Medical degrees pose hurdles for BYU students


He went to the hospital every day to interpret and translate for migrant workers and their families. He saw numerous physicians, who had worked hard for their title as a doctor, give freely of their skills to those who couldn’t afford them.

When Calvin Simmons decided to become a doctor, he knew he’d gain the skills and resources necessary to do what he had seen those doctors do countless times as he volunteered.

Simmons knew, however, that becoming a doctor wouldn’t come without a price. After graduating from BYU in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish translation and interpretation, he was one step closer to his goal. Now, after many months of preparing for medical school and being accepted, Simmons is currently in his second year of at the University of Virginia.

He is familiar with the preparation for medical school and the financial hardship each medical student goes through when facing their future of becoming a doctor.

In 2010, there were 367 students at BYU who applied to medical school. Out of those 367, 108 applied to both M.D. and D.O. schools, 216 to only M.D. schools and 43 to D.O. schools. The highest acceptance rate belonged to those who applied to both M.D. and D.O. schools at 70 percent. The overall acceptance rate was 60 percent.

There are many pre-med students at BYU preparing themselves for the MCAT and application process and hoping to be a part of the 60 percent who get into medical school.

Alexander Nicholson is a senior from Sandy, Ore., majoring in exercise science. Nicholson recently took the MCAT and is preparing to apply to medical school. He said he had many fears heading into the MCAT.

“The MCAT is not an easy test,” Nicholson said. “Some sections require you to know a little bit about everything you ever learned in any science class you have ever taken, and other sections require you to be able to extrapolate information and themes from complex stories, abstracts and data tables. If you do poorly on the MCAT you may very well have to change your whole career path. That’s a lot of pressure.”

Many students have cited other fears associated with medical school including the application process, the fear of not getting in to the financial pressures. Although pressures and fears will most likely always be associated with this career path, there are many help meets for students along the way.

There are many MCAT materials available for students to purchase to help prepare for the test, including practice exams, classes and practice books. BYU also provides a student development class for pre-med students, which prepares them for the application and interview process, while also teaching information on finances and lifestyles heading into medical school.

Matthew Terry, who graduated from BYU in April 2012, has been through the process of application and has been accepted to Texas A&M. He said the relief felt after being accepted was huge.

“It is an awesome feeling,” Terry said. “Before you take the MCAT or get accepted, you have no idea how things are going to work out. It is great to finally be accepted and have the process over with because I know what I am going to be doing a year from now. ”

Terry had a number of suggestions for students preparing for this big transition.

“Don’t waste lots of money on super expensive test prep courses,” Terry said. “When you are doing your applications and going on interviews, you need to really look at your life and figure out what sets you apart. Don’t apply to any schools that you are not seriously thinking you would attend. Do practice interviews or at least practice running through potential questions with someone informally.”

Financing medical school is another large fear associated with acceptance.

Samuel Dudley, a junior majoring in biochemistry, said he is prepared for the financial challenges that await him in medical school.

“I don’t think I can stay away from debt,” Dudley said. “Actually, I’m fine with going into debt because it’s an investment towards my future and I obviously don’t have the money now to pay for medical school.”

Simmons has learned throughout his years at UVA how to assuage the debt and has advice for prospective students.

“To someone looking at going to medical school, I would say that you will have to live with sizable debt and you will have to work hard to pay it off,” Simmons said. “If you are going into medicine just because you think it will make you big bucks, don’t do it.”

Simmons said pre-med students must decide becoming a doctor is worth the hard work before going into so much debt.

“If you are going into medicine for the right reasons it will be worth it,” Simmons said. “I’m in debt, though not very far yet for now. [My wife and I]  feel the weight of it every so often, but it is okay and I still feel like there was no better option for me.”

Chris Gordon, who graduated from BYU in 2005, will graduate in family medicine in June from medical school in the Cayman Islands. Gordon echoed Simmons as he encouraged pre-med students to make sure becoming a doctor is the right route for them.

“Enter medicine if this is what you really, really want to do,” Gordon said. “The education and training is a long road and very expensive (but) becoming a doctor is worth it to me. I am doing what I love.”

Approximately 78 percent of medical school graduates have more than $100,00 in debt. Debt is accumulated through student loans and those loans growing in interest over the years. With a frugal mindset and strict budget, medical students on average take from 10 to 28 years to get out of debt, depending on the salary earned and the loan amount repaid monthly, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

“I think there are a lot of ways you could go that would be intellectually challenging, financially stable, and personally fulfilling that are very different from medicine,” Simmons said. “Even knowing this, I still feel like medicine is the best path for me. I think anyone who is seriously contemplating medicine as a career should spend as much time as they can shadowing or working in the field so they can make sure medicine has that special something for them, otherwise they could end up seriously regretting their decision because it sure isn’t easy.”


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