Consider seriously whether you really want to become a physician or any health professional. Remember that there are numerous professions available within the world of health care (visit www.explorehealthcareers.org for a comprehensive list and background information on specific health professional fields). Not all pre-health students seek careers in allopathic medicine (M.D.) and it is not the only career that provides the opportunity to help others. Pre-Health advisors work with students to explore their options within the various health professions.
The decision to become a health professional should not be made in the classroom alone. Spend some time researching and speaking to professionals, faculty, current students, and alumni in the field of interest. Your own experiences should provide you with a realistic perspective of the health care field and confirm your reasons for pursuing the profession. It is not enough to say, "I want to be a doctor, or dentist, etc." Experience serving people in need is the best way to test your interest in your chosen profession. You should consider exploring your future career and gaining a better understanding by pursuing a number of extracurricular activities, such as community service and leadership, shadowing, clinical volunteering, student clubs and organizations, and study abroad opportunities. It is critical that you be as sure as possible that becoming a physician or any health professional is what you really want to do.
Reflect and ask yourself whether your personality fits this choice of career, and that you understand what a typical day of being a health professional is like. Becoming a health professional requires hard work, maturity, scientific ability, discipline, sacrifice, and a spirit of compassion. It is essential that you apply to a health professional school when you are ready, both emotionally and intellectually. Note: Medicine, in particular, is an immensely demanding profession, and anyone who contemplates entering medical school needs to take the time to get a clear picture of the realities of this profession and of your own strengths, weaknesses, needs and aspirations.
Carefully consider whether you are able to meet the financial and time commitments of any health professional school. You must commit time and often many years to obtain credentials needed for licensing purposes. For example--a degree in medicine requires four years of academic study of which two years are dedicated to the sciences and two years to clinical rotations. Upon graduation, students enter residency programs that can last three to eight years depending on the medical specialty chosen to pursue. Training in family practice, general internal medicine, and general pediatrics can take three years; general surgery requires five years; and subspecialty training in disciplines such as plastic or neurological surgery may involve another two or three years. In addition, you then have a commitment to your patients. Often, health professional careers may include emergencies and long hours. Different specialties have varying levels of responsibility. Think about the kind of lifestyle you envision for yourself and your family.
Applying to medical school is a highly competitive process, where the demand is much greater than the number of available seats in U.S. schools. Regardless of whether you have a 4.0 or a 3.0, it is always best to have a backup plan-- a Plan B. Even if you feel that your application is very competitive, having a backup plan is important. You may, in fact, come across other health-related careers that you find just as fulfilling and rewarding.