Can I Get a Job in Medical School?
Kaitlyn Rizzo is a second year medical student at the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine. She is originally from Northeast Ohio and attended the University of Dayton for a B.S. in Exercise Physiology. Kaitlyn attended a summer 2017 Fellowship in Lisbon, Portugal and hopes to return there one day.
The short and sweet answer to the question is…
Yes, you can. It is possible to get a job during medical school; however, the more important question is whether you should. This answer is neither easy nor straightforward, but demands a consideration of your own personal situation and goals.
My own experience working in medical school
I recently finished my first year of medical school and worked the entire time. Before you read any further, please recognize that I did not work a 20+ hours per week part-time job. As an online tutor, my work hours were flexible, and I could work from the comfort of my bed. This school year, I worked about once a week.
Next year, I will work even less as I begin studying for boards. However, I made enough spending money to cover small expenses outside of the realm of my loans for tuition, room and board. It was good pay, but it did come with a price tag. When friends of mine found out about my side gig, many questioned if I had the time. The truth is: I did give up some time that I could have spent studying. As a medical student, any hour that is not dedicated to studying is an hour “wasted,” but who can study for all hours of the day? Therefore, instead of watching Netflix or exercising, I chose to spend my “break” time on some days by tutoring students.
Do I regret it? Not one bit. For me, my part-time job allowed for me to find balance between school and my life outside of school. I absolutely loved the opportunity to get away from my books and spend time directly impacting another student’s life. My grades were not at the top of the class, but I do not believe that tutoring a couple hours per week was the reason. As I already mentioned, I simply allocated the time that I would have spent doing other activities to tutoring.
Let’s look at the big picture
If you are considering a part-time job solely for the money, I urge you to reconsider. Depending on factors like location, the costs you will incur during medical school may add up to a couple hundred thousand dollars. With interest rates to consider, medical school is a true investment no matter where you attend. If you calculate the money you could make in your free time by factoring in your hourly wage, you will see that a part-time job is unlikely to make a large dent in your ultimate debt burden.
Medical school is not only expensive from a dollars perspective; it also subtracts time from personal life. Therefore, make sure to consider whether the benefits of your part time job will actually outweigh the loss of your free time.
“Medical school is not only expensive from a dollars perspective; it also subtracts time from personal life. Therefore, make sure to consider whether the benefits of your part time job will actually outweigh the loss of your free time.”
If you feel the necessity of making good money before you can be financially ready to attend medical school, consider taking a gap year working as a medical scribe or research assistant. A job like this will allow you to make money while also gaining experience that contributes to your medical education. If possible, look for a job that strengthens your research skills, refreshes your biochemistry knowledge, or provides opportunities to learn new medical terminology on the job.
Taking a break between college and medical school may also give you additional time to study for the MCAT and prepare your application materials, but you must plan and factor in the time it takes to get your test scores and secondary applications back. The question of whether or not to take a gap year is highly disputed and very personal. For example, some students may take gap years because they did not gain acceptance into certain medical schools in the first cycle. Other students may take them to engage in certain activities like shadowing, coursework, or volunteering that they were not able to complete in college.
If you do decide that you have sufficient time to fit a part-time job into your schedule, make sure to preserve some free hours for your own sanity. If you leave yourself with an inflexible schedule composed solely of study and work, your mental health and grades will deteriorate. In general, it is a good rule of thumb to remember that you should not say yes to every opportunity, be it a club, job, class or volunteering opportunity. A burnt-out medical student will not become the best physician; stay focused and busy, but make sure to maintain boundaries and balance.
“Stay focused, stay busy, but make sure to maintain boundaries and balance.”
Potential Options for you
Currently, I tutor undergraduate and graduate students in essay writing, a subject I have always enjoyed. Most of the time, the work is flexible and laid back. I simply receive a paper that needs review, make appropriate suggestions, and send it back. Sometimes, it can be difficult when I work with students who are defiant to my feedback; however, this is rare and depends somewhat on the subject being studied. Math, for example, deals with objective answers. Conversely, essay writing gives me freedom to be creative in my suggestions when I help students.
A few of my classmates have also continued working through medical school. Some coach younger kids, while others work as medical scribes or medical assistants at hospitals. Other possibilities include babysitting, food delivery, and rideshare services. These typically provide flexibility and variable weekly hours to accommodate the medical student lifestyle. In addition, keep in mind that you will have holiday breaks and the summer between years one and two. I know many students who only work when they are back home and usually for a company at which they have worked in the past.
If a job is not for you
If a part-time job is not for you, do not force yourself to find one simply to make extra cash. Working a job you hate will not ameliorate the burden of medical school. It will simply make things worse. Thus, if you have extra time, I recommend allocating time toward other worthwhile activities. These might include participating in activities you enjoy on or off campus.
“Working a job you hate will not ameliorate the burden of medical school. It will simply make things worse.”
If you enjoy volunteering, find a local organization that means something to you. Your medical school may have a newsletter that lists upcoming service opportunities. I have devoted quite a few hours each semester toward volunteering at blood drives, working at food banks, or mentoring undergraduate students. I could have spent this time making money as a tutor, but service work has been and always will be incredibly important to me. Some students do not find that volunteering is worth their time; however, I recommend that you at least give it a try. I have found that volunteering humbles me, provides me with an opportunity to give back to the community and allows me to get to know other medical students better.
“I have found that volunteering humbles me, provides me with an opportunity to give back to the community, and allows me to get to know other medical students better.”
Joining a Club
Clubs are another possibility. Although this is different from a paid position, club membership or leadership will give you the opportunity to pursue your interests, meet new people, and develop your resume for residency applications. Since there are typically many clubs at each school, there are a requisite number of executive board positions. Next year, I will serve on two executive boards and will have the opportunity to participate in community outreach, mentoring, and leadership development.
In sum, the decision to pursue a part-time job in medical school is purely personal. After a careful analysis of your situation, you may find that volunteering, participation in on-campus organizations, pursuing a hobby, or resting are better uses of your time and effort. No matter how you choose to utilize this time, remember that there is no one right answer. Feel free to consult other students who work, participate in clubs, and volunteer.
Ask for their perspectives on each option, but remember that it is ultimately your time. Most importantly, never sacrifice your medical education or mental health for some extra cash. You are in medical school to become a physician. A few thousand dollars gained from working a part-time job is never worth a strain on your grades or mental health.