In 2015, there were approximately 1,085,783 active physicians across the US. That number has since grown. If you’re considering pursuing a career in the medical field, there are a few basic things you should know as a medical student.
Medical School Is a Whole New Ballgame
It’s almost impossible to know exactly what to expect in medical school. Much of your experience will depend on the school you attend, the professors you have, and the choices you make concerning specialty, residency, and beyond. But, there are some general pieces of advice that ring true for every aspiring doctor.
Be prepared for the fact that medical school is academically rigorous. You may struggle with your learning load for the first time. Dr. Richard Beddingfield says, “For most students, medical school is the first experience in which they work very hard academically and still may be nothing more than average in three class.”
Medical school can also be emotionally grueling. You will experience loss and disappointment, and for roughly 17% of people who drop out of medical school in the US, the physical and emotional demands can be too much.
However, med school can also be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life as you experience new growth that will set you up for a successful career.
Establishing Your Career Takes Time
You’ll enter medical school ready to get out there and start treating patients, but establishing your career in medicine takes time. You’ll need to complete four years of medical school, followed by 3 to 5 years of residency, depending on your specialty. After that, you may need to complete an additional 1 to 4 years of a fellowship program.
The average age of beginning medical students is 24, which puts many physicians-in-training a decade or so out before they can really start their careers.
It’s also important to recognize that there is a current physician shortage in the United States. According to an AAMC projection, “the United States will face a shortage of between 54,100 and 139,000 physicians by 2033.” You’ll likely be feeling the effects of that shortage in the future. On the one hand, it could lead to a secure job market, with more job opportunities and positions available. However, it could also mean longer hours and heavier workloads. Keep these things in mind as you take time to make decisions about your specialty and where you would like to practice.
Learning Doesn’t Stop
After medical school, the learning doesn’t stop. Your initial schooling and training will teach you the basic things doctors should know, but medicine is always changing. As new research comes forward and best practices evolve, you’ll find yourself always continuing your education.
“The explosion of medical knowledge no longer allows physicians to keep in their mind all knowledge that is necessary to provide quality patient care. It is estimated that more than 600,000 articles are published in biomedical literature every year. If a student attempted to keep up with the literature by reading 2 articles per day, in 1 year this conscientious individual would be more than 800 years behind.”
—Phyllis A. Guze, MD, MACP
Stay engaged and involved in the community and changing best practices. Whether that’s attending conventions, subscribing to medical journals, or taking online courses, find ways to keep your education continuous and consistent. Staying at your personal best will keep your patients at their best, too.
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- Statista Research Department. U.S. Physicians – Statistics & Facts. Statista. November 28, 2019.https://www.statista.com/topics/1244/physicians/#:~:text=In%202015%2C%20there%20were%20nearly,compared%20to%20some%20other%20countries
- AAMC Data Snapshot. Graduation Rates and Attrition Rates of U.S. Medical Students. AAMC. October 2018. https://www.aamc.org/system/files/reports/1/graduationratesandattritionratesofu.s.medicalstudents.pdf
- 12 Insider Insights About Pursuing A Career In Medicine. St. George’s University. Dec 4, 2017. https://www.sgu.edu/blog/medical/unexpected-things-about-pursuing-a-career-in-medicine/
- Kowarski I. Tips for Older Premeds on Applying to Med School. U.S. NewsApr 20, 2020. https://www.usnews.com/education/best-graduate-schools/top-medical-schools/articles/what-to-know-about-applying-to-medical-school-later-in-life#:~:text=According%20to%20age%20statistics%20published,2018%20school%20year%20was%2024.
- Wade E. 5 Things You Should Know About Becoming a Doctor. Barton Associates. June 2019. https://www.bartonassociates.com/blog/5-things-you-should-know-about-becoming-a-doctor
- Boyle P. U.S. Physician Shortage Growing. AAMC. June 26, 2020. https://www.aamc.org/news-insights/us-physician-shortage-growing#:~:text=Even%20as%20the%20nation’s%20health,and%20139%2C000%20physicians%20by%202033.