And many students are taking the plunge. According to the Association of
American Medical Colleges (AAMC), almost 42,231 individuals applied to attend
medical school in 2008.
Higher enrollment numbers are good news for the medical community, which
is facing a shortage of doctors.
"The Council on Graduate Medical Education (COGME) has concluded that if
physician practice patterns remain as they are, demand for physicians would
exceed supply by 2020," says Judi Engle. She is the director of public relations
at Wright State University in Ohio.
But just how hard is medical school?
"A major difference between medical school and undergraduate work is the
amount of material students must master," says Engle. "Academic preparation,
motivation, perseverance, time management and good study skills are critical."
Thomas Koenig is the associate dean for student affairs at Johns Hopkins
University School of Medicine. "It's a demanding course of study not just
in terms of time, but emotionally and physically," he says.
"Students should realize that medical school is different than other types
of study. There is a patient waiting at the end that needs to know you have
mastered the material to a level to be able to care for them."
Shauna Nast is a third-year medical student. She expected to devote most
of her time to studying -- and that's what happened. "No more cramming right
before exams, that's for sure!"
However, there were things she didn't expect. "I didn't realize how extroverted
the educational process would be. Most of my time at school or at the hospital
is spent communicating with other students, doctors, patients and staff. As
someone who has always enjoyed her time alone, this has required some personal
Medical school is pricey. According to the Association of American Medical
Colleges, in 2004-2005, the average tuition and fees for first-year medical
students at public schools was about $19,000. For students at private schools,
average resident tuition was $35,000.
Then there are books, housing and other living expenses.
"State-supported schools are becoming more expensive as the cost burden
is shifting from the state to the student," says Engle. "Financial aid, in
the form of scholarships and loans, is readily available, however."
Nast says her school was pretty up front about tuition costs for each year.
And she found ways to save in other areas.
"I did find that it was possible to 'cut corners' with books and supplies.
All the 'required' texts are available in the school library, the Internet
is a phenomenal medical resource, and all one really needs in terms of supplies
is a stethoscope," she says.
The Association of American Medical Colleges found that among med school
students who graduated in 2007 with a loan, the average debt was $139,517.
It helps to remember that in the long run, most doctors are able to pay
off those debts. But that doesn't mean it'll happen right away.
"Regardless of what specialty one enters, one will have the ability to
pay off loans and live comfortably," says Engle.
"Medical school is followed by three to seven years of residency or specialty
training, so one should be prepared to delay financial rewards.
"Resident salaries are modest but comparable to income levels for college
graduates entering the job market...On average, doctors make about $160,000
a year, but this amount can vary depending on where physicians live and what
type of medical specialty they practice."
Quoting a recent survey, a Virginia Business online article says that specialists
in fields such as radiology or orthopedic surgery are getting salary offers
as high as $500,000.
But money shouldn't be your only motivation for entering the field.
"Without commitment, students may clear the academic hurdles but wouldn't
be successful in the broader sense within medicine," says Koenig. "We need
smart, excellent students, but we also need excellent people."
If you're considering medical school, be sure to think about whether you
are suited to the life of a physician and all that it entails.
"Pursuit of knowledge, shouldering responsibility of caring for others...this
is what students need to look at in themselves," says Koenig. "Those are
the things I question people about."