Guide to a Medical Career

Is a career in medicine the right career choice for me?

A career in medicine offers a diverse range of opportunities to help people in need. If you have the desire to use science and humanity to serve society, then a career in medicine may be the right choice for you.  If you are a committed, disciplined and focused individual, who enjoys constant challenges, education, and learning for learning’s sake, chances are, you will be motivated and driven enough to dedicate yourself to the eleven to sixteen years it will take in order for you to complete your medical education. If you are a person who cares deeply about people and their medical problems/conditions and if you are intrigued by the ways in which medicine can be utilized in order to improve one’s quality of life, you may have the right kind of personality for a medical career.

If you are actively considering a career as a physician, it is extremely beneficial to spend some time reflecting upon this field’s specific educational and professional requirements and challenges. There are many allied health programs, including nurse practitioner, optometrist, physician assistant, physical therapist and various others that can lead to highly rewarding careers in medicine. However, if you find through further self-evaluation that the role of the physician is right for you, then pursue it wholeheartedly.


What are the different kinds of physicians in the medical career?

About one-third of the nation’s physicians are primary care doctors, such as general internists, family physicians, and general pediatricians who provide a wide range of services children and adults need. When patients’ specific health needs require further treatment, primary care physicians send them to see a specialist physician. These types of doctors focus on treating a particular system or part of the body.


What do physicians do? Where do they work?

There are a diverse array of physicians in the medical field, including researchers who find new treatments for cancer, genetic disorders, and infectious diseases like AIDS and academic physicians who share their skills and knowledge by teaching medical students and residents. Others work with health maintenance organizations, pharmaceutical companies, health insurance companies, or in corporations directing health and safety programs.


What is the best kind of undergraduate preparation for a career in medicine?

Medical school admission departments state that they do not have a preference for one particular major over another, and do not give preference to students who have completed a “premed” major. Their priority is to accept students who have developed a strong foundation in science subjects such as biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics

It is also essential that premed students develop exceptional reasoning, analytical and communication skills. A growing number of students accepted into medical school have a strong liberal arts background as well. Advanced coursework in the humanities offers the chance to develop excellent language and communication skills, two skills that doctors and other medical professionals must use on a daily basis.


What is involved in the application process for medical schools?

Over the past few years, the number of applicants to medical schools has steadily increased, making the process even more selective and competitive. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, applications to medical schools reached an all time high in 2011, with 43, 919 applicants, up from 32, 654 the previous year. An undergraduate degree with between eight and ten hours of General Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Biology, and Physics, courses in the humanities and social sciences, strong writing and language skills, and a qualifying score on the Medical College Admission Test are general requirements for entry into medical school. Other requirements vary from school to school, but include a high GPA (3.5 or above), letters of recommendation, professional and character references, and personal interview.


What is medical school like?

More than 96 percent of students succeed in earning their M.D. degrees, a high number considering that nearly 20 percent suffer from depression and more than half from burnout. Medical school is rigorous and challenging, but once you are accepted into a program, the medical school faculty and staff are committed to supporting you in your education and professional endeavors. Medical school lasts four years, and during the first two, students study anatomy, biochemistry, physiology, microbiology, pathology, and pharmacology. Students also master basic techniques of taking a medical history and examining patients. During the third year, students gain experience with patients in hospital, clinic, and office settings in a variety of fields such as internal medicine, family medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, surgery, and psychiatry. The fourth is mostly elective courses in which you gain additional experience with patients. During the final months of your first year, students choose their specialization and then, depending on the field, spend an additional three years or more in a graduate medical education, or residency program. In a residency, students work at teaching hospital as a physician and train to become certified in a specialty field. On average, a student will earn $47,000 annually during the residency program.


What are the costs in attending medical school?

Annual tuition and fees alone at state medical schools in 2010-2011 averaged $25,000 for state residents and $48,000 for non-residents. At private schools, tuition averaged $42,000 for residents and $43,000 for non-residents. Most students receive some sort of financial aid to help offset these costs. However, in 2005, more than 85 percent of students took out partial loans to pay for medical school.


Photo Credit: Indiana University