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Advice to a Premed


Getting into medical school is a numbers game. Like innovation, the prime determinant of success is the number of times you try.

Many parents and students are scratching their heads when it comes to choosing medicine as a career choice. After all, there is all the noise and naysayers, grumpy doctors, student debt averaging $170,000 a year, opportunity costs due to the time it takes to become a doctor, and all the rest.

I recently had a dental school faculty colleague ask me to talk to his nephew about medicine as a career. Here was the gist of the conversation:

1. There has never been a more exciting time to become a healthcare professional if you have an entrepreneurial mindset. Not so much if you are a technician.

2. Given the quality and quantity of medical school applicants, getting into medical school is a numbers game. About 75% has to do with aptitude and the rest is luck. The criteria to select applicants is not predictive of outcomes, so just accept the fact that it is what it is. Just continue to memorize stuff.

3. Don't take rejection personally. Failure builds character. But, only if you take personal responsibility and move forward with lessons learned.

4. Always, always have Plan B. You never know when you will be one of the whitecoats that gets the pink slip.

5. The only thing that will be more challenging than getting rejected will be getting accepted.

6. Choosing a specialty is like dating. It will mostly depend on the people you meet and how they have influenced you. Each specialty has a different personality that, like dating, will take about 30 seconds to determine whether you like it or not.

7. Self-selecting a specialty is remarkably efficient if you follow your heart. Very few residents change specialties in mid-training.

8. There are many more opportunities now to help patients than seeing 20 a day for 40 years. Build a portfolio career and invest in it often and early just as you would your retirement plan.

9. Interviewing is usually done by unskilled interviewers interviewing unskilled applicants. It's a performance. Know your lines and practice, practice, practice. Usually, people choose others who are just like them, so be prepared to improvise.

10. As a psychology major, you could create an entire career around patient/consumer behavior and social media.

Getting into medical school is a numbers game. Like innovation, the prime determinant of success is the number of times you try. Like I said, go in with an entrepreneurial mindset. Just don't tell the medical school interviewer that you have no intention of practicing medicine because you just want the MD after your name for the credibility in the biotech startup community. That's a non-starter.

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Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice
Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice