The doctor comes out of the operating room, loosening his mask and mopping his brow. He speaks to the anxious family members gathered at the nurse’s station. “It was touch and go there for awhile. But he’s going to be all right.” Smiles, tears, sighs of relief. Dr. Goodfellow has saved the day again. Fade-out.
This is a noble, traditional picture of what it’s like to be a doctor. Unfortunately, the reality does not always live up to the hype. If you are considering medical school, you should know the facts.
Add it Up
You probably already know about the cost of school: about $15,000 a year at a state school (if you live in the state) and $33,000 for a private school. That’s without room and board. And the timeline: You will spend about four years in medical school, during which you almost certainly cannot work, and three years in residency (though they pay you for that). Medicine is generally not a good idea for a second career.
The hard work and high cost start early. Most professional schools require a standardized admission test unique to that profession. For doctors it is the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). It measures verbal reasoning skills as well as proficiency in the physical and biological sciences. The cost of the test is $175, ($225 if your registration is late) and you will probably need tutoring classes (about $150 for a single subject, $1400 for the entire test). The MCAT counts about equally with your GPA in the admissions process. Conquer that test phobia now, or switch careers. Get more info at http://www.studyandexam.com/mcat.html.
Know the Odds
The odds for acceptance into medical school are best if you apply to three or four schools and stay within your state. MCAT test scores and GPA permitting, you have about a 66% chance of acceptance if you do this. Schools with Big Reputations are another matter. Yale Medical School accepted only 5.1% of its applicants in 2005, Harvard 1.3%.
Consider your degree of commitment. Who is paying? If your bills are taken care of, you may be tempted to start out “just to see what it’s like”. It is not fair to spend $33,000 a year of someone else’s money (no matter how much they have) for a whim. Get “I can always quit” out of your head. It’s full commitment or nothing.
Paging Dr. Mal Practice
The criteria for choosing medical school go beyond the financial and academic. One area in which modern times differ from the noble Dr. Goodfellow days, is the fact that Americans today sue each other at the drop of a hat. What used to be considered understandable errors in diagnosis or treatment are now grounds for litigation. For this reason doctors must carry astronomically priced malpractice insurance and watch their backs at all times. Should you prescribe a risky treatment for this patient and risk getting sued? Give the person a less effective treatment and risk getting sued? Hope the disease will go away? Doctors are faced with such decisions everyday.
Technology Is Good – Isn’t It?
The new discoveries made every day in medical technology are amazing. A patient with failing kidneys can carry around his own dialysis machine. Cancer patients who would have died even five years ago can now be saved. But there is a cost. These miracles entail huge amounts of money, of course. But morality and ethics enter the picture as well.
Should you prescribe such a miracle for a penniless patient, trusting that insurance will defray the huge price tag, thus raising premiums for everyone else? When there is one transplantable heart and four patients, who gets it? Will the financial concerns of your hospital force you to make decisions that go against your moral grain? If a patient’s family said, “Pull the plug,” could you do it?
There are courses and advice on these topics in medical school, naturally. But before you take the plunge, you need to know exactly what you would and would not do according to your own conscience. The decision of whether or not to go to medical school is yours. Be sure you know the full cost before you start.