Most high schoolers may have an idealized and romanticized vision of what it is to be a doctor. Their perceptions may be shaped by elements of popular culture, as seen in television shows or movies. These often fictionalized portrayals depict doctors as uber attractive individuals with a burning passion to help others. They carry stethoscopes around their necks, wear fancy suits and dresses, and spend their outrageously high salaries on the latest Ferrari or Lamborghini model. Sorry folks, that’s not reality.
The National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) hosts seminars on medical school admissions. They have concluded that the following criteria are indicators of whether or not a student is ready to enter the field of medicine:
- Meaningful exposure to a hospital or clinical setting
- Shadowing of practicing physicians in a clinical setting
- Involvement in experimental research
If you are a high schooler who is interested in medicine, here are some tips which will help guide you to making a decision.
Is Medicine What You Want to Do For the Rest of Your Life?
The path to become a physician is full of obstacles ranging from competitive exams to periods of anxiety and self doubt. Just ask any medical student or resident. If you want to be a physician, a deep passion for helping others is essential, as is the ability to care for others with compassion. As a doctor, you are expected to be there for your patient through some of their worst moments. If you can get through the rigorous and taxing training, you will become part of one of the most noble professions. Medicine is a highly rewarding field, and not just in monetary terms. Helping others through pain and illness brings a sense of satisfaction and reward that few other careers provide.
Clinical Exposure – Shadow a Doctor
If you want to know what it’s like to be a doctor, shadow one. Reach out to local doctors in a variety of practice settings and ask if they would be willing to have a high school student shadow them. You will get some rejections, but many will happily educate an enthusiastic high school student on what it means to be a doctor. To get the most out of your experience shadowing, ask relevant questions to the physician. Some examples of things you can ask include:
- What factors motivated you to become a doctor?
- Could you please describe your experience with medical school and residency?
- How did you overcome the challenges that came with the rigorous training?
- What led you to pick your current specialty?
- What are your favorite and least favorite parts about being a doctor?
Consider an Experiential Medical Training Program for High School Students
Many medical schools and colleges have “Pipeline Programs”, which are designed to give medical exposure to elementary, high school and/or college students. These programs place a strong emphasis on academic achievement and preparation for standardized exams such as the SAT and MCAT. They encourage students to excel in academics, particularly math and science, and even provide exposure to clinical healthcare setting. Pipeline Programs often provide workshops where students learn and practice basic medical procedures, such as taking a medical history, measuring blood pressure, and even suturing!
Participate in Extracurriculars You Enjoy
Take advantage of volunteer opportunities – these don’t necessarily have to be healthcare-related. While volunteering at a hospital or clinic is excellent, volunteering at a local shelter or soup kitchen will also foster your passion for helping others.
Worry less about finding the “right” extracurricular for medical school. The best extracurricular for you is the one you enuoy. Find activities you enjoy and excel in them. It can be a sport, the debate team, or student government, among others. Excelling in these activities will open up additional opportunities down the road, and this will ultimately make you a more competitive applicant. Remember, college and medical school admissions officers value unique and well-rounded students. Some of my own classmates were Division 1 athletes or competitive dancers.
Practice Strong Study Habits NOW
The academic rigors of being a pre-med in college are second to none. The highly competitive track to medical school requires top grades and scores on your MCAT. Push yourself and hone your study habits now. Med School Insiders has extensive blog posts and videos to help you become an efficient, effective, and elite student.
Take challenging courses such as Honors and AP classes. Excel in all your courses, particularly the STEM courses such as Calculus, Chemistry, Biology and Physics. A competitive academic history will bolster your college application and demonstrate your eagerness and drive to learn. At the end of the day, a career in medicine requires life long learning.
Consider Combined BS/MD Programs
Several medical schools and colleges now offer combined BS/MD or BS/DO programs. These programs consolidate the undergraduate and medical school experience, allowing students to accelerate their BS and MD training to 7 or even 6 years in some cases. These programs are a great option for students that are completely set on a career as a doctor. If you’re on the fence, we recommend the traditional pre-med route, as this allows you additional time and experiences to determine if medical school is right for you.
Combined BS/MD programs are accelerated and several don’t require students to take the MCAT! However, these programs are highly competitive. Check the program’s website for more information relating to admissions, such as required GPA and average SAT score.
Be Proactive, Have Fun, and Trust the Process
The opportunity to become a doctor is there for everyone. Those who are procactive are more likely to be succcessful. If you act on the advice above, you’ll be in a great position as a high school student. Onward!