The Medical School Process: The Good, The Bad and The Downright Depressing

“What are you going to be when you grow up?” was probably the question I heard the most growing up. Not just from my parents, but from their adult friends too. I guess they thought it was a cute question to ask an eight-year-old. Likely because they expected my answer to be “fairy princess” or something along those lines.

They didn’t quite know what to do when I calmly pushed my glasses back onto the bridge of my nose, looked at them with a serious expression on my face and said “I want to be a doctor. Not sure what kind yet.”

Reactions tended to be mixed-some amusement, some surprise, but mostly admiration aimed toward my parents for “raising such a good girl.”

And to a certain extent, they were right. My mother’s a medical professional and my father’s an engineer. To some degree, it could be seen as inevitable that I settled on medicine at such a young age. But it was also inevitable because it was always expected I’d  either be a doctor, a lawyer or a dentist.

In fact, there’s a long-standing joke in Russian culture, which goes along the line of mothers meeting at the park with their toddlers and asking each respective mother how old their future dentist/doctor/lawyer is. Parents laugh at it, but the kids of those parents are then left to deal with those expectations. I am one of those kids.

Before I go any further though, I want to clear up two things: One, I am not in medical school, at least not yet. And two, yes, I genuinely do want to go into medicine.

I point these things out because I am not an authority on the medical school system. Despite that fact,  I am still attempting to establish myself within said system. Consequently, I am directly dealing with what I consider to be a problematic system.

This does not mean that I do not respect the profession of medicine. In fact, I have nothing but the upmost respect for our nation’s doctors, precisely because they’ve made it through the broken system.

My biggest issue with the admissions process is the almost impossible level of standards hopeful applicants need to maintain to be accepted. I say almost, because I do in fact know people who have managed to get into medical school. This is encouraging and part of the good thing about the medical school system-it can be beaten.

And although I do understand the importance of having a high applicant standard for the nation’s future doctors, it sometimes seems to be taken to extremes within the medical school system.

Serious applicants realistically have to (like I did) decide some time early on in highschool that medical school is the goal, in order to take the required courses at the high school level and do well enough in them to place in some appopriate pre-med program in university. They then have to continue to do exceedingly well in university-level pre-med courses in order to maintain their GPAs at a high standard.

Now those two things would be fine, if it was the only thing needed. It makes sense that we want intelligent people to be in medical school classrooms.

On top of that, however, there’s expectations of a large amount of volunteer and work hours in relative areas, extracurricular activities , and of course the dreaded MCAT- which has now been lengthened from 4 to 8 hours (because it wasn’t hard enough before) and tests everything from physics to psychology.

At the core I understand that the point of demanding so much of one person is a way of making sure they’re prepared for the demands of medicine. But do we really think that a future patient is going to care that you played the flute for  a decade? Or that you  managed an A in some general education course you had to take for your degree?

The sheer amount of time, energy and money that goes into making yourself look like the ideal candidate on paper is astronomical. People lose sleep over their insane schedules and their applications every year because any one of the aforementioned things can make or break you. And even if you impress an admissions committee on paper, your interview and/or subsequent acceptance isn’t guaranteed. Interviews are long and stressful and doing well on the interview doesn’t solidly a spot. The entire system is largely a lottery to a certain extent. There are plenty of qualified people who don’t get in every year, often without any rhyme or reason.

It can be incredibly demoralizing to willingly put yourself through this process for years. To apply continuously, knowing you can get rejected for anything under the sun. I’ve lost track of the amount of times I’ve sat and wallowed in my own self-pity in the middle of the night and how many times I’ve wanted to give up.

But I’m still here. I’m still trying. I want to do this. I have no idea if I will ever get into medical school but it’s an ongoing negotiation and I haven’t thrown in the towel quite yet.Whether or not, others see it that way, it counts for something, and that’s what’s keeping me going.

The medical school system is problematic and stressful and yes, it ideally needs reform. But it’s also currently producing and has produced some of the best doctors I’ve had the honor of knowing, and that’s pretty  amazing.

Maybe I’ll be one of them one day and maybe I won’t, but god knows I’m going to try.





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