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How To Decide If Medical School Is For You (Key Considerations)

How To Decide If Medical School Is For You (Key Considerations)

Updated on: December 3, 2023
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Written By Dr Ollie

Every article is fact-checked by a medical professional. However, inaccuracies may still persist.

Deciding if medical school is the right path for you can be a challenging and complex decision.

Before embarking on years and years of medical training, it’s crucial to be fairly certain that medicine is what you want to do.

I know plenty of people who dropped out during medical school and even a few who got to being a junior doctor and then decided it wasn’t for them.

Although there’s nothing wrong with this, you can save yourself a huge amount of time and money by finding this out sooner!

Key Takeaways

  • Evaluate your passion for medicine, academic ability, and emotional resilience to determine if pursuing a medical career is right for you
  • A strong foundation in sciences and dedication is vital for success in medical school
  • The medical profession requires emotional resilience, commitment, and a genuine desire to help others

Understanding Medical School

Pursuing a career in medicine can be incredibly rewarding, but it’s essential to understand what medical school entails to determine if it’s the right path for you.

Deciding If Medical School Is For You Pixel Infographic

As someone who’s been through five years of it, there’s really no denying that medical school requires dedication, hard work, and a genuine passion for helping others.

I’d begin by familiarising yourself with the requirements and curriculums of different medical schools.

You can do this by attending open days, speaking to current students and staff, reading prospectuses, and looking at medical school websites.

Medical school typically spans over five to six years, consisting of rigorous academic study and hands-on clinical training.

During this time, you’ll develop a solid foundation in the medical sciences, learn critical thinking and acquire the skills necessary to become a competent and compassionate doctor.

Clinical rotations expose you to a range of specialities, allowing you to gain real-world experience and decide on your preferred field of practice.

Assessing Your Interest In Medicine

Considering the time and effort it takes to become a doctor, you’re realistically never going to get there if you’re not passionate about the job.

Passion For Science

It’s important to consider your passion for science when deciding if medical school is for you.

As a future doctor, you’ll need a strong understanding of the sciences, as courses often involve subjects like biology, chemistry, physics, and anatomy.

Reflect on your experiences in science lessons and ask yourself if you really enjoyed learning about these subjects.

Are you committed to expanding your knowledge in these areas over the coming years and subsequent medical training?

Interest In Healthcare

As obvious as it might sound, a strong interest in healthcare is essential when pursuing a career in medicine.

Medical school will immerse you in various aspects of healthcare, from patient care to public health policies.

It’s crucial to understand the demands of medical practice, stay abreast of advancements in technology, and comprehend healthcare systems and policies.

Think about whether you genuinely enjoy exploring healthcare topics and staying updated on medical news.

Desire To Help Others

One of the most rewarding aspects of a medical career is the opportunity to make a positive impact on the lives of individuals and communities.

Assess your desire to help others through your career and consider how this aligns with your goals and values.

Are you drawn to working with people, providing care, and finding solutions to complex health issues?

Do you have a strong sense of empathy and compassion for others?

Reflecting on these qualities can help you determine if medical school and a future in medicine align with your passions and aspirations as an individual.

Academic Aptitude

By carefully considering your grades and UCAT score, you can help determine if getting an offer for medical school would be feasible.

Grades

The bottom line is that your academic performance is crucial when considering medical school as a potential option.

Medical schools often require high grades in subjects such as Biology, Chemistry, and sometimes Physics or Mathematics.

Typically, you’ll need at least three A levels with grades A or A* to meet their requirements.

It’s essential to thoroughly research the entry requirements of each medical school you’re interested in applying to, as they may vary (from A*A*A to no A-levels at all).

When evaluating your qualifications and academic aptitude, consider the following:

  • Do you meet or exceed the minimum grade requirements?
  • Have you excelled in relevant subjects, such as Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Maths?
  • Are your academic achievements consistent throughout your time at school?

UCAT Score

The UCAT is an essential admissions test for the majority of medical schools in the UK.

To assess your UCAT score results, it’s helpful to keep the following points in mind:

  • How does your UCAT score compare to the medical school’s average accepted score?
  • Does the medical school publish the cut-off scores used in previous years?
  • Have you prepared and practised adequately for the test?

Emotional Resilience

If you’re considering pursuing a career in medicine, it’s important to evaluate your emotional resilience and mental stamina.

These skills will allow you to navigate the challenges that come with medical school, and help you make the most of your educational experience.

Ability To Cope With Stress

Medical school can be demanding and challenging, making it crucial for students to possess a high level of emotional resilience.

Emotional resilience is the ability to cope with complex, uncertain, or stressful situations, and it plays a significant role in the well-being of medical students.

A stressed junior doctor sitting against a wall
Healthy coping mechanisms are essential to working in medicine

In order to make the most of your time in medical school, you should be mindful of your own stress levels and develop strategies for handling them.

Some methods you can employ to improve your emotional resilience include setting realistic goals, maintaining a strong support network, practising mindfulness, and prioritising self-care.

Mental Stamina

Alongside coping with stress, maintaining your mental stamina is important when navigating medical school.

A high level of mental stamina will help you perform effectively during exams, clinical rotations, and other demanding academic requirements.

It’s crucial that you are well-prepared for the intellectual rigour of the course, and that you develop effective study habits, engage in regular mental exercises, and take breaks when needed.

By cultivating your mental stamina, you’ll be better equipped to face the challenges of medical school and ultimately, succeed in the highly demanding field of medicine.

Commitment And Dedication

When considering medical school, it is crucial to evaluate your level of commitment and dedication to the vocation, as well as the time investment and financial implications involved.

Time Investment

The truth is that the journey to becoming a medical professional is a long one. You have to be prepared for a demanding academic schedule and rigorous training pathways.

Medical school typically takes 4-6 years to complete, followed by a foundation programme of 2 years, and then additional years spent specialising in a specific field.

This means you might spend up to a decade, or even longer, in education before becoming fully qualified.

In addition to the time spent studying, it’s important to consider the work-life balance and personal sacrifices required in the profession.

Medical students often have to manage a heavy workload, long hours, and intense clinical rotations, which may impact their social and personal lives.

Financial Implications

Attending medical school can be a significant financial investment.

The costs associated with medical education in the UK consist of tuition fees, living expenses, and other study-related costs.

Depending on where you study, tuition fees for UK and EU medical students range from £9,250 per year to upwards of £38,000 per year for international students.

It’s essential to plan for these costs and explore funding options, such as scholarships, bursaries, and student loans.

Additionally, you should be prepared for the possibility of accumulating debt and the time it can take to repay this after graduation.

Gauging Practical Experience

One of the best ways to determine if medical school is the right path for you is by gaining some hands-on experience in the field.

This can be achieved by shadowing professionals and through volunteering.

Shadowing Professionals

Shadowing medical professionals is an invaluable experience that allows you to gain insight into the day-to-day activities and responsibilities of practising doctors.

By observing physicians in their workplace, you’ll get a realistic understanding of what it’s like to work in clinical settings and interact with patients.

Though medical schools may not have strict requirements for shadowing hours, most expect applicants to have some recent shadowing experience.

This demonstrates your commitment to a career in medicine and gives you something to mention in your personal statement and interviews.

To obtain shadowing opportunities:

  • Contact local hospitals or clinics
  • Tap into your personal network (family, friends, etc.)
  • Reach out to alumni or professionals in your area

Remember to maintain professionalism during your shadowing experience and reflect on the knowledge gained.

Volunteering

In addition to shadowing professionals, seeking volunteer opportunities in medical environments, such as hospitals, hospices, or community clinics can give you even more hands-on experience and the chance to develop your skills in patient care.

Volunteering also provides a sense of fulfilment and a practical understanding of the realities of working in healthcare.

Some popular volunteering options include:

  • Assisting in nursing homes
  • Participating in community health outreach programs
  • Supporting administrative tasks in medical settings

Through these experiences, you’ll be able to decide if medical school is the right track for you and build a competitive application for potential admission.

Pros And Cons Of Being A Doctor

Although this is by no means the full story, I thought I’d just go over some quick pros and cons of being a doctor (from my perspective) to hopefully help decide whether going to medical school would be right for you.

Pros

Job security: The healthcare industry is steady, and the demand for doctors is high. This means you’ll have a high likelihood of finding a job after finishing medical school.

Salary: Being a doctor is a well-paid job with good opportunities for career progression. Although the hours can be long, once you make it to consultant you’re pretty much guaranteed a comfortable living.

Variety and flexibility: There are a huge number of different specialties within medicine, allowing you to choose a field that aligns with your interests and strengths. Additionally, you have the choice to work in different settings like hospitals, private practices, or research institutions.

Personal fulfilment: As a doctor, you have the opportunity to make a significant impact on people’s lives by treating them. This can be hugely satisfying to do as part of your job.

Cons

Long and expensive education: Medical school takes at least four years to complete and can be expensive. This is followed by further years of specialty training which can last up to 8 years or more, depending on the specialty you choose.

Stress and demanding workload: Healthcare professionals often face high levels of stress due to the nature of their work. Long hours, dealing with patients’ suffering, and making difficult decisions can take a toll on your mental health.

Work-life balance: It may be challenging to maintain a healthy work-life balance, especially during the early years of your career. Doctors often work long hours, night shifts and weekends, which can impact your personal life and relationships. (There are, however, a few options to work part-time.)

Constantly evolving field: Medicine is always evolving, requiring doctors to engage in lifelong learning to stay up to date with the latest developments. This can be time-consuming but necessary to provide the best possible care to your patients.

Final Thoughts

Medical school and being a doctor isn’t right for everyone- but this is the case for any other job or profession, medical or not.

At the end of the day, being a doctor is a job, with its own advantages and disadvantages, and you have to determine whether it’s what you want to pursue in your professional life.

However, you can do yourself a massive favour by doing your best to decide if medical school is right for you before you start to take steps down the road of medical training.

About the author
After studying medicine at the University of Leicester, Dr Ollie now works as a junior doctor in London. His interests include medical education and expedition medicine, as well as having a strong belief in the importance of widening access to medicine.