One of the common criticisms of medical school is that the admissions process tends to attract more affluent people as they have access to more resources for study materials, application fees and the whole host of costs related to the process. This is certainly true based on the numbers alone and it has implications further down the road. Not all, but most medical students have been students their whole lives and have not held jobs. Most of their extra-curricular work is medical school related and they miss out on the development that comes from having a job. Of course the premed years are very busy and time is of the essence. You should never fill up this limited time with things that take away from your GPA, MCAT and other med school related pursuits. However, if you do have some extra time (and you should, if you’re studying efficiently), you need to get a part-time job.
I worked at Starbucks for three years of college and 1 year at American Eagle. These jobs had nothing to do with medicine and yet, here I am. Although I didn’t particularly enjoy either job, and they didn’t pay well at all, they taught me intangibles that are extremely valuable in pre-med, med school and as an attending doctor. Here are the reasons you need to get a job before medical school:
1) Learn how to do things you don’t want to do
In any endeavour, all we see is the final product. We see the bodybuilder on stage, the basketball player on the court, the surgeon in the OR. What we don’t see is the behind the scenes work that it took to get there. Especially in this instant gratification social media world, we are used to seeing things as if they come so easy and feel as though we are entitled to them. But it is exactly this behind-the-scenes work that puts those people in those positions. Having a crappy job that has nothing to do with your future goals teaches you the ability to do mundane tasks that you have no interest in, to the best of your ability over a long period of time. No matter how passionate you are about medicine, sorry to burst your bubble, but this is at least 70% of the process. We all like being with patients and helping them and no one likes to memorize tons of stuff and study it. But it’s this exact ability to focus and do things you don’t like that gives you the chance to do what you do enjoy. If you can find a job you love, even better but don’t discount the value of working at a coffee shop or something similar.
2) Learn to work with people
If you didn’t already know, patients are people. As are nurses, administrative staff, other doctors, janitors and everyone else you’ll cross paths with in the hospital. The reality is that you’ll really like some of these be people, be neutral with most and really dislike a minority of these people as well. Regardless of how you feel about them, you will have to work with them in a respectful, synergistic way in fulfilling your duties as a doctor. A part-time job, especially something like Starbucks or retail, will teach you communication skills and above all, patience at an accelerated speed. Learning to deal with certain customers and their absurd demands while remaining professional and courteous is an art. It’s an art that can be carried over into dealing with difficult patients, their families or even colleagues. You have to learn to be good at communicating with people, whether you like them or not, agree with them or not and the only way to get better is to do it. Social development is a very important aspect of being a good medical student and applicant. It’s better to develop these skills early rather than try to start in medical school.
3) Time Management Skills
Adding a part-time job to your pre-med plate may take up some time, but it forces you to be better with your time and balance tasks. Even within your job, you’ll learn how to balance multiple tasks at once and get things done before the boss gets upset. You’ll learn to navigate a professional environment and know how to act within it. Dealing with customers while doing cleanup or stocking will teach you the foundations of juggling multiple things while the stakes are low. These same skills will come in handy during 80 hour work weeks of residency while trying to balance somewhat of a social/family life. Or in medical school, doing coursework and making time for extracurriculars and friends.
4) Getting used to hierarchies
The first two years of medical school are in the classroom followed by 2 years in the hospital. When medical students come to the hospital as third years, they have a reputation for being entitled, and for lack of a better word, “soft”. This is not entirely their fault however. Like we said, most med students have not held jobs before and the only feedback most have been exposed to is grades from school. Obviously these people are very smart and used to doing well at whatever they pursue. So now, when they are in an environment where they literally know nothing, and are constantly in the way, it can be very uncomfortable. From being praised all your life for being smart, to being criticized (sometimes unfairly) about things you didn’t do right or your lack of knowledge, it can be a shock to the system. Having a job early on teaches you how to navigate a professional hierarchy and the fact that sometimes, even though you may not like what your superior has to say, sometimes its best to bite your tongue. No one is telling you to put up with abuse, but you do need to build that sensitivity muscle and be able to take criticism without letting it destroy your self-worth.
Most part time jobs won’t pay you a whole lot but something is better than nothing. Med school applications and the entire process is very costly so save that money. In addition to having some extra resources, it’s important to get educated about money early as well. Learn how to budget, save and a general understanding of taxes and investing. This is all boring stuff but will save you pain in the long run. Medical students are terrible with money as they’re given access to a large sum through their loan with most of them never having earned money before. You can’t fall into the “I’ll pay it off someday” mentality. Read some books like the following to help you out:
I Will Teach You To Be Rich
Rich Dad Poor Dad
We highly encourage you to get a job in your premed years as it will teach you a lot of skills that will help you down the road.