Why medical school? This is the most important question you’ll have to answer on your path to becoming a doctor. You’ll meet plenty of pre-meds along the way who have decided to become awhy medical schooldoctor for every reason under the sun…their parents were doctors, they want the “doctor lifestyle,” they love a good challenge, they’re excited about science, and on and on…

The investment

Let’s start by a reminder about the commitment you are making when you answer that burning question: “why medical school?” After four years of pre-med undergraduate study, you’ll spend four more in medical school. Once you graduate from medical school you’ll do a one-year internship in your chosen field of practice, followed by a residency. Depending on the area of practice you choose, your residency, which includes the one-year internship, last from three years (for family medicine) up to seven years (for a neurosurgery residency). So, there’s a total of 11-15 years spent getting ready for your life as a doctor.

Good/bad reasons…

There are really good reasons, and really bad ones for choosing a career in medicine. If you’re doing it to fulfill someone else’s expectations for you, or you are looking for esteem or respect, you’ll end the journey with some of the same insecurities you began with.

If, on the other reason, you can’t imagine yourself doing anything else, and find yourself daydreaming about all the ways you’ll be able to change the world (or at least your corner of it) with your medical career, then you might be onto something. When you examine your motivations and desires privately, you must have a combination of dedication and passion to a life in medicine, with all its challenges and rewards. With health care issues taking front and center stage in the U.S. and elsewhere, it’s possible the practice of medicine will look very different by the time you graduate. Make sure before you take one more step that you have the determination to finish the journey. And make sure you can answer with passion the question, “why medical school?”

Choosing a specialty

Knowing you want to be a doctor doesn’t necessarily mean you have to know the area of medicine you want to practice. That’s what rounds and an internship are for. You’ll be exposed to all the specialties you’re interested in during medical school, so don’t stress if you haven’t zeroed in yet on a sure thing. The overall passion and commitment should be there, but decisions about your exact path can come later on.

Hopefully, you will have asked these hard questions early in the process, rather than after you’ve invested a lot of hard work and time in preparation. If you haven’t, then Stop! No matter where you are on the pre-med journey, stop and figure out if/why why medical school is the right path for you. Don’t wait until you’ve invested four years as a pre-med, taken the MCAT and been accepted at a choice school to finally look into the mirror and either confirm or reverse your decision.

At that point, it’s going to be a little more painful if the answer is something else!

Here are a few other considerations:

—Why would anyone choose DO vs MD?

—Is getting into an Ivy League medical school everything it’s cracked up to be?

—How do I pay for medical school?

—Is it time to quit my pre-med major?