Over 700,000 medical school applications flooded into admissions offices last year from nearly 50,000 doctor-hopefuls. The average medical school applicant submits 14 applications. Of these 50,000 applicants, only about 40% were accepted. What is so special about those 40%? And what happens to the other 60%?
I could go into detail about the various requirements to get into medical school, but they are long and boring, and chances are you aren’t looking to apply. (If you are, feel free to email me, and we’ll have a different conversation.) But the process of just getting in is fairly grueling. It requires semester after semester of difficult science courses (Organic Chemistry…yuck), hours upon hours of volunteer and clinical work, recommendation letters from science professors who have a disdain for pre-med students (I’m sorry…who are you, again?), a not-to-be-taken-lightly entrance exam (the MCAT – doesn’t it just sound terrible?), and, of course, the application itself, which includes a “personal essay.” I found this part particularly hard. How do you write an essay that doesn’t sound like every other essay? The truth is, everybody goes into medicine for the same reasons – I want to help people, I want to make a difference. But, in the end, the interviews are really the killers. Here’s a tip from my own experience: Don’t tell them you are interested in the History of Medicine. You will just open yourself up to a world of hurt in the form of a bunch of questions about famous physicians YOU DON’T KNOW. “Semmelweiss? Who’s Semmelweiss?”
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), I was one of thousands of applicants who didn’t get in the first time. I had always planned on just, you know, getting in. Then when it didn’t happen, I thought, Huh. Now what do I do? I was embarrassed. My initial reaction was, If I can’t get into medical school, I must be a complete moron. But, the fact is, it happens. And it doesn’t make one a moron. Medical school is one of the toughest (if not the toughest) places to get into. Everyone who applies to medical school is fairly smart. (You can’t pass the required classes if you’re not.) Then, only the best of that group get in. After a lot of brooding and self-pity, I came to realize this. I wasn’t a moron. It just meant I had to keep trying.
So I did. Round two. Applying to medical school is like a roller coaster ride. One minute you’re up, and the next minute you’re down. First, you apply (not cheap). Then you get emails inviting you to submit a “secondary application” (a lousy excuse to extract more money from you). After several more weeks (or months) of waiting, you are invited to an interview (plane ticket, hotel, rental care…i.e. more money). At the interview they’ll ask you to try on a white coat, “just to get your size,” they’ll say. It’s like they’re playing mind games with you. “You should hear back in two to four weeks.” Four weeks later, they’ll send you an email saying you won’t hear back for another month. Then, if you’re lucky, you’ll get accepted. But that’s not all. “Our class is full, and you’ll have to wait for a seat to open up.” Now, it might seem like I’m whining, but you have no idea how aggravating this process can be. And for some people who are really determined to be a doctor, this process can be repeated over and over and over. I interviewed with a girl who had applied for the past few years, and it was the first time she had even got invited to an interview. Many students will be put on a “wait list,” meaning that they have to sit around for months and hope for a call. I’ve heard stories of people who got called the day before classes were supposed to start and were told that a seat opened up.
And for the unfortunate majority who don’t get accepted anywhere, many often apply overseas. More and more Americans are going to medical schools out of the country. I considered this option as well, but decided to try again in the U.S. before seriously considering it. This process if slightly more difficult (but waaay, waay cheaper). To come back and practice in the U.S., students must simply take an exam, called the USMLE, and get accepted into an American residency program. But – there is always the chance that you won’t pass and be forced to either return to the U.S., out of work, or continue to live abroad and practice medicine.
And if all else fails, there’s always dental school. (I’m just kidding. No offense to dentists. I just like to tell doctor jokes.)