So you want to get into Med School

MedicineAs a third year med student who openly dislikes Medicine for its focus on treatment rather than prevention, I still all too often get asked how to get in. While this is a fair question that I had also asked, there are much more important questions to be asking which I’d like to address in this post. I think that while Medicine is truly a good career for some, it thoroughly doesn’t deserve the attention that it gets, and that many of the hard-working students applying could be far better off without it. As a disclaimer, this opinion post was written as a counter-argument to all the hype around medicine, but I’m very open to hearing different opinions than mine on the topic which desperately needs more discussion.

Firstly I’ll start off with why I chose to do Medicine, a set of reasons which may share some similarities for your own motivation to apply for Medicine, despite many denying it when being asked face to face. I “liked” the sciences, as almost every single Med interviewee will tell you, even though by “liking”, I really meant that I was getting good grades for it rather than anything else. Then there was the “helping people” aspect, which I didn’t realise meant absolutely nothing – almost any career is there to “help people”, a rubbish truck driver helps people have clean homes, a mechanic helps fix peoples’ cars, a businessman helps deliver a needed service to people – helping people is a universal aspect which really doesn’t narrow things at all. I was also a competitive academic in High School, and the trend at the time was for the top academics to go after Medicine – a bizarre phenomenon, but I sadly joined in and wanted to be a part of this “elite” group.

Doctor Pay
An unfortunately misleading view of Medicine which I too fell for

And finally, there was the all-too-important money driver which significantly influenced my decision, often sugar-coated by applicants as a “stable”, “professional” or “highly rewarding” career. Although I had already heard that there are much faster and easier ways of making money than medicine, I was still misguided about this thanks to the “average pay” statistic on the Careers New Zealand website.

Like many others though, I recognised at the time that these aspects each individually wouldn’t justify choosing medicine, so I argued that the intersection of all these desires was what really led me to Medicine. This however does not narrow down the options to Medicine at all – “liking” science was just natural curiosity that we all have but helped with good grades, helping people is central to almost every career, doing something because of its “elite prestige” is simply being a blind follower, and more money can be earned faster in many other careers (the explanation for this misconception is that medicine, with its competitive entry program, selects the hardest working students at the beginning, creating a selection bias of only highly successful people in the career, which boosts the “average pay”, while this selection happens in most careers after graduation based on performance at work, therefore including those less hard working people in the average. So while average pay can deceive us into thinking that Medicine is more financially rewarding, it’s really explained by this selection bias, and that the same hard-working, motivated individuals are likely to earn more elsewhere.).

An incredibly popular and powerful TED Talk, but still very under-utilised because of the difficulty answering this question
An incredibly powerful, popular TED Talk, but still under-utilised because of the difficulty in answering this question

I now no longer care for any of the above mentioned aspects, and the one question I really would have liked to ask was “What is my core purpose?”. You may have already come across this from the popular inspirational TED Talk, but to actually be able to answer the question is scarily difficult. I unfortunately wasn’t able to answer this at the time, and if I had, I wouldn’t have chosen to do Medicine. I’ve gradually formed my core purpose of maximising my positive impact on the world, where I quickly realised that traditional medicine couldn’t possibly help me achieve this considering its obsession with treatment using more pills, surgeries and equipment to help treat disease rather than prevent it, while also focussing on the individual rather than the big picture population.

This has together led to a sub-par health system which is incapable of dealing with modern issues such as the huge obesity epidemic despite having some of New Zealand’s most disciplined, hard-working individuals in the medical field. As pre-med students who have come this far, you too already form a part of New Zealand’s most disciplined, hard working students. I would argue that these traits would often be far better placed in other areas of society that are desperately short on talent – public health and health management being examples in the health sector – rather than entering the already crowded and competitive medical field where you are even unlikely to get a job by the time you graduate (especially with the ever-increasing medical student numbers).

So as you wait for offers into Medicine to come out, have a think about what your core purpose is, and whether that aligns with your desire to do Medicine or not. I only write this post out of appreciation for all the immensely motivated and disciplined students I have met in pre-med and medicine, out of a desire for each of us to impact the world as positively as we can with our skill-sets rather than simply accepting to become powerful cogs in an inefficient system.

Either way, all the best in your future careers, I’m sure that every one of you will go on to do great things in the future, and I hope that this post from an alternative opinion will at least get you thinking more about your career decisions. Whether you agree or disagree with what I’ve said here, I encourage you to comment below and share your opinions on this important debate!

7 thoughts on “So you want to get into Med School

  1. Hi Mark, thank you for sharing your thoughts in this brutally honest blog which exactly took the words out of my mouth. My question for you is that now because you’re no longer interested in medicine, what are your plans after completing your degree?

    • Hey LG, thanks for your comment! I’m looking at going into either public health/health management afterwards, I’m leaning more towards the latter so far since academic research in public health is a bit slow for my liking. My dream job though would probably be to start up an organisation focussed on shifting healthcare from treatment to prevention, which both public health and health management would provide useful experience for!

  2. Cheers Mark for your reply that is very interesting to know and I wish you all the very best in your future endeavours! Please keep us updated with how you go 🙂

  3. Hi Mark,

    Thank you for your insightful and eye opening article. As a pre med student in a similar position to the one you were in I’m finding it very hard to comprehend what Medicine is really like and whether it really WILL align with my core purpose. Firstly, what steps could you suggest toward finding this core purpose? Secondly, what is the best way of getting a realistic idea of what Medicine is REALLY like before I (try) to enter it with only a very vague idea?

    Thanks

    Lana

    • Hey Lana, thanks for your great questions! The first is a difficult one but to know your core purpose is to know why you exist, which isn’t easy and is usually something we avoid thinking about. If you’re not certain about why you exist, one way to try find out is by working backwards and asking yourself continuously why you want to do something until you reach that point – this is honestly incredibly difficult so don’t stress if it doesn’t immediately click!

      The second question is more straightforward, you need to actually see it for yourself in the Hospitals or (if not possible), asking doctors/clinical medical students in hospitals what they do day to day. Asking people how they find medicine generally will give you subjective opinion rather than facts which is why I recommend finding out what they do and forming your own opinion of it. And 2nd and 3rd year medical students unfortunately don’t count as they often have just as much an idea as anyone else does of what medicine actually involves – I definitely fell in that category myself I must say!

      Hope that answers your question 🙂

      Cheers,
      Mark.

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