In medical school application essays, premeds are expected to outline the many reasons why they like medicine. Applicants often highlight the facets of the field that draw them in , such as an interest in human biology or a desire to care for people at times of need. Some even go a step further and make exaggerated assertions that suggest to the reader an idealized or unrealistic understanding of what being a physician is all about.
For example, from time to time we encounter medical school essays where the applicant talks about going into medicine so that he or she can “save lives every day.” One student recently asserted that he wants to be a doctor because there is “never a dull moment in medicine and I would constantly be rushing with adrenaline to deal with anything that comes my way.”
The reality of medicine does not match these idealistic assumptions. Much of what physicians do can be better expressed as managing illness, prolonging life and helping patients navigate the journey of being sick as opposed to saving lives. Moreover, as with many other fields, medicine also has its dull moments. Most doctors would probably agree that the hours they spend documenting patient encounters in detail are not extremely riveting or filled with a rush of adrenaline.
Medical school admissions committees are well aware of the challenges that come with being in the medical profession. They look for applicants who demonstrate a mature understanding of what being a doctor is about — those who have had realistic exposure to the field and recognize the many privileges that come with the title, but also know the limits and hardships involved in being a physician.
Some interviewers may ask applicants to describe what they would enjoy least about being a doctor. The best way to learn about the limitations and challenges of a medical career is to spend time shadowing doctors and perhaps even asking them to share their views about the pros and cons of the field. A few features of the medical profession that make it particularly difficult are highlighted below.
Medicine Is Administrative
It is important to properly chart a patient’s visits to a clinic or hospital so that when that patient follows up, the health care team can understand the patient’s medical history properly. While this is a necessary part of being a physician and important to the continuity of care, it can at times put a great deal of demand on the physician.
The process is even more complicated by the fact that the American health care system is highly litigious, which leads doctors to practice what some refer to as “defensive medicine.” This means taking every necessary measure to cover themselves from potential lawsuits, including extensively documenting all details of the patient encounter in the event that the doctor is sued.
This extensive documentation can take away from time spent with patients and be very demanding. Many physicians report that this aspect of the work makes their job less enjoyable.
Much of a Patient’s Health Is Influenced By Factors Outside a Doctor’s Control
Imagine you are a doctor taking care of a middle-aged man with a history of diabetes, elevated cholesterol, obesity and a previous heart attack. This patient is at higher risk for having a future heart attack or stroke, and part of the strategy for preventing such outcomes involves lifestyle modification. This means ensuring that the patient has access to healthy foods as well as the time to take part in physical activity.
But if the patient has to work two jobs to make ends meet for his family, does not live in a neighborhood where he can easily access or afford healthy foods and does not have time for daily exercise, making these lifestyle modifications can be hard. All these factors will affect his outcome but are beyond your control, making it difficult to avert future unfavorable outcomes.
As a physician, it can be frustrating to see that certain key aspects of a patient’s well-being are beyond your control and difficult to modify.
Insurance Companies Can Dictate the Choices Physicians Can Make
Imagine if, in the example above, you want to perform an imaging study on this patient to better assess the status of his heart and decide what future treatments he may need. You deem this imaging test as necessary, but the patient’s insurance company does not approve the test because of the costs involved.
Such scenarios where insurance companies override a physician’s clinical judgment can be frustrating and limit the scope of practice. Many doctors dislike this, as they feel that it takes away their autonomy and undermines their clinical judgment.
Medicine Is a Physically Demanding Career
Most premed students understand that going into a career in medicine requires sacrifices like time spent away from family and limited opportunities to engage in outside interests. Less discussed, however, is how physically taxing a career in medicine can be, especially during training. Even after their training days, many physicians work long days, sacrificing sleep, not eating properly and putting strain on their bodies to provide care for their patients.
Depending on what specialty a physician chooses, such physical demands can add to the other challenges of being in the medical profession.
Nevertheless, these challenges should not deter premed students from pursuing the medical profession if they are passionate about the work. Doctors who love their work often state that the time spent dealing with the nuisances is worth it. Some physicians even take on leadership roles to address challenges such as the bureaucratic inefficiencies in medicine or the lack of access to healthy lifestyle options for underserved patients.
If you are determined to be a doctor, it is important to show that you understand the difficulties involved and are willing to tackle them head on. One of the most effective ways to do so is to gain extensive exposure to the field of medicine in your premed journey. By doing so, you can draw on such experiences in your medical school application to show that although you know medicine can be difficult, you also understand the many positive opportunities it affords.
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4 Medical Career Challenges That Premed Students Should Weigh originally appeared on usnews.com