Growing up, life is relatively easy for most people. Your parents or guardians help ensure your basic needs of food, water, warmth, rest, security and safety. You get to be a kid and learn to navigate the world around you without having to make major long-term decisions. However, once you hit late adolescence and early adulthood, there comes a time when you have to face your fears and make tough, serious life decisions. One of these decisions includes choosing what career path to take. That decision is intensified when your career of choice is medicine.
I admit that becoming a doctor is no walk in the park. It is a massive, long-term commitment to make. But what is stopping you from trying? Do you feel like you do not measure up? Do you doubt yourself and your abilities? There are many myths and misconceptions surrounding medicine as a career choice – and most of them are maintained by people who have never worked as an MD or DO, or have no medical experience at all. I’d like to share of the top five reasons I hear people tell me about why they may not be fit to pursue medicine.
- I’m almost 30
Society often imposes strict timelines on our lives, and it is normal to feel rushed or like you are running out of time if you take a nontraditional path to medical school. Although the average age for medical school matriculation is 24 years old, many people start later, just as some people start earlier. Personally, I started medical school at 27 years old. Which means I was 31 when I finished medical school. And I’ll be 36 by the time I will have completed residency. From personal experience, it was beneficial for me to start medical school in my late 20’s. I had more life experience, was more mature, and better equipped to handle the stress of school and the difficulty of facing mortality so frequently. Many medical schools actually appreciate students who come from diverse academic and professional backgrounds, and students who have some “real world” experience outside of academia. So, what, you’re almost thirty. You are thirty. You’re a thirty-something. What’s stopping you from pursuing medicine?
- I lack the intelligence
Doctors are often placed on an intellectual pedestal. Let me tell you one thing. Everyone doubts themselves at one point or another. It is totally normal for you to doubt if you are intelligent enough to make it through medical school. In fact, it is expected that you will doubt yourself. Medical school challenges your mental, emotional, psychological, and intellectual abilities. I want you to know that most people who have made it to the point of becoming a physician have doubted themselves too at some point in their lives – maybe even more than you. But the difference is that they did not let their self-doubt hold them back. They decided to push through the adversity, even when nobody believed in them including themselves. So, will also push past your self-doubt, or will you keep giving yourself excuses that maybe you’re just not smart enough?
- I can’t afford medical school
Unless you are admitted to NYU School of Medicine, medical school is quite expensive. Tuition of medical school has discouraged many people from pursuing this career path. However, if you are resourceful, you can make use of scholarships, loans, and grants if available. Furthermore, when you finally become a successful qualified physician, you can easily repay your medical school loans. Once your student loans are paid off, it will all be a sweet memory.
- I am not a good test taker
This doubt should actually be taken seriously because getting admitted to medical school in fact requires good grades and test scores. No amount of sugar coating can get you outweigh your scores. It is okay to feel like your grades aren’t good enough. We cannot always achieve at peak performance. In times of weakness, you need to ask yourself: what do you plan to do about it? Start to set aside extra hours to study after class. Learn to make sacrifices. You may not be able to join your friends at the beach, making your instant gratification pale in comparison. But becoming a doctor is a marathon, not a sprint. You are setting yourself up for an enormous long-term gratification. If you have bloopers on your academic record, take some detours. Consider enrolling in a post-baccalaureate program and taking upper level science classes. Retake your MCAT if you must, but don’t let poor scores come between you and your dreams.
- I don’t want to work incessantly
When most of us think about a doctor, we think of someone who saves lives for a living – but we also picture someone who is always working, is never at home, and is a slave to their phone or beeper. However, there are many specialties within medicine, and the one you choose to follow will determine your working hours. Furthermore, there are other less satisfying professions out there that demand more working hours for less pay than a medical professional, so this should never be an excuse for you not to become a medical professional. The path to medical school is forget by blood, sweat, and tears. You will work incessantly to make it through medical school and residency. But it will be your decision to choose your specialty.
Andrew Nimmich, M.D., is a graduate of Boston University School of Medicine and a PGY-1 Integrated Vascular Surgery resident. He’s also a Co-Founder of Tutor the People, an online and in-person services that provides one-on-one MCAT test prep. In his free time (yes he does have some free time), he consults with pre-meds about their application strategy, personal statement, extracurricular activities, and everything else they do to work toward achieving admission into medical school.