Before starting medical school, it’s normal to think about the chances of finishing the program and having a good career.
Being a doctor is respected and pays well, but it requires lots of effort and persistence to finish medical school.
What percentage of medical students graduate? What percentage of medical students drop out? Find out in our comprehensive guide now!
Graduation Rates and Attrition Rates of Medical Students
What is the graduation rate of medical school? The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) reports that 81.7 to 84.1 percent of students in four-year medical programs graduate. In contrast, around 96.0 percent of medical students in six-year programs graduated.
So, how long is medical school? Taking on too much work at once can burn out some students. Conversely, remaining in school for too many years will take its toll on others. Let’s explore the options.
Photo by Jessie Orrico via Unsplash
The Four-Year Graduation Rate
Those entering medical schools who are committed to completing the program are 81.7 percent to 84.1 percent. So, what is the dropout rate for medical school? In a standard, single four-year program, that would put the medical school dropout rate at between 15.7 percent and 18.4 percent, confirms the AAMC.
Most medical school students graduate, but those who take extra years or combined majors have higher graduation rates. Well over 90 percent of medical students in five-year programs graduate.
The Five-Year Graduation Rate
If you study both medicine and business, it may take you five years instead of four. But this extra year can help you graduate with a much higher chance of success. For example, the graduation rate for MD-MBA majors can go from 45% to 92%.
Even in the case of single majors, a notable boost happens around the five-year mark. Graduating in five years instead of four years increases graduation rates by about 20 percent, says AAMC data.
Six Years After Matriculation
Taking a few more years can help students finish medical school. This may be surprising to some.
More students graduated from medical school six years after enrolling compared to those who finished in four years. The graduation rate for the six-year program was 96.0 percent. The four-year program had a rate between 81.7 percent and 84.1 percent.
These findings were of students who did not participate in combined degree programs.
Combined Degree Programs
Medical school dropout rates vary quite a bit for students in combined degree programs, such as a combined MD-PhD. Between 1999 and 2017, only 61.3 percent of combined-program students graduated within eight years of matriculation.
However, when students in combined programs took ten years, the medical school graduation rate went up to 93.2 percent.
The type of program matters when it comes to the length of school for successful medical students. Around 40% of MD-MBA students graduate in four years, but almost 98% graduate in eight years.
Conversely, less than 5 percent of students earning an MD-PhD graduated within four or five years. That number went up to just over 60 percent at eight years and around 94 percent at ten years.
Why Do Medical Students Drop Out?
As intimidating as medical school can sound, surprisingly, most students drop out for non-academic reasons. From 1997 to 2017, almost half of medical students who left did so due to academic issues. The remaining half left for non-academic reasons.
Still, in every single year, the majority of dropout causes were non-academic.
Before starting medical school, it’s wise to understand why many non-academic students drop out.
Unprepared or Overconfident
Some medical school dropouts struggle with academics, but most who get in have the smarts to handle the coursework. It’s not only about questions like, “how many hours should a medical student study?”
Managing medical school is hugely about the life commitment it is during your time getting through the program.
Get ready by finding a good place to live close to your classes when you’re accepted into the program. It also means sacrificing some of your free time, nightlife, or previous time management habits.
There is no doubt that family stress can play a significant role in medical school dropout rates. Your personal life can have an impact on your graduation prospects. This could be due to caring for a sick parent, having an unsupportive spouse, or focusing on family with children.
Make sure everyone involved knows the challenges ahead before you begin medical school.
One potentially very overlooked area to consider is your relationship with others in the medical community. If an issue arises during medical school, a committee will often handle the case.
Getting on the wrong side of people who can influence your schooling, residency, or future career is a misstep to avoid.
Another set of people to stay friendly with is medical staff, such as nurses, medical assistants, and sanitation. You never know the interpersonal connections of those around you, and assuming someone has no influence can be a mistake.
Remember this idea when it comes to your online presence, as well. You never know who might stumble upon your profiles throughout medical school.
Medical student syndrome is when students become hypochondriacs while learning about diseases that can harm the body.
Some students worry about getting sick, but others are affected by stress, lack of sleep, and mental exhaustion.
One study found that up to 73.5 percent of medical school students can suffer depression or depressive symptoms during their program. Medical students can become ill due to exposure to various germs. They also work long hours and experience high levels of stress. This is a normal part of life for many people.
Keep your finger on the pulse of your health—both mental and physical—as you begin and proceed through medical school.
Wrong Career Choice
It’s hard to accept that being a doctor isn’t for you if you were taught to believe it was important.
Some medical students are expected to follow in their parents’ footsteps, or at least their expectations. Some students wanted to be doctors, but then found out they couldn’t handle cutting up dead bodies.
Think carefully before committing to medical school. Make sure it’s what you really want before investing time, money, and effort.
Think about why you want to be a doctor, even if you’re logical and scientific. Take some quiet time to reflect. The why is crucial.
What Percentage of Medical Students Become Doctors?
There is no exact number of medical students that become actively practicing physicians, as each student has their own path.
Some studying medicine will pursue MD degrees, while others will earn DOs. Doctors can work alone or lead a hospital as the Chief Physician.
Around 65% to 93% of medical school students become doctors. This depends on various factors, such as the length of their studies, their health, and other considerations.
So, what percentage of medical students fail out? The variations are massive—between 7 and 35 percent—depending on years in school, single or combined programs, and personal issues.
Most people who go to medical school will become doctors, even if they face challenges along the way. Being well-prepared for challenges on the road to becoming a doctor increases your chances of success.