Doctors Reveal: 5 Life-Changing Questions to Ask Before Studying Medicine

Many aspiring doctors have unrealistic expectations about what it's like to be a doctor. We asked practising doctors what students should ponder over before embarking on this noble career. Here’s what they have to say.

Updated 23 Feb 2022

5 Life-Changing Questions to Ask Before Studying Medicine - Feature-Image
This is part of our ‘Doctors Reveal’ series, where we speak to over 20 medical doctors to find out the real deal behind the medical profession.

Doctors are quitting their housemanship at a frightening rate.

As many as one in five doctors abruptly leave the medical profession for other fields, with a few found working as waiters and even air stewardesses.

The truth is, being a doctor is nothing like ‘Grey’s Anatomy’, and many students have a dramatically mistaken view of what it’s like to be a doctor. Long days and nights, immense stress and pressure, lower-than-expected pay at the start – these are just a handful of the challenges they encounter.

As an aspiring doctor, what can you do to mentally prepare yourself for the obstacles ahead? We asked practising doctors what students should ponder over before embarking on this noble career. Here’s what they have to say.

#1. Can you endure the long and punishing hours?

Just about everyone knows that a doctor’s hours are both mentally and physically demanding, with shifts that can last longer than a binge session of not one, but two seasons of ‘House of Cards’. Nonetheless, it still bears mentioning, as many of the doctors we interviewed echoed the challenges of long hours.

Doctors Reveal 5 Life Changing Questions to Ask Before Studying Medicine - 1 Can you endure the long and punishing hours

Working lengthy hours over a prolonged period can be emotionally draining to the point of burnout. Ask yourself if you are prepared for such hardship, especially if the fruits of your labour will only materialise many years down the road.

#2. Are you willing to sacrifice your personal life?

With lengthy hours come sacrifices, and it is no surprise that a doctor’s personal life takes the biggest hit. Unlike most 9 to 5 office jobs, doctors work round the clock with no distinction between day and night, weekdays and weekends, everyday life and joyous occasions.

Doctors Reveal 5 Life Changing Questions to Ask Before Studying Medicine - 2 Are you willing to sacrifice your personal life

As an aspiring doctor, be aware of the sacrifices that you may have to make. Relationships are hard enough to maintain as it is, without throwing gruelling working hours into the mix.

#3. Why do you want to be a doctor?

It’s an unexciting question but a very pivotal one. After all, one in five doctors end up quitting their housemanship, with the top reason being that they were pressured to study medicine by their parents. Across the board, many doctors urge students to dig deep and work out their true motivations of becoming a doctor.

Doctors Reveal 5 Life Changing Questions to Ask Before Studying Medicine - 3 Why do you want to be a doctor

Take a moment to reflect on what inspires you to be a doctor and make sure it’s for the right reasons. If it’s because of the money or pressure from your parents, it may not be sufficient to keep you going in this demanding profession.

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#4. Are you prepared for a lifetime of study?

Compared to other professions, doctors spend an excessive amount of time studying and training – five years of medical school, two years of housemanship, several years of being a medical officer and at least another six years to be a specialist. It seems that the learning (and exams!) just never seems to stop.

Doctors Reveal 5 Life Changing Questions to Ask Before Studying Medicine - 4 Are you prepared for a lifetime of studying

Imagine having to burn the midnight oil studying while your friends have shoved their textbooks into a dusty corner years ago. Consider carefully whether you have a genuine interest in medicine, as this will make learning considerably easier.

#5. Do you have the resilience and mental strength?

Nobody needs to remind you how difficult it is to be a doctor – the perpetual studies and exams, less-than-desirable work environment and ungrateful patients and relatives. Seasoned practitioners tell us that it’s crucial to honestly ask if you have the will, determination and resilience.

Doctors Reveal 5 Life Changing Questions to Ask Before Studying Medicine - 5 Do you have the resilience and mental strength

It isn’t easy to earn the privilege of wearing a white coat. Expect to battle a multitude of challenges that will test the limits of your body, mind and soul.

The journey to claiming that much-coveted title of ‘Dr.’ is by no means a walk in the park. As you can see, it involves an inordinate amount of passion, determination and perseverance. Reflect on these nuggets of wisdom from practising doctors and consider carefully before taking the plunge.

Want to know more about the work that doctors do? Find out what doctors say is the worst part of their jobs.

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    Loh Sue May

    Loh Sue May

    Editor and writer. When I'm not busy putting words onto pages, I'm messing with spreadsheets and playing air guitar.

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