“Should I Go to Medical School?” 3 Ways to Test if Medical School Is the Right Choice for You
At some point, most would-be doctors question if they should go to medical school. The medical school application process is extremely competitive, expensive, lengthy, and challenging.
As you look around to your peers and classmates going into the workforce, becoming entrepreneurs, or going to a graduate school that requires far less of a commitment than four years (not including residency training), have you thought and asked “should I go to medical school?” Or caught yourself asking whether the effort is worth it?
Use this guide to align your passions, aptitudes, and goals in choosing a career in medicine- and use these three simple steps to help you decide if you’re ready for the challenge of going to medical school.
1. Why do I want to become a physician?
Step 1 is self-assessment.
Ask yourself: Why do I want to become a physician?
While there are usually many reasons for wanting to become a doctor, one of them ultimately should be that you want to improve the health of people.
Money is another common reason people consider going to medical school. There is nothing wrong with wanting financial stability and a comfortable life given how long and expensive it is to become a physician. But what if money is your main- or only- motivation?
The expense of school and the opportunity cost of starting your career four to twelve years later doesn’t always translate to a monetary win. You will almost certainly live a comfortable life once you complete your training, but factor in paying off medical school loans and having a modest lifestyle while working 80-hour weeks. The beginning stages of your career won’t be as lucrative as you imagine, not to mention getting paid very little as a medical resident. If you’re not enjoying the work, the money won’t be worth it. If you are solely in it to get rich, you are better off considering other careers like investment banking.
Another common reason is family. While it is of course important to discuss career aspirations with those closest to you – often one’s parents – unfortunately, oftentimes individuals go to medical school because their parents are making them, or because everyone in their family is a physician.
Familial pressures and community expectations can be burdensome, and if you don’t have the internal drive, it will be much more difficult to achieve success and maintain sanity during the grueling years of study involved when you go to medical school. Besides that, many interviewers will be able to see past a fake passion for the medical field when asked why you want to be a doctor.
If money or family and community pressures are the main motivating factors for going to medical school, you should not go.
(Super self-reflection test: how did reading that last sentence just make you feel? If it was relief, pay attention to that and get curious about why.)
How Knowing Your Why Before You Go to Medical School Supports Your Experience
There are a lot of reasons that people decide to go to medical school – personal fulfillment, intellectual stimulation, humanitarian purpose, and financial success. Take some time to think about why you are motivated to become a doctor– try to truly understand how personal fulfillment, intellectual stimulation, humanitarian purpose, and financial success all factor into your why. If you made this choice when you were young, do your reasons still apply now? Are you second-guessing your decision because you are feeling uninspired by your pre-med courses?
Remember: slogging through an organic chemistry lab and advanced physics class are necessary hurdles to your ultimate career choice, but it is unlikely to be a part of your day-to-day once you complete your training. The rigorous pre-med curriculum is more a test of your aptitude and stamina to complete med school than it is a preparation to practice medicine. Keeping your eye on the prize and remembering what lights your fire – whether that’s patient care, clinical research, or academics – can help you make it through the tough parts of getting to your goal.
2. How Can I Confirm if My Beliefs and Reasons are True or Good Enough to go to Medical School?
Step 2 is validation.
Even if you want to become a physician for all the “right” reasons, you still need to validate such reasoning.
This should be done two ways:
First is education.
You want to educate yourself about this profession and the best way to do so is to talk to current practicing physicians as well as retired ones. Use this time to ask them about the pros and cons of becoming a physician as well as their experiences of being one.
Second is experience.
While you cannot experience being a physician, you can experience being around them, observing them and even experience them interacting with patients. Three common ways to do this are to shadow physicians, scribe for physicians, and volunteer at the hospital.
How Firsthand Experience of the Lifestyle and Daily Work of Being a Physician Will Influence Your Decision to Go to Medical School
During my second year of medical school, we had to practice putting IVs in one another. One of my classmates passed out at the sight of blood, which didn’t really bode well for his upcoming time on the wards. (Don’t worry, he made it through.) Make sure you know before you embark on this journey what it will mean to actually practice medicine.
Again, the job is very different than the schooling you are going through as an undergraduate (and even the pre-clinical years of medicine). Loving and excelling in Biology 101 does not necessarily translate to enjoying performing surgery or doing physical exams. Take some time to really understand the career you’re entering. Talk to practicing and retired physicians about their experiences. Shadow doctors in different specialties and watch some procedures if you can.
Volunteer in a hospital or nursing home. Familiarize yourself with the sights and (real talk) smells of being around sick people. You don’t have to know what specialty you plan to pursue immediately upon starting med school, but it will be immensely helpful to go in with some ideas of what you’re excited and passionate about.
3. What are My Other Options Besides Going to Medical School?
Step 3 is exploration.
Even after you have talked to physicians and gained some experience, it’s important to still keep an open mind.
There are other healthcare careers besides becoming an MD or DO that still enable you to improve the health of patients, so take time to explore them too. In terms of clinical work, one can be a physician assistant, nurse, or social worker to name a few. Research and administration are also worth considering.
Medical school is a long, challenging, and expensive journey. You owe it to yourself to take the time to figure out whether or not being a physician is the right career for you.
Why You Should Consider the Alternatives Before Going to Medical School
Is a medical degree absolutely required for your career goals?
Getting an MD or DO is a very expensive, time-consuming, and mentally challenging way to add a couple of letters after your name. If your ultimate goal does not include clinical work, consider whether you could pursue hospital management, epidemiology, consulting, digital health, or policy with a different graduate degree, an internship, on-the-job training, or even self-learning.
In the same vein, think about whether dentistry, podiatry, pharmacy, or veterinary medicine is a better fit for your passion and talent. If you’re experiencing doubts, seek out people in interesting careers to learn more about what they do, in the same way that you might shadow a physician.
Knowing about other jobs in the healthcare space (or outside of it!) will help you to be certain that medicine is really the path for you.
Be creative and have fun- if you approach interviewing those in professions outside of medicine like a game of trying to eliminate choices, that can help your mind to relax and ease into the idea of exploration. You never know what you might find out!
If You’re Still Unsure about Going to Medical School, Try This.
Having professional support and mentorship from someone who has been there is a game changer for many students who are still undecided about whether or not to go to medical school. Book a call with a MedSchoolCoach enrollment team member to get expert guidance and support on whether or not this route is the right one for you.