Medical school is an important yet stressful time in every aspiring physician’s career. Unlike an undergraduate pre-med program, graduate medical school is when you actually learn what it takes to become a physician.
But there are some things you can learn before you go to med school that can make your time there less stressful, more effective, and easier to get through.
If you’re considering applying to medical school or getting ready to start your graduate training, here are five things to know before entering medical school.
1. Licensing Exams Require Extensive Preparation
In order to become a licensed physician in the U.S., you need to pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination. The USMLE is divided into three steps, two of which you’ll need to take while you’re still in medical school.
While most aspiring physicians take Step 1 of the USMLE at the end of their second year of medical school, it’s important to start preparing for it in your first year. You can take the USMLE Step 1 up to six times, but passing on the first try makes it easier to get matched with the residency program of your choice.
2. The National Resident Matching Program is Stressful
Many pre-med students and first year medical school students imagine that Match Day will be one of the greatest days in their med school career. Match Day itself is an important and exciting experience, but the process of applying to residency programs is lengthy and often stressful.
Applying for the NRMP is a complex process that requires submitting a detailed application, USMLE test scores, letters of recommendation, medical school transcripts, and a Medical School Performance Evaluation. In addition to submitting your applications to residency programs you’ll need to interview with those programs, which may also require you to travel.
Medical school students must stay abreast of deadlines and calendars for their match year, as delays in the application process can affect how or if you match. The most up-to-date calendar is available on the NRMP.org website.
3. It’s Best to Be Open-Minded About Your Specialty
Medical school students tend to choose their specialty based on at least one of the following:
- Their passion for a specific field of medicine
- The earning potential of a particular specialty
- The amount of further training involved
While some students enter med school with a clear focus on pursuing a specific field of medicine, others wait until they perform rotations and gain more clinical experience in different fields before making a determination as to what their specialty will be.
If you’re considering a specialty based on its financial rewards, such as anesthesiology or surgery, keep in mind that some of the highest paid physicians also have greater expenses. From malpractice insurance premiums to the cost of disability insurance, the physicians who earn the highest salaries often have to pay significantly higher insurance premiums, which can cut into their earnings.
This article about own occupation disability insurance breaks down why this is a necessary, unavoidable expense for high income earning physicians.
4. Most Medical School Graduates Have Debt
According to recent studies, the average medical school student graduates with more than $241,000 in debt, including debt from undergraduate education. This is more than six times the amount of debt of college students who don’t pursue graduate studies.
Most medical school loans require you to start making payments six months after graduation, while you’re in your first year of residency. Students about to enter medical school should be aware that there are a variety of loan forgiveness programs and loan repayment assistance programs available to help eradicate some of that debt.
Be flexible in your post-residency plans, including the state in which you’re willing to live and work. Many underserved, rural states with a physician shortage offer repayment assistance of $50,000 or more in exchange for a commitment to work in that state for a period of two or three years.
5. You’ll Need to Make Time for Down Time
Medical school requires a huge time commitment, both in terms of studying, attending classes, and clinical training. Before you start your med school career, learn how to budget your time so that there’s room for personal downtime and relaxation.
Taking time off is crucial.
In order to avoid burnout you’ll need to carve out time for hobbies, self-care, eating right, exercising, getting enough sleep, and social activities. Medical school is a full-time job, so creating a work/life balance at this point in your career will make it easier to maintain a work/life balance once you’re a licensed, practicing physician.
Prepare for your exams and residency applications ahead of time. Prioritize time for relaxation. Stay open-minded about your specialty and how you’re going to back off your loan debt. By practicing these tips and tricks, you can relieve some of the pressures of medical school and make these years some of the best of your young life.