Medicine is a field where there will always be a need for new graduates, especially now with expansions to health care services to those who had been uninsured. That said, medical school remains one of the most competitive fields out there, and you really do need to be among the best and brightest to get through a program. Once you do, however, the possibilities are numerous. A medical school degree not only opens doors, it typically leads to an impressive paycheck, as well. (That second point may vary greatly, depending on your location, specialty, and a host of other factors, but doctors make an average of $160,000 per year, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.) We’ve come up with some things you should consider below before not only applying to medical schools, but deciding to go, and how to go about paying for medical school once you’ve made that decision.
A good way to determine whether you have what it takes to pursue a career in medicine is to get some hands-on experience in the field. Look into shadowing residents to see whether you could handle their schedules and duties. Medical school isn’t easy, and it may not be the best choice for those who struggle academically. (The long hours and stress involved with most medical specialties after you graduate should be a consideration as well.) Investigate internship options at hospitals and clinics to both build your resume and get a better understanding of what it would be like for you to work in medicine. Volunteer with a health-related nonprofit organization if you’re unable to find a suitable paying position. (Community service also speaks volumes to the admissions officials who will be evaluating your medical school application.) Although you may think your undergraduate coursework in the sciences and other health-related classes has prepared you well enough for medical school, think again. You won’t know what will be expected of you until you get off campus and into the field.
A big part of applying for medical school will be determining where you’d like to go, and the kind of program you’d like to pursue. Where you apply should be determined by your priorities. If you already have a specialty in mind, look for schools that are near the top in that field. Medical schools are extraordinarily competitive. How intense do you want your program to be? How important is location, and the kinds of opportunities a school in an urban area may offer versus a school not as close to a city center? And, perhaps most importantly, how much of your financial need is being met by one school over another you’re considering?
Your medical school application will include your Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) scores, your undergraduate grades and coursework, letters of recommendation, and any outside experience that may be relevant to a health-related profession, including any research you’ve been involved in. Some schools will require interviews as part of the application process, and most will ask that you include a personal statement. Take each piece seriously, as you may be moved to the bottom of the pile if you don’t.
Medical school is expensive. According to the AAMC, the average student loan debt of the class of 2009 was about $156,456. That’s no small sum, and when you consider the fact that tuition and fees will only continue to go up, medical school students may start considering specialties that pay more, rather than pursuing health-related careers in their interest areas. There are some options out there to lower those debt totals, however. But it does take some work on the part of you diligent medical school students.
College-based medical school scholarships are out there, especially if you’re looking to go into a rare specialty or wish to eventually work in a high-need field or location. There are also numerous medical scholarships available from private groups and professional organizations, state health programs, and educational foundations that want to expand the field of medicine to those who may have more of a financial need than others. Limited grants are also available, especially to students with specific characteristics – minorities, military veterans, and those interested in medical research are the big ones. Don’t be too discouraged before looking at all of your options, and if you find yourself looking at few options on the free money front, try a scholarship search. Many awards open to graduate students are open to medical school students as well.
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