I want to be a doctor. What steps do I take?
We meet a lot of students who want to become doctors. Their reasons vary: they’ve been inspired by important people in their lives, a personal experience in the medical system, a love of science, or even a television favourite like Grey’s Anatomy.They begin to plan ahead for medical school by taking science and math classes in high school, to meet university science program admission requirements. What else should they do?
Preparing yourself to be a competitive candidate for medical school takes a lot of focus, time, and commitment. You can do everything ‘right’ (high GPA, high MCAT score, and stellar extracurriculars and letters of reference) and still not get an offer from a medical school. Many dedicated students end up applying to medical schools multiple times.
Make sure you can articulate why you want to be a doctor. Medical school application evaluators will be assessing whether you have a deep understanding of the profession and can explain why you’re well-suited to be a doctor. If you’re currently in high school or university, there are steps you can take to learn about the reality of life as a doctor.
- Talk to your doctor about his or her experiences
- Talk to medical students, residents, interns, and nurses
- Network to other doctors and healthcare professionals to hear their thoughts and ideas
- Read books and articles about doctors and healthcare generally
- Ask to shadow a doctor as he or she goes about a day of work
- Attend a ‘Mini Med School’ event
- Read detailed descriptions of healthcare careers at O*NET OnLine
As you learn more about life as a doctor, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I have strong math and science skills?
- Do I love to learn?
- Do I enjoy working with and helping people?
- Am I prepared to persevere through a long, challenging, and costly process?
- Can I become good at communicating with all kinds of people?
- Have I explored alternate careers in health sciences, in case I’m not admitted to medical school?
- Why will I be a good doctor?
OK, so you’ve done your research and you’re sure that medicine is the career for you. What can you do to make yourself the best applicant to medical school you can be?
Plan Your Undergraduate Studies
- You don’t need to follow a ‘pre-med’ track by majoring in general sciences or life sciences. Actually, medical schools like to recruit students from a variety of academic backgrounds. Think about what you want to study most, and what courses and major you’re most likely to excel at. You’re more likely to achieve the high GPA required for medical school admission if you study subjects you love.
- Although you can choose a non-science major, make sure you include the prerequisite science courses that medical schools require. Also, consider taking science classes that will prepare you to do well on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).
- Don’t worry about choosing your university by its ‘ranking’. Rankings hardly matter in medical school admissions, but your GPA will matter a lot. Therefore, it’s smart to choose a school where you’ll excel academically. For many students, the best choice is a small undergraduate-focused school, with small classes and easy access to professors.
Plan your Extracurricular Activities
- No particular extracurricular activity is required, but it’s prudent to participate in activities that will enable you to demonstrate that you’re well-rounded, interested in the world, disciplined and dedicated. Choose activities that lend themselves to long-term commitment so you can show that you’re capable of improving your skills, taking on increasing responsibility, and being a leader.
- Consider what skills you’ll need when you care for patients in the future. Choose activities that will help you develop these skills.
- Find opportunities to gain clinical experience, by volunteering or working in a community healthcare setting, or shadowing a doctor.
- High-quality research drives improvements in the field of medicine, so look for opportunities to work in a lab. You can improve various research-related skills, like evaluating evidence and communicating, verbally and in writing. You might even have an opportunity to speak about your findings at a conference.
- Set up a spreadsheet or chart to keep track of all your extracurricular activities. Include the dates your activities begin and end, the hours you work, your tasks and responsibilities, the positions you hold, contact details for someone who will verify your participation, and notes about your experiences and what you learn. If you keep this information up to date and organized, you’ll have a much easier time completing your medical school applications.
These steps will help you prepare yourself to make the best medical school applications you can, when the time comes. There are other steps to take too, and Academic Pathways can help you make your plan.
Explore your personal path to medical school one-to-one with a pre-med advisor. Get started by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org