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Medical School Age Anxiety

You want to be a doctor. You really want to be a doctor. And you’re probably aware of how long it takes. The four years to get your undergraduate degree, four years of medical school, and then three to seven years of residency. Without a doubt, it’s a long road. When I was in college considering all of this, I wanted to get through it all as quickly as possible. I didn’t want to be any older than necessary by the time I was finished.

All that changed for me now that I’m actually in medical school. My class is very diverse, with an age range from 21 to 32 years old, and the older students have done a variety of very interesting things before starting medical school including working in consulting, biotechnology, finance, engineering, and serving in the military. I would say most of my older peers found their experiences before medical school to be of great value even if it deferred their ultimate career choice by a few years. Many students are pursuing or plan to pursue additional degrees during medical school, such as an MPH or MBA, adding another year or more to their degree. Others pursue MD/PhD degrees with an additional four years on top of medical school! Even after medical school, many physicians choose long residencies, and then may complete one or more fellowships.

I took a year off between my undergraduate graduation and matriculation into medical school and worked in a research lab. I did so because I didn’t feel ready to apply the previous year, not because I thought I needed the year off. In hindsight, I’m so glad I took a year off and I almost wish I took another year off just so I could have made a bigger impact in my lab and accomplished some personal goals. If you’re considering taking time off before medical school, I strongly recommend it. The experiences you have before medical school will only make you a stronger applicant and you can draw from those experiences in constructive ways during medical school and beyond. Don’t let your age cause you anxiety over taking such detours.

What I’ve come to appreciate is that you have to enjoy the journey, the process, of becoming a physician. I’m no longer focused on the distant goal of being an attending physician one day, I’m just focused on learning and living as a first year medical student. You won’t fare very well if you hate medical school and think of it just as an obstacle to overcome to get to your ultimate goal of being a physician. The road to becoming a physician is a long one, but the road will be full of interesting adventures and experiences along the way.

So if you’re someone who is thinking of going to medical school, but you’re not a fan of school, I strongly encourage you to re-consider. Medicine is not a career for those who won’t enjoy the seemingly endless training process. But on the other hand, those of you who do like continual learning, it’s never too late to start the journey.

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