Should I study medicine? Things to consider and what medical school is really like

Thinking of a career in medicine? Being a doctor isn't an easy process, but the first step is making that decision. In this article, we run through the factors you should be considering before considering Medical School as an option.

2 months ago   •   9 min read

By KIS Academics
Photo by Piron Guillaume / Unsplash

As the end of high school approaches, students come face to face with the daunting question “what do I do next?” Some students may have an immediate answer, whether that’s fulfilling a lifelong dream or following a passion they’ve recently discovered. For others, this might feel like an impossible question to answer. No matter which student you feel like you relate to more, it’s likely that at some point, you may consider studying medicine and becoming a doctor.

So this leads you to the big question - should I study medicine?

First, let’s think about the reasons you might want to study medicine.

To help others

Studying medicine is the first step to becoming a doctor and being a doctor is a uniquely rewarding career path. Doctors have a special role in society, where they often act as a bridge between scientific research and the general population.

As a doctor, you’ll be meeting people from all different walks of life and helping them during times of illness or stress so that they can live happier and healthier lives.

To have variety in your day-to-day life

When you’re working as a doctor, every single day is different. You’ll be interacting with new patients, new doctors, new nurses and other allied health professionals every day.

Collaboration and teamwork are vital parts of medicine. As you work with new people, you’ll be able to learn from them and you might be able to teach them something in return. Every single day presents you with a new challenge and an opportunity to learn something new.

Passion for science

At its core, medicine is science-based, so if you’re someone who loves science, then this could be a good career path for you! There is constantly new research being conducted in medicine and many ways to get involved with research, even as a student.

As you progress through your medical training, you may even be given the chance to teach other students. As a doctor, a large part of your job is teaching your patients ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Finally, there are many different fields within medicine and as you progress through your medical training, you’ll eventually get the chance to specialise in a field that you particularly enjoy. If you're interested in getting into Medicine yourself and need some support, check out this collection of Australia's top UCAT tutors.

But what might hold you back from wanting to study medicine?

It’s a lot of work

Even when studying for your favourite subject, I’m sure there have been times when you feel like there’s just too much work to do. And that can happen in medicine too. Starting from the application process, all the way to medical school and working as a doctor, there are a lot of requirements that you have to meet that may feel overwhelming.

It’s a long journey

Becoming a doctor is a long journey that starts with medical school. Many people will say that getting into medical school is the hardest part of your journey to becoming a doctor.

Some people are accepted into medical school the first time they apply whereas others complete a few years of study in another field and apply again. Everyone’s journey is different. And the journey doesn't end after medical school.

After graduating from medical school after 4-6 years, there will be 3-7 years of further training after graduation before you are fully qualified as a general practitioner or as a specialist.

Remember: everyone’s journey is different; it may take less time for some people and more time for others. If you're interested in getting into Medicine yourself and need some support, check out this collection of Australia's top UCAT tutors.

So if you’ve decided that medicine might be the right fit for you, what can you do right now?

When you’re in high school, there are 2 main things that you should keep in mind.

Subject selection

The process of applying for medical school starts in high school. Some universities may require you to complete specific subjects in Year 12 because they help form a foundation for your first year of medical school. These prerequisite subjects vary between different universities and some universities may not have any prerequisites!

If you aren’t studying one of these prerequisite subjects, there may be the option to complete a bridging course before beginning your medical degree. Again, this varies between different universities and between different states, so make sure you have a look at the requirements for each university you apply to.

It’s also important to make sure that you are studying subjects that you enjoy. Your ATAR is a critical part of your medical school application, so it’s important that you choose subjects you enjoy to maximise your marks.

UCAT

Most undergraduate pathways to medicine require you to complete the UCAT - the University Clinical Aptitude Test. It’s a 2-hour computer-based test that consists of 5 sections - verbal reasoning, decision-making, quantitative reasoning, abstract reasoning and situational judgement.

It can be a bit overwhelming at first, so if you want someone to help guide you through your UCAT preparation, you can contact a tutor here. Or if you want to get access to a course that can give you tips, tricks and 5000+ UCAT-style practice questions, you can click here.

UCAT results are only valid for one year, so the first year that you are eligible to sit the UCAT will be in Year 12. If you apply for medical school in subsequent years, you’ll have to sit the UCAT again.

What happens in medical school?

Once you’re accepted into medical school (congratulations!), be prepared for a challenging, but incredibly rewarding, journey.

Medical school usually takes 4-6 years. Your first few years in medical school are all about learning the science behind everything we do in medicine. Your schedule may change from week to week, so it’s important to be flexible.

Classes may include practical sessions where you complete experiments or handle specimens in the anatomy labs; small group tutorial sessions where you talk about different case studies; lectures and an introduction to basic clinical skills.

As you progress through medical school, you spend less time at university, and more time at clinical placements shadowing doctors or forming part of a team. You will get the chance to talk to patients and learn how to use different equipment and perform different skills, such as suturing or reading ECGs. You may even be offered opportunities to study in rural or overseas placements!

Research is also an important part of medicine and you may get the chance to get involved with a research project during your time at medical school. Some universities may offer summer research programs, whereas others may allocate a whole year to doing a research project of your choosing.

But how much work is it, really?

If you’ve considered studying medicine, you’ve probably heard people say that medical students have no social life or that medical students spend all their time studying. It’s true that there is a lot to study in medical school. You might expect that the content is ridiculously hard.

While the content can be difficult at first, most people find that the hardest part isn’t the content itself, but rather the amount of content you have to learn. There’s a lot of information and sometimes it can feel like you’re surrounded by geniuses who somehow know everything, while you’re still trying to comprehend the content from week 2 (I’m speaking from personal experience).

But in reality, everyone’s just trying their hardest. Over time, you'll settle into medical school and find study techniques that work best for you. For me, I find using flashcards and regularly testing myself is a great way to revise content. Do what works best for you and make sure that you study smarter, not harder!  

Will I have time to make friends?

Yes, medical school is hard. It will take time to wrap your head around all the content and you might find that you have more classes than some of your peers who are studying for other degrees, but it doesn’t mean that your whole life has to become study. It will take some time, but eventually, you’ll manage to find that perfect balance between your studies and your social life.

Medical school is a great time to make new friends. Most universities also have a medical society that organises camps, social events, training workshops and mentorship nights to meet doctors in different fields and students from different years of the medical degree.

There are also national and state-level organisations for medical students that organise parties and conferences so you get the chance to meet other medical students from all across Australia. But it’s also a good chance to meet people outside of your medical degree and take advantage of everything your university has to offer by joining different clubs and societies.

Although it might seem that way when you first start your medical degree, medical school isn’t all about studying, so make sure you go out there and have fun!

But some things might be hard to adjust to.

You probably won’t be getting top marks

In many cases, the final years of high school are about getting the best marks you can so that you can reach your goal ATAR. However, in medical school, the focus is on doing the best that you can and making sure you pass.

For those who begin medical school right after completing Year 12, it can be hard to adjust to this new mindset. You may feel like you’ve been putting in so much effort to learn all the content but get completely blindsided by your first exam. Or you might think that you did incredibly well in an assignment but receive a mountain of criticism from your professor.

Remember that academics aren’t everything! Once you're in your medical degree, you're already on track to being a doctor. And remember, in medicine, your interpersonal skills are just as important, if not more important, than your academics!

It can be stressful

Medical school is hard and so is being a doctor. There are times when you may have to be the one to deliver bad news, or you may be working long nights. You may fail your exams, you may feel overwhelmed, and sometimes you may just want to quit and that’s normal.

Medical school is not always the excitement that we see on Grey’s Anatomy, but there are plenty of support networks available. At the end of the day, it’s important to keep in mind that everyone will graduate and become a doctor. There will often be many people who have done a prior study and people who may know a lot more than you do. Don’t let this intimidate you and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

And personally, I think there’s something special about spending 4-6 years going through all the highs and lows of medical school with your friends and watching them grow into doctors that are ready to save people’s lives.

Ultimately, follow what YOU want to do

Medical school is tough but I think it’s one of the most rewarding things that I’ve done. I’ve had the chance to talk to patients, meet people from all different walks of life and learn so much about something that has always interested me.

But in a lot of cases, some students may feel like they have to study medicine because their parents or peers are encouraging them to do so. Some students may also want to study medicine for a stable career and to earn a good income. Medicine requires a lifelong commitment, so you should make sure it’s something that you want to do before you start your journey.  

If you're interested in getting into Medicine yourself and need some support, check out this collection of Australia's top UCAT tutors.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ Section)

Should I be aiming for top marks in medical school?

In many cases, the final years of high school are about getting the best marks you can so that you can reach your goal ATAR. However, in medical school, the focus is on doing the best that you can and making sure you pass.

Is medical school really hard?

Medical school is hard and so is being a doctor. There are times when you may have to be the one to deliver bad news, or you may be working long nights. You may fail your exams, you may feel overwhelmed, and sometimes you may just want to quit and that’s normal.

How long is medical school?

Medical school usually takes 4-6 years. Your first few years in medical school are all about learning the science behind everything we do in medicine. Your schedule may change from week to week, so it’s important to be flexible.


Written by KIS Academics Tutor Michelle Cai. Michelle is currently studying a Bachelor of Medical Studies/Doctor of Medicine at the University of New South Wales. You can view Michelle’s profile here and request her as a tutor.

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