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Medical School


You asked about medical school and we have answers. Click a question to see what SciMON says!

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Is medical career right for me?

  • SciMON Says: If you answer "Yes" to most of the following questions, chances are you have the right kind of personality for a medical career: What kind of future appeals to you? Do you want challenges, opportunities, a chance to make a difference? Do you have an inquisitive mind? Are you interested in science and how the body works? Do I care deeply about other people, their problems, and their pain? Do I enjoy helping people with my skills and knowledge? Do I enjoy learning, gaining new understanding? Do I often dig deeper into a subject than my teacher requires? Do I understand the value of learning beyond just making good grades? Am I interested in how the human body functions? Am I intrigued by the ways medicine can be used to improve life?

    SOURCE: Adapted from our Exploring a Medical Career tip sheet

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What does it take to become a doctor?

  • SciMON Says: Becoming a doctor requires a serious educational commitment. It takes from 11 to 16 years to complete your education, including four years of undergraduate school, four years of medical school, and from three to eight years of residency training in a desired specialty. Doctors also are required to maintain licensure and certification and to undergo continuing education in order to keep up with advancements in the field.

    SOURCE: Adapted from our Exploring a Medical Career tip sheet

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What is a doctor's career like?

  • SciMON Says: Many bright and motivated college students describe a "dream career" with the following characteristics:

    • Service: Allows you to help people and advance knowledge.
    • Action: Doesn't tie you to a desk all the time.
    • Respect: Your work and contributions are an important part of your community.
    • Security: Enables you to earn a good living with a secure future.
    • Mobility: Your skills and knowledge are in demand, wherever you choose to live.
    • Flexibility: Offers you lots of career options.

    Few occupations meet all of these standards. None meets them better than a career in medicine. Doctors diagnose illnesses and treat people who suffer from injury or disease. Their professional lives are filled with caring for people, keeping up with advances in medicine, and working as a part of a health care team. Every day in communities around the country, doctors work in neighborhood clinics, hospitals, offices, even homeless shelters and schools. Few fields offer a wider variety of opportunities.

    About one-third of the nation's physicians are primary care doctors who provide lifelong medical services for the entire family. General internists, family physicians, and general pediatricians are all considered primary care doctors. They are the first doctors people consult for medical care. And they are trained to provide the wide range of services children and adults need. When patients' specific health needs require further treatment, primary care physicians send them to see a specialist physician.

    Specialist physicians differ from primary care physicians in that they focus on treating a particular system or part of the body. Surgeons who treat injuries, disease and deformities by performing operative procedures, neurologists who treat disorders of the brain and spinal cord, cardiologists who treat the heart and blood vessels, and ophthalmologists who treat the eye are just a few examples of the many specialties in medicine. These physicians work together with primary care physicians to ensure that patients receive treatment for specific medical problems as well as complete and comprehensive care throughout life. For information about these and other medical specialties visit Careers in Medicine.

    Physicians also do many other things. Physician researchers are at work today developing new treatments for cancer, genetic disorders, and infectious diseases like AIDS. Academic physicians share their skills and wisdom by teaching medical students and residents. Others work with health maintenance organizations, pharmaceutical companies, medical device manufacturers, health insurance companies, or in corporations directing health and safety programs. People with medical skills are in demand everywhere.

    SOURCE: Adapted from our Exploring a Medical Career tip sheet

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How much do doctors make and how many hours do they work?

  • SciMON Says: Medicine has many rewards—personally, intellectually, and financially. On average, doctors make about $160,000 a year, but this amount can vary depending on where physicians live and what type of medical specialty they practice.* As the American health care system changes, fewer doctors are working for themselves and more are joining health care systems, often as salaried employees. In these organizations, physicians often can command salaries comparable to executives in other occupations.

    While salaries for physicians are among the highest for all occupations, the work hours can be long and unpredictable. Many doctors work more than 60 hours a week. They may also have to respond to emergencies and be on call for their patients.

    The employment outlook for doctors in nearly all specialties is growing and bright. With the aging of the population, advances in genetics research and technology, the need for physicians in rural and inner city environments, and other important factors, the demand for more doctors will continue to grow far into the future.

    SOURCE: Adapted from our Exploring a Medical Career tip sheet

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What is medical school really like? I hear it's long and tough. How long? How tough?

  • SciMON Says: Medical school is challenging for a reason: If you plan to take responsibility for people's health and well-being, you've got to be committed to learning. However, once you're accepted, your medical school faculty and staff will do everything they can to help you succeed. As a result, more than 96 percent of entering medical students go on to obtain their M.D. degrees.

    The curriculum at many medical schools has changed in recent years. However, here's a quick overview of what you can expect during four years of medical school.

    During the first two years you will study the basic sciences—anatomy, biochemistry, physiology, microbiology, pathology, and pharmacology—as well as behavioral sciences. You'll also begin learning the fundamental techniques of taking a medical history and examining patients.

    Next, you'll go into the hospital and various clinics to observe and work with experienced doctors and begin to learn how to take care of patients. At this time you'll begin to explore the wide variety of career paths within medicine, such as family practice, internal medicine, surgery, psychiatry, obstetrics and gynecology, and pediatrics.

    Your final years are spent continuing your contact with patients and doctors in a clinical setting while taking elective courses.

    After medical school you will spend three to seven years in a residency, where you will gain further experience and training in the specialty you have chosen. You already may have an idea of which specialties interest you; however, it's good to keep an open mind until your third year of medical school.

    Medical school usually lasts four years. In general, during the first two years, you study the sciences basic to medicine: anatomy, biochemistry, physiology, microbiology, pathology, and pharmacology, as well as behavioral sciences; introductory patient interviewing and examination techniques; and an introduction to health care. In the third year, you gain experience with patients in hospital, clinic, and office settings in the fields of internal medicine, family medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, surgery, and psychiatry. The fourth year is a mix of required and elective courses where you gain additional experience caring for patients. Each medical school differs in how it organizes its educational program. The Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR) has details.

    Medical school is tough. A lot will be demanded of you both in the volume of information you will be expected to master and the rate at which you will be expected to learn. You will need good study habits and time management skills as well as a strong academic background. You also will need to be aware of and tap into the tremendous support, guidance, and mentorship that medical school faculty and staff provide to help you succeed. Medical schools are committed to their students and their education. In general, more than 96 percent of all students enrolled succeed in earning their M.D. degree.

    Toward the end of medical school you will choose a specialty; after graduation you will spend at least three years in a graduate medical education (residency) program. During that period you must obtain a license to practice.

    SOURCE: Adapted from our Exploring a Medical Career tip sheet

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How long does it take to earn an M.D. degree?

  • SciMON Says: Most would say a lifetime. Doctors are always learning as new discoveries are made and new technologies develop.

    However, it usually takes four years after college to obtain the M.D. degree. After that, you will choose a medical specialty and spend three years or more as a resident physician in a teaching hospital, where you train for certification in a specialty and will be paid on average about
    $47,000 a year, to care for patients.

    *Medical Group Management Association, (2008) Physician Compensation and Production
    Survey: 2008 Report Based on 2007 Data. Englewood, Colo.: MGMA.

    SOURCE: Adapted from our Exploring a Medical Career tip sheet

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