Can Average Students Become Doctors?
This article will answer all of your questions about if you, as an average student, can become a fully-fledged doctor.
You will learn:
So let’s get started.
Average students can become doctors, however, they need to work extremely hard and perfect their medical school application.
Is It Hard to Be a Doctor?
A consultant surgeon once told me that being a doctor is like being a salesperson. All you are doing is selling your ideas to the patient.
For example, the doctor will try and convince them that surgery is not in their best interest. Once they can successfully do this, the job is done.
If surgery is needed, then there’s no need to worry, it’s just like driving a car. When you first learned how to drive it was difficult and required every ounce of concentration.
However, once you know how to do it, it’s relatively easy.
Getting to that stage of mastery does take time, but it’s certainly doable by any ordinary person, just like how cars are driven by ordinary people.
As you can see, being a doctor is not about having a brilliantly sharp mind. Rather, it is about following the rules and working hard to ensure nothing goes wrong.
But just because the job itself is doable, doesn’t mean you won’t have to work long insufferable hours (that’s what doctors are famous for after all). So what exactly are the working hours of a typical doctor?
How Many Hours Do Doctors Work?
The typical hours for a junior doctor are admittedly longer than most jobs.
They tend to work between 40-70 hours a week depending on which speciality they are in and if the hospitals are busy or not.
Although, once you become a senior doctor (known as a “consultant” in the UK and “attending” in the US), you can have very flexible hours.
In fact, senior doctors can have an excellent work-life balance if they want to.
They can work part-time and do many other things on the side which can result in hours as little as 20-40 hours a week.
I have met many doctors that have side businesses and jobs (which sometimes earn them a lot more money than being a doctor does!).
Okay, being a doctor sounds great and not as hard as expected, but what you want to know is how difficult it is to become a doctor
So let’s start by discussing the grades required to get into medical school.
What Grades Do You Need?
This is a common question that everyone asks but is one that is tricky to answer.
There are minimum requirements that all medical schools need. For example, Barts and the London, the medical school I attend, requires AAABBB at GCSE and A*AA at A-Level. They also state they need a UCAT score in the top 66%.
These grades might seem difficult to some and easy to others. However, you must realise that the minimum requirements are just that – the minimum.
In reality, you will probably need AAAAAA at GCSE and a UCAT in the top 50% to stand a good chance.
If you are an “average” student, you will need to work harder to get the grades required, but it’s entirely possible.
One thing I would like to mention before moving on is that to apply to medical school, you don’t need to be perfect. I always had the misconception that every part of your application needs to be incredible, but it’s simply not the case. My UCAT and BMAT scores were average as was my English Language GCSE.
As long as you have a good overall application, universities will like you.
Now let’s discuss the grades required depending on which country you live in. First is the UK then the US.
The first set of exams you sit in the UK are GCSEs.
The grades you need for GCSEs can vary, but it’s safe to say you should be aiming for majority As and A*. Not only will this meet the requirements for most universities, but it will also stand you in good stead for A-Levels which is where the real challenge lies.
You may think that getting a majority of As and A*’s is impossible for an average student, but it’s not. If you work consistently throughout the year, utilising effective study techniques like active recall and spaced repetition (see my blog here), you can certainly achieve good enough grades.
I got 5A*, 3As and 2Bs, and although one of the Bs was in English Language, it was good enough for most universities.
The main thing is you get good grades in Maths, Science and English.
If you can get an A in these subjects you will most likely be fine. However, if you are applying for certain universities like Oxford or Birmingham, you will need a lot of A*s; to be safe, try and aim for a minimum of 7A*s (but if you can’t get that then don’t worry! There are plenty of other universities that don’t look at GCSEs at all).
As a side note, if you are thinking of applying to medicine, then check Medmentor. It is a new site that has all the resources you need for applying to medicine.
The next things are A-Levels. You will need at least AAA.
This is probably the hardest challenge. Getting 3A’s is above average and so can be difficult for a lot of students.
However, it is certainly achievable. An average student can easily get good grades if they work hard at it.
You will then have to complete at least one extra exam: the UCAT or BMAT. Which one you do depends on which universities you want to apply to. You can take both.
You should be aiming to get at least average grades in both these exams. Getting below average will hamper your chances.
People say that it’s hard to revise for the UCAT and BMAT, and to a certain extent that is true. But I have known people who are top students in A-Levels and GCSEs get bad marks in these exams and “average” students who have gotten great marks.
If you can do well in them, it will truly make you stand out above the rest.
What to Do If You Don’t Have the Grades
If you believe that everything I talked about is out of your reach, then you still have one final option: doing medical school in Europe.
I have several friends who were not able to get the grades for UK universities but were still eligible to apply to European universities. Some of them got as low as BCC in their A-Levels.
So there is always hope if you have the unquenchable thirst to become a doctor.
In the US, you need to first do a degree and then become a medical student.
The GPA you get in college is important as all medical schools look at it.
A GPA of 3.5 is good to aim for.
If you think you can’t do this, you could consider doing some of your classes at a community college. There is debate as to whether community colleges are easier than universities (see this excellent article by Teach the Student), however, if you are smart you can certainly increase your chances of getting a high GPA.
After your GPA, the most important thing is your MCAT result.
The MCAT is a gruelling 7 and a half hour exam that will test your ability to the limit.
This will determine if you stand a good chance of getting into medical school. However, it is much more about studying smart than studying more. Check out this article by Kaplan for more about how to study for the MCAT.
You should aim for a score of at least 500 on the MCAT (which tends to be the average mark) to stand a good chance of getting in.
US medical schools are much harder to get into than the UK.
The main reason for this is that you can make a lot of money as a US doctor, meaning there’s much more incentive for people to go through medical school.
If you want a full breakdown of how much I more doctors earn in the US then check out this blog where I compare the US and UK doctors salary.
Because of the competition, an “average” student might find it a lot harder to get into medical school than other countries.
What to Do If You Don’t Have the Grades
There is always the option of doing medical school abroad.
The Caribbean is a popular choice and has a large number of US students who go there every year.
Even doing medicine in Canada and the UK is a good option as they often like students who have a good degree and applying there will give you a chance to redo the admission exams.
Rather than doing the MCAT, you will have to the UCAT in the UK which gives you a second chance at doing well.
You may even find these admission exams easier than the MCAT (they are certainly not 7 and a half hours long!).
Why Medicine Isn’t as Hard as You Think
I remember during my first year of medicine, some older students and doctors would say how medicine isn’t all that difficult.
I wouldn’t believe them.
“It’s easy for you to say”, I would think. They were already doctors and had gone through the process. They weren’t the ones struggling to pass their exams.
However, now that I am nearing the end of medical school, I can see the wisdom behind what they said.
Studying medicine is not like studying other subjects. There are no complex equations that require a deep understanding of the subject or algorithms that take days to think about and write.
Rather, it is just simple memorisation.
After you understand the basics principles of biology, there is not much more to it. Of course, you may need to connect the dots from anatomy to physiology, but this tends to be straightforward once you have gone through the material a few times.
In actual fact, the main difficulty that I have found with medicine is not the content itself, but rather the amount that there is to learn.
For an average student, it is entirely possible to become a doctor. I would argue that subjects like maths chemistry are much more challenging and may be out of reach. But not medicine.
That’s not to say medical school isn’t tough.
It is draining, takes up a lot of your time and can be very stressful.
However, the “medicine” itself (in other words the content) is easier than you think.
Why Medicine Has a Bad Reputation
The main reason medicine has such a bad reputation is because of how medicine is compared.
Generally speaking, medical students tend to compare how much they work to their high school friends who are doing other degrees or have jobs in the city.
This results in them seeing how long and hard their journey is compared to their friends who have already started earning a good salary.
I would suggest that this is not how you should think about medicine.
Medicine is inherently a different career path. That’s why you choose it.
Therefore, you should just be looking at the work itself. You shouldn’t compare the work to other careers.
When you do this, you realise that medicine is completely achievable for most people. At every stage, you go through slightly harder exams that require a bit more work than before.
After a while, you end up getting acclimatised to the work and realise how you are fine working an hour a day.
Can You Do Things on the Side While Studying Medicine?
I started Revising Rubies while in my 3rd year of medical school.
Since then I have gone on to make dozens of blogs and put hundreds of hours into this website.
Not only does this show but you can also have a side job on the side of being a medical student, you can have a fully-functioning business!
If you still aren’t convinced that medical school is easier than you think then let me try one last argument on you.
Think about the people who get into medical school. Are they human beings? Do they go to the same school as you?
Once you realise that medical students are normal people, you have to accept that medical school itself is also an achievable target.
How to Optimise Your Chances of Success
There are a few things you can do to help yourself get into medical school if you are an average student.
To be honest, these tips can be applied whether you are an average student or a top student, but average students should take special note of these.
That’s because grades are likely your weakest link, therefore, these other areas are very important to optimise.
1. Study Hard for Admission Exams
Admission exams are one of the ways you can stand out above the crowd. You can set yourself apart from the top students as they might be more focussed on their school grades.
Just because you didn’t do well in school doesn’t mean you can’t do well on admission exams.
They are an entirely different ball game.
2. Do Loads of Research
You have started in the right place by reading this article, but don’t just stop here.
Read, read and read some more.
If you can find out the tricks that people who have gotten the best grades use, you are sure to beat everyone around you.
3. Reflect on Yourself
This one may sound a bit philosophical, but trust me, it’s how I was able to do well in exams.
Realising what works for you is imperative.
If you know that once everyone in your house is awake you can’t do any work, they wake up early in the morning (check out my blog on how to wake up early and study).
Finding out what works for you can be the difference between studying 1 hour in a day and studying 5 hours a day.
You may want to give journaling a try if you find this especially difficult.
4. Don’t Give Up
If you feel that you keep on failing, just pick yourself back up.
It’s never too late to learn, and failing is one of the hardest and fastest ways to learn something.
Getting a bad grade on an exam should not deter you. Keep on trying and you will succeed.
Is It Worth the Effort?
Getting into medical school is hard and being a medical student is even harder
So naturally, you may be asking yourself, is it worth all that effort to become a doctor?
I think medical school has been great and am looking forward to becoming a doctor, but there are certainly some downsides that people should know before starting.
To help decide if being a doctor is worth it for you, let’s look at some of the reasons why you should and shouldn’t become a doctor.
Why You Should Become a Doctor
- Doctors have a stable job that will always have a demand
- You will undergo a process of lifelong learning
- It’s a noble profession in which you get to help people every day
- Can result in genuine job satisfaction when you make a difference to someone’s life
- It can open up opportunities you could never think of
Why You Shouldn’t Become a Doctor
- Doing it for the money – there are better and easier ways to make money, like starting an online blog or YouTube channel!
- It’s a lot of hard work
- There is more paperwork than patient contact
- You may have to sacrifice your social life (to an extent)
- Medical school can be expensive – you can get into a lot of debt
I hope you enjoyed this article as a lot of work went into making it.
If you did, then it would help me out if you could share this with your friends.
All the best for your journey to becoming a doctor!
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