Do you have what it takes to read medicine?

From Harvey White, The ROYAL SOCIETY of MEDICINE PRESS Limited

Why choose a career in medicine? 

Sigmund Freud, the Austrian psychiatrist, said: ‘Life is to love and to work’. People spend so much of their waking time working that it is essential to find a career that is truly absorbing and satisfying. Medicine fulfils these criteria completely.

Reasons for becoming a doctor

  •  Medicine helps people and society. You will be a useful person at an individual and collective level.
  •  Medicine addresses issues of importance. In your individual interactions with people you will be addressing issues of prime concern to them. You will be privileged to be present at births and deaths, and at many other occasions -sad and happy- in between.
  • Medicine offers a major intellectual challenge. It does not just require ordinary intelligence, but a more rounded, emotional intelligence. You will need to use your brain to communicate, to interact, to learn and relearn different skills.
  • Medicine confronts important moral and ethical issues, i.e., when to treat, designer babies, withdrawal of life support, euthanasia, and genetics – all these issues have a strong ethical dimension.
  • Medicine is fun! You will join a ’tribe’ with its own set of values and behaviours. Much teamwork is involved, and most doctors develop a good sense of humour.
  • Medicine is extremely varied. It is not just a monochrome career – within the same profession, you can choose to be an academic researcher, a general practitioner (GP), a pathologist, a television doctor, a medical journalist and a host of other options.
  • Medicine is secure and well paid.
  • Medicine offers a mobile qualification through travelling around the world for attractive jobs. Academic research can take you to Stanford, Harvard or Melbourne; or you can use your skills for the benefit of less developed countries in Voluntary Service Overseas, or with groups such as Médicinis sans Frontières.
  • Journey into yourself – it will be challenging. You will have to face grief, loss and unhappiness as well as their opposites. Medicine is a career that will challenge and entertain you throughout your life.

 Possible reasons for not becoming a doctor

  • Medicine requires good social and communication skills. It will not suit those who do not much enjoy being with people.
  • Medicine is very hard work – but so is any other job worth doing. Barristers and business people work equally long hours.
  • Medicine is stressful and demanding. Doctors have higher levels of mental illness than the general population and are forced to retire early.
  • Your career can peak very early. You can be a qualified GP at the age of late 20s, or a consultant at mid-30s while people in other careers carry on developing into their 40s and 50s. Doctors can become bored or frustrated if they do not see any progression beyond that early end point.

Entry requirements for medical school

  • This help you obtain a place at a medical school, focusing on the qualities and qualifications needed for this profession.
  • The degree of your commitment to medicine is so important, not only for achieving a place at a medical school but also for determining whether or not you will enjoy this career afterwards, that you need to think very carefully about whether or not you really want to study it at all.

If, having examined yourself and your motivations thoroughly and honestly, the pros do not easily outweigh the cons of medicine for you, then I earnestly entreat that you consider another career.

 Important qualities in a doctor

 The ideal doctor should be:

  • Knowledgeable
  • Compassionate and sensitive to people’s feelings
  • Altruistic
  • Eager to help people and to make a difference to their lives
  • Dedicated and hard working, with the highest integrity
  • Reasonably intelligent, with a retentive memory and an inquiring mind
  • Interested in how the body works
  • An articulate and sensitive communicator with very high personal standards of morality
  • Full of energy, with good organizational skills and able to work in a highly interdependent team
  • Tolerant, not only of long hours and hard physical labour but also capable of coping with sometimes horrifying emotional traumas

Such saints do not, of course, exist in real life but this is what we aspire to – these ideals dictate what you should be looking for in yourself.

The most important general quality a doctor should have is a liking for and an interest in people, even the difficult ones. You really need to enjoy interacting and empathizing with all ranks, shapes, cultures, classes and all religions, even those who try to insult and humiliate you.

Modern medicine involves the exciting application of scientific principles to people by counteracting the cruel hereditary, environmental, social and random determinants of disease. Thus, you must not only have a genuine interest in human physiology, in how muscles contract, how smoking causes lung cancer and how high blood pressure causes kidney problems, but also in why American Indians are intolerant to alcohol and why low income-groups have an increased burden of disease, and why this affects not only themselves but sadly even their unborn children.

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One Response to Do you have what it takes to read medicine?

  1. Cris says:

    Excellent bullet points that reflect reasons for becoming a good doctor against factors that could dissuade someone from applying to a medical school. So many applicants will get flummoxed up when confronted with these seemingly straight-forward interview questions, and this very article gives a brief account of the subject..


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