Video 1: Let’s Get Started – The Basics
This video covers two concepts:
- An overview of what the journey to medical school looks like
- Good and bad reasons for pursuing medicine as a career option
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Hey, it’s Radhika again. Welcome to our very first video. Let’s get started by discussing some of the basics in your journey to medical school. In the first part of this video, I will talk about your overall journey to becoming a physician. During the second part, I will talk about good and bad reasons to proceed medicine as a career. Before I really begin, I want to tell you that in order to get into medical school you need to be a really strong applicant. While the majority of these videos will focus on the MCAT, what you need to consider is that in order to be a strong applicant you must have covered your basis on a series of factors.
Acceptance is not just about your MCAT score. You must have a stellar undergraduate GPA. You must be involved in various extracurriculars and you have to have a great MCAT score. A lot of this is part of the preparatory stages. On top of that, you have to submit an excellent application. They really take into consideration the kind of letters of recommendations you can get and how well you can write a personal statement. Furthermore, if you get invited to an interview your performance and how strongly you market yourself as a good candidate to becoming a future physician is also really important. Your interview gets factored in to. After having taken all of these into consideration, medical schools actually make a decision and that leads to being accepted, rejected, or waitlisted.
Now that you’ve made up your mind that you’re going to pursue medicine, you know about some of the factors that are actually involved, let’s talk about what this journey will entail. It’s a long road to becoming a doctor. You begin with your undergraduate studies. Undergraduate studies are typically 3 to 4 years long. In the first half of those studies, you are working on completing prerequisite courses in order to actually complete your degree. A lot of students also prepare for their MCAT during their undergraduate studies. They write it, rewrite it if necessary, and take that score and start applying.
The next stage in medical schools is a bit of an optional stage. Many graduates have degrees outside their undergraduate studies. They really want to pursue the sciences. They take about 1 to 6 years in pursuing a masters or doctorate. If this is not something you’re looking into, once you’ve written your MCAT and have successfully got it in, you begin medical school. Canadian programs are three to four years in length. The vast majority being 4 years in length. However, you do get a bit of a decent summer. However, you do spend that summer researching or being involved. Medical school is divided up too. Your first one and a half to two years are what we call your pre-clerkship years. This is where you learn all of the essential basic sciences. It’s either lecture-based learning or small-group learning and some schools in Canada are now even starting to adopt a problem-based learning system.
You do a lot of lab work and reading and attending lectures. These are your pre-clerkship years. The next one and a half to two years are called your clerkship years. In your clerkship years you are actually spending a lot of your time in the hospital doing rotations. This is the part where you are involved directly in patient care. You may think that after undergraduate studies and an optional graduate studies portion, and having completed medical school, that you’re finally done. I just want to throw you a word of caution… you are nowhere near finished it. By the end of three or four years in medical school, you are physician. However, you still have to specialize and these are your residency years. Residency is really when you choose a specialty among the medical sciences and practice it for 2 to 6 years and really learn your craft.
The reason it is 2 to 6 years is because residency programs in this country really matter and differ. For example, family medicine is a two-year residency. Internal medicine and things like pediatrics are 4 years. However, if you want to get into most surgical specialties, even general surgery, cardiac surgery, or neurosurgery, those are all 6 year programs. Once you finish that specialty, you have another optional stage. This is the fellowship stage. Fellowship is an optional stage that lasts for 1 to 2 years. What you’re really doing is becoming more specialized in a specialized field. You spend one to two years studying that subset of your specialty.
I have to say, that is an insanely long journey. It is about an average of 10 years. You have to be extremely committed, extremely motivated, and enthusiastic about it. You have to give it your all. In essence, what I’m trying to say is you have to know medicine is what you want. Furthermore, you have to know why you are pursuing it. Why do you want it? What are some good reasons? What are not some good reason?
Don’t pursue it if you’re pursuing it for family tradition. Family traditions are great but if you’re contemplating medical school because someone else in your family is a doctor, think again. This is a career that requires nothing except 100% dedication, motivation, and enthusiasm. If you’re not in it for the right reasons, remember, you’re going to be the one studying all night for years of your life. It will pale in comparison to those who are actually in it for the beauty that it is. It’s likely you will end up unhappy if you are pursuing this career path because of family tradition. If you’re pursuing medicine because you can’t stop dreaming of that sports car or fancy beach house, and it’s mostly reason to get rich, I’ll let you in on a little secret. The days of the millionaire doctor are almost a thing of the past. It will allow you to live a comfortable life.
Yes, becoming a practicing physician will lead to paying off your loans. But it also requires a ton of commitment. It’s a tough practice day in and day out and money probably won’t be satisfactory enough further down the road. If you’re doing it because you have an adrenaline surge for saving lives, let me tell you. I quote word for word here what medicine has been described as, “It is hours and hours of sheer boredom, punctuated by moments of sheer terror. Clinical practice can be exciting but a lot of the time you may be involved with caring for a three-year-old patient who has an ear infection and is dizzy, or the alcoholic with poorly controlled diabetes he’s just managed to puke on you for third time.” In general, for any of you who are addicted to the adrenaline rush and focus solely on that, you are going to miss the elegant subtlety this profession really has to offer. It will probably leave you unhappy and unfulfilled.
I have also come across students who pursue it because of the challenge that it is. Yes, I agree that it is a very hard field to practice in. It’s a very long journey. But there are reasons why people pursue it, real deep reasons, because they are motivated. They are completely enthusiastic. There are many other changing careers out there. Ones that are not just involved in directly saving someone’s life or having a direct impact on someone’s health. If you’re looking for a career that offers you challenge, choose one where other people’s lives and well-being are not at stake. There should be real desire here. That’s what I am trying to say.
If you’re thinking of pursuing it because you can’t think of anything else to do, hold on. In deciding to go to medical school, you should be pursuing a chosen dream, not evading a decision. It is not a casual undertaking. Less than 100% of your commitment is not going to cut it here. If you can’t think of anything else to do it is your job to sit down and figure out what you really want to spend the rest of your life doing. Don’t try to evade the decision because you can’t think of anything else. You will have to make decisions every day that impact other people’s lives. A lot of responsibility comes with this profession and you want to make sure you have chosen it for the right reason.
Enough about the bad talk. What are the good reasons to pursue medicine? It may seem cliché, but you really want to help people. Altruism is a real part of a physician’s career and character. At the same time, you want to be aware of the contrary forces of business and profit that significantly influences this profession. You may be motivated to act in certain ways, or trained to, altruistically, most likely. However, there are contrary forces. You should be aware of that. You should be aware that they don’t lead to one of your sources of dissatisfaction. What else? You have to have a fascination with the human body. Not only will it help you sit through hours of anatomy class, but it will also help you at your patient’s bedside into the wee hours of the morning.
You want to make sure that you are truly interested in understanding how this fascinating machine actually works and to be able to treat and diagnose certain problems when things go wrong. A lot of students also tell me they want to apply their love for the sciences to their love for the humanities. That’s a great reason. Medicine is an elegant blend of the sciences and humanities, of what we call the technical and the creative. It encompasses every field of the sciences. What’s more beautiful is it has ever expanding horizons. If you’re looking for an opportunity in which you’re into professional skills and your emotional intelligence will be challenged on a daily basis, and love the sciences, this is a good reason to pursue medicine. It will constantly test every aspect of your intellect, of your personality, of the knowledge you obtained, and it will never cease to teach you and help you grow. Who could ask for a better job? If you have some experience in patient care and can’t imagine doing anything else, that’s probably a good reason to pursue medicine as well.
A lot of students come up to me and are registered nurses or EMTs and they cannot see themselves practicing in a career that doesn’t involve making decisions on a daily basis to impact the well-being of others. If you have a true fascination and liking for this, it is a good reason to pursue medicine. Furthermore, it will help you build on your experience with patient care. I have a few students who are involved in clinical research. They get to see the patient side of things but they don’t get to impact or make decisions helping with that patient’s well-being. What they do is take that experience of research and say they want more. They want to be able to help these patients not for the sake of research, but because they really think they can help them make better decisions and impact their health in a positive way. If this is a reason you really want to pursue medicine, probably a good reason. I’m going to leave it off here.
The key takeaway for this video are the following. This is a very long journey. It takes on average 10 years, usually longer. There are reasons that are great for pursuing it and there are reasons that are poor for pursuing it. You really want to become cognizant of the long journey that this is and sit down with your thoughts and figure out whether the reason you want to pursue this field are really the right reasons. Will they lead you to success? Will you be happy as a physician practicing maybe 10 to 15 years from now? I’ll see you next time. Bye for now.