Med School FAQs: “Is Medicine right for me?” and other burning questions

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So…it’s been over a year since I wrote my first post on getting into med school (you can read it here), and I’ve been receiving a lot of questions regarding the process. The most common questions I’ve received are ‘Is Medicine right for me?’, ‘Are internships useful?’ and ‘What if I enter med school and regret it later?’, so I’ve tried my best to cover the full scope of these questions to hopefully help y’all make a more informed decision before choosing to apply for or pursue Medicine!

Feb 2021 edit: I’ll constantly update this post when I receive new questions, and I’ll be writing about my experience as a junior doctor once I start work in a few months’ time, so be sure to follow my blog or like my FB page to receive any future updates! 🙂

Let’s start off with the most common question…

Is Medicine the right choice for me?

Whatever your reasons for applying for med, ask yourself if you can see yourself working as a doctor for the next 30-odd years of your life, or if you’d rather be pursuing another career that you’re more interested in and is probably less tiring. It really doesn’t matter whether you’re the type who says that being a doctor is a calling, or if you’re applying for fun or due to peer pressure; I had friends who wanted to do Med so badly but didn’t make it past the interviews, while there were some batchmates who applied for fun and got accepted.

In my NUS and NTU applications, I listed Medicine as my first choice and put random courses for the other choices because I was going to go overseas for med if I couldn’t get a spot here, but a lot of my friends put dentistry/law as their other choices, and most succeeded in getting a place in one of these 3 courses, or they left for greener pastures in UK/USA.

If you’re thinking of joining Medicine just to become a specialist/get into the Residency programme, I hate to be the one who bursts your bubble, but it’s becoming more difficult (and will only get harder) to get a coveted spot for specialty training. MOH has been aggressively pushing their new agenda of having more ‘generalists’ (i.e specialties like geriatrics, family medicine) – just read this article, it explains MOH’s reasons very well – on top of decreasing the total number of residency places available. So if you’re entering Medicine hoping to be a neurosurgeon or some elusive specialty, just don’t.

Wanting to heal people and make their lives better in any capacity should be your reason for joining Medicine. Don’t do it for the money, prestige, or the dream of someday becoming a specialist. Do it for the love of the people, and wanting to help them; that’s what will keep you motivated throughout the good and bad times.

My grades were xxx, will I meet the cut off point? Should I apply via the aptitude based scheme/ABAS?

Feb 2021 edit: Hundreds of applicants have written to me over the years, asking if their specific grades will make the cut off, but I unfortunately don’t have time this year to answer all your emails/DMs (currently in the midst of my final MBBS exam/hopefully gonna be a doctor soon).

We’re kiasu Singaporeans, so yes, if you’re worried that your grades/RP may not be high enough to make the cut for the interview by the normal route, there’s honestly no harm in applying via the aptitude based scheme/ABAS.

I personally applied via ABAS to be kiasu, but my RP was high enough (87.75, with 1 H2 B in Chem, 1 H1 B in PW, and an A in H1 Chinese) to make the cut off for the normal route back in 2016. The cut off may have changed over the years though.

I know of some batchmates who had lower grades and were admitted under the ABAS scheme, but they were mostly outstanding/national-level sports representatives, and they continued representing the country even during med school. I don’t know how many students are accepted via this route annually, but there’s no harm trying your luck! 🙂

How applications are considered under ABAS (taken directly from the NUS website):

  • Your application for admission will first be considered under the standard admissions pathway by the NUS Office of Admissions.
  • If your University Admissions Score meets the cut-off point for Medicine, you will be shortlisted and invited for the assessment. You will not be considered through the ABAS scheme.
  • If you do not meet the cut-off point set by the NUS Office of Admissions, your application will be considered under ABAS.

When should I start doing volunteer work?

It’s never too early to start! You should find an organisation to volunteer regularly with, and start around 2-3 years before applying for med. Through volunteering, you’ll grow emotionally and learn more about yourself, like whether you’re a ‘people person’ or if you don’t like socialising as much as you thought you did (doctors don’t have to be super sociable, but they can’t hate people either). And doing long-term volunteering will force you to seriously consider whether med is right for you, since both involve serving the community, and while you can always quit volunteering, med is a lifelong commitment. 😛

But it’s important that you don’t volunteer for the sake of CIP hours or portfolio; make sure you find a organisation/cause that you’re passionate about, so that it’ll be fun and meaningful for you. If they ask you about your volunteer work during the interview, it’ll be obvious if you genuinely felt for the community that you were serving, or if you were just doing it for the hours/portfolio. Be sincere and open-hearted when volunteering, you’ll be surprised at how much more enjoyable it becomes!

How many hours of volunteering did you do?

A lot haha.

I was in RI’s Interact Club in JC, where I volunteered weekly at an elderly day care centre. A lot of Interact Club members eventually made it into med school, not that I’m saying there’s any relation between the amount of community work done to the success of your med school application (I’ll cover that in another question).

I also founded a volunteering programme at the Bishan Home for the Intellectually Disabled, where we would visit them weekly and engage them in activities like crafts, music, sports or reading. It was really enriching and eye-opening for me, and it’s one of my most memorable volunteering experiences.

Go in with an open heart & mind, and you’ll find meaning in volunteering. 🙂

What internships/attachments did you do? How do I apply to them?

You can apply for NUH’s job shadowing programme, where you’ll be attached to a doctor for 3 days and get to have a small taste of what life as a hospital-based doctor is like. I did my shadowing in 2015, with Prof Lau Tang Ching, and in those 3 days that I spent watching him run his Rheumatology clinic, I genuinely felt excited and inspired.

You could also work part time at a GP clinic (as a receptionist, as some friends did) or shadow a GP (you could ask your family doctor). I spent at a GP’s clinic, and watched as he interacted with his patients and had excellent rapport with them. That was the moment that really helped me decide that I wanted to become a doctor; he was more than just someone who prescribed them medication and gave them MCs, he was like a friend to them too.

That being said, an internship or a short-term shadowing really isn’t enough to make an informed decision as to whether medicine if your calling. Trust me, it gets very tiring when you have to work 12-hour days for a few years straight, while your non-doctor friends have a better work-life balance. But it’s a very fulfilling job, so to me, it’s more than worth the sacrifice and exhaustion! 🙂

Will I lose out if I’ve never volunteered?

I know of people who got in despite having done 0 volunteering, as well as ppl who were rejected after years of volunteer work. Of course doing CIP shows a certain level of commitment, kindness and community-mindedness, which is what they’re looking out for, so it will definitely strengthen your application (but it doesn’t guarantee admission). Remember, quality >> quantity!

Do doing internships/job shadowing increase my chances of getting in?

Internships are not a prerequisite at all for med school application, and it’s not a factor in whether they decide to accept or reject you. At the very most, it shows that you’ve at least explored the option and are a little bit more sincere than someone who hasn’t. During the interview, they may ask about what you took away from the job shadowing experience (if you wrote abt it in your personal statement), but it’s just a small part of one FSA station, so don’t worry even if you didn’t manage to shadow a doctor.

Did you ever regret joining Medicine?

Yes, and no. I’ve written in-depth about this in my latest blog post, which you can find here. 🙂

Thankfully, I’ve found a few possible niches within Medicine that I intend to pursue after graduation, but even then, I sometimes wish I could tell my younger self that I should have taken more time to explore other non-medical career options before rushing down this life path so quickly like a shotgun wedding.

And fair warning, once you’re in the course it’s really very hard to quit even if you suddenly find a calling in another area/career…unless you’re rich and can afford to repay the $100k+/year in liquidated damages and school fees (yes, you will lose serious cash if you decide to quit med school at any point).

That being said, the pros of choosing this career are the high level of job security and stability it offers (you won’t earn a lot, but at least you won’t get laid off), not to mention how meaningful being able to give back to society is.

How many people are on the waitlist each year?/I’ve been placed on the waitlist, what are my chances of getting accepted?

Unfortunately I’m not privy to the number of people on the waitlist (no one is), but the number is probably more than you think it is! I personally knew of a fair number of people who rejected NUS Medicine for other opportunities/scholarships (each rejection helps the waitlist move up), and the waitlist was still moving until the first week of our academic year, with a few ppl pulling out or deciding to study abroad. The NTU waitlist also moves a fair amount from what I’ve heard, since a lot of people are accepted into both med schools and have to reject either school.

I have an offer/scholarship for an overseas uni but I don’t want to miss out on local Med

This is a June 2019 addition as I’ve gotten a surprising number of readers messaging me to discuss the pros and cons of pursuing a non-medical overseas education (usually on a government scholarship), at the expense of giving up their highly coveted spot in local Medicine. This answer is more applicable to students who already have both offers and are struggling to choose between two equally great options.

My personal take on it is that you should go overseas and pursue another course of study, unless you’re very sure you rather die than give up a career in Medicine, in which case you can just ignore this whole answer.

If you choose Med over your options, please make sure that you won’t end up regretting giving up a once-in-a-lifetime chance to spend your early twenties living abroad and travelling extensively. I know that it’s an agonising choice, especially for scholarship holders (getting free education in a foreign country is pretty much a dream), because scholarships are hard to come by, as is a spot in med school.

I had a number of friends in similar dilemmas back in 2016, and almost all of them chose to go overseas instead; none of them regret their choice. Studying overseas is honestly a unique and significant experience, and you won’t realise how much you’ll have changed until you return to Singapore after all those years.

My family wants me to become a doctor but I don’t want to

Seriously, don’t succumb to familial or peer pressure. A few of my friends were pressured into choosing Medicine over other university courses/good scholarships, and they wish they hadn’t given in to parental pressure.

I’ve had a number of parents contact me via this blog, asking about how they can improve their children’s odds of getting into med school, and the first question I always ask is ‘Does your child really want to do Medicine?’ If I were ballsier and blunter, I would ask ‘Are you pressuring your child to choose this life path? Is it what they really want, or are you projecting your own dreams & expectations on them?’

Medicine is already a tough-enough course for those who are interested/passionate about this field, and even more so for students who forced into the course by their parents, because they have to spend 5-11 years of their youth pursuing something they may not be interested in, at the opportunity cost of doing another course that they were genuinely passionate about/attending a different university/pursuing a different life path.

To the students reading this in such a situation: You are your own person and you have the right to make your own decisions about your future. This isn’t just a short 3-year uni course that you can attend to please your parents – it’s an 11 year commitment/government bond that won’t end till you’re in your late 20s/early 30s.

Drop me a message if you need to talk, or if you need me to explain to your parents all the reasons why they shouldn’t force you to do Medicine. Or just read my House Elf series to get a rough idea of the lifestyle of a junior doctor.

I’m seriously considering other courses and am not sure if I want to pursue Medicine

I have received this question from 2 readers who both had other local offers on top of their Medicine offers, and my advice to them was that if you’re having doubts even before starting med school, please give serious consideration to other options, because you could be walking into an 11-year hellhole: 5 years of uni + 1 year as a HO + 5-year bond.

After a full year of clinical rotations, I can safely say that internships/job shadowing experiences are mainly for you to decide if you absolutely cannot stand the nature of work, and are not an indicator of how sustainable a career in this field will be for you. A vast majority of people who do internships will enjoy it to some extent, but to be brutally honest, a few days of following a doctor around in an excited and over-idealistic state barely provides sufficient insight into what it’s like to make Medicine into your lifelong career. I was so genuinely idealistic and enthusiastic when I did my job shadowing in early 2016; but it’s very different once you’re doing it day in and day out, and once burnout sets in, it becomes a whole new level of hell.

11 years is not a short period of time at all, so I urge you to spend time exploring other options and seeing if you truly can see yourself toiling away in this career long-term. You can read about my first 3 years in med school to get a better idea of what a day in the life of a medical student is like; my entire series is linked down below.

The skills from med school are unfortunately not very transferrable, so it’s more likely than not to become your lifelong career; other degrees/courses provide more career flexibility, and if you decide to change your college major or switch fields after you’ve started work, a non-medical degree is far more useful.

Ultimately, it’s a very personal decision, and no matter what your motivations for accepting/rejecting the Med offer, just make sure you’re realistic about what kind of future you’re headed towards, and don’t spend too much time regretting the ‘could have beens’.


I’m enjoying my last few days of holiday before M3 starts, so that’s all for now. 🙂 Be sure to follow me on Insta or Facebook to be the first to read my new posts! If you have any more questions you’d like me to answer in detail, just leave them in the comments section below or DM me on my Facebook page and I’ll add them to this post.

xoxo,
Faith

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