Content Reviewers:Rishi Desai, MD, MPH
Contributors:Tanner Marshall, MS
Becoming a physician is a long and noble journey, and the very first step is applying to medical school.
The specifics of that process differ around the world, so we’ll go over the specifics of applying in the US medical system, but some features of a strong candidate are universal—a person that is scientifically curious, hard-working, and compassionate.
One way to think about any career is to think about the intersection of four goals: what do you love? What are you good at? What can you be paid for? And what does the world need?
Most would agree that becoming a physician offers a reasonable salary and is also what the world needs, but it may not be what a person loves or is good at.
Figuring that out is what a potential medical school applicant should do before they apply to medical school.
It’s also what medical schools are trying to do when they evaluate their applicants.
To figure out if medicine is right for you, you have to get to know yourself, and you have to get to know medicine.
Medicine offers a bunch of career options that are growing every day, so that by the time a current applicant is ready to start working, there will be new opportunities that don’t even currently exist.
In order to get to know yourself, the first key is to find great advisors and mentors, starting with a pre-health advisor, which you can find at a lot of schools.
In addition, find a great teacher, family friend, or clinician who can help serve as a mentor; someone who has the time to get to know you and is able and willing to help you grow your mind as well as your character.
It’s best to have a few of these folks in your life because they can help you develop in different and often complementary ways.
Next, it’s good to get involved in a variety of projects to explore your interests and expose yourself to the wide range of opportunities that are available.
Students often get involved in lab-based and clinical research studies, as well as volunteer experiences working with patients, and also leadership and advocacy roles in student run organizations.
In addition to going broad, though, it’s also important to go deep.
An example of going abroad would just be putting together a presentation, going deeper than that would mean you would try to get it published, or put together a video-blog, or edit the Wikipedia page on that topic.
As another example, going broad would just be attending meetings, but going deep would be organizing a project from end-to-end like a local bone marrow drive.
In other words, live the creed—"Think globally, act locally"
Now, it’s also important to get to know a medical school, because just like applicants, each one is different.
Start by going to career fairs and getting to know the ones in your area, maybe even making a campus visit and meeting the folks in the admissions office.
Some schools have top researchers in the classroom, while others primarily bring in community physicians.
Some curriculums teach normal physiology in year one, and pathophysiology in year two, whereas others teach everything together in blocks.