Do I Really Want to Go to Medical School? How to know if Med School is Right for You

By Ryan Hickey + updated on July 2nd, 2015

Excellent pay, prestige, and the opportunity to save lives: there’s no doubt about the rewards of being a doctor. However, even with record breaking numbers of applicants to med school, being a doctor isn’t for everybody. Becoming a physician is a huge commitment in terms of time, effort, and money. How can you know if you’re making an informed decision about your life path? Read this guide to help you decide whether or not med school is the right choice for you.

1. Know that being a doctor isn’t the only great medical profession out there

You may not need to become an MD or DO in order to achieve your goals. On the clinical side, becoming a Physician’s Assistant or a Nurse Practitioner might be the better way to put you where you want to be in terms of both salary and patient contact. On the research side, you might be better off pursuing a PhD. If your main focus is in doing the bench work that will ultimately translate to the bedside of best practices for patients, you might not need to invest in med school and residencies.

2. Get everyone else out of your head

Is being a doctor your goal? Or your parent’s goal? Was this an idea you formed as a child but haven’t reevaluated now that you’re an adult? Do you come from a ‘physician family’ and never really considered other careers? Of course, there’s nothing wrong with continuing a family tradition of being physicians or choosing a career that will please others as well as yourself. However, when you genuinely reflect on your talents and goals, is med school what you really want?

3. Understand the commitment

The great news is that the vast majority of entrants into medical school do, indeed, eventually graduate. However, it may take longer than you think. For multiple reasons, med school students are taking longer to graduate from medical school. While this is mainly for the positive reason of pursuing research activities, know that you might be in school longer than you had anticipated. Next, depending on which specialty you choose, you’ll need to complete a residency. If you are pursuing a subspecialty, you will need to complete a fellowship. The time commitment is massive, so know what you’re facing.

4. Expect debt

Sadly, this is the reality of attending medical school today. Depending on the resource quoting the numbers, the median debt for med school graduates is about $170,000. Although this is completely manageable for physicians who are interested in well-paying specialties, it can create difficulties if you are interested in specialties such as primary care or pediatrics. Therefore, you will need to be realistic about your likely debt to income ratio. Attending a private school may not be your best bet when there is a more affordable public school option.

5. Realize there are a lot of great med schools out there

Harvard and Johns Hopkins are outstanding options, but there are excellent medical schools across the world. Many states have premiere medical schools in their public universities, and states tend to favor their own in the application process. Therefore, you might want to take a stronger look at the Health Science Centers in your home state.

Also, different schools place different emphasis on research and clinical practice. Are you looking for a school that emphasizes one more than the other? One that has a good balance of both? Look beyond the brand names and find the school that will provide you with the atmosphere and training that you want.

Once you’re confident in your decision to go to med school, then finding the right place to spend the next few years of your life becomes the top priority. No medical school is easy. Therefore, taking the time to research a variety of schools and find the right match for your personal and professional goals can make med school much more rewarding.

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Ryan Hickey

Ryan Hickey is Managing Editor of Peterson's & EssayEdge and an expert in many aspects of college, graduate, and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL, editing essays and personal statements, and consulting directly with applicants. He enjoys sharing his knowledge to aid others in achieving their educational goals and, when he gets a break, loves hiking and fly fishing with his wife and two border-collie mixes.

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