounter some things you never anticipated once classes begin. An MD programme is very different from high school, so talk to physicians and current medical students to get a deeper understanding of their experiences.
10 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Becoming a Medical Student
Application to Enrollment: Pre-Med Student’s Comprehensive Guide