So you want to be a doctor? (or a Dentist, or a Veterinarian, or a Pharmacist...)
During high school, you should seriously start to ask yourself, "What do I really want to be when I grow up?" This question can lead you to consider a college major, but it should also have you assess your interests and potential career paths. While it's still early enough for you to explore and change your mind with minimal consequence, the earlier you begin learning about your career options, the more likely you will be able to make a choice that's right for you.
This web site provides a range of basic information to help you learn about career options in professional health care. You should also learn more about yourself and how to begin determining whether a profession health care career is right for you.
If you are interested in a health care career, you should take as much science, math, and social science courses as possible while in high school. Because there is a strong focus on college-level science prerequisites for medical and other health professions schools, having the strongest possible science and math background in high school will help you get off to the best possible start in college. Additionally, because the health professions are people-focused, most health professions schools are increasing their emphasis in social science/cultural study preparation.
What classes should I take to prepare for a college pre-health professions curriculum?
- Biology (1 year minimum, with lab)
- Chemistry (1 year minimum, with lab)
- Physics (1 year, with lab)
- Mathematics (4 years - at least through trigonometry/pre-calculus)
- English literature and composition (4 years)
- Foreign language (2 years minimum)
- Psychology or sociology (if available)
What about Advanced Placement classes?
Advanced Placement (AP) classes are an excellent opportunity to learn information that is typically covered in college introductory-level courses. However, many people mistakenly believe that AP courses are designed to "get you out of" college course requirements. Instead, AP courses are intended to give students a broad understanding of introductory material in a discipline so they can go on to take advanced-level work within the same discipline. For example, at Xavier we give General Biology Lecture credit to students who earn a score of 4 or 5 on the AP test, but we do require them to audit the lecture sections of the science courses along with taking the co-requisite laboratory course.
One of the reasons we require this, is that many health professions schools - especially medical schools - will not allow students to use AP courses to fulfill entrance requirements without advanced work in the AP area. Professional schools? academic programs are extremely vigorous, so they want to see your academic performance in real college courses rather than in advanced high school courses.
If you are considering a career in medicine, ask yourself these questions:
- Do you succeed in your science classes or do you struggle? What is your favorite subject to study? What motivates you to work your hardest?
- Do you successfully learn?and remember?large amounts of factual information, or are you better at "learning by doing?"
- Do you perform well on standardized exams?
- List your volunteer and work experiences. What aspects of these experiences did you most enjoy and which did you least enjoy? Which did you look forward to participating in and which did you dread?
- Look back on the various times when you have come in contact with sick people. What were your reactions to the people and to their conditions?
- In which of the following situations are you most comfortable and least comfortable: a highly structured environment? an unsupervised environment? needing to think quickly to solve a problem? interacting with a widely diverse group of people? working with your hands? How do you react to stress and pressure from other people?
- When you are in a group, are you typically a leader, a follower, or an active participant but not the leader?
- How do you define "success?"
There are no right or wrong answers; however, negative responses to certain questions may indicate that you might be more happy or successful, professionally, if you focused on careers that did not require those areas to be your strengths. Information about the job characteristics and training requirements for a variety of health careers can be found through our Careers in Health Care web page.
Another excellent source of information for students considering a career in the health care field comes from the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) web page, Considering a Career in Medicine.
Another useful way to help you decide if you are suited for a career in health care is to simply start participating in volunteer work or basic employment in health care related areas. What you will be allowed to do will probably be limited, but don't be discouraged! Seeing for yourself how health care works as an insider, no matter what role you have in the organization, should give you some valuable insight into the workings of health care and human service facilities and careers. It will also help you discover what you are good at, what you enjoy (and don't enjoy), and about what matters most to you. Begin volunteering a few hours a week in a local hospital or retirement home facility. Do you have a family physician (dentist, vet, etc.) whom you feel comfortable asking to shadow for a day, or at least to set up a time for you to ask questions about his or her career? Once you start researching careers in this way, you'll find it is much easier to make informed decisions about "what you'd really like to be when you grow up!"