Med school requires focus, commitmentBy LORETTA JACKSON-WILLIAMSON,
I read with much interest a front page article in my hometown weekly Indianola Enterprise-Tocsin by Bryan Davis titled, “Coming Home – Aspiring surgeon Simpson to teach science at Ruleville.”
For me this story was about a young man’s career aspirations and his planned path to achieve it. The story prompted me to reflect on my path to becoming a physician and the path that aspiring physicians must take today.
I grew up on Roosevelt Street in Indianola and attended the public schools there. I have fond memories of playing softball during the summer on the field across from Carver, going to the center down the street for arts and craft activities, escaping the hot weather in Seymour Library to read the mystery books, playing outside a lot of times with family and friends, and walking down the street from our house to church. This community’s support of me as a child helped to shape the person that I am and provides the lens through which I view my patients and students today.
Today, I serve as a senior faculty in the Department of Emergency Medicine and an administrator in the School of Medicine (SOM) at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. I have been a member of the SOM Admissions Executive Committee since 2005 and have seen the evolution of our processes and the growth of the medical school size along with a lot of medical school applications. Because of this perspective, I have confidence that there are three things that helped me and other students become physicians. Those three things are commitment, focus, and preparation.
A quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln states that "Commitment is what transforms a promise into reality. It is the words that speak boldly of your intentions. And the actions which speak louder than the words. It is making the time when there is none. Coming through time after time after time, year after year after year. Commitment is the stuff character is made of; the power to change the face of things. It is the daily triumph of integrity over skepticism." This dedicated passion for medicine is one of the traits we search for in applicants to medical school because we know that the process to become a physician is long and arduous. In order to persevere, this type of commitment is more than a statement. It is demonstrated action toward a goal.
In the United States we require applicants for medical school to obtain a baccalaureate or college degree. We do not require specific majors; however, there are certain subject areas required for admission. That information can be found in the online bulletin for medical school. Medical school prepares students to pursue further study in a specific branch of medicine and is generally four years.
Once a student graduates from medical school, they are able to provide care for patients while being supervised by physicians with expertise in the chosen branch of medicine. This is residency training and can vary in length of time from three to seven years.
After the completion of residency, a physician is eligible for the independent practice of medicine. At this point in time, the physician has a significant depth of knowledge of their branch of medicine, has seen and worked with a lot of patients, has taken and passed a lot of exams, and has personally matured. This process is long and arduous and everyday life happens while these developing physicians are students and then residents. The only way to complete the journey is to remain focused. This sustained focus on a goal is learned behavior and has to be nurtured.
Finally, there is the preparation. Most people immediately think of the educational preparation that is required. This is crucial and does not begin in college. The thirst for the pursuit of knowledge and understanding begins with primary and secondary education. This is where parents and local teachers and principals have a major impact on the future of the community. This is when students develop self-discipline and the ability to manage their time and responsibilities. This is how students learn information and the skills to process and analyze that information. This is why educational preparation is important.
However, educational preparation is not the only important aspect. There is also personal preparation. To be an effective physician, there are personal characteristics and skills that have to be developed in order to influence the behavior of patients, genuinely care for all people, communicate well with patients and colleagues, navigate complex systems, and meet people where they are. We give these characteristics names such as altruism, compassion, empathy, and leadership. We look for characteristics such as these and more in applicants to medical school through their description of their activities and experiences and the interview process. This is why attention to detail during the application process is essential. We want to have meaningful information about you.
Over the years our medical school has learned that everyone does not have this much insight into the process. This is why we offer pre- and post-application counseling through the SOM admissions office at 601 984 5010 or email AdmitMD@umc.edu. We want to help students achieve their career aspirations, provide the citizens of Mississippi with physicians, and, ultimately, improve health care for all.
Loretta Jackson-Williams is vice dean for medical education at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.