Deciding to pursue a career in medicine is a significant life choice that requires careful consideration. The year 2024 presents a unique landscape for aspiring medical students, with evolving healthcare systems, technological advancements, and changing societal needs. Before taking the plunge into medical school, it's essential to weigh the pros and cons and understand if this path aligns with your aspirations and circumstances. In this blog post, I'll explore 6 key factors to consider before deciding to go to medical school for those applying in the upcoming cycle:
Passion and Purpose
Passion for helping others and a genuine interest in the field of medicine are fundamental prerequisites for success in medical school. The demanding nature of medical education and practice requires dedication beyond financial incentives. To assess whether you think you have a passion for medicine or have a good reason to become a doctor, I recommend:
Ask yourself why you want to become a doctor. Is it a genuine desire to help people, a fascination with the human body, or a strong commitment to improving healthcare?
Reflect on your strengths and weaknesses. Are you willing to put in the effort to overcome academic challenges and develop the necessary skills?
Research the Medical Field:
Take the time to understand what a medical career entails. Speak to practicing doctors, shadow them, or volunteer in healthcare settings to get work experience.
Speak to other medical students to gain insight into their university experience. Read about my experiences on the EMDP at King's College London and studying medicine at KCL overall.
Assess Your Values and Ethics:
Medicine requires a strong ethical foundation. Evaluate your values and ethics to ensure they align with the principles of patient care and medical ethics (the 4 pillars).
Evaluate Your Resilience:
Medicine can be emotionally taxing. Consider your ability to handle stress, cope with difficult situations, and maintain empathy and compassion for patients.
Understand that medical school is competitive, and not all applicants are accepted. Be prepared for the possibility of facing rejection and have backup plans. Do you want to do medicine to the point where you'd take a gap year?
Medical education is rigorous and lengthy, often spanning over a decade from undergraduate studies to becoming a junior doctor and further training in your chosen specialty. Evaluate your readiness for the extensive commitment of time, energy, and resources that medical school demands. Ensure that you are ready to devote years to learning and training. The exams never end (blog post on postgraduate exams as a doctor here).
Medical school can come with a hefty price tag. Before embarking on this journey, thoroughly research tuition costs, living expenses, and potential loan burdens. Investigate scholarship opportunities, grants, and loan repayment programs that might alleviate some financial strain. It's crucial to have a clear understanding of your financial plan throughout your medical education.
The changing healthcare landscape
Medicine is changing in many ways. In the UK, there are a few things to be aware of:
Junior doctors and consultants are currently striking for pay restoration in the cost of living crisis. Staff morale and retention in the NHS is at an all-time low. [BMA, 2023]
65% of doctors have searched for alternative careers or working abroad. [Check out the Relocating as a doctor abroad ebooks]. We are currently experiencing an exodus of doctors.
The NHS plans to plug workforce gaps with other trained professionals like Advanced Nurse practitioners and Physician Associates. Watch my TikTok video to understand how this may affect doctors' roles and jobs in the future. [GMC 2023 report'Vicious cycle' must be broken to tackle NHS workforce crisis, GMC warns and the UK Doctors Reddit for realistic discussions and accounts of what's going on]
The introduction of medical degree apprenticeships will make medical school a less attractive option for some people as they want to earn whilst they learn.
The healthcare industry is also always evolving rapidly with technological advancements, new guidelines, changes in healthcare policies, and shifts toward preventive and personalised medicine. Research the latest trends and transformations in the healthcare sector to understand how they might impact your future career. Consider if you're adaptable to the changes and innovations shaping the field.
Work-life balance and well-being
Medical professionals often face demanding work schedules, long hours, and high-stress environments. It's essential to assess your ability to maintain a healthy work-life balance and prioritise self-care. Explore different medical specialties to find one that aligns with your desired lifestyle and well-being goals.
Apprenticeship as an alternative pathway
Read more about the new Medical Degree Apprenticeship here. Below are some pros and cons for the traditional route and an apprenticeship.
Traditional Medical School: A Tried-and-Tested Path
Comprehensive Education: Traditional medical schools provide a well-structured curriculum covering a wide range of medical topics, ensuring you have a solid foundation of medical knowledge.
Lengthy Duration: Medical school typically takes five to six years to complete, prolonging the time before you can fully practice as a doctor.
Prestige and Recognition: A medical degree from a reputable institution carries a high level of prestige and recognition, both nationally and internationally.
High Costs: Tuition fees and living expenses associated with traditional medical schools can create a significant financial burden.
Research Opportunities: Established medical schools often offer robust research programs, allowing you to explore medical breakthroughs and contribute to scientific advancements.
Intense Competition: Admission to medical school is highly competitive, requiring exceptional academic performance and extracurricular activities.
Networking: Medical schools provide a platform to build a network of peers, professors, and mentors that can support your future career.
Limited Flexibility: The structured curriculum of medical schools might leave less room for pursuing other interests or part-time work.
Medical Apprenticeships: A Modern Approach
Earn While You Learn: Apprenticeships offer the opportunity to earn a salary while receiving education and training, helping to alleviate financial strain.
Limited Choice: Medical apprenticeships might not be as widely available as traditional medical school programs, limiting your options of where and when you can do them.
Structured Training: Apprenticeships offer a well-defined training plan that combines practical experience with theoretical learning.
Less Prestige: Apprenticeships might not carry the same level of prestige and recognition as degrees from renowned medical schools.
Getting paid whilst you train: So you leave debt free!
Choosing to pursue medical school in 2023 requires thoughtful introspection and research. Beyond the allure of a respected profession, aspiring medical students should consider their passion for medicine, educational readiness, financial implications (and the lack of financial stability a doctor job may give you for many years in your early stages) and your adaptability to a changing healthcare landscape.
While becoming a medical professional can be immensely rewarding, it's crucial to ensure that the decision aligns with your long-term goals, values, and circumstances. By carefully considering these factors, you'll be better equipped to make an informed choice about whether medical school is the right path for you in 2023 and beyond.