Pursuing a career in the medical field can be one of the smartest, most fulfilling and financially sound choices a veteran can make.
From medical technicians to nurses and physical therapists, there are hundreds of well-paying and satisfying jobs to choose from. For a select few who are willing and able to undertake the journey, medical school can provide career opportunities that are unparalleled in the healthcare industry.
Of course, the road to becoming a doctor isn’t easy. Though veterans are tough, determined and resourceful, there are unique challenges they face along the way. Veterans are often older than their medical school peers, and going to medical school later in life can be a unique challenge by itself. The choice to take on that challenge can be daunting.
If you’re considering medical school for your post-military plans, here are a couple of points to consider.
Think About Your Life Goals
Is it worth going to medical school? That all depends on you. If the idea of becoming a doctor is appealing to you, you probably already know whether or not you like the idea of saving lives and getting your hands a little bit messy, but there’s more to it than that. Consider the time required to complete medical school. Even if you’ve already completed your bachelor’s degree, medical school requires four additional years of schooling. Tack on three more years learning as a resident and you have more than a decade of commitment before you can practice medicine as a fully qualified doctor.
Whether or not the time involved is worthwhile depends on your goals and life circumstance. There is no simple equation for figuring it out. Family requirements, age, GI Bill eligibility, economic factors, willingness to endure hardship – all of these things can influence a decision that only you can make. The most important thing is to consider it early. The last thing you want is to get halfway through the process and realize that being a doctor might not be for you after all.
Start Preparing for Med School Now
Whether you’re preparing to start school for the first time or you’re already working on your bachelor’s degree, start planning for med school right away. Medical school admissions can be incredibly competitive, and simply passing your courses and hoping you get in isn’t going to cut it. C’s may get degrees, but they don’t get you into the school you want. Seek out mentors, learn about the intricacies of the process, and work hard to keep that GPA as high as possible.
If you’re still looking for an undergraduate school, keep in mind that where you study as an undergrad can make a difference in where you wind up. Med school applications are looked at by people, and like it or not those people are aware of which schools produce the best candidates. Doing pre-med work at a university with a prestigious medical program like Johns Hopkins University can help you, not only because of the quality of education or reputation, but because the people you meet are knowledgeable and well-placed and can give you more in-depth and relevant advice than you could gather from, say, an Internet article.
Understand the Med School Application Process
There is a lot that goes into a med school application. Some of it is just about checking boxes and including the right information – which can be ignored until the last minute. Some of it needs to be handled well in advance. The important thing is to know the difference. The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is required for a med school application package, but studying for it well in advance can help boost the score and increase your odds of getting notice by one of your preferred schools. Undergraduate grade point average matters too, but that is much more difficult to fix once it gets hindered.
Medical schools look for intelligence, diligence, initiative and leadership from candidates. When it comes to those last two items, veterans have a leg up. Civilian peers might tout being promoted to senior barista in their part-time job, but veterans can give real-world examples of what it’s like to perform under pressure. Taking the time to understand the process from peers, mentors and your own research means that you can set the groundwork for a strong, compelling case to the admissions board of your preferred school.
Be Aware of Financial Factors
The wealthy doctor driving his or her luxury car to the country club for a round of golf is an image that’s so common that it’s become a cliché. While it’s true that doctors are generally well-paid, making an average of more than $180,000 per year, that number doesn’t tell the whole story. Not only can a doctor’s salary vary significantly depending on experience, specialty and geographic area, but a new doctor has also been largely taken out of the workforce for a decade and amassed a mountain of student loans.
In the long run, the high pay of a practicing doctor overcomes those disadvantages, but in the meantime, debt can be a significant problem for new doctors. One area that is available to med students who have served in the military is the various veteran medical scholarships that are often made available in addition to regular grants and scholarships. Another prudent step to keep student loans low is to try to take additional classes as an undergraduate. Because the Post-9/11 GI Bill is based on a set amount of time, in some instances graduation can be dramatically accelerated by taking an additional class or two per semester. Even if you’re not using the GI Bill, some schools charge a flat rate for full-time tuition, making it financially smart to take as many courses as you realistically can to complete your bachelor’s degree a few semesters early.
Becoming a doctor is tough. It requires brains and determination in equal measure. The competitive nature of the field means that the initiative and perseverance you learned in the military are likely to come in handy. If you’re interested in medical school, do your homework, prepare for the challenge and take the first step. It’s going to be a long, interesting journey.