Medical School Aspirations: When Generation Z Grows Up, They Want to be Doctors

If anyone asked my 10-year-old self what my dream job was, without hesitation, I would answer that I wanted to be a veterinarian. I loved my cats, and I wanted to play with them as my profession. However, when I dissected a frog, worm, and pig in junior high school along with a cow eyeball in high school, I quickly changed my mind. I recall holding the cow eyeball as my teacher pointed out the different parts. Suddenly, the eyeball was no longer in my hand. It had slipped; I watched it bounce across the tile floor of our lab room and land under a cabinet. In order to retrieve it, I got on my hands and knees, and, staring at the lone pupil of the cow eyeball, I brushed it towards myself with a broom.

While this example may be a unique case, I realized I was not a fan of actually studying body parts. I really just wanted to play with cats. I no longer had any aspirations to be in the medical field. Yet, it appears that many of my peers do not feel the same way. Actually, since 2002, the application rate to medical schools has gone up by 30 percent and is steadily increasing. My question is: Why?

In searching for the answer to why so many students want to be doctors, the first thing that popped up was an article about “Generation Z.” The majority of Colorado College students currently fall into “Generation Z.” We are the generation after millennials, consisting of people born following the year 1995. This article explained that a characterizing trait of Generation Z is that it is a group of people that does not put as much faith in doctors as previous generations. We are more hesitant to take a medical professional’s word for a sickness or disease. That simply furthered my confusion. Afterwards, I asked some friends why they decided to do the pre-medical track at their respective colleges. Here are some of the responses: “It is a job where you can see the difference you are making right away;” “It’s hands on;” “I want to change the health system.”

This generation of students planning to go into the medical field will be different than people from previous generations who are currently in the medical field. Formerly, I believed many people wanted to go to medical school because they got praise for doing so. Parents would say, “Our child is headed to med school,” to any family friend or relative and receive a look of affirmation. A parent was proud of a kid going to med school, and being a doctor is a very stable profession in terms of pay. However, now I see it as more within the student’s own volition to go to medical school. As one friend said, “I want to go to med school to change the health system.” Her motivation comes from a desire to alter the current system, not from great admiration she holds towards current medical professionals. Perhaps the increase of medical school applicants is comprised of young professionals with a desire for change.

Additionally, it seems the majority of students have begun to pick a specialty very early. Molecular biology, organismal biology, and bio-chemistry are three of many science majors I have difficulties distinguishing between, yet undergraduate students hold great passions towards their respective scientific field. I never hear a student simply say that they would like to be a doctor. Students aspire to become extremely knowledgeable in a respective area of study. If it is true that Generation Z does not trust medical professionals as much, maybe this is an attempt to allow others to trust their judgement more. If they gain a higher level of mastery on their respective subject, it is likely that they will be more inclined to trust that professional’s input.

Lastly, medicine has existed as a predominantly male-dominated field in the past. Undoubtedly, it has undergone drastic changes such that women now occupy many of the positions in the field of medicine. So, my last thought is one related to that. Many female-identifying students are choosing the pre-med track. Madie Alexander, a sophomore and molecular biology major on the pre-med track, said: “All of my science classes are either female-dominated or equal in terms of the gender distribution.” Maybe the recent increase of aspirational pre-med students is due to females aiming to claim their place in a field that was lacking representation for a long time.

Honestly, when someone tells me they are doing the pre-med track, I automatically assume they don’t actually care about the medical profession and that they simply want to make money and sound smart. However, due to the fact that more than half of my friends would fall into that category at CC as well as at other schools, I felt it was time I re-examined my thoughts. While I may not have come to any definite conclusions, the increase of medical school applicants or prospective applicants is a sign that current students are interested in bringing about swift, forceful, and positive change to American medicine.

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