6 Red Flags Medical School Isn’t the Right Choice
Even for students who have always dreamed about a career in medicine, medical school may not necessarily be the right path. For example, if you’re hesitant about the time commitment physicians must make to their practice, you might consider an alternative career in health care. Many other patient care professionals are able to achieve a more satisfactory work-life balance.
If you’re uncertain that a career as a physician is the right path, pay attention to these six red flags. They’re good indicators you need to consider other options.
1. Your MCAT score is repeatedly low, despite thorough test prep. If you have been unable to improve your MCAT score, think about the future and how many more times you will have to take standardized multiple-choice tests. Although many want these tests to disappear from medicine, it’s unlikely that will happen anytime soon.
Standardized tests don’t guarantee whether someone will be a good physician nor does a low score indicate someone will be a poor physician – rather they are simply part of the medical school process. However, if you are scoring in the lower 25th percentile repeatedly, I recommend seriously considering other options.
Could you eventually increase your chances of success? Perhaps, but it isn’t probable.
2. You have a low GPA. If you worked hard to achieve a 3.0, remember that you will be competing with even smarter students in medical school. I do know of students who had a 3.0 undergraduate GPA and successfully earned a medical degree.
Most of them, though, took more courses to prove they could handle the material, or they had remarkable success with their research. If you have little desire to enter a postbaccalaureate program to improve your grades, you may want to choose a different career path.
3. Your science grades could be better. If lower science grades are indicative that you really don’t like science, medicine may not be the right career choice. As a medical student, you will often have to give up other pastimes – such as reading for pleasure and spending time with family and friends – to master the necessary science requirements.
And learning science doesn’t end with medical school; rather, successful physicians make a lifelong commitment to mastering science.
4. You aren’t interested in volunteer opportunities. Volunteering is important because it demonstrates concern and empathy. As a physician, you will need to make sacrifices for others.
An old saying is “medicine is a jealous mistress.” Although I never liked this saying, it is true that a career in medicine requires huge amounts of precious hours stolen away from other activities.
Some students may resent giving up video games or other recreation to volunteer. If you don’t have a volunteer mindset, you will struggle through residency and beyond.
5. You’re resistant to shadowing a physician. Shadowing is considered evidence that you have watched how hard physicians work and that you have what it takes to be resilient when things aren’t going as planned. You may not be interested in shadowing because you are observing rather than doing. In medical school, you’ll have your fair share of doing, but you will observe a lot as well.
If you do shadow a physician, be sure to ask how much time the physician dedicates to electronic medical records – physicians generally must complete patient charts within a 24-hour window. Ask when and how the physician completes these charts. Can you see yourself doing this?
6. Your partner or spouse does not support your medical school plans. Weighing the risks and benefits of your decision as it relates to your relationships is tremendously important. Only you and your partner or spouse know your values and can discover the right answer.
While the above is not an exhaustive list of red flags, it represents the most common reasons why medical school may not be right for you. On a positive note, similar patient care opportunities abound, such as advanced nurse practitioners, medical technologists and physician assistants.
Fewer years of preparation, wide availability of training programs and an extensive job market make these attractive careers. Research careers are another alternative that students who began in a premed program often pursue. The possibilities are endless.
If you have your heart set on a career in medicine but are tentative about the rigorous training to become a physician – or physicians’ demanding work requirements – consider other options. Red flags that pull you away from medicine may be green flags that draw you to the career of your dreams.