Deciding to Become a Doctor: Is a Career in Medicine Right for Me?

Applying to Medical School · Feb 18, 2019 Dr Hrushikesh Vyas

Hrushikesh is an Academic Foundation Year 2 Doctor. He attended the University of Birmingham where he is on the medical school interview panel. He has been awarded studentships from the Arthur Thompson Trust and British Society of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy.

Applying to study medicine is a life-changing decision. It is not a decision that anybody else can make for you. You can't be certain until you’ve been put through the job itself, but you can try to make an informed decision beforehand. I hope that in this article I can begin to guide you towards making a choice.

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When I was in secondary school, my head of year thought it would be a good idea to make all 120 15-year-olds participate in an online careers personality and aptitude test. We performed a 30-minute online questionnaire and the software suggested I would be well suited to life as an airline pilot, tree surgeon or journalist. Apart from the fact that these careers are so diverse in nature that they might as well have been picked from a hat, I think my fear of heights and pollen allergy may have led to early retirement. As for journalism, I’ll stick to the odd blog post.

It is very difficult to screen individuals to see if they will make successful doctors. So, I am going to mention a few qualities you need for a career in medicine, and you should consider if the medical career path is something you want to do.

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1. Is lifelong learning something that appeals to you?

Medicine is a broad topic which is constantly evolving. As a result, medical students spend longer in university than the majority of other professions and must also partake in lifelong learning, sitting exams and revalidating your skills throughout your lifetime. 

2. Are you a good decision maker? Do you enjoy taking on responsibility?

As a doctor, you have responsibility thrust your way very early on in your career. You take on more responsibility at the age of 24 than most people take on in their lifetime. You make life and death decisions, sometimes on the spot.

3. Do you have 'FOMO' if your friend's party without you?

Doctors’ long hours are notoriously antisocial. Hospitals don’t close on weekends and often you find yourself staying on after your shift to look after sick patients. I would be lying if I told you your social life and personal relationships won’t take a hit. But you'll still find time to have more than enough fun!

4. Do you work well as part of a team?

Medicine is a team sport. The sheer breadth of subjects and specialities means that you will always be working as part of a wider team to deliver your goals. This is something that's really special.

5. Do you communicate well & connect emotionally with people?

Whilst being a good scientist is a key aspect of life as a doctor, medicine is a mix of basic science, humanitarian science and the art of communication. To be a good doctor, you have to be able to connect with people from all walks of life and discuss with them the most private and intimate aspects of their health. It is a privileged position to be in. Though some medical professionals like surgeons and anaesthetists will tell you most of their patients are asleep or unconscious, if you don’t like talking to strangers or listening to other people’s problems, you may not enjoy medicine as much as you think.

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Mythbusters

There are many 'expectations' of what life as a medical professional will be like. 'Good doctors' must be superhuman, they must know everything; they must never sleep. In this part, I aim to dispel some of the myths surrounding life as a doctor.

Myth 1: "Doctors are omniscient beings who excel in all aspects of life. They are meticulous, intelligent, sharp minded and almost flawless. Most are born this way." 
Perhaps the above is an exaggerated hyperbole of what many candidates feel. I often get asked by young students if they have what it takes to become a doctor. It may be the stringent entry requirements or society's unrealistic expectations which generate self-doubt amongst candidates. Whilst it is true that a good academic record is necessary to get into medical school, you only need to achieve the required grades. You don't have to be some 21st century Einstein. 
Above all, doctors need to be hardworking and resilient. You'll spend much of your university life regurgitating facts learnt from medical textbooks. What separates doctors from other professions is the willingness to stay behind after your shift to help a patient or the willingness to act when you feel a patient’s safety is being compromised. If you are somebody who likes to frequently cut corners, perhaps medicine isn’t the career for you. 
Myth 2: "Doctors focus solely on just diagnosing patients and treating them".
I am astounded by the diversity of the field of medicine on a daily basis. To take a simplistic view, the medical fields can be split into surgery, internal medicine, general practice and psychiatry. However, even within these fields, there are a variety of subspecialties each requiring a slightly different practical skill-set, temperament and thought processes. Beyond this, doctors are involved in a variety of other activities including research, management, teaching and planning public policy. The career is so broad that there really is something for everyone if they are willing to work for it. 
Myth 3:  "Doctors earn a lot of money". 
As a doctor, you will eventually earn a decent living, but this will come after years of service and with significant responsibility and pressures. It is unlikely you will be a millionaire. There are far easier ways to make a lot more money. But the reward of saving lives is something money can't buy. 
Myth 4:  "I'm clever and I want to help people so I must be a doctor".There are a whole host of other healthcare careers that you should consider if you think working in the field is something you want to do. Nurses are some of the most important members of the healthcare team. They spend more time with the patient than any other team member. They will know the patients better than anybody else in the hospital and are able to connect with patients on an emotional level. If making this human contact is the most important thing to you, I strongly encourage you to consider nursing as a career prospect. The face of modern nursing is also changing. Nurses now prescribe medications, see their own patients and make decisions about their care and have important managerial roles within the hospital. If practical lab skills are something you are interested in, think about being a biochemist. Keep an open mind. 

What are my next steps?

So you have decided that you want to study medicine? The next steps would be to:

1. Set up some work experience so you can get first hand experience of working in healthcare and find out more about what it is like to be a doctor in the NHS. This will help to confirm if it is the right career choice for you.

2. Start preparing for the UCAT and/or BMAT. Depending on which medical schools you choose to apply to, you will need to sit the UCAT and/or BMAT as an entrance exam. We would recommend that you start preparing for this in the spring term with a view to sitting the UCAT/BMAT in the summer holidays before you return to school for year 13. NB: not all schools accept the BMAT August sitting, so double check before you confirm.

3. Start thinking about your personal statement. This will need to be submitted along with your UCAS application in October. To prepare for this make sure you keep a log of your work experience placements and make sure to reflect on your experiences. In addition consider your extra curricular activities. Do you have a good range of activities and what skills have you gained as a result of taking part?

We hope you found this information useful  in helping you decide if medicine is the right career choice for you.  Don’t hesitate to ask us any questions at hello@themsag.com

 






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