Med school is HARD. So hard I have a whole tag dedicated to the hardness of it. Challenging private high schools have got NOTHING on medical school. Let’s go with the old comparison of trying to drink from a fire hydrant. There is no possible way to describe how hard it is, because nothing you’ve ever done is like it. High school is like eating a big mac everyday, whereas med school is like eating an entire Thanksgiving feast, 20 pound turkey included, every day. High school is running a 5K. College is a marathon. Med school is running to the moon.
HOWEVER, this is not all to say that you have to be Einstein to get through. A big part of running a super marathon and eating a whole Thanksgiving turkey is endurance and will power. I’ve written more about that here. Very few people go through med school without thinking that they’re not smart enough at some point. You don’t have to be the smartest in your class. You have to be smart, but not a genius. But above all you have to be hard working.
I’ve gotten quite a few messages in my inbox requesting private answers to questions that boil down to something like the one below. The specific numbers don’t matter that much for the purposes of answering the question.
23. I have excellent extracurriculars, but my grades are so-so and my MCAT isn’t great. Do I have a chance?
In case I haven’t conveyed it effectively in the past, let me take a moment to reiterate…
MED SCHOOL IS HARD.
Extracurriculars are great, but they are extras. Icing on the cake. Yes, you need them (to have a desirable cake), but they are not the basis of your application to medical school (otherwise you’d be all icing and you’d give someone diabetes…). Extracurriculars can help give a boost to mediocre numbers (like rich chocolate icing on a dry boxed yellow cake), but they can’t really stand on their own.
The goal is not to GET IN to medical school. The goal is to GRADUATE from medical school. Amirite? If you hope to get through, you need a solid foundation to build upon.
Now y’all know I hate talking numbers, but the truth is that they DO matter. I’m not here to set minimum standards for medical school applications — most med schools have already done that — I’m just sayin, be realistic. Check out the schools you’re applying to. Your scores need to be at or above their average if you want a good chance of getting in there. Yes, people with lower scores get in, but don’t hope to be the exception. Try to be the rule.
If you are in such a situation, what can you do to improve your numbers?
For starters, check out this post I wrote to another high schooler about where to start in a journey toward medical school.
But your question is a little more specific, so I’ll try to give you a decent answer.
First things first: Be realistic about your expectations. Medicine is awesome, but not everyone is supposed to be a doctor, for many reasons. Out of the lecture hall full of pre-meds at my school freshman year, only about 5 of us went to medical school. You’re at a point in your education where you don’t have to know what you want to do with your life yet. So don’t get stuck saying you’re going to do one thing and ignore all your other options. Research your options - nursing, PA/NP, MD, PT/OT, RT - all the acronyms.
Next, no pain, go gain. You can’t make it in medicine (regardless of the specialty) without busting your butt. Even though schools look at the “whole person” and not just grades, grades are certainly important. You have to study hard. But working hard is more than just studying and doing well in school. It means volunteering, being active in clubs, shadowing, working, etc. too.
My answer to anyone who asks if med school is right for them is the same: med school is hard, and only you know if you can handle it.
Shadow some doctors and see if you like medicine any more than physical therapy. If so, go for it. I would suggest shadowing some generalists first, like family or internal medicine docs, just to get you a wide exposure. And since you have an interest in physical therapy already, see if you can find a PM&R (physical medicine and rehabilitation) or sports medicine doc to shadow, because they would be incorporating some of the things you like into their practice. If you like both medicine and physical therapy equally, take into account the time, money, and energy you will have to put in to achieve each one and figure out if it’s worth it to go the extra mile and do medical school.
And as I’ve said before, don’t let being scared of failing keep you from trying to meet your goals. I mean, you’re already on the way towards physical therapy school, and you don’t seem to be scared of failing in that, so why be afraid of not getting in to med school? Just have a back-up plan.
Hmm, tough question. I will say that if Jesus is really calling you into medicine, he will keep nagging you about it until you do what He wants you to do. That being said, Med school is hard. But it’s not impossible. We have several people in my class who got late starts and who are managing med school with kids at home (one guy in my class was 35 when he started med school!). It has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done and I’m single with no kids, so I can’t begin to imagine adding a husband and a baby into the picture. You’ll have to be very disciplined, that’s for sure.
Obviously, this is your decision. I can’t make it for you. But here are some questions you can ask yourself to help in making your decision.
1. What are my real motives for wanting to go into medicine? Pray about this a lot. Really figure out whether your desire is just yours or if it’s God’s will for your life.
2. Am I called to be a doctor specifically? Are paramedic, nursing and mid-level jobs (NP, PA) also options for me?
3. How will this affect my family? Medical school will be a huge stress on your marriage and will keep you from seeing your child like you would want to. Are you and your family prepared to face that? Being single made the decision easier for me, but since you’re married, your husband should be part of your decision making. Maybe God has called you to be a stay at home mom for now and will move you to medicine later.
4. Can I handle the course load? You’re still pretty far from medical school. Why don’t you work on finishing college and go from there?
Really my biggest advice to you is to pray about it with your husband. Pray for your next step to be revealed. God usually doesn’t show us our next 10 steps, but He’ll guide us to the next one. So focus on that.
Hope this helps, ravelbycassie.
6. Is Med school right for me?
Ok, no one’s really asking this out loud, but you’re all thinking it. If you’re not thinking it, you should be.
At some point in your med school career, you will contemplate quitting. It happens to all of us. At my school, that point was usually around a week before the first test, then it came again just before taking Step 1, and then again towards the middle of 3rd year (probably during surgery for most of us). I don’t know of anyone who has made it to their 4th year without seriously thinking of quitting.
This is not just from stress. This is seriously thinking, “I can’t handle this. I am not smart enough. I’m tired and beat and I want to have a real life and I don’t think I can have one and be a doctor at the same time. I want to have a husband and children before I’m 40. I want to take vacations. I want to enjoy holidays.” This is the point when your brain forgets you’re already $200,000 in debt and tells you, “just go be a missionary. Go be a movie theater attendant. Go teach high school. (all very real thoughts of mine) You’d have a life. It would be so excellent.”
MEDICAL SCHOOL IS HARD.
Caps and bold can’t fully express it. Take your hardest class you ever took and multiply it by 10, and you’re just starting to understand how hard med school is. It is physically hard as well as intellectually. You will be sleep-deprived, tired of standing for 30 hours (and holding a retractor for 8), your immune system will be shot, you won’t get to see family and friends like you want to, etc etc etc. There have been times where I had to forego going home to a funeral because I couldn’t miss 2 days of studying. My mom was in the hospital twice and I couldn’t visit because of school. I missed 2 years worth of dentist and doctors’ appointments. Med school is hard.
So what I’m saying is, don’t think that just because you did well in undergrad and didn’t have to study much that you’re doing to be fine in med school, cuz this is a whole different level.
If you have doubts about whether or not to go to med school, please do yourself a favor and take a year off to get a better idea. It’s not the end of the world. Most folks I know didn’t get in on their first try anyway. Work on your application, do some shadowing and volunteering, try something new. Because by the end of my first semester of med school, I was already too much in debt to quit. It was either go forward or be totally stuck for a very long time.
Medicine is one of the few professions that literally consumes your life. If you don’t want to be defined by your job, don’t go into medicine. If you want to be able to leave work at work, don’t go into medicine (unless you’re doing radiology or pathology). If you’re wondering if medical school is for you, ask yourself if you’re okay with giving up a significant portion of your life to study, and whether or not you will find satisfaction in your job.
I’m going to be a doctor because at the end of the day, nothing else feels right. No other profession gives me the satisfaction and sense of accomplishment that medicine does.
But it is hard.
Early Application vs. Regular Pool
What kinds of questions will I be asked on my interview?
So my community health assessment paper was 24 pages (4 of which were single spaced. They wanted one section to be different for some reason). Plus 20 pages of statistical charts and tables. Plus 10 pages of interviews. Plus 13 pages of my chronic illness family assessment, plus 7 pages of my normal family assessment. That’s a grand total of a whopping 74 pages of BS, written in less than 2 weeks. Worst paper I’ve ever written. But considering the fact that it really only gets scanned over, not picked through like a paper of normal length, I’m ok with it.