Is a Career in Medicine Right for Me?

Last updated: 23/08/2021

You heard that this career is competitive already... it's safe to assume.

In 2020, UCAS recorded 8 applicants per medical school place, making medicine one of the most competitive courses to enter.

Despite this, thousands of students succeed in their applications every year, and you can too.

The first and most important step is to decide whether medicine is right for you.

A medical school applicant smiling in a library

Who gets into medical school?

A huge variety of people get into and excel at medical school.

Consider the variety of personalities and backgrounds you see with doctors and it's clear that no one stereotypical candidate will succeed. To go into depth on this, read  'How to get into medical school'. Or, here's a brief overview.

Successful candidates can convince admissions teams that:

- They've done research and have a realistic understanding of modern medicine and life as a doctor

- Their personality is suited to the rigours of the job (see the personality list at the end)

Basically, the personality formula would be: 'enthusiasm × commitment + a healthy dose of realism = doctor'.

So how can you get a realistic idea of what you're getting into? The best way to understand life as a doctor is to do unpaid medical work experience, read books about life as a doctor and listen to medical podcasts (or other media).

Anne – Cardiff University
‘I found that my work experience was the most useful in allowing me to get to know myself; how I respond to novel situations and whether my personality was suited to a career in medicine, by observing the ups and downs in a doctor’s day at work.’
James – University of Bristol
‘However much or little you understand during your work experience, it is worth remembering that just being in that environment and observing health professionals communicate and face medical challenges is immensely useful. Try to get a variety of work experience in hospitals, in the community and through volunteering. You will then be in the best position to think carefully about whether it is the best choice for you. How will I know if medicine is for me?

What is being a doctor actually like?

We all have an impression of what being a medical student or doctor is like. But this may be based on unrealistic portrayals of healthcare, such as TV dramas. Admissions teams will always want to see that you have an impression of the job based on reality. Try and dispel the myths and get your answers from recognised sources.


One thing medicine has is diversity. Both in terms of the range of skills you need to learn as well as the teams you work in. You'll have the chance to work with people from all over the world and from every background - it can be great, but, of course, you have to negotiate differences in communicative styles with a certain level of expertise.

Did you know that over 20% of the NHS workforce comes from minority ethnic backgrounds and 76.7% are women?

Another thing that is undeniable is how hard a job it is. You have to be ready for hard work, building up slowly, exceptionally long hours and a social life that might come second place after work.

Real experiences

Ollie, a once aspiring medical student changed his mind after getting some on-the-job experience. This is the only real way to know if medicine is right for you - which is why medical and dental schools require work experience.

Ollie – Economics Student, University College London
‘I always thought I wanted to do medicine, since my parents were doctors themselves. However, I did a 2-week shadowing placement with several different doctors, and I soon realised that the sight of blood was a no go. From then on – I didn’t look back, and am now a student in economics.’

Tom went the other way, deciding that medicine was his vocation.

Tom – Medical Student, University of Leicester
‘I was one of those people who had been exposed to medicine from a young age, as my father is a doctor. I spent many hours shadowing him in his GP practice which made me realise it was the career path that would suit me best, with its unique blend of science and people skills.’
A medical student on campus

The Pros and Cons of Being a Doctor


  • Respect: Doctors are well respected among all professions
  • Satisfaction: The use of your knowledge to directly help people and be responsible for their care
  • Knowledge: Understanding the workings of the human body
  • Salary: The potential to earn a good salary
  • Job Security: Opportunities to change specialities or work abroad


  • Exams: The stress of examinations, which can be non-stop until you are a consultant
  • Stress: The responsibilities can be overwhelming, especially when there are lots of them, some of which can potentially involve life-threatening outcomes for your patients
  • Workload: It is hard work, with long, unsociable hours
  • Transfer: The requirement to move around to different hospitals during training

What are the qualities of a good doctor?

Almost anyone can fit into a particular branch of medicine, no matter their background. However, there are characteristics common to all good doctors.

Are you...?

  • Caring: Is approachable and treats patients as human beings not a collection of symptoms
  • An effective communicator: Takes time to listen and communicates honestly and effectively with patients, relatives and staff teams. Pitches at the appropriate level while putting everyone at ease.
  • A team player: Respects everyone’s capabilities and their contribution to the team.
  • An academic: Possesses technical skills. Is competent, knowledgeable and uses evidence-based practice.
  • A leader: Inspires others, is confident about standards and stands firm to uphold their own and their team’s values and beliefs.
  • A teacher: Learns and teaches without fear of humiliation; leads and trains a group as a team.
  • Resilient: Shift work, long hours, difficult patients, facing death regularly. These are pretty challenging stress factors. Do you have the grit to persevere?

Get Into Medical School

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