There was a time during undergrad when I wanted to pursue both medical school and graduate school. Both pathways appealed to me and I did not know what I wanted to do. As a biology and physics major, I was a devout science follower. The chance of discovery new science and expanding the boundaries of human knowledge made a graduate degree in the sciences convincing. Similarly, I was equally excited over the idea that as a doctor, I could care for patients and help people during profound moments in life.
However, what made the decision easier for me was the significant overlap between the two choices and some special aspects that medicine had that pushed me to pursue med school.
Science – If I pursued grad school, I would have done scientific research. As a medical student, I would learn the science of physiology, pathology, pharmacology and the applied science of medicine. I love science, so either way worked for me because I knew I would find intellectually challenging work.
Research – For research, both pathways offered plenty of chances to do basic bench work or clinical research. The advantage of being a grad student is that you would have dedicated time to concentrate and become proficient at conducting research. You would have specified mentors that would train, teach and help you along the way. Yet, I knew that as a medical student, there were just as many opportunities to do research. In fact, the scope of scientific research might be enriched with the clinical aspect. Furthermore, with an MD, I could use it as leverage for better projects and funding.
Teaching – Another aspect that was important to me was the opportunity to teach. As a graduate student, you would start off as a TA or an assistant teaching undergraduates. With persistence and some luck, you might get an faculty position and begin to co-teach classes. And if you hopefully get tenured, you might be able to finally teach the classes you like in the way you like. On the other hand, as a medical doctor you get to teach all the time. Whether it’s through advising patients on their health or teaching new residents and medical students, the teaching opportunities are there. Furthermore, if you wanted to, you could always pursue academic medicine and have the chance to teach in the classroom.
Duration – The education time line for both were more or less equal. As a graduate student, you would spend around 3-6 years working your post-graduate degree while being paid peanuts. As a med student, you first spend 3-4 more years in med school followed with a 3-7 year residency where you are paid peanuts and a bit more. Both choices involved more schooling. To me, this was not the deciding factor. And if medicine didn’t work out, I could always get a PhD afterwards…
The reason why I chose a life of medicine over that of a scientist is the patient. Practicing medicine involves treating and helping people not diseases and I knew I wanted to work with people. The doctor-patient relationship is truly a special and unique partnership. I think that’s why a lot of med students and doctors are drawn to the profession in the first place. As a grad student, I wouldn’t have that same interaction. There’s something rewarding about being responsible for and caring for someone when they are vulnerable and need help the most.
Medicine exposes you to many of life’s most profound moments: Birth, Sickness, Death.
The chance for work with and serve patients, the sick and weak, is why I chose medicine. Besides, many of the other factors like science, research, teaching are also an important and integral part of medicine.