Everyone daydreams about something, whether it’s taking a vacation or winning a competition of some sort. You’re a little different. You often find yourself thinking, “I want to be a doctor.” While you’ve always been interested in working with patients, pursuing a career in medicine has always seemed just out of reach.
But don’t count yourself out yet. You might be surprised to know some of the obstacles in your way are less problematic than they seem. Plenty of individuals who didn’t fit the typical medical student profile went on to become successful physicians.
Still feeling skeptical? That’s certainly understandable. We identified five common barriers aspiring MDs think could stand in their way, but none of them has to end your dreams. Take a look at how it’s possible to move past these roadblocks.
“I want to be a doctor, but …”
1. … I don’t have good enough grades
Medical schools obviously want to enroll students with the utmost potential. They’re selective, often relying heavily on academic metrics to determine who makes the cut. Students beginning class during the 2018–2019 school year had an average GPA of 3.7, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). But grades aren’t everything. Your Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) scores, personal statement, and interview performance are also important factors medical school admissions committees consider.
It’s also worth noting that some schools holistically review applicants from the beginning. Rather than automatically discounting students who don’t hit a certain MCAT or GPA threshold, these programs also consider each student’s personal qualities and life experiences. Evaluating applicants in this way can help promote a more diverse student body, which may result in better patient outcomes. Some research suggests that students who are exposed to people from all different backgrounds in medical school feel better prepared to work with diverse populations.
2. … I don’t know how to get through the application process
If you’re new to the medical school application process, it can be hard to figure out how to tackle each step. Dr. Renee Sunday, Anesthesiologist, says her biggest obstacle was that she didn’t have a ton of support leading up to the MCAT and figuring out where she should apply to medical school. Fortunately, she was able to rely on her peers.
"Groups of friends came together and shared how they were achieving their goals in the application process."
“Groups of friends came together and shared how they were achieving their goals in the application process,” she says.
Dr. Sunday also mentions pre-med students can make applying less intimidating by seeking out mentors. In fact, she herself now offers guidance for medical school hopefuls.
“I have had, and will continue to have, conversations with pre-medical and medical students to help smooth out the process,” she offers.
3. … I’m too old
The traditional route to medical school is to begin classes the fall after you complete college. But just because that’s the typical path doesn’t mean it’s the only one. Some individuals attend medical school only after gaining a substantial amount of work experience in a different field.
"I was actually in research for six years prior to medical school."
“I was actually in research for six years prior to medical school,” says Dr. Jacqueline Larson, Pediatric Gastroenterologist and St. George’s University (SGU) graduate.
Dr. Larson had always been passionate about medicine, but didn’t know if it was still a feasible option since she was so far removed from college. Her attitude started to change as she encountered more and more graduates from her eventual medical school. Dr. Larson applied, got accepted, and enrolled. Much to her surprise, she found she fit right in.
“We had students who were in their 20s, 30s, and 40s,” Dr. Larson recalls.
As nerve-wracking as it can be to apply as an older student, Dr. Larson encourages those pre-meds to think long term. She likens her journey to completing a marathon rather than trying to win it.
“It’s not about how much time it took you to finish.”
“That’s what you should be happy about— your accomplishment,” Dr. Larson says. “It’s not about how much time it took you to finish.”
4. … I can’t afford it
Medical school is certainly expensive as far as education goes. While the cost can be intimidating, you should think of pursuing your MD as an investment in your future. It will enable you to pursue a career as a physician. And paying off loans is manageable once you’re making a full salary.
Also consider that you can cut back on expenses earlier on. Look into what types of scholarships are available. Some institutions provide assistance and there are even more options from various organizations and personal providers.
5. … I got rejected from medical schools in the US
There’s no denying that the medical school applicant pool is incredibly competitive. Gaining an acceptance is becoming even more difficult. Just ask Dr. David Waldburg, Internal Medicine Resident Physician at Florida Atlantic University and SGU graduate.
“I applied twice to US [medical schools],” Dr. Waldburg says. He found his email inbox filling up with rejection letters, even with a solid 3.8 GPA. This made him question his decision to pursue medical school altogether. “It can really make you want to give up your dream of becoming a physician,” he shares.
“It can really make you want to give up your dream of becoming a physician."
Dr. Waldburg eventually found a way forward by looking into Caribbean programs and ultimately selecting the one that he felt was the best fit. He suggests other aspiring MDs consider following a similar path.
“It gives you opportunity where you feel like there’s no opportunity at all,” he explains.
Overcome the excuses
It’s true that students have an easier path to medical school acceptance if they have a flawless academic record and no break in their education. That doesn’t mean you’re out of luck or silly for thinking, “I want to be a doctor.” More schools are moving toward holistic reviews, which means your life experiences and personal qualities matter significantly.
You just have to make sure you apply to the right programs. That might mean considering options outside the US, such as Caribbean medical schools. Find out why this route may actually be a better choice for many students by reading our article, “Your Best Odds of Becoming a Doctor Might Not Be What You’d Expect.”
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