BY JESSICA MILLER
Congratulations, you’ve made it to college—what an accomplishment! And now, you’re considering applying to medical school. You’ve probably heard many things, both positive and negative, about medical school and becoming a physician. The first step before deciding to go to medical school is to talk to others and see if their experience is what you’re looking for in your future career.
Most undergraduates acknowledge that medical school is academically rigorous and exhausting. However, many students don’t realize that the challenge doesn’t end after graduating from medical school. Every U.S. medical graduate must complete a residency program following graduation. Residency, which can be an additional three to seven years, depending on the specialty, is arguably even more demanding than medical school, but is also more rewarding and fulfilling. It is important for you to understand the path to becoming a practicing physician before starting your journey to medicine.
To help you determine if medicine is right for you, I have complied a few tips for you to consider before applying.
If you are interested in otolaryngology-head and neck surgery (ear, nose, and throat), participate in the AAO-HNS observership program. This allows you to observe a physician at work for a set period of time. You can also e-mail physicians from a variety of other specialties and ask to observe them at work for a day. Prior to medical school, I had only shadowed pediatricians and internists, and there were several specialties that I had never even heard of. Ask physicians what their practice is like. How much time is spent in clinic and in the operating room? How much time is dedicated to research, if any? What are the best and worst aspects of their specialty?
Read about the political landscape of health care.
What aspects of medicine are physicians most concerned about? How is healthcare changing and how will this affect your future practice?
What are your values and beliefs, and how will those ideals make you a better physician? Or, perhaps your priorities and interests would be better aligned with a different field entirely. There are several other careers that allow you to combine science with service work (i.e. nursing, pharmacy, primary research, or public health). Investigate other options, and if being a physician still feels like your calling, then you’re probably right.
I can’t stress this enough. If you talk to almost anyone in the medical field, they will tell you that solid mentorship was key to their success in medical school, residency, and beyond. Mentors can be other undergraduate students, medical students, physicians, or anyone who you trust to give you honest advice.
Work hard in school, but don’t give up your hobbies and passions. There will always be more for you to study and learn, so it’s important to find time to continue doing the things you love. This is something that even attending physicians struggle with, so learning to prioritize early on will benefit you for the rest of your career.
Get involved with research.
Medical discoveries and advances are made from people asking questions. Without dedicated researchers, medicine would not be where it is today. Whether or not you want research to be an integral aspect of your future career, you need to demonstrate to medical school admissions committees that you understand how intertwined medicine and research are.
About Jessica Miller
Jessica Miller is a Fourth-Year Medical Student at the University of Michigan.