"I need a nurse in here!!"
June 5, 2009 8:45 AM   Subscribe

I want to be a doctor. I'm 18. What do I need to do now to ensure the best possible route to getting there?

Background info:
Finishing high school right now, with an average of around 90-ish (maybe a bit more, not sure). My marks are often craptastic because I was quite careless about school this year due to other issues going on.
I live in Israel, so I've got two years of mandatory army duty before I even think about university.
I'm a Canadian citizen, so if anyone can recommend programs and the like in Canada that would work well.
I'm really interested in internal medicine and pediatrics. I used to be all about psychiatry and neurology, although not as much lately, but that might come back over the next two years.
In Israel you can start studying medicine straight away, instead of doing a bachelor's first. Is this a good idea? I mean, it saves time, but is a Canadian med degree worth more than an Israeli degree? Also, I'm stronger in English than Hebrew.

Becoming a doctor sounds really really difficult and daunting. How do I make myself attractive to universities? (volunteering, etc). How do I learn as much as I can? How do I decide which field is best for me?

Help me start planning my dream.

Disclosure: I realize this sounds kind of dumb. "I want to start my bachelor's in 3 years and I think maybe after that I'd like to become a doctor." But I know myself, and I know that when things look big and scary I run away and when I break them down into bite-size pieces I can do anything, really. So help me break this down, please.
posted by alon to Grab Bag (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: (I also know that I've wanted to be a doctor since I was 12, so this probably won't change anytime soon).
posted by alon at 8:46 AM on June 5, 2009

I just started volunteering at a local free medical clinic. I have no interest in going to med school, just doing it for fun really. However, when I went to the volunteer orientation, there was a college senior and a high school senior, both eventually on the way to med school. The college senior told the high school senior that she wished she had started volunteering earlier instead of trying to cram it all in at the end.

So, start volunteering now instead of later. An extended and/or varied volunteer experience will likely look better on med school applications.
posted by chiababe at 8:50 AM on June 5, 2009

1) Figure out whether you've got the people skills to do it. I wanted to be a neurosurgeon until I figured out I'd rather do research than clinical work. Now I'm on track to become a professor. Besides, I'm just not a people person.

2) I suggest you get your bachelor's degree first. You'll have a better understanding of basic biology, chemistry, and physics. The basic sciences are important in the understanding of brains, guts, and arteries.

3) Good programs in Canuckistan are Toronto and McGill. At the same time, those require bachelor's degrees.
posted by kldickson at 8:54 AM on June 5, 2009

I'm not a doctor, but my wife is. We live in NYC and she has colleagues who did medical school in Canada and Israel. My outsider perspective is that you should think about where you want to end up eventually, and let that guide your decision of where to go to school. Figure out the requirements to practice in your country of preference, then work backwards to what is the best degree program to complete.

For example, my wife has a Canadian colleague who went to med school in Israel and is doing his residency in NY. They want to move back to Canada, eventually, which means he has to do an extra PGY year that wouldn't be required to practice in the states. He's tacking that onto his residency here before moving back.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 9:09 AM on June 5, 2009

Is there any sort of emergency medicine/medic track during your Army duty? That might be the best place to start getting some interesting experience and confirming that it's something you want to stick with.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:19 AM on June 5, 2009

Response by poster: Is there any sort of emergency medicine/medic track during your Army duty?

There are paramedics, but they need to have a physical profile of 97 (for girls) and due to joint problems my physical profile is lower. I can be a regular medic, but that just means sitting in a room on an army base and giving people slips to go see doctors, or aspirin or something. Which doesn't sound great...
posted by alon at 9:26 AM on June 5, 2009

If you're a Canadian citizen, what's keeping you from moving back to Canada to go to university and skip the Israeli army duty? If you don't have Israeli citizenship, I don't see why you have any obligation to serve.
posted by zsazsa at 9:31 AM on June 5, 2009

Best answer: You might want to consider looking for a combined program, where you get both your BA and MD in 6-7 years, if you're POSITIVE you want to become a doctor. There are many of these programs in the United States (where I live), but I have no idea what the cost would be for a foreigner (look into it, if you're interested). Likewise, Canadian schools cost more & have harder admissions if you don't have residency in the province (although still cheaper than in the US). The best part of a combined program is that you have a spot in medical school provided your grades stay good.

Your life might change a lot in the next few years, but if you'd like to keep becoming a doctor a possibility, know this: 80% of getting into med school is GPA & scores. When you do take your prerequisites in chemistry, biology, etc. (the websites of various med schools have their admission requirements posted), do as well as you possibly can. Making sure everything in your life is set up so that you are certain you will do well in your coursework before you start is way more important than loading up on extracurricular/volunteering. However, I recommend extracurriculars and volunteering for both the learning experiences and to have a good life balance contra study. It's always important to stay healthy mentally and physically.

You can take prerequisites just about anywhere, but it's a little easier if you take them all at the same institution. Lots of schools will collect your letters of recommendation for you and send them to med schools you apply to. The most important factor is to go where you can learn the best. Taking biology is nicer when there are only 50 other students than when there are 500. A professor who likes to teach might be more available than a professor who leaves the teaching to his/her assistants. Look into this kind of thing before deciding where to take classes. Go where you feel comfortable and you have good support (or can make new friends), and where you will do well.

More information: The book Becoming a Physician is a recommended read, and you can get loads of advice (some good, some mixed) at the StudentDoctor forums. Good luck.
posted by irv4oh at 9:46 AM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I don't know much about applying in Canada or Israel, but I can give you some advice that helped me when applying in the states.
1) Do as much volunteering and shadowing as you can. Shadowing tells you whether or not this is something you really want to do. Volunteering, which is something you should do for reasons other than the resume bump, will also probably help considerably. If it is a positive experience, then it also gives you something to write about in your personal statement/secondaries.

2) Get a bachelor's degree. I don't know how it works in other countries, but there is at least one combined degree six-year program in the US that I looked at when applying. I was told not to apply there because if you don't make it through, you end up with a barebones liberal arts degree - none of your medicine coursework applies to your undergrad degree. If you get a bachelor's, even if medical school doesn't work out, you'll be more employable.

3) Get a bachelor's degree in something interesting and/or something useful. I majored in biochemistry, and I got in just fine, but now find myself realizing that the degree didn't help me *that* much, and wishing that I had majored in something a little more fun. You're going to have to take prerequisites if you go this route anyway, and the hard science major won't give you that much of a leg up. Then again, if you're interested in it, go right ahead and major in whatever you want.

4) I would disagree somewhat with irv4oh on the point that scores and GPA make up 80% of getting in. Certainly, they're important, and I don't want to dispute that. But it was my experience (and that of several of my friends) that scores and GPA were what got them through the first round, and got them interviews, but what got them in were phenomenal interviews and experiences worth talking about. That said, if you're awkward in one-on-one conversations, PRACTICE. Go on mock interviews when available, have friends/parents practice and quiz you, join Toastmasters - whatever you have to do to get comfortable answering very personal questions about your life to total strangers.

5) Make friends with your professors. Make sure they know your name. Don't be an annoyance to them, but if you can find a reason to stop by and ask a question during office hours, do it. Many of my professors wouldn't write recommendations for students they didn't know - and why should they? What value is a recommendation that says only "Student X had a 98 in my class and seems to be a very dedicated student"?

Anyway - best of luck with your decision and with military service!
posted by honeybee413 at 9:59 AM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

I agree with the advice above, and add:
Do a lot of non-medical things. Study a lot of non-medical things. All that stuff that some people claim to be impractical or useless, like literature, or history, or art or music? That's what will make you a great physician.

Be a good person first, and always.
Thus is the way of rotato.
posted by herrdoktor at 10:03 AM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Step number one: Never, under any circumstance, post drunk pictures of you and your buddies on facebook, et al.
posted by phrakture at 11:43 AM on June 5, 2009 [3 favorites]

Look into the programs you want to get into (as already stated UofT and McGill, as well as McMaster all have great programs) and make sure you take the prerequisites for them in your undergrad degree.

BUT do not think you have to major in a 'pre-med' undergrad degree, or even a science subject to get into med school. Pre-med degrees (at least from my experience in Canadian universities) are just over competitive, extra expensive quasi-biology degrees. Since only a certain number of people can progress from year to year, people literally sabotage others because of this. This isn't just me and other bio-grad students who think this, I have heard senior faculty say people are stupid for taking that program.

Do a degree in a subject you enjoy and are interested in. If you can volunteer with professors, do so as that is how you will get good references. Finally, Study and do well in school, but also remember to have friends and a social life. The interview is an important part of getting into med school and that requires you to be able to interact well with others.
posted by Midnight Rambler at 12:27 PM on June 5, 2009

3) Good programs in Canuckistan are Toronto and McGill. At the same time, those require bachelor's degrees.
posted by kldickson at 11:54 AM on June 5 [+] [!]

In Ontario, McMaster is as respected as Toronto, if not more.

That said - getting into a Canadian medical school is a crapshoot, at least in Ontario. There are people with 3.8 GPAs and Masters in health science who aren't getting in. You may want to consider that before you do 4 years of undergrad, if you can get into a medicine program in Israel. All internationally trained doctors in Ontario have to basically do some exams and some residency - it's stupidly onerous (protectionist doctors' union), but if you plan ahead you may be able to do a Canadian residency instead of Israeli.
posted by jb at 5:30 PM on June 5, 2009

Best answer: First off, I think you can afford to take a deep breath here. I know the process is daunting, but you're looking at 2 yrs in the IDF and perhaps you should focus on this first.

1. The first question is where do you want to live. If you want to live in Canada, aim to study here. If you want to live in Israel, stay there. To answer your question about the quality of education in Israel - I can't really say first hand though I think it's generally very good. At Canadian medical schools, the quality of undergraduate medical education is generally the same throughout the country. (Different south of the border)

Probably the only way a Canadian degree is "worth more" than an Israeli one is if you wanted to train in the states or in Europe. These degrees are generally accepted at par with each other, so getting through credentialing is easier. (As an analogy, you might choose to travel with your Canadian Passport because that's just easier too.)

2. Grades. Take a breather here as well. Don't know about Israel, but in Canada you won't get into any medical school without university eduction. In short, your High School grades don't really matter at all. They'll help you get into the school of your choice for undergrad, but that's about it.

Grades do become very important when applying to medical school. Most schools will use some combination of GPA and MCAT to create a cutoff value used to select the number of applicants they plan to interview. Some schools will not compare grades amongst the students they've chosen to interview, others probably do.

3. Volunteer. I completely agree with honeybee. People think they need a laundry list of volunteer experiences, but it's not true. What you need is valuable experience outside of school (volunteer, work, research, maybe even army) that has allowed you to reflect on yourself and your growth. An experience is valuable if it has given you further insight into yourself and why you want to study medicine. In my view, this is one of the most important parts of medical school interviews.

4. Flexibility in the future - I guess this relates to where you want to live. If you study in Israel you can work here, but usually it's not easy. I could go into details, but it's always changing, so there's not much point.

5. Which field of medicine is best for you. I have no idea - and neither should you. Most people who come to interviews claiming they want to be an x, y, or z, look a bit foolish, because how on earth do they know already? As an interviewer, I would be pleased that you have an open mind and diverse interests. Figuring out what you want to do is the biggest part of the hidden curriculum in medical school. Worry about it then.

6. On the point that you don't want to be a standard paramedic because it's boring. Just remember that no matter what you do, the day-to-day bread and butter of medicine is repetitive. Much of your training is for stuff that (fortunately) rarely happens. So writing notes and prescriptions will be a big part of your day.

Anyway, that's enough for now. Hope it helps. Good luck.
posted by commissioner12 at 6:21 PM on June 5, 2009

My father, an Israeli citizen, studied medicine at the University of Vienna and Hebrew University, then did his residency in the US, and has practiced here (as a psychiatrist) ever since. (He now also has American citizenship.) This was, however, fifty years ago, and I don't know what the rules are like these days. But, if you are unsure where you want to settle, an Israeli medical degree might be portable, so it's worth looking into.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 9:15 PM on June 5, 2009

Response by poster: zsazsa: I'm also an Israeli citizen. And I'm enlisting, there's no question about that, although that discussion is unrelated to this thread.
posted by alon at 2:47 AM on June 6, 2009

Best answer: I've just graduated from a Canadian medical school, so I'll try to offer suggestions from my perspective:

- From what I've seen, if at all possible, do your training in Canada (or the US) if you want to practice in Canada. Otherwise, you have to go through a lot of hassle with extra residency training, return-of-service agreements, (even more) intense residency position competition, etc. If you want to do residency in Canada, you will be considered an international medical graduate despite your Canadian citizenship if you've trained outside Canada/US.

- If you're considering Canadian medical schools, it does feel a bit like a crapshoot. Do volunteer activities that you're interested in and can speak passionately about in an interview. Don't be president of the premed society just because you think it will look good on a resume - it has to go farther than that. Trust me, having interviewed candidates, you can tell when someone did something just for the checkmark on their list.

- Grades are important for getting into Canadian med schools. However, only your undergrad grades are taken into account when applying to med school. Some schools will only look at certain years, if that works out more favourably for you. Each school is different in the way it calculates GPA. Each school also has different MCAT cutoffs.

- Do a degree you're interested in, not just a LifeSci degree because "it's kinda like medicine". This degree DOES NOT have to be completed at the University of Toronto or McGill University to be considered "a good degree". This is a line of thinking that seems to be transplanted from the US where school ranking seems to be a really, really big deal. The situation is not equivalent in Canada. There are plenty of good universities in Canada with lower costs of living and interesting programs. In my class, there were of course people from UofT, but also from Brock, Simon Fraser, MUN, Dalhousie, UNB, etc.

- Check out the Student Doctor forums, but I would also recommend the Canadian Premed and Medical School forums. You will encounter stressed out pre-med freakouts on both forums, but overall, the Canadian board is more (obviously) geared toward Canadian schools and maybe a little calmer.

- As for figuring out what specialty you want to go into, save that for when you're in med school. I, and many of my classmates, didn't figure it out until I was applying for residency. Right now, you have to figure out if you want to be a doctor. This involves a lot of work with the public, with teams, and can involve difficult and stressful situations. Try to figure out if you like/can work in these environments, which can also be found outside the medical field. Beyond that, look into other health professional occupations. Figure out why you DON'T want to be a nurse, physiotherapist, pharmacist, paramedic, etc. Of course, it's good to have an answer as these questions come up in interviews, but it's also important to figure out for yourself to ensure you're going into the profession that most suits you.

Good luck!
posted by flying kumquat at 1:00 PM on June 8, 2009

Does the Israeli military let you train within a specific division, like medicine or health care, once your more-basic training is complete?
posted by mdonley at 7:18 AM on July 4, 2009

Response by poster: Does the Israeli military let you train within a specific division, like medicine or health care, once your more-basic training is complete?

If you're a combat soldier, you can volunteer to train as a medic. I am not going to be a combat soldier and I cannot be a combat medic or anything combat because my physical profile is too low.
posted by alon at 2:48 AM on July 8, 2009

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