Maybe their announcement came completely out of left field. Or perhaps you always saw it coming. Regardless of where you fall on this spectrum, you now know with certainty that your child is serious about becoming a doctor.
There’s a good chance you’re feeling both excited and nervous. You’ve always known you were raising a student bound for success. On the other hand, you understand that your child is committing to an incredibly demanding medical education. It makes you wonder what you should expect.
You aren’t the first person to be a bit worried about your child’s plans to attend medical school. This is good news, because many parents who’ve been in your shoes are eager to share their firsthand insight. See what they have to say about what it’s like to raise a budding doctor.
8 things every future medical student’s parents should know
No matter how long your child has been preparing for life as a doctor, there are undoubtedly a few things you don’t know about medical school. Every step from submitting applications to graduation can present parents with some surprises.
1. Your child needs to be fully invested in becoming a physician
One of the most important things for pre-med parents to know is that becoming a doctor takes a significant amount of education and training. Judy Skwiersky realized her daughter, St. George’s University (SGU) graduate Dr. Samara Skwiersky, was one of the few students who had the type of passion it takes to succeed in medicine. That said, she recognizes this isn’t the case for every student.
“You absolutely need to want to go to medical school,” Skwiersky says. “You can’t just do it on a whim.”
"You absolutely need to want to go to medical school."
To a certain extent, a sense of urgency can help illustrate a student’s commitment to becoming a physician. Dipti Shah says that, while taking some time off between college and medical school is often appealing to students, it can be a big mistake. She noticed this when her daughter, Dr. Crystal Shah, was preparing to start medical school at SGU. Some of her peers opted to take a break instead of immediately pursuing medical school.
“They took a gap year and kind of lost focus, because they started working and making money,” Shah explains.
2. Getting accepted to medical school itself is very difficult
If your son or daughter is new to the application process, know that they may face some difficult times. The medical school applicant field is only getting more competitive. In fact, data from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) shows the gap between the number of students applying to medical school and the number of seats offered is growing wider.
"Many people do not realize how competitive it is to get into medical school."
“Many people do not realize how competitive it is to get into medical school, and lots of students get wait-listed one or more times when applying,” offers Barbara Rogenmoser. Her son, Dr. David Rogenmoser, is a pain management and physical rehabilitation physician.
Doing some research on the medical school application process can help you better understand what your child will be facing. If you choose to seek insight from physicians, just be aware that those who’ve been in practice for a long time might not be as familiar with what it’s like to be an applicant today. Skwiersky’s husband is a cardiologist, but they recognized his experience wasn’t going to be all that helpful for their daughter.
“Things have changed so much,” she says.
3. Pre-med advisors aren’t always aware of international programs
International medical schools are a great fit for many students. Unfortunately, not every undergraduate institution’s pre-med advisors are well-informed about those options. Skwiersky says her daughter was initially steered away from going that route.
“She had an advisor who was really pushing for American medical schools,” Skwiersky says. She told the school they might want to make sure students realize there are other options outside the US.
Of course, it’s still important to do your due diligence. There are some lackluster international programs that your child should avoid at all costs. If you’re exploring schools in the Caribbean, for example, there are a number of criteria you should be evaluating to find the best options.
"You really have to talk to people and read as much as you can online."
“You really have to talk to people and read as much as you can online,” Skwiersky suggests.
4. Medical students are incredibly busy and often less available
Don’t be surprised if your son or daughter suddenly seems to have no free time after starting medical school. Many parents are initially caught off-guard by just how much studying medical students need to do.
“Most do not have time to chat, text, or even make visits home,” Rogenmoser says. “As a parent, you must understand the pressure and deadlines that they are under and not take it personally.”
Skwiersky’s daughter did regularly check in, but she worked it around her schedule. Conversations typically occurred while traveling to the library to study. Shah’s experience was similar. When she and her husband decided to visit their daughter, they needed to be sensitive to her exam schedule.
“She gave us dates when we could go,” Shah explains.
5. Your main job is to be supportive
While you might be tempted to remind your medical student child of things here and there, be careful about letting it cross the line into nagging. Shah very quickly realized her daughter was impeccably organized, particularly when it was time for residency interviews. So, how was she able to help during this time?
"I made sure her clothes were dry-cleaned and ready."
“I made sure her clothes were dry-cleaned and ready,” Shah says. She notes that it can be challenging for medical students to have enough professional outfits that are clean if they have back-to-back interviews.
Also remember that your child will likely spend fewer breaks at home than they did in the past. Use those opportunities to lend a listening ear and provide some familiar comforts.
“When they do come home for holidays or breaks, enjoy them and pamper them with good meals,” Rogenmoser suggests. “This is something they usually do not treat themselves to.”
6. It takes a lot more to succeed in medical school than it does in college
Any aspiring physician is used to putting their studies first. But even the strongest students can find themselves feeling challenged during the rigors of medical school. Skwiersky’s daughter found that she needed to approach learning in a different way.
"The way she studied before was very different than the way you have to study in medical school."
“She realized very soon into medical school that the way she studied before was very different than the way you have to study in medical school,” Skwiersky offers.
The good news is SGU was able to help. One of the School of Medicine’s many support services is a learning strategies program that helps students find the study methods that work best for them.
7. You might need to remind your child to take care of themselves
Like most medical students, Dr. Shah was especially stressed when taking practice tests in preparation for licensing exams. Her mother offered valuable reminders that taking breaks isn’t just acceptable—it’s essential. Shah says she would suggest her daughter step away from things by going out with friends or watching some TV.
“She did that, would go back and study for a couple of hours, and then take the test—and she would do a lot better,” Shah reflects.
8. You’ll experience many proud parent moments
Medical school can be a challenging time for both students and their parents. It’s important to remember that there are also plenty of remarkable achievements you’ll celebrate along the way. A strong performance on the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 1, a successful Match Day, and a memorable graduation ceremony all deserve to be enjoyed. Skwiersky says the white coat ceremony was a particularly notable event, even though she and her husband couldn’t be there in person.
"We watched it online. It was amazing!"
“We watched it online,” Skwiersky recalls. “It was amazing!”
Support your med school-bound child
This insight should give you a small taste of what it’s like to have a child pursuing a career as a physician. Both applying to programs and attending medical school can be very trying times for students. This is why it’s essential they know what they’re getting themselves into. They’re probably already working on this by shadowing physicians or gaining other types of clinical experience.
While it’s ultimately your child’s responsibility to learn about what being a physician entails, you can certainly pass along some helpful resources. One example they may find useful is our article “Doctors Reveal 12 Things No One Tells You About Pursuing a Career in Medicine.”
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