It might be surprising to think about but not all medical students go on to become doctors. According to data from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), its estimated that around 80-90 percent of med students graduate. With an even greater percentage (96%) successfully completing six-year programs.
Beyond this data however, it’s difficult to give any percentage of how many graduates go on to become doctors. It’s also hard to gauge how many remain doctors beyond residency.
Each doctor has a different journey. Some might even pick up their degree and never see the inside of a hospital or clinic again!
Anecdotally speaking however, these graduation figures also seem close to what I observe as an international med student studying in Europe.
The bottom-line is; the drop out or fail rate in med school is low.
Related: Can You Fail Medical School?
The data, to give an international average estimation at least, is far from complete however. But I’d argue, based on research and the reports we do have, that the vast majority of people who start and finish a medical degree do eventually become doctors.
Which is hardly a surprise given how long and how expensive the average medical degree costs!
What Percentage of Pre-Med Students Eventually Become Doctors?
Due to the competitive nature of medicine it’s no surprise that less pre-med students eventually become doctors. According to the AAMC’s facts, the percentage of first-years being accepted onto a program is around 40%. Once in school though, as the previous data suggests, mostly all those pre-meds will then go on to graduate and find work as doctors.
Outside of the US, it could be said that the competition is even higher. In the UK, as this Times Education article states, there are around 10 pre-med applications for every one University place.
What’s important to state here though is that these are really school leavers rather than traditional “pre-meds”.
Because of that, comparing pre-meds in the US (who already hold an undergraduate degree designed to help enter med school) to school leavers in other countries, is a little unfair.
This article in CMAJ, comparing the low attrition rate of Canadian med schools to those in the UK, makes for an interesting read here.
What Percentage of Medical Students Fail Out?
Giving an average percentage in regards to the number of med students that fail med school is difficult. Data from the AAMC would show it’s low in the US however. Possibly around 10-20%.
Personally speaking, these figures make sense. The data in this article has already shown how tough it is to get into med school. Most students enrolled are aware of that, making them very adverse to voluntarily failing out.
Most of the students I’ve observed failing, some of which I’ve already discussed in my article on medical school being easier in Europe, do so for personal reasons rather than academic ones.
Interestingly, I’d estimate that the drop out rate here, compared to these US figures, is also pretty similar.
What Happens to Med Students Who Fail Out?
Not personally keeping in touch with anyone who has decided to leave med school (despite observing it happen during my first year of school), it’s hard to say what it is most go on to do.
Possibly the biggest concern, at least of those in US, is repaying the loan debt acquired starting out on the journey in the first place. For these ex-students at least, I imagine finding full-time employment is the major priority. Preferentially in a field lucrative enough to make a dent in the repayments.
One clear statistic however is how incredibly rare it is for a med student to fail school only to still find their way to becoming a physician.
The barriers standing in the way here are numerous. Medical University Admissions are resistant to dole out second chances. While the finances involved (especially if already carrying debt) often make it too much of a challenge also.
Most med students enrolled on programs to become doctors end up graduating.
Where they go after that though, due to the lack of data tracing them, is difficult to say.
A safe estimation to make, especially after looking at public demographics, the number of med school places and the number of working doctors, is that a high percentage do end up working as physicians.
But for those that don’t; those who do graduate med school but decide to do something else, we might wonder what their reasons are.
According to the data, they are very rare breeds.
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