Chemjobber: How much education did you need to get "current grades" for medical school applications?
XE: Luckily most of the requirements to get admitted to med school had been accomplished obtaining my B.S. in Chemistry (obtained over ten years before I applied). Different med schools have different specific prerequisite course requirements. I took a few biology courses in my spare time to fulfill them after I had been admitted. I needed to take the MCAT exam as well for my application.
From your first day as a med student to your first day as a non-trainee (i.e. attending physician), how long was the process?
XE: 8 years (4 med school plus 4 residency in dermatology). Residency varies from three years after graduation (internal med, pediatrics, family medicine) up to seven (neurological surgery). I did not do a fellowship, which would have added to that total.
What advantages/disadvantages do you see about a chemist attempting to become a physician?
XE: I would separate this question into 1. Advantages getting admitted to med school; and 2. Advantages practicing medicine.
- The Ph.D. degree is an advantage gaining admittance, in my opinion. Admission committees interpret the Ph.D. as a sign the applicant is intelligent, hard working, persistent, and unlikely to be entering medicine solely to make money. I also found that being a chemist was helpful in preparing my memory. Much of med school is memorization and recall of large volumes of facts, a skill at which organic chemists in particular seem adept (e.g. named reactions, structures, etc.)
- My chemistry background finds daily application in practice as well. Being familiar with chemicals helps understand poisoning, acid-base chemistry and partial pressures of blood gases, and solubility of uric acid (e.g. gout), for example. Knowing natural product chemistry comes in handy reassuring chemophobic patients that many of the feared pharmaceuticals I prescribe are actually “natural” in origin (e.g. antibiotics, cardiac medicines, etc)
XE: I assume you mean the future of a career in medicine in the US. In general US medicine has to restrain cost, whose current rate of growth is unsustainable. Different disciplines will be impacted differently over the next 10 years (specialists negatively, and primary care positively, in my opinion). The outlook for physicians is still fairly positive, because physicians see the patient and have the most control over utilization, i.e. prescribe drugs and order tests. And the supply of new physicians, determined by the total number of residency slots per year, has not changed in over 20 years, and is unlikely to change much in the future.
Switching from chemistry to medicine after the Ph.D. and postdoc is somewhat of a career gamble, due to the long period of training and opportunity cost. It has worked out for me, as well as others (e.g. www.zewertmd.com). It is critical that someone contemplating this move be sure they can be happy interacting with a wide range of people on a regular basis (less so if you become a pathologist or radiologist).
[Chemjobber here again] Thank you to XE for the very educational interview!