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The Long Road to Becoming a Doctor

There’s no shortcut to becoming a doctor. There are ways where you can shave a year or two here or there. You might apply to a combined 6-7 year BA/MD program in the states. You can save a year if you apply abroad (either in the UK, Ireland, Australia, etc) right out of high school. You might end up doing only 2 or 3 years of undergrad and get accepted to a Canadian school that doesn”t require applicants to have a degree. Hundreds of people graduate from 3 year programs at McMaster and Calgary each year. You may even be the youngest graduating medical student of your year, but to become a doctor, and not just someone who can pass licensing exams, takes a lifetime.

What I mean is that graduating in the shortest amount of time or at the youngest age doesn’t make you a doctor. It’s not about how many letters behind your name you obtain or how many hoops you can jump through quickly. To become a “doctor” is more than just having an MD behind your name.

You can’t know what being a doctor is until you have been at it for a while. Some people may take ten years, some twenty, before they are comfortable and aware of what being a doctor means. Your view of medicine and the role you play evolves as you go through your medical training. Your patient encounters shape who you will eventually become.

My view of what being a doctor means four years ago, two years ago and today is constantly changing, and will continue to do so. You began to appreciate and understand life and death in new ways. You meet many people that will alter the way you see the world. You will take care of society’s forgotten and marginalized: drug addicts, people suffering from mental health, homeless citizens, people who have never known what being healthy means.

As I reflect back on the last few years, I remember a time when I was impressed by people who had graduated earlier than their peers, perhaps achieved some big shot position soon after and had a distinguished career established sooner than expected. Now I realize, that’s only a small part of the bigger picture.

I guess my main point is you shouldn’t care about how long it takes for you to become a doctor. Some people have to apply several times before they make it in to medical school. Lots of people have had other careers before they decided to become a doctor. Others have been in school their whole lives and have never known anything else. Whatever the case is, each person becomes a doctor in their own time. And even if a person takes the shortest route (straight from high school, graduates early, chooses the shortest program, etc), it still adds up to a long time. So don’t worry about how long it takes for you to become a doctor but focus on becoming the best doctor you can be.

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  1. Ksenia
    Ksenia March 31, 2011

    I definitely agree with you on your definition of being a doctor. I work with many doctors, be it attendings, residents or fellows and med students and I can definitely echo the fact that age of graduation and how many years in school has little correlation with what kind of doctor a person is. I’ve worked with attendings whom I’ve known since they were an intern and they were great interns then, awesome residents later and outstanding attendings now. And then I’ve worked with people who were awful then and I think “thank God you’re gone.” I’ve worked with cocky docs, nice docs, and mean docs… and truly GOOD ones. I LOVE this post and wish that people wouldn’t just read it, but internalize it. Especially med students… but like you said, I think it takes years of practice to truly “get it” and see it. But then again, like you said, it takes some people much longer than others.

    As for becoming a physician taking a long time… I’m still hoping and impatiently waiting for “my day.” Trying. For many years. It’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but this post was helpful in that, I know that you’re right… it’s just difficult to see it when you’re in the middle of it all, I guess. But makes total sense. Thank you for that, too!

  2. Ralph Victor C. Yap
    Ralph Victor C. Yap April 1, 2011

    “don’t worry about how long it takes for you to become a doctor but focus on becoming the best doctor you can be”

    I AGREE… and I’m posting your quote on my Facebook wall haha Thanks to this post. I’m enlightened. 🙂

    • medaholic
      medaholic April 2, 2011

      Glad you found some inspiration from it.

  3. Ami
    Ami April 4, 2011

    Thank you so much for blogging about this.

    I’ve grown up in a really competitive environment. The path to becoming a doctor was always quite set: finish high school with great grades, finish 4 years undergrad with great grades, go straight to med school, etc. Heck, somewhere in there, I’m pretty sure I even penciled in “get married.”

    From that point of view your post, I think… made me a little bit more sane, at the very least. I’m sure I’m not the only one, but for others who have grown up in an environment similar to mine, it’s very much like a bubble. And you’re competing with those kids whose lives aren’t really any more than a goal to “become a doctor.” For them (us, if I include my pre-enlightened self,) an “M.D.” means doctor… and that’s the defining line.

    So it was good to read from your perspective about the idea that becoming a doctor is a continual process, and that (like we all knew deep down,) the learning never really ends. And even furthermore, on a larger scale, to choose a career that you’re truly passionate about. More than anything, your post reassured me that there’s no real path to becoming a doctor… and personally, I’ve come to realize that there certainly are better, more wholesome ways to become a doctor than the method I’ve been using.

    Thank you.

  4. College Advisor
    College Advisor April 8, 2011

    As a Quebec cegep advisor, I appreciate your words. Students CAN get into med-p directly from our two year science program here. It seems that they often can’t see that not getting in directly can actually benefit them. They will be “so old” by the time they are done. I think much can be gained in the extra years of study, maturity and experiences that a student will go through if they don’t get into med immediately.

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