ProspectiveDoctor asked the question, “What few important things would you say to people who are interested in a career in medicine?” The following are some essential considerations you should make before applying to medical school.

ProspectiveDoctor recently had an essay-writing contest for medical students. The following is the first place-winning essay:

What few important things would you say to people who are interested in a career in medicine?

1. Science is important for medicine; but science is not medicine.

Most students applying to med school come from a solidly scientific undergraduate training. That is a good preparation for the ‘school’ part of medical school; however, a career as a doctor is not all science all the time. Medicine is an interesting blend of science, communication, acting, teaching, and lots of running into idiosyncratic problems and working them out. If you like science, that’s great; but, you should make sure you like the whole package of what it means to be a doctor before you sign up for a lot of years of work and a lot of dollar of debt. To get good insight into what a CAREER as a doctor is like, you need to shadow. Ideally, shadow a lot – the more data points the better (you said you’re a scientist, right?).

||Read: Tips on Shadowing a Doctor||

2. If you want to enjoy medicine, you need to enjoy the patients.

If you are considering applying to medical school, chances are that you enjoy learning. Something about the ah-ha moment, where everything comes together and there is a sudden burst of associative understanding, really gets your heart pumping. However, this same tendency can be problematic for sorting out whether you love the meat and potatoes of medicine, or whether you just love learning. Here’s what I mean: when you shadow, or even in your pre-med classes, the novelty of what you are learning will (and should) be exciting. A lot of third year medical students run into a similar problem when they are on their clerkships; they like whatever clerkship they are currently working on, because each day is a novel experience. Nothing is as intriguing to a human as novelty; but, you have to realize that any career lasting 40+ years will have a lot of days that are 0% novel – nothing, nada, zilch. If you are going into this due to the high that you feel when learning new material, you’ll be pretty much set through med school and a decent portion of residency; but, at that point you will begin to become a ‘competent’ doctor, meaning you’ve seen many of the cases previously and generally understand how to deal with them. When that happens, you’re going to need something else to keep you interested in a career that is going to occupy a huge percentage of your waking life. For most doctors, that something else is a real interest in their patients, and a desire to serve them. So, when you’re shadowing, pay attention to the doctor-patient interactions. Picture yourself doing the same: would you enjoy it? What types of patients would you like working with? Which types of patients would you rather not work with? What challenges do you want to help patients overcome? These types of questions are useful to tease out what about the career is appealing to you, beyond the inherent novelty.

||Read: Should I Be A Doctor?||

3. It pays to be different

If you’ve drunk the punch and are set on applying to med school, a quick word of advice: med schools like diversity. Diversity can be defined many ways, and if you’re applying to a med school that’s worth its weight, the admissions office will aim to have a class that is diverse across all facets: not just gender, race, and sexual orientation, but also major, career, and life experience. So don’t be afraid to take a path that’s different from your school’s pre-med major. Sure, you have to do well in the prerequisite classes and you need to crush the MCAT; but, don’t let your academic interests be narrowed by your future career. If you’re in college, take time to explore. If you’re out of college, take time to gain experiences. Not only will this help you get into med school, but once you’ve gotten in and are up to your ears in microbes and drug names, you’ll be glad you did.

||Read: Diversity in Secondary Medical Applications||

Andrew Fischer Lee is a medical student at a U.S. allopathic medical school.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ProspectiveDoctor.

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