posted 2011-11-18 15:07:16

Path to Acceptance

Medical schools make unrealistic remands on students

Contributing Writer -- Janet Izrailova

Becoming a doctor is an attractive path for many young adults, and for good reason. Well-paying salaries, prestige, and respect all come along with the title. But for many of us, it’s not long after declaring ourselves as biology or chemistry majors that we realize how completely delusional we have been for the past ten years.

Beyond the various pre-requisite courses and standardized entrance exams, many medical schools also hold non-academic requirements. Recommendation letters, participation in extracurricular activities, even artistic abilities such as dance or playing an instrument can play a factor in whether your application is successful. Many schools require that applicants show interest in the field by completing over 200 volunteer hours, or show character by contributing to community service programs. Isn’t that a little too much pressure?

Especially at a school like Hunter, where the number of “pre-med” students increases with every year’s freshman class. Science classes are difficult and need at least 20-30 hours of dedication. But in order to graduate on time, many students have to take multiple science courses at once. In the end, many students who start out as pre-med change their mind after taking biology or organic chemistry, due to the intensity of these courses.

But assuming that you’re okay with all that, and are still interested in the field—what are your chances of getting in? The Colombia School of Physicians and Surgeons had 6,277 applicants last year, and only 314 were accepted. Sometimes, even students who demonstrate excellence in every required field are rejected, because medical schools don’t want a “robot.” But isn’t that just what they’re asking for?

Med schools want applicants to sacrifice so much. But for what? To earn the right to pay $50,000 a year in tuition for another 4 years, then go to residence for up to five years with low pay—ultimately leaving them with a quarter of a million dollars in debt and a difficult search for a reasonable job? Some doctors can’t even find jobs or residencies. Hospitals only employ a certain number of physicians in each department, and fill the rest of the jobs with physician’s assistants and nurses—who, by the way, only had to spend half as much time in schooling. So now think about it. Although the estimated salary for a general physician averages near $200,000 a year, the likelihood of getting a job with your health and your sanity completely intact seems unlikely.

Why is it so hard and expensive to get into these schools? What is it about the title of doctor and that salary that students are willing to sacrifice so much? The job does come with a lot of power and responsibility. Maybe it’s that doctors and surgeons sometimes get the ability to play g-d—the ability to save lives.

I’m not saying that students shouldn’t aspire to such lofty goals, but perhaps the system shouldn’t take so much time and money. If all goes well, one can begin to practice medicine by the time they are thirty. That’s twelve years of higher education, on top of the thirteen before college. Other countries offer medical degrees in six years, and there are accelerated programs in New York, such as the programs at City College and Brooklyn College, that give seven-year BA/MD degrees.

Becoming a doctor is not easy; it takes a lot of determination and will power. But medical schools should understand that undergraduate students’ lives don’t only revolve around school, nor should they. Some students have families of their own, and may not have time to join a club or learn to play the cello. They may not be able to afford to. Almost half of the students seeking to become doctors change their minds by the time they graduate. That’s a lot of dreams broken, due to unrealistic standards and expectations.