Would anyone like to be enlightened as to the process of becoming a doctor? I know that currently, we are the media’s and public opinion’s most darling scapegoats, along with Obama (eyeroll!), but in reality, we’re people who have put themselves through hell and high water for the privilege of being able to accept the abuse, be sued on a whim, be policed by people who have no idea what we do… Where was I going with this?? Oh – and help people. Obviously, we want to help people. On the pro and con list of being a doctor, that is the pro, and it outweighs the cons.
The process is long and rather painful, and often, people ask me how I can do it, and if I’d do it again. Well, truth is, yes, it’s difficult, and you do end up losing some folks along the way. But when you’re thrust into what’s basically a huge community across the entire country – and world – and everyone is doing the same thing you are, you sort of just… DO it. Complaining and martyrdom become superfluous and unnecessary, because we’ve all been there. And since I never had a plan B, I’d do it again.
First things first.
Step 1: College
Carefree time to explore and find yourself, right?
Wrong. As a college student, you’re supposed to already know your calling into the medical field, and you’re supposed to start making waves about getting yourself there by taking pre-requisite classes. This is called being pre-med. The official purpose is to give you a scientific background; the real purpose is to get rid of those who didn’t really mean it, those who didn’t think it through, and those who just can’t hack it. The most powerful machete that chops off the most significant chunk of weaklings is Organic Chemistry (twitch twitch). I still (twitch) have a (twitch sleepless night twitch twitch) serious tick when I think about it (alkane twitch).
If you did not think that far ahead, and decide to go to med school after college, there are special post-baccaulaureate programs available that offer the same pre-med courses. Some come with a master’s degree, others don’t, but the bottom line is the same: more studying and more money. A year in a post-bac costs more or less the same amount of money as a year in college, plus an unspecified amount of stress, nerves and years off your life. The pressure of being around only other pre-meds who want to knock you down so they can take your spot in line to medical school can really really get to a person. So I’ve heard.
Step 2: the MCAT
The MCAT is the big entrance exam med school hopefuls endure around junior year of college. It basically reviews all you’ve learned via the pre-med courses, plus, it has a daunting verbal and essay section, which, again, is a setup to get rid of those who can’t hack it. “Loose lips sink ships.” Write an essay which will 1) explain the meaning of the phrase. 2) agree with the phrase and explain why. 3) offer reasons to disagree with phrase. 4) argue against those reasons.
Ready to stab yourself in the eye yet?
Most people will shell out good bucks to pay for a prep course. In my day, it was around $700; by now, I’d think it’s probably more like $700,000.
Step 2a: Extracurricular interests
The weedout process works well. In the end, those who are left are all smart, motivated individuals who will all do anywhere from acceptably well to exceptionally in their schoolwork. So, you have to do something else to make yourself seem especially motivated, mature and doctor-like. You need set yourself apart somehow from all the other people who are also trying to set themselves apart. So, you end up doing things that sound good but are of questionable value to you in the big scheme.
I ended volunteering at a hospital. Doesn’t really matter what I did. I was bringing cookies to junkies, but as long as I had the word “hospital” somewhere on my CV, it counted. Research works, too. Doesn’t have to be anything great. You can be washing test tubes as an undergrad, but you put yourself down as a research assistant and you’re golden. Gotta fluff up the CV.
Step 3: Enter AMCAS
American medical colleges applications service. Back in my day, this was a disk, nowadays all is done over the internets. The hard part is to write your personal essay: “Ever since I was a little girl, I used to count pills in grandma’s pillbox, and now I want to be a dermatologist.” The second hardest part is to collect worthy recommendation letters. Shameless pandering ensues.
The beauty of AMCAS is that you can just click on the schools you want, so you can basically shoot for the stars. Harvard, sure! Yale, Standford… umm West Bumfuck as safety… Hawaii because I like the ocean… Colorado because I enjoy skiing… But realize that after the initial black amount of $, it costs an addition blank amount per checked school. I paid around $500. It might be like $50,000 now.
Then, and this is the best part, the schools send you what they call “secondary applications,” and what we lovingly christened “blackmail.” Technically, it’s so that they can find out more personal information about you, having already discounted some people that would not be getting in that year. In reality, these get sent to everyone. One school, which shall remain nameless (*ahem*BU*ahem), literally sent a square of scrap paper with a crooked xeroxed: “name here… credit card number here… don’t worry, we’ll take care of the rest.” The basic premise of the secondary application is this: “Send us more money.” Sometimes, in fine print, it also says, “for show, please also answer this question: It takes a village to raise a child. Do you agree?”
Once you’ve done that, you sit and wait for interviews to come around.
Step 4: Interviewing
Buy a black suit. No, really. Black. At most, navy blue or dark grey. Other colors set you apart as “nutty.” And back in my day, the ladies, we had to wear skirt suits. That’s what everyone said. Apparently, a woman in trousers… is offputting.
You might get asked difficult to answer questions. Never ever answer the ubiquitous question, “Why do you want to be a doctor?” with the wishy washy “I want to help people.” [you wanna help people?! Help old ladies cross the street!”] Come up with something original. Or just tell the truth: you’re in it for the money and the prestige. (Baaaahahahahaha!) (no, really, if you are, turn around and run in the other direction. For money and prestige, you can be a hairdresser, the president of a college, an underwear model, or a POTUS as a last resort, but not a doctor.)
Interviews range in malignant potential. Some are friendly chats, and others are horrible. One of my interviewers grilled me: What does the surgeon general do? I mean, really? Does anyone know? he puts warnings on cigarettes, that’s about all I can tell you.
Step 5: Hurry up and wait
Now you’re in. What did you get yourself into?