The decision to become a doctor is probably one of the toughest you can make. It means pursuing something that only about 40% of those applying receive—a position in medical school. And then after an arduous application process, it means committing yourself to an intense course of study, including four years of medical school and three to twelve years of residency and fellowship. However, there are a number of compelling and rewarding reasons to make the journey.
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Articulating clearly and passionately why you want to be a doctor is one of the most important elements of your medical school application. You must demonstrate that you have a first-hand understanding of the reality of medical practice, and that you are not merely caught up in the fictionalized—and glamorized—world of Grey’s Anatomy. So what should you consider when thinking about med school?
An Incredible Opportunity—And Responsibility
Being a physician gives you the most privileged listening post a person can have. A doctor gets to hear the innermost issues and concerns, hopes and fears of a patient and is privileged to weave the elements of this private story into a diagnosis and treatment. And with this privilege comes tremendous responsibility.
In the hospital and clinic, physicians work on a team with nurses, therapists, and residents who are taking care of the patient. The physician, by virture of her education, is granted the legal power and obligation to lead the health care team and will be expected to make the difficult decisions.
Reasons to Reconsider
If you’re applying to med school for any of the reasons listed below, you should examine your motivations before you take the plunge.
Saying you want to be a doctor, even as a child, evokes pleased responses from adults. If you’re someone who’s always wanted to be a doctor, you might be able to remember how your goal was received early in life. Making your career decision early isn’t necessarily bad, as long as you’ve progressed beyond the approval-seeking stage. You’re an adult now and you need to have a mature and realistic sense of the profession and of why you want to be a doctor.
The Longest Path
Another faulty reason is the allure of the “difficult path.” It’s sometimes the case that high achievers pursue a career in medicine simply because it’s so competitive and involves such an arduous path. Though stick-to-itiveness and the discipline to accomplish a difficult goal are valuable assets in life and prized by admissions officers, they alone are not enough. The alchemy of desire and motivation has to precede the chemistry of MCAT scores, letters of recommendation, and extracurricular activities. Real desire should be there.
Following In Footsteps
Many med school applicants are children of physicians. Though having a parent who practices medicine may indeed give you a sense of the field, be aware that your folks went to med school in a different era. Attending med school and starting to practice medicine are now very different in the context of greater competition and a rapidly changing medical climate.
So is it right for you? Ultimately, that’s a decision you have to make. Medical school requires a significant time and financial commitment. But if you have the passion, the drive, and the commitment for a life in medicine, the pay off can be extraordinary. Remember, it’s important that you can explain why medicine is your chosen profession.