A Career in Medicine
Is medicine right for me?
A medical career:
- Is fast-paced and always changing
- Is a chance to do “good” in the world by helping others
- Is rewarding when patients heal
- Provides a good living/secure future
A career in medicine requires:
- A deep desire to help others
- Strong intellectual ability/learning beyond grades
- Determination, persistence and endurance
- Commitment to life-long learning
- Empathy/patience with all kinds of situations and people
- Emotional strength to handle the pain of others
- Organizational management – it’s a business
Medicine is changing. The trend seems toward:
- Powerful new advances in imaging, diagnosis and treatment
- Limiting treatment options and reimbursements
- Increasing control by health insurance companies
- Shifting costs from insurance to individuals
- More paperwork/more staff hired to complete it
- More malpractice/lawsuit issues
Perhaps the best way to help determine if a career in medicine is right for you is to talk to as many professionals as you can. Ask to hear their story; how they decided on their career, what they love (and hate) about their job, what would they change in their own history, and what advice they can pass on to you. It is in their stories that you will eventually hear your own.
Where can this career take me?
Physicians (M.D.s and D.O.s) are employed in every sector of society:
- Individual/group practice
- Small rural to large urban practices
- Primary care (pediatrics, family, emergency, OB/GYN, internal medicine)
- Specialty care (cardiology, neurology, dermatology, etc.)
- Hospital based practice
Academic/Industry/Administrative sector: (possible for an M.D./Ph.D. combined degree)
- Teaching at a medical school or hospital
- Develop new diagnostic tests and devices
- Develop/test new drug treatments
- Perform basic research and translational (bench to bedside) work
- Develop vaccines in public or private sector
- Develop/run/market health and safety products
- Manage hospitals and health maintenance organizations
- CDC Center for Disease Control (Atlanta)
- WHO World Health Organization
- Public Policy/Public Health at all levels
- Missionary doctors (Mercy Ships, Doctors Without Borders)
How do I become a doctor? (It’s a long process.)
Preparation for a medical career begins with an undergraduate degree that includes the classes necessary for admission to medical school, as well as a solid performance on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) and deep volunteer experience in the medical field.
Medical school consists of a four-year curriculum. The first two years are class work in the basic sciences areas (anatomy, pathology, biochemistry, physiology, microbiology, and pharmacology). You’ll also learn how to examine patients and take histories. The last two years are usually rotations (required and elective) in clinical practice alongside doctors. The exact pattern may differ from school to school.
At the end of the four years, you will receive your M.D./D.O. degree. After this you enter a three-year (or longer) paid-residency in a hospital setting where you train in a specialty. Think of it as a medical graduate school. You must apply for an actual license to practice medicine (process differs among states).
After you have a license and are a practicing physician, you will still need to take continuing education classes/units to maintain your eligibility. Life-long learning is a requirement for this career!
For more on the Career of Medicine, check out these sites:
- Association of American Medical Colleges: Considering a Medical Career
- Association of American Medical Colleges: Exploring a Medical Career
Will I be an M.D. or D.O.?
Students often ask about the difference between an allopathic (M.D.) and an osteopathic (D.O.) medical degree. The training is very similar, with more emphasis placed on preventative medicine and a whole-body approach taken with D.O. training. The D.O. degree also contains manipulative techniques. Although over a half of all D.O.s work in primary care areas, it is possible to specialize just like in the M.D. degree.
The Midwest has the highest concentration of D.O.s in the country, but D.O. schools are located countrywide. If you are interested in D.O. training, you should shadow/volunteer a D.O. and visit schools early, as you are unlikely to be accepted if D.O. school looks like your “backup” plan for the M.D. degree. An excellent discussion of the D.O. philosophy can be found at M.S.U.’s College of Osteopathic Medicine (MSUCOM). Alma has a strong contingent of students enrolled there.
I’m still interested! Where do I start?
Read, bookmark, and print the pages on pre-med preparation and the preparation timetable. There’s a great deal of information out there. Look it over and talk to your advisor and other science faculty to see where to go next. Review the remainder of the Alma College Pre-Medical website to see what’s here. You’ll want to check often for updates!