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So You Want To Be A Doctor? Medical Studies and Hospital Training Are Hard Work

So You Want To Be A Doctor? Medical Studies and Hospital Training Are Hard Work

FAITH LAPIDUS: This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English. I’m Faith Lapidus.

CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: And I'm­­­­­­­­­ Christopher Cruise. Today, we look at how people train to be medical doctors in the United States. We also tell about a medical training program for students who have no interest in becoming a doctor.


FAITH LAPIDUS: It is not easy to become a doctor in the United States. The first step is getting into a medical college. More than one hundred twenty American schools offer study programs for people wanting to be doctors.

People can get advice about medical schools from many resources. One of these is a publication called “The Princeton Review.” It provides information about colleges, study programs and jobs.

“The Princeton Review” says competition to enter medical schools is strong. American medical schools have only about sixteen thousand openings for students. However, more than two times this many seek entry. Many of those seeking admittance are women.

CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: Most people seeking admission contact more than one medical school. Some applicants contact many. An important part of the application usually is the Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT. The Association of American Medical Colleges provides the test by computer. It is offered in the United States and in other countries.

The applicant is rated on reasoning, physical and biological sciences and an example of writing. Applicants for medical school need to do well on the MCAT. They also need a good record in their college studies.

FAITH LAPIDUS: People who want to become doctors often study a lot of biology, chemistry or other science. Some students work for a year or two in a medical or research job before they attempt to enter medical school.

An interview, or direct meeting, also is usually required for entrance to medical schools. This means talking with a school representative. The interviewer wants to know if the person understands the demands of life as a medical student and doctor in training. The interviewer wants to know about the person’s goals for a life in medicine.


CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: A medical education can cost a lot of money. One year at a private medical college can cost forty thousand dollars -- or more. The average cost at a public medical school is more than fifteen thousand dollars. Most students need loans to pay for medical school. Many finish their education heavily in debt.

Some Americans become doctors by joining the United States Army, Navy, Air Force or Public Health Service. They attend the F. Edward Hebert School of Medicine of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland. These students attend without having to pay. In return, they spend seven years in government service.

Doctors are among the highest paid people in the United States. Big-city doctors who work in specialties like eye care usually earn the most money. Some other doctors earn far less. That is especially true in poor communities.

FAITH LAPIDUS: Most medical students spend their first two years mainly in classroom study. They learn about the body and all its parts. They also begin studying how to recognize and treat disease.

By the third year, students begin working with patients in hospitals. Experienced doctors who have treated many patients guide them as they work. As the students learn, they think about the kind of medical skills they will need to work as doctors.

During the fourth year, students begin contacting hospital programs for the additional training they will need after medical school. Competition to work at a top hospital is fierce.

CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: Doctors-in-training in hospitals are known as interns or residents. Many are called interns during their first year. After that, the name of the job is “resident.”

All fifty states require at least one year of hospital work for doctors-in-training educated at medical schools in the United States. Graduates of study programs at most foreign medical schools may have to complete two or three years of residency, although there are exceptions.


FAITH LAPIDUS: This month, about two hundred people will be taking classes at the Georgetown University School of Medicine, in Washington, DC. But these students have no interest in becoming a doctor.

The classes are being held at Georgetown University. And the teachers are medical school professors. But this is not exactly a medical school. The students are instead attending a mini-med school.

Students attend a "mini-med school" class at Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington, DC
Students attend a "mini-med school" class at Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington, DC

About seventy schools, research centers and hospitals in North America and Europe hold mini-med schools. America’s National Institutes of Health Office of Science and Education says the information offered in such schools is the same that medical students receive, but less detailed. Mini-med schools offer classes that give students a wider, more general explanation of a disease.

Most of these schools are eight weeks long -- two hours a night once a week. Some give students a chance to visit laboratories, see films of operations and give them hands-on demonstrations.

CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: Fifteen years ago, Herbert Herscowitz helped organize the mini-med school at Georgetown University. He wanted to invite people from the Washington area to the hospital and to meet its doctors. He says the university also wanted to improve relations with its neighbors.

HERBERT HERSCOWITZ: “We’re an educational institution – we’re offering education to our community neighbors and we’d love you to come and see what we do at Georgetown. I thought we could extend our educational activities beyond the walls of Georgetown to our community neighbors.”

CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: Herbert Herscowitz has been at Georgetown since nineteen seventy. Today, he is the Senior Associate Dean for Faculty and Academic Affairs at Georgetown University Medical Center. He remains involved with the mini-med school as its co-director.

Dean Herscowitz says the school has become increasingly popular. Over the past two or three years, all of its classes have been filled. Two hundred students pay one hundred dollars each to attend the eight class meetings.

FAITH LAPIDUS: Georgetown holds two mini-med schools every year – one in the spring, the other in autumn. The subjects differ from one season to the next, depending on what medical issues are in the news at the time. Dean Herscowitz says some students have been coming to the mini-med school for years.

Herbert Herscowitz of Georgetown University Medical Center
Herbert Herscowitz of Georgetown University Medical Center

HERBERT HERSCOWITZ: “We’ve got a number of groupies in this program – people who have come to it for several years, have sat through some of the same lectures over the years, but they keep on coming back. Now I don’t know if this is a way for them to spend their Tuesday evenings – they have nothing else to do – or if it’s a way for them to be educated about their health.”

FAITH LAPIDUS: Dean Herscowitz says the classes at the mini-med school help people know more about their bodies. The classes also help them ask the right questions when they see their doctor.

HERBERT HERSCOWITZ: “People attend to become educated about their own illnesses and their family illnesses. The lecturer will usually spend the break talking to people, (who) say that friend of mine has this, you know just like you might expect. There are a lot of referrals that are given out at that time and there are a lot of questions that say ‘you better see your doctor - I’m not gonna give you any advice at this point.’”

CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: Dean Herscowitz says the school has had students as young as twelve years old. But most of the students, he says, are older and retired. Some retired medical doctors who have been out of school for many years attend the classes to learn the latest medical science. Other people attend classes to see if they want to go to medical school and become a doctor.

Dean Herscowitz says the students receive a diploma when the program ends.

HERBERT HERSCOWITZ: “We have a graduation exercise at the end of the session, where my co-director and I march down the aisle in full academic regalia. We go through the process as it would be at a medical school graduation, where I bestow upon them the degree of doctor of mini-medicine with all rights and entitlements thereof.”

CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: While the diploma is not really worth anything, some students put it on the wall in their office or home.

FAITH LAPIDUS: Would you like to attend a mini-med school? You can find a link to a list of these schools on our website. If you do not live near one of the schools, you might consider opening one, in partnership with a local hospital or medical school. The National Institutes of Health Office of Science Education has created a mini-med school planning guide. We have placed a link to the planning guide on our website.


CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: This SCIENCE IN THE NEWS was written by Jerilyn Watson and Christopher Cruise. June Simms was our producer. I’m Faith Lapidus.

CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: And I’m Christopher Cruise. You can find transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs at And you can find us on Twitter and YouTube at VOA Learning English. Join us again next week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.