What Does it Take to Become a Doctor? Advice for High School Students

By Purvi S. Mody
For StudentAdvisor.com

what does it take to become a doctorMore than forty percent of students that walk into my office tell me that they want to become doctors. Most, however, don’t understand the paths they will need to follow to reach their ultimate goals. While there is one traditional route to a medical career, there are other suitable paths for students that want to accelerate their careers, for those that did not perform as well in high school as they would have liked, or those that want to complete some portion of their academic career abroad.

Below are some tips for students that one day aspire to wear that prestigious white coat:

School Come First!

Academics during high school are important for students that will be applying for science majors and for those that will apply to some sort of accelerated program. Grades are incredibly important, especially in math and science courses. Admissions officers want assurance that students can succeed in rigorous academic climates. Students should also pursue the three fundamental science courses – biology, chemistry and physics. Most kids don’t realize the importance of chemistry and physics in medicine and tend to focus their energy on biology.

Make Your Extracurriculars Count

While grades are always important, a student’s interest in medicine must be demonstrated outside of the classroom. Conducting research in a lab, volunteering in a hospital or clinic, and pursuing scientific knowledge through reading and shadowing can also be key elements in demonstrating a sincere commitment to medicine. Shadowing a doctor for a day or two is not sufficient. Volunteering in a hospital’s gift shop does not really expose a student to medicine. Students need to show significant involvement.

Want to Do an Accelerated Program? You Better Be 100% Committed

Many students are also very interested in the accelerated medical programs. These programs allow high school students to apply to undergraduate and medical school at the same time. Students that are accepted will have the guarantee of a spot in medical school assuming they fulfill the minimum requirements. These programs are really only appropriate for those students that know more 100% that they will stay committed to medicine.

Because these schools are heavily investing in students admitted, these programs are highly competitive to get into with most of the nearly fifty programs in the country offering fewer than twenty seats per year. These programs are best for students that have done exceptionally well in high school and have no doubt in their minds about their chosen career.

Consider International Options, But Be Aware of the Risks

Students that are not qualified for the accelerated programs in the US will sometimes look internationally for options. I caution students that if they are not positive about medicine, they are choosing a route that will give them little leeway for exploring other careers. If they do want to make a switch down the road, they are in all likelihood going to have to restart their college education and lose one to two years in the process. And while some of the international programs have a little more flexible in terms of requirements, they are by no means easy to get into. In these programs, students jump right into science courses and a medical school curriculum.

Some international programs have affiliations with medical and residency programs in the US and will send students back to the US to complete requirements after three or four years. These programs are ideal for students that want to pursue medicine and may not be able to get into the accelerated programs in the US. These programs are also great for students that do not care about a traditional college experience and taking courses across multiple disciplines.

Why The Traditional 4 Years of College + Med School Route Dominates

Many students opt for the traditional route because it gives them the most flexibility during their undergraduate years. While there is no guarantee of a medical school spot, there is also no commitment on their part to a specific medical program. While the accelerated programs can save students one to two years of college, they also offer less flexibility. Students must immediately jump into their premedical requirements and pursuing research and volunteering experiences. Students that also want to round out their academics with courses across disciplines will often choose the traditional route.

For those students that are considering medicine, do all that you can now to explore the career. This early exploration can help you to make the right choices down the road.

Purvi S. Mody is co-owner of Insight Education, an educational consulting firm that helps students throughout the country and internationally to achieve their educational goals. Get in touch with her via email at purvi@insight-education.net or follow her on Twitter @InsightEduc.

Photo:  Penn State Live

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