Last Updated: Nov 25, 2015
So you want to be a doctor. It’s a long and arduous road, but it leads to a career with practically unparalleled rewards. With passion and planning, you can take the first steps, starting with your undergraduate institution.
If you have the academic and emotional fortitude, you can get to medical school from just about anywhere. Even if your dream undergraduate college doesn’t have a medical school or hospital connected with it—even if they don’t have a doctor around to teach classes—you can still pursue a pre-med path that leads to a successful career in medicine.
“Look at that as an opportunity, rather than a challenge,” says Kathleen Scheltens, Director of Pre-medical Programs at the University of Dayton. “It allows students to be creative and seek out non-conventional routes. Those paths can lead to very unexpected and rewarding opportunities.”
As you plan your roadmap to a career in medicine, Scheltens recommends looking for these signs that your intended college or university can help you reach your goal of becoming a doctor.
You can do your own research to figure out the answers to these questions or contact the admission or academic advising offices at your intended schools.
What undergraduate programs are available for students interested in medicine?
Schools with pre-medical programs have course offerings distinctively designed to provide a science-based, diverse education as preparation for admission to any allied health care professional school, including medical, veterinary, and chiropractic. However, you don’t need to major in pre-med to go to medical school. In fact, many schools of medicine appreciate the diverse experiences achieved in non-pre-med majors. Students are generally best served studying the subject they are most passionate about—and medical school admission officers are looking for passionate people!
That being said, you will need to have completed certain prerequisite courses to attend med school, and you should get a sense of the classes available to you that will help you earn the credits you need. Check to see if the curriculum is flexible and can be tailored to suit your interests. A school that doesn’t have a pre-med program but does have programs in chemistry, biology, or other science disciplines can provide a solid basis for a career in medicine.
Are graduates headed to good medical schools?
Medical schools come in all shapes and sizes, and students must decide which school is best for them based on many factors such as reputation, disciplines of interest, and location. Ask the alumni or career services office where former students attended medical school and what the overall acceptance rates are for students attending professional programs in medicine.
Where are those graduates today?
Look at the outcomes of the students. In addition to where they go to medical school, check where they are working. This can give you a sense of what your own career path might look like, whether those alumni ended up in hospitals or nonprofits or even as professors in other schools of medicine.
How will this college help me get into medical school and land a good job?
Investigate the campus resources available to students interested in medicine. There may be specific pre-med advisors (faculty or other staff) in addition to career and academic services offices typically found on campus. You also want to look for campus extracurricular activities, such as pre-med or science clubs, that will allow you to deepen and explore your interest in medicine while networking with your peers.
How will I get hands-on medical experience?
Get out of the classroom! Sure, what you learn in class is important, but getting hands-on experience will give you a leg up on the competition for those coveted medical school seats. Performing research in a lab with a faculty member is a great way to show your curiosity and willingness to expand your knowledge.
Beyond on-campus labs, you can find ample opportunities to learn more about your intended path in medicine by working in the local community. Check the medical scene near your intended college or university.
You might shadow doctors and observe procedures in local clinics. For example, blocks away from campus, University of Dayton students also work with Reach Out of Montgomery, a volunteer health care organization whose mission is to provide access to health care services for the underserved and uninsured population of Montgomery County. Students learn triage services, take vital signs, and interact with patients. “My time spent and experiences at Reach Out have been life changing and have confirmed for me why I want to practice medicine,” says University of Dayton pre-med major David Kling. “Reach Out does amazing work for the community, and I love being able to do my part to help.”
Or you could attend conferences (often free to students), learning more about today’s pressing health care issues. The University of Dayton and Miami Valley Hospital partner on a health care symposium; this year students heard national experts discuss advance care planning and cultural considerations in end-of-life care, among other things.
While opportunities near your school are convenient, looking beyond your borders also yields rewarding experiences. You might help doctors treat patients and distribute medications overseas. You could teach local children the basics of hygiene or teach adults how to treat cuts and fevers and spot specific cancers.
Your path to a successful career as a doctor can start in many different ways and environments. It doesn’t have to start in a classroom—it doesn’t even have to start in this country. As Scheltens says, “It starts with a strong desire to make a difference in the world, curiosity, and the ability to take advantage of where you are and the opportunities available to you.”