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Should You Go to Medical School? Here’s How to Decide

Are you considering becoming a doctor? Perhaps you grew up in a household with doctors, and medicine called to you. Or maybe you didn’t grow up around anyone in the healthcare profession, but were told you had the aptitude for science and altruistic spirit to make a great doctor.

Whether you’ve always imagined yourself in a white coat, or are just beginning to consider the possibility of applying to medical school, it’s crucial that you do some serious reflection to ensure the medical path is right for you.

In this post, I’ll walk through some of the factors you should consider as you ask yourself: “Should I go to medical school?”

5 Factors to Consider Before Going to Medical School

Being a doctor is a respected and noble profession. But to get there, you’ll have to sacrifice time, other educational opportunities, other financial opportunities, and even the ability to choose where you live.

Here are some factors that every prospective medical student should consider:

1. Undergraduate curricular choices

Do you want to be pre-med? Are you excited about taking courses in the natural and physical sciences? Will being pre-med cause you to miss out on other coursework you’re drawn to?

2. Undergraduate and postgraduate extracurricular choices

Are you ready to work in labs, shadow doctors, volunteer as an EMT or scribe, and generally do the outside-the-classroom work necessary to complete your medical school application?

How about summers? Are you ready to devote your college summers to taking additional coursework or getting enough volunteer hours?

3. Time

Are you prepared not only to spend four years in med school but also around four years in residency, plus more years in fellowships thereafter?

4. Cost and earning potential

Can you rely on your own financial means or pursue scholarships to pay for the following expenses?

  • Medical school application fees
  • MCAT prep
  • Travel to and from med school interviews
  • The actual cost of medical school tuition, room, and board

Are you comfortable with how much doctors make, and prepared to make a financial plan accordingly?

5. Attention

Medical school is an intellectual and academic commitment that requires your whole attention. It may be difficult to maintain a social life, pursue independent interests, travel, and more during medical school and residency.

Are you ready to give your whole self to the pursuit of this profession?

Should You Be Pre-Med?

How can you know if you should make this commitment at the age of 18 or 19?

Ask yourself these two questions:

1. Is there something else you want to study in college that might get in the way of focusing on your pre-med classes?

For instance, do you want to enroll in an intensive language study as a sophomore? Can you fit in organic chemistry around that?

2. Is there natural overlap between your major and the pre-med requirements?

Although there is no “required major” for medical school, the most popular pre-med majors are in the biological sciences. Rather than making you one-dimensional, majoring in something like biology or biochemistry might help free up the rest of your schedule so you can take electives in arts, economics, political science, and more.

More than anything, know that if you decide you don’t want to be pre-med anymore, you’ll have a strong foundation in the sciences that can carry you into any number of other fields, from entrepreneurship to law to education.

How Long Is Medical School?

Medical school is four years long. Your time will be organized roughly like this:

  1. First two years: Study in the foundational sciences required to understand medicine, including anatomy, biochemistry, genetics, and more. In year two, you’ll likely study for the first part of your boards (licensing exams).
  2. Third year: Clinical rotations/clerkships
  3. Fourth year: Elective clinical rotations, studying for the licensing exams, and undergoing residency match

Increasingly, medical schools are mixing up some of those schedules, getting to clinical rotations as early as the second year or bringing students back into the classroom during the third year for more intensive study.

As medical school progresses, you’ll have a chance to take courses beyond the building blocks of the natural sciences, including in the medical humanities, public health, and ethics.

Overall, you’ll go through a mix of textbook work and clinical exposure (rotations).

How Med School Rotations Work

Rotations—clinical exposure—are a crucial part of the medical school experience. This is how you see physicians in action. Rotations are also your route to recommendations for residency, and they can help you discern what specialty to pursue.

Most medical schools require students to go through a set number of rotations in the following fields:

  • Internal medicine
  • Surgery
  • Pediatrics
  • Obstetrics and gynecology
  • Family medicine
  • Ambulatory medicine
  • Psychiatry

In the second year of rotations or clerkships, you’ll be able to make more choices about which areas of medicine to pursue. You might even be able to leave the town or state where your school is located to try working in a different place. For many students, this time is a breath of fresh air, a chance to move from being shunted between requirements to defining themselves professionally.

In the fourth year, as you get more control over your choices, you’ll likely find yourself moving through some elective rotations, perhaps pursuing research for a capstone or thesis, studying for your boards, and going through residency match.

Some medical schools allow students a significant amount of time off during the fourth year to ensure they can prepare for the boards. This is another time when you might be able to leave your campus while, of course, continuing to study.

That’s how to get an MD. There are other ways to earn your degree, however, including earning an MD/MS, an MD/MPH, an MD/MBA, or an MD/PhD.

Curious to learn more about the day-to-day of medical school? Check out our article on what medical school is like.

How to Get Into Medical School

You’ll need to take four years of rigorous coursework in biology, organic and inorganic chemistry, physics, biochemistry, and the humanities. If you have your sights set on a particular medical school, research the average MCAT score and GPA for admitted applicants.

Competitive med school applicants will boast an MCAT score of over 510 and a GPA of at least 3.5/4.0. They’ll also have a wealth of carefully selected extracurricular activities in patient exposure, shadowing, research, community service, and leadership.

You should also set aside time to write the myriad essays required to apply to medical school! Future doctors are asked to reflect at length about the experiences that have prepared them to embark on their clinical journeys in the medical school personal statement. So be sure to set aside time for these essays either during a gap year or the summer before your senior year.

Don’t Take Medical School Lightly

The good news: if you’re diving into this process, it probably means you’ve had some of these tough conversations with yourself, weighed the benefits and opportunity costs, and made a commitment to going down this challenging but rewarding path.

If you have decided to apply to medical school, don’t go it alone. Check out Dr. Shemmassian’s free guide to getting into medical school.

Image Credits: stethoscope