As university open days start to roll around, I thought I’d take the time to *try* and answer one of the big questions that students usually have when thinking about medicine. Obviously I’m no expert, but hopefully, I’ll be able to give you a few things to think about and help you on your way to making your decision!
Here’s a quick directory so you can skip to the parts that you’re more curious about if you want to (or just read all of it & learn more!)
When looking into medicine, there are a few things that people tend to worry about regarding various aspects of the course, its requirements along with what it’s like to work in medicine. Obviously, individuals will also have their own concerns depending on their preferences but I’m going to cover the main ones that I’ve come across when talking to other students and that I considered myself.
Everyone knows that the workload at medical school is pretty rough and depending on the university that you’re at, you might not even get things like reading week! Whilst it’s not impossible (with good time management and study skills), it’s definitely something that can put people off applying to medical school.
Some of the most common worries that people usually have in relation to the workload are linked to the amount of it, its level of difficulty and whether they will find it enjoyable. All of these are perfectly valid concerns, but hopefully, I’ll be able to put your mind at ease in this post or at least give you a bit more of an insight into what it’s like in reality.
Medical school has gained a reputation for being one of (if not the most) competitive university courses out there. This means that people tend to worry about whether they’ll be good enough to even get a spot in the first place, let alone qualify and become a doctor!
Whilst there is definitely an element of intelligence and grades when applying for medical school, there are many other characteristics that medical schools look for in their applicants as these are also essential if you want to become a doctor. Many of the so-called ideal traits for medical students are just myths based on stereotypes after all!
Working in medicine:
From the outside it can seem like medical school only opens up one path for you and this can be pretty concerning for a student looking to apply for medical school – after all, you never know what you’ll want to be in 5 years and the idea of “what if” can be quite terrifying!
Although the career options may seem limited upon first glance, hopefully this blog post will show that in reality it’s the total opposite!
Now we’ve established what some of the most common worries are about medical school, it’s time to debunk (or maybe just explain!)
As I mentioned above, this is one of the biggest concerns for prospective medical students. Fortunately, many of these worries are also based on myths that are definitely not true!
- Is the work hard/difficult? – yes, but not impossible! The information that you learn at medical school will almost definitely be more difficult than the work that you’re used to doing, but that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to complete. Throughout your time at university, you’ll adapt your learning style and learn how to make use of the resources around you in order to get your head around it!
- Are the things that you learn boring? – as with any course, there will be things that you find boring and other things that you find interesting. Hopefully, there will be more interesting bits than boring bits, but sometimes you’ve just got to work through the dull topics in order to reach the more enjoyable ones!
- Will I be able to try out other things? – medical school isn’t just about work and you’ll be given plenty of opportunities to try out other things that don’t necessarily relate to medicine. All medicine courses in the UK have some sort of optional module where you can study content that you wouldn’t normally cover – these can range from learning a language to volunteering!
- What do I do if I find it too difficult? – there will always be things that you struggle with, but if you feel like it’s getting too much then your medical school will have a range of support services that you can contact for advice and guidance. These differ between universities so if you’re worried about this then it may be worth speaking to the universities that you’re looking at directly or looking at their website.
- Can I still have a life outside of medical school? – yes, and you absolutely should! You do not need to be in the library 24/7 and you would be missing out if you just spent all your time studying. Whilst you might have to make sacrifices around exam time, you should still have time for hobbies and other activities the rest of the time. This does get a little tougher in later years, but it’s not impossible at all!
- Can I work whilst studying? – unfortunately, it’s not really possible to work a standard part-time job whilst at medical school due to the amount of work you get. However, many students make money through tutoring or similar methods as this allows you to be much more flexible with your hours so you can fit it around your studies.
I’ve spoken to a lot of students who worry that they’re just not right for medical school – whether that’s because they think they’re not smart enough or just because they feel like they don’t have the right personality. Whilst there are definitely certain personality traits that will make medical school easier, it doesn’t mean you’ll automatically fail if you don’t have them!
- Am I smart enough for medical school? – obviously, there are entry requirements that you should hit (although, even then you can go through graduate entry medicine if you need to!), but that doesn’t mean intelligence is the be-all and end-all at medical school. Most of your success at medical school will stem from dedication and study skills rather than sheer intelligence, so don’t panic about this!
- Am I right for it? – right for what? Medicine (and medical school) is so varied that if you struggle with one thing then you’ll likely excel in another. Some students are brilliant academically but struggle when it comes to communicating with actual patients, and vice-versa. There will always be things that maybe don’t fit your personality well, but there are others that you’ll sail through with no problem.
- Is it impossible to get a place? – I’ve mentioned it in other blog posts, but applying for medicine is like playing a game. If you use the requirements of each university to your advantage then you’ll have a solid chance of getting an offer. I won’t go too much in depth on this one, but I’ve written a detailed blog post about applying for medicine here that should give you some advice.
- Do I have to like people? – whilst it definitely helps, there are some careers within medicine that work for those who dislike people. It will definitely make medical school tougher as will still have to pass through exams and placements that deal heavily in taking care of patients, but once you’re through university there are plenty of career options that work for the anti-social.
- Do I need certain skills? – when applying for medical school, there are definitely certain characteristics that the admissions team will look for. However, you will not be expected to have perfect communication skills or work flawlessly in a team. Medical school is structured so that by the time you qualify as a doctor you’ll be fully prepared – this means that they’ll teach you all the essential skills you need as a doctor.
The Long-Term Career
Unlike most other university courses, medicine comes with an assumed career path in mind. Whilst some people will follow the set path of ‘medical student, junior doctor and eventually consultant’, there are also many others who choose to take completely different paths once they’ve finished their degree.
- What if I change my mind? – medicine is one of the most versatile degrees you can get – not only do you leave equipped with scientific knowledge, but you also leave with clinical skills and good communication abilities (along with a potential second degree if you choose to intercalate!). This means that even if you decide you don’t want to be a doctor, there are many other options out there for you.
- What can I do with my degree? – aside from the obvious choices, there are many other career options once you finish medical school. Some people choose to go down the path of research or academic medicine, whilst others may prefer to work at charities and use their medical skills in that context. This list from Sheffield University shows the diverse range of options available to you after medical school!
- What kind of specialties can I go into? – I definitely do not have the space to list them all here, but there is a whole range of specialties that you can work in. Some of these are more niche than others, but they all have their own benefits and drawbacks. If you want more information about certain
specialitiesthen this BMA site is a good place to start.
So What Now?
Hopefully this blog post has answered a few of your questions, although it’s pretty likely that it’s actually left you with some new ones. You can only really decide if medical school is right for you by doing your own research and seeing if you like the different aspects of it.
There are a few places to start, including books written by doctors (I’ve posted about my favourites before here!), talking to any doctors or medical students that you might know, blogs/YouTube channels as well as trying to get experience for yourself. I’ve written about how to find work experience in this post if you’re struggling to get it.
If you don’t really have any medical students around you that you can chat with, here’s a list of some of my
- @everydayalice_ – a first-year medical student at St Andrews in Scotland
- @studyingwithjasmine – a first-year medical student in the UK
- @studyholmes – a second-year medical student in London
- @medico.lifestyle– a joint-team of a final-year & a first-year medical student
- @stilettos.and.stethoscopes – a clinical-years (not quite sure what year exactly!) medical student at Lancaster University
- @emily_studies – I obviously had to include myself on this list!
In case there are any other medical myths that I didn’t get around to debunking, here are a few other blog posts that should help to set things straight!
- Imperial College London – Easy question first: why do you want to study medicine?
- Gap Medics – Medical School Admission – Myths vs Reality
- The Medic Portal – 5 Myths About Being a Med Student
- 6med – Debunking Myths in Medicine
- DIFC – Debunking Medical School Myths
If you have any lingering questions that you can’t get answers to, feel free to DM me on Instagram or email me below – I can’t promise that I’ll have the answer but I will do my best to help you out!
Thank you for reading to the end of this endless post (will I ever be able to write short blogs??) and good luck with your future, whether that’s in medicine or something completely different!
(header image from here)