Choosing a School that is right for you
Location, location, location – similar to other decisions in my life, my medical school choice first started with a decision on where I wanted to be in the country. I did not want to limit myself, but I also knew I wanted to be a little bit closer to my parents than the 8 hour drive that I repeated frequently. I also knew that I wanted more of an urban environment – so that allowed me to focus greatly. Ask yourself: what support systems do you have in place in different states or cities? Does that matter to you? Is having family close an advantage or a burden? Do you feel more comfortable in certain cities/locations due to your familiarity with what they have to offer? Medical school is difficult enough – you should eliminate as many difficulties as possible before even starting class by choosing a location that works best for YOU – not what a magazine ranking may prioritize.
Know Thyself – I had a good sense of what I wanted my future to entail in terms of what specialty I wanted to enter and what type of practice I eventually wanted to have. I admit that this is VERY rare, but yet it’s worth asking yourself those kind of questions as you choose a school. Many medical schools have a very broad approach to allowing you to experience all fields throughout your medical education; other schools definitely do not. Certain schools focus on research more, others on primary care, others on rural medicine… Look at where the graduates from these schools are going – where they match for their residency. That will give you a good sense of what that school might focus upon and where their resources might focus. You definitely need to leave room for the inevitable change of mind as far as specialty choice (yes, MANY students change their mind) – so do not feel that you have to commit. But you do want to assess your larger interests and feelings towards bigger concepts within medicine. Ask yourself: academia and research? primary care? surgery? urban vs. rural medicine? holistic approach? If you have no idea what you want to do, choose a school that has a broad approach to all of the above so that you don’t limit your career before you even start. Often, the magazine rankings DO not reflect these important concepts.
It’s all about who you know – after choosing my initial set of schools to send my AMCAS application and receiving interviews, I made it a point to get to know people on campus. You are going to spend four or more years on this campus, studying, working, relaxing (hopefully), and learning from these people. It is a community in which you should feel comfortable – again, medical school is difficult enough. I met the members of the chapter of the Student National Medical Association while I visited my eventual campus – and felt absolutely at home with these students. I felt that we would look out for each other and more importantly get along. I made immediate connections to upper level students who would later serve as mentors. Ask yourself: how do I optimize my learning environment? With what kind of people do I want to surround myself? What kind of interactions do I want to have with my faculty? Do I prefer more hands-off learning, or do I need to have more personal connection? It’s important to assess what you need from a personal perspective that might optimize your learning – the administration and how responsive it is to the students, the faculty and how involved they are inside and outside of the classroom, and the student body and how well they get along. Even reach out to alumni who might have a different perspective after having left the campus. Again, only your inquiries as to your own priorities will answer these questions – NOT a magazine ranking.
I ended up making the right decision for me – even though admittedly my school did not fulfill all of the questions that I pose above. As a primary care physician now, I believe I’m ultimately more well-rounded after having completed my degree at a very research, non-primary-care focused university. But again, by knowing myself, I was able to prepare certain elective experiences and connect with certain mentors in order to be prepared for a future in community medicine as well as my other non-clinical interests.