I’m beginning to receive those awesome messages from students informing me they’ve been accepted to medical school! For those who haven’t heard back yet, there’s still plenty of time so keep in communication with the schools. Some of you are now left with the decision of which school to attend. First of all, this is a great problem to have but do not take it lightly. This decision can have long term consequences.
I was told by a friend championing diversity in medical school recently that the efforts to improve the numbers are slowly but gradually improving but we need to divert some of this energy to making sure students stay in school. I encourage you to read my previous blog discussing my top 5 reasons why medical students drop out. This can give insight on things to prepare for or strengthen prior to matriculating. I’d like to now provide you with a little guidance on selecting a medical school from a 10-year post MD graduation perspective.
1. Support Support Support!
This by far is most critical in my opinion. You can live in Timbukto and be fine if you have the right community around you. I don’t need to tell you that med school is already stressful enough. You need to be in an environment that welcomes you. It is always nice to see not only students but also faculty who look and behave like you. You want to make sure there are counseling services available and please use them when you need help. The major complaint I hear from URM medical students is feeling no one understands them or can identifies with them. This tends to lead to imposter syndrome. Family and hometown friends can be a good source only if they appreciate the rigors of medical school.
I place this as the second most important factor because paying back loans is for the birds. The median debt for medical school was $200,000 in 2018. Going to an in-state, public school tends to be the cheapest route. A number of schools are now waiving tuition which is amazing. A military education and MD/PhD can get you a free education possibly with stipend included but make sure this is really what you want to do because they demand your time in return. You must also take into consideration cost of housing and transportation (locally and back home for holidays) in the area.
When considering the above, you may be left with a local medical school as the best option. That is if you have a welcoming home situation that won’t be a distractor. There is nothing like being able to drop by the parent’s place, take a swig from the juice in the refrigerator, wash a few loads of laundry, and chat a bit before driving back home the same day to study for anatomy. But beyond the conveniences, the location might also be a place you want to permanently settle. It may be in a rural or urban setting which will help you determine if you like this type of medicine. There are states like Texas where many doctors love to practice in part due to pro-doctor legislation. Some states may also take longer to get licensed to practice so you may take that into consideration.
I almost feel bad placing this so low on my list but I personally believe it is not as important as the earlier areas. Don’t get me wrong, how well students do on the USMLE and how well they match is very important but you are an individual and a lot of that depends on how much work you put in. Regardless of program, you will graduate with a MD/DO degree and most programs will provide you with a great education. You do need to make sure you have first set yourself up to succeed in medical school. Residency and fellowship is where you really hone your skills. If there is a particular passion or research area you love and this particular school is one of few that offer it then this may be the program for you. What is the training style of the program? Is it more independent learning, in class lectures or problem-based sessions? Is it an MD or DO program? See how this fits you.
If you can get into a top medical school that is great but it may not be worth it if the above factors are not optimal. Top medical school mainly benefit you when it comes to networking and I do believe residency program like to tout that they have students from these programs. Prestige is more valuable for those wanting to practice in an academic setting especially if seeking research or leadership roles. The way I look at it, prestigious medical schools will not serve you as much as prestigious residency or fellowships. You also get paid as a resident so you don’t have to worry about incurring debt at that time. As a practicing physician, rarely do patients or other doctors ask you where you went to medical school but more often they ask where you did your residency or fellowship training. Now in the technology age, patients google you and may choose to come to you because they notice you trained at a top program.
So, there you have it. Dr. Daniel’s 5 top factors (in order) to consider when selecting a medical school. I’d love to hear any feedback. Would you rearrange things or add anything else?
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