Medicine is a degree that is taught in about 40 UK universities. It focuses on giving students a solid foundation in treating and diagnosing illnesses via the medical model.
While medicine is an incredibly amazing and rewarding career to get into, it has its numerous downsides and shortcomings. The majority of medical school applicants will, unfortunately, be rejected without even getting an interview. This is because medicine is an incredibly oversubscribed course and therefore medical schools have the pick, and as a result, only the top 20% of applicants will be invited to an interview.
Aside from the fact that the course is incredibly competitive to get into, let’s explore what a medical degree entails and if you should be putting so much effort into getting a place.
What to expect from a medical degree?
In the first 2 years of the degree, a typical medical student should expect to spend the majority of time in lectures and tutorials learning about the fundamentals of science and biology.
These include studying about biochemistry and the expenditure of energy in the body, microbiology and the pathogenesis of the disease, pathology and the functions of various bodily tissues, and pharmacology and the interactions of drugs in the body.
These subjects are often split into modules that you will undertake at various periods in a given semester. Many students complain about the sheer amount of knowledge they must commit to memory.
The limited time-frames of the semester combined with the other vocational tasks that are required of a medical student makes medicine an already difficult course.
Not to mention the fact that students must also contend with the increased exposure to trauma, unhealthy diets and poor exercise habits, lack of sleep, and pure burnout, all as a result of stress buildup.
Third- and fourth-year medical students spend the majority of time doing rotations at hospitals, health clinics and various teaching trusts. Some students find this time to be a massive relief from the hours spent memorising books and staying awake in lectures. Others, however, can get quite bored easily as sometimes there just isn’t very much to do.
Sitting in on a doctors consultation usually makes for a better learning experience as you are experiencing health conditions first hand, however, they can often get quite repetitive and mundane, especially when all you are doing is taking notes in silence.
The lack of autonomy as a medical student is often the source of boredom and lack of motivation when studying the course.
Even after all your clinical rotations, you still won’t have enough knowledge to practice in any speciality which is a bit of a bummer. Most medical students, after a whopping 5 years of medical school won’t feel prepared doing much of the procedures they practised in medical school.
This is understandable, however, Physician Associates on the other hand train rigorously for 2 years via the medical model and feels more competent in medical practise after this time. Definitely consider this course. Medicine is never the be all end all.
Let’s explore some common misconceptions about medical degrees and debunk them once and for all!
Misconceptions about studying medicine
1. Once you get into medical school, you are basically a doctor
Congrats, you now get the chance to work hard at your dreams. Just because you got in doesn’t mean it’s time to slack!
Most people with this complacent attitude aren’t prepared to spend many years of schooling doing all the things required of a typical medical student. They are more interested in dwelling on the fact that they got into medical school in the first place.
The unfortunate and often hard pill to swallow is that medical school is literally and figuratively the beginning of a long arduous journey to an even harder job role.
Luckily the drop-out rate is relatively low for medical school, but that is because the people that get onto medical courses have worked incredibly hard and know for certain that medicine is something they want to pursue.
If medicine was more of an afterthought, maybe after you found out the potential earnings of a typical physician, you will get a rude awakening at medical school, that is if you actually get a place. If you do manage to get a place and aren’t so passionate about human biology, life sciences, and helping individuals, you will quickly grow bored, unmotivated and burned out.
And that is before you even reach the second year! Medical school is not the last peak to overcome. You must steadily overcome each year, which brings its own challenges. Even after all this, you are simply labelled a junior doctor which is more or less the same level as a physician associate.
Young junior doctors are basically HCAs with the ability to progress if they work hard enough. Never think that simply gaining admission to med school is enough. A long journey lies ahead.
2. I get amazing grades so medical school is for me
Another thing I hear people say is they are amazing at school so therefore they deserve a place at top universities. It’s one thing to be good at Biology, Chemistry, and Maths. It’s another to possess the compassion and motivation required to deliver care to a patient.
Even though practising by the medical model means you focus more on treating disease rather than caring for a patient, it doesn’t mean you should completely disregard the caring aspect of the role. By year 2, expect to be interacting with all kinds of patients from a range of different background, presenting all kinds of different conditions.
If you had to handle a rude and agitated patient suffering from anxiety, rest assured your mastery of the Krebs cycle will be the least of your concerns.
3. Once I’m a doctor, I’ll have loads of money and respect
This is obviously a poor reason to enter a lifelong career but you will be surprised how many people chose to study medicine for money, power and respect. This sometimes has to do with parents as well. They love the idea of telling friends and colleagues that their child is in medical school.
If money is a good motivator for you then, by all means, use it to light a fire of passion under yourself when you are spending those long hours in the library trying to memorise the components of the coagulation cascade. However, when you do become a junior doctor and you realise that you’re working harder than and potentially making less money than someone working in MacDonald’s, will your level of motivation still remain strong?
Probably not. Money as a motivator is a bad idea because junior doctors are actually fairly underpaid for the work they do. You have to be practising for quite some time, and possibly even in a different country to be making the same money as what all these other sources and blogs say.
As for respect, it is true that being a doctor is looked upon by the public with some level of grace. People are generally impressed when you tell them that you are a doctor.
They know the struggles and hardships you had to go through to get that title. On the other hand, lots of people actually strongly dislike doctors believe it or not! In a recent survey by WebMD and Medscape, they found out that 6 out of 10 doctors had heard offensive remarks about personal characteristics in the last 5 years.
Many members of the public describe doctors as “know it all’s”, “rude”, “dismissive”, “arrogant”, and “lacking in basic human decency”. And that’s from the people that doctors actually helped! Imagine what the rest of the population thinks!
This myth that doctors are these highly respected members of society must be quickly disregarded because if you chose to study medicine because of this, you will soon become very disappointed at the potential verbal abuse waiting for you. If you think this is worth the 10% discount you get at your local gym for being a healthcare worker then be my guest!
4. I want to save the day and help everyone
This is actually a very wholesome and noble reason to be a doctor. The majority of medical schools love to know that you are a caring compassionate student before they give you an offer to study medicine. The problem comes when this is your one and only goal. Never mind proper protocol, guidelines, rules, or looking after yourself, your main objective is to save as many people as possible.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the way medicine works. You are one cog in a massive multidisciplinary wheel, and your most important role is to practice within the confines of your competence, and involve the relevant healthcare professionals when necessary.
You aren’t a one-man team, saving every patient from certain doom. This is often what is portrayed in films and TV shows where the whole department relies on one doctor to keep the hospital or clinic moving. This couldn’t be further from the truth, and while it is true that there are some amazing and world-renowned physicians, medicine is mostly a team sport.
And like most sports, there are always ups and downs. Mistakes are made, but in the medical world, all errors and shortcomings are learning experiences to prevent the same negative outcomes from occurring multiple times.
5. I will be the top dog and have power over the nurses and other healthcare workers
It seems not many people would hold such a lowly opinion of other healthcare workers but unfortunately, many medical students at some point in their studies admit to subconsciously and even consciously looking down upon other healthcare workers such as nurses and support staff.
It isn’t until they start practising as a physician that they begin to understand the crucial role that nurses and support workers do. Like I mentioned above, the media loves to portray doctors as one-man-bands in healthcare. Everyone else is apparently the B-team.
This, however, isn’t the case, and often doctors find themselves having to rely on the knowledge of nurses and support staff to efficiently do their work. If you are a junior doctor on your fifth rotation that month, in a department that you barely have a clue about, will you trust yourself to carry out even the simplest of procedures? Probably not! You would probably let the “B-team” do that one.
Nurses, support workers and physician associates have a constant presence on the wards and clinics. They know the department well and therefore will do things much better than a junior doctor. Never look down on other health workers because they are simply there to make your job more manageable, not to be your personal assistant. They are the ones who will be teaching you a lot of the procedures you need to know!
Unfortunately, a good 60-70% of the people who apply to medical school will never get in, so you might end up applying for the courses that you once looked down upon. Just saying.
If you are planning on applying to medicine, make sure none of these are the reasons you are applying. Have good intentions. Intentions of providing care to people in need. Be willing to work hard and not just give up at the first sign of stress and difficulty. There is an amazing new site called UCAT Tools that is geared at students applying to medicine which you ought to check out. Otherwise, stay safe, and aim high.
If you are still unsure about which courses to study, consider checking out my short course where I walk you through several life sciences courses and which ones to study in the future!