If you’re a high school student dreaming of becoming a doctor, there’s plenty you can do right now to prepare yourself for the long road ahead. In this video we share 6 steps you MUST be taking right now as well as a costly mistake to avoid.
1 | Determine if Medicine Is Right for You
First, determine if medicine is right for you. As a high school student, there’s still so much to learn about the profession and the day-to-day experience of being a doctor. Without this knowledge, you can’t make an informed decision about whether to dedicate your life to medicine.
Medical school is far too expensive and difficult to get into to find out once you arrive that it’s not for you.
Fortunately, you can begin your research right from the comfort of your home by watching our Day in the Life series, which follows attending doctors on the job, and our So You Want To Be series, which breaks down what it’s actually like to pursue various different medical specialties.
The next step is getting involved in a clinical setting by volunteering at a hospital or clinic and shadowing physicians. This gives you a first-hand view of what it’s like to work in a clinical setting, as well as what to expect in a physician’s day-to-day life.
Learn from your shadowing experiences, but understand there will be aspects you don’t like about the job, no matter what specialty you pursue. When I was young and naive about what being a doctor would be like, I imagined myself doing procedures all day, but guess what: even procedural specialists or surgeons have to work in the clinic and complete less glamorous tasks. If that’s a deal breaker for you, becoming a doctor may not be the ideal fit.
At the same time, keep in mind that watching someone else talk to patients is far less engaging, interesting, or meaningful than when you’re in the driver’s seat.
Be honest with yourself. If the reality of the profession isn’t as glamorous or exciting as you expected, medicine may not be the right path for you. Becoming a doctor isn’t for everyone, and it’s certainly not worth pursuing if you’re in it for the money alone.
As a high school student, be open to other possibilities, as you can pursue a career in healthcare through many other avenues, such as becoming a nurse practitioner, physician assistant, physical therapist, dentist, optometrist, paramedic, and more.
You do not want to invest tens of thousands of dollars into something you’re not truly passionate about, so take the time to do your research early on, and keep an open mind about where your career path could take you.
Take time to learn what it’s actually like to be an attending physician since this career path is not for everyone. Our video 7 Signs You Shouldn’t Become a Doctor is one every student considering medicine should watch. Do any of these warning signs apply to you?
2 | Hone Active Study Strategies
Step number two is to hone your study strategies. We’ve spoken about the importance of active learning techniques on this channel over and over again because they are essential to excelling in medical school.
Active learning includes strategies such as active recall, interleaving, and desirable difficulties. If these sound challenging, that’s because they are. And that’s the point. Studying should not be casual. Passively browsing the notes you copied down in class while Netflix plays in the background is not an effective way to study. Studying must be active in order to be effective.
Far too many students wait until it’s too late to change their approach to studying because they can get by in high school and college using passive study methods, like rereading notes or textbooks.
But the sooner you adopt effective study strategies, the better. Active study strategies are a lead domino in your life. You’ll get better grades, which will boost your GPA, and make you more attractive to both college and medical school admissions committees. Plus, utilizing these strategies early means it won’t take you as long to acclimatize to the heavier workload in college and again in medical school.
But the real beauty of being effective at studying early on in your education is that it frees up your time—time you can spend on other key areas of your life, such as your passion for scrolling through cat TikToks, gaining clinical experience, or building strong relationships.
3 | Start Building Relationships
Which brings us to step number three: Start building relationships and honing your interpersonal skills as soon as possible.
Whether it’s fair or not, so many opportunities come down to who you know. Hard metrics are not the sole determinant of medical school acceptance. Do not underappreciate how valuable your connections are.
Knowing the right person, and having a good relationship with them, is often just as important as how well you perform on a test. Having the right connections and a wide variety of strong relationships will help you tremendously as you become a doctor and throughout your future career.
That said, relationships take time to build, and so do the skills it takes to become an interesting person people want to spend time with.
You need four to five strong letters of recommendation from professionals you’ve worked closely with in order to apply to medical school. While the connections you make in high school likely won’t write your letters of recommendation, learning how to cultivate relationships early on is a valuable skill that will pay off every step of the way to becoming a doctor.
Don’t wait for others to reach out to you. Put yourself out there and build authentic relationships by making an effort and showing enthusiasm.
It’s very easy to be memorable to teachers and mentors in high school since most students don’t try that hard. Many don’t uphold integrity, are not reliable, and act unprofessionally. If you’re able to show up, be intentional, be professional, and put in the effort, you will absolutely stand out.
Keep in mind that effort and enthusiasm aren’t just traits that come naturally—they are skills you can build. The more you practice, the easier it will become and the more people will be drawn to your positive energy. As you get more skilled, a snowball effect will occur where more and more opportunities come your way because mentors and the people around you want to invest in you and see you succeed.
That said, don’t be pushy. No one owes you anything. Show your value by being helpful to others, whether that’s actively participating in class, volunteering, taking on more responsibility, or starting a club to bring people together.
A practical tip you can begin applying today is to remember people’s names. We are all deeply connected to our own name and feel seen by those around us when it’s used. Go out of your way to use people’s names, and make an effort to remember small anecdotes about them. This shows your genuine interest in growing the relationship.
4 | Step Outside Your Comfort Zone
Next, intentionally step outside of your comfort zone. While this can be unpleasant or even scary, it’s crucial to building your resilience and adaptability. Working through those feelings of discomfort will make you stronger in all aspects of your life.
Try something new and get comfortable being uncomfortable. Take a dance or improv class, try a new sport, learn an instrument, go on a trip, start a club at school, or try a food you’ve always thought you disliked.
If this is something you struggle with, read our guide: How to Step Outside Your Confort Zone.
These are the types of experiences that will make you a more interesting candidate down the road. Admissions committees want applicants who will add diversity and spark to a student body. The more diverse your experiences, the more you’ll have to talk about on your application and during interviews. This makes you a more appealing and engaging candidate.
Keep an open mind, and don’t be too rigid in your beliefs. If you have not changed your mind about anything in the past year, reflect on whether or not you are truly being open minded to other viewpoints.
The sign of a great thinker and an excellent prospective doctor is someone who is able to be inquisitive, curious, and keep an open mind. Great doctors are adaptable, willing to change their minds, and are open to new possibilities.
5 | Prioritize Financial Literacy
Step number five is to prioritize your financial literacy. The average medical student graduates with over $250,000 in debt, and contrary to what you might think, making a 6-figure income does not solve all of your financial problems. There are many doctors who live paycheck to paycheck, and you don’t want to be one of them.
Learn more: Why Are So Many Doctors Broke?
Your financial future starts day one of college. If you don’t understand how the loans work that you’re taking out, you hinder what you are able to accomplish once your education is complete. Interest can quickly get out of control if you’re not careful.
The best thing you can do is educate yourself. You don’t have to be the next Graham Stephan of finance and investing, but knowing the basics can make or break your financial future. Understand the different types of loans, how interest works, and how to spend wisely. These decisions compound over time, so the sooner you start the better off you’ll be.
Too many medical students and doctors are bad with their money because it’s something they never took the time to learn, and they justify this because of the intense commitment of medical training. You will only get busier the later you are in your education, so put in the work now.
Remember the compounding effect. You likely don’t have much money to invest right now, but you do have expenses. If you are able to minimize your expenses, be intelligent with your loans, and build healthy financial habits now, this will compound and make tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars of difference in the future.
Check out our Money, Investing, and Finances playlist to get started today.
6 | Choose Your Premed Major
The last step is to choose your premed major. Premed is not actually a major in itself; it’s a term that describes your path before medical school. Students planning to apply to medical school must complete several prerequisite courses, but the major you choose is up to you. You can major in film studies and still be a premed as long as you fulfill your prerequisites.
Biological sciences are the most common and straightforward path, but it’s not the only one. What matters more is choosing something you’re passionate about. That said, if you plan on applying to medical school, enjoying biology is a must. If you detest all biological science majors, deeply consider why you want to be a doctor.
You will have the rest of your education and career to study biology and the human body. If you have another passion, this is the time to pursue it. You won’t have much time to do so in medical school or residency. If you’re passionate about history, art, math, or economics, pursue the major you’re most interested in. After seeing thousands of biological science majors, your application will certainly stand out to admissions committees. Just know that it will be an uphill battle to also fulfill your med school prerequisites.
On the other hand, if you are genuinely passionate about biological sciences, rest assured that this is the most straightforward and streamlined path to medical school. The major requirements will overlap well with your med school prerequisites, so you won’t have to go out of your way to fulfill them.
This decision will come much sooner than you think. Take time to thoroughly research your options, so you can go into college confident in your path. Even if you go in undeclared, you’ll still need to choose a category of majors to commit to, such as undeclared life sciences. Not sure which major is right for you? We have detailed guides and videos on choosing the best and easiest premed major for you.
When entering college, it’s okay to keep your options open. I knew that I loved biology, but I didn’t know what type of biological science interested me most. I was able to choose an undeclared life sciences major for two years while covering many of my prerequisites. It was in these two years I developed a passion for neuroscience, and I ultimately declared that my major.
You don’t need to have it nailed down right away, but having a general area of interest will help you a great deal. Play to your strengths and passions. The most detailed and boring class for one person could be something that you absolutely love.
I took a class on how memory works, which examined how sea slugs learn and store information using a rudimentary neural network, as they don’t have brains. This information could be extrapolated to better understand how our more complex human brains store information, and I loved every minute of it.
Obscure topics can be challenging, but the more interested you are in the subject matter, the more you’ll apply yourself, and the better you will perform.
If you’re interested in becoming a doctor, nailing your premed college experience is pivotal. Check out our Premed Roadmap to Medical School Acceptance Course, which covers everything you need to know as a premed with step-by-step guidance from freshman through senior year.
It was built from the ground up by our team of physicians and is the guide we wish we had in college ourselves.