So You Want to Be a Doctor?

(c) My College Planning Team - doctor
(c) My College Planning Team – So you want to be a doctor?

Planning on Pre-med?

Over the years, I have encountered more than a few students who are interested in pursuing medicine.  This is some basic information that I always share for those who plan to become a doctor.

High School Coursework

Any student interested in medicine (or any field in the sciences, for that matter) should make sure to take 4 years of science and math at the highest level of their ability (i.e., take whatever honors or AP classes possible.) In particular, it is extremely important to take at least one year of high school Biology, one year of Chemistry, and one year of Physics. Some students ask about taking AP Biology or Chemistry instead of Physics and that is a terrible mistake. Physics will help a student’s understanding of the other sciences and it will come up again later in college, so take the Physics in high school!

College Coursework

It does NOT matter what your major is in college or if the college has a pre-med program. All students interested in medicine should take the following:

One year of Calculus

One year of Biology with lab

One year of Chemistry with lab

One year of Organic Chemistry with lab

One year of Physics with lab

One semester of an English class (not required of all med schools)

One semester of Psychology (not required of all med schools)

At least one semester of a higher level Biology class, preferably Biochemistry


These are the standardized tests required for medical school. Most students take them in the spring semester junior year of college if they plan to go to medical school right after college.

Post-Baccalaureate Courses

Post-bac courses are for students who do not complete the required pre-med courses in college but still want to pursue medical school. These programs are typically taken after college graduation. They might be both academically intense and expensive.

Types of Medical Schools

There are two major types of medical degrees.  The MD or Medical Degree is the traditional route that students most often pursue. There is also the DO degree or Doctor of Osteopathy. The Osteopathic schools often place more emphasis on patient-doctor relationships, alternative methods of treatment and prevention than the traditional medical degree.  Students should research both options before they apply to medical schools to see which is the best fit.  The process of medical school planning is complex; a good starting source of information is the AAMC.

Personal Characteristics

There is much room for thought and debate here but the most successful candidates usually show the following traits:

  1. A real love for science and learning in general. Years and years are spent taking science courses, doing research and reading science journals, so this is not something that can ever be faked.
  2. An authentic interest in helping people. Doing any kind of community service, working in a hospital, or tutoring are all ways that a student can find out if they enjoy working with people. Doctors spend years helping people so it is important that they genuinely enjoy meeting and knowing different types of people.
  3. A penchant for problem solving. Most patients go to doctors when something is not right. So most medical training is centered on the idea of finding the cause of the problem and treating it.
  4. A willingness to sacrifice. Students in training to become medical professionals spend years studying, working and not sleeping so they can practice medicine. This is a not a sacrifice that can be taken lightly.

Suggestions for Future Doctors

  1. Keep a journal. Ask yourself why you want to be a doctor.  Knowing your reasons will help you stay motivated and persist through several hard years and challenges.
  2. Read, read, read. One of my new favorites is Paul Kalanithi’s book, “When Breath Becomes Air” which is a true life story of a doctor who becomes a terminally ill patient.  Books like these will help you realize if medicine is your future goal.
  3. Have a back-up plan. Medical training is a long hard road.  You should aim and hope for the best but have other things in mind in case things change along the way.  Most college pre-med courses are the same as other health professions so you may be well set up for another science career if medicine does not work out.

Do you want to talk more about becoming a doctor?  Want to choose an undergraduate school that will be supportive in your endeavors?  Talk to us at My College Planning Team so we can help you come up with a plan that works best for you!



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