nurse and boy

So You Want to Be on the Medical Front Lines?


According to the American Medical Association (AMA), data from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) show that the number of students applying to start medical school in 2021 increased by 18 percent from the previous batch. This represents an unprecedented increase and comes at a time when variants of the Covid-19 virus are showing up, including some that are even more contagious.

This news is heartening indeed and proves that many young people have a calling to serve their fellowmen even in a perilous situation. While other people are doing their best to stay safe from infection—wearing masks, sanitizing their hands often, practicing physical distancing, avoiding crowds, and studying or working from home—frontline health workers go where there is the highest risk.

Cost of Medical School

The cost of medical school is beyond the reach of many who also want to become doctors, though. According to data from the AAMC, private medical school graduates of 2020 had a median educational debt of $220,000. Public medical school graduates had a median educational debt of $200,000.

For the school year 2020 to 2021, the average cost for tuition and fees for in-state students of the 74 ranked public medical schools is $37,387. The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine is the most expensive ranked public medical school, with this school year’s tuition and fees for in-state students at $58,640.

The 10 ranked public medical schools with the lowest tuition and fees for in-state students are the University of Mexico at $18,559; the University of North Texas Health Science Center at $20,262; the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center at $20,486; the Texas A&M University at $20,720; the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at $21,833; the University of Texas Health Science Center—San Antonio at $21,859; West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine at $22,672; the University of Texas Health Science Center—Houston (McGovern) at $24,744; Marshall University (Edwards) (WV) at $25,326; and East Carolina University (Brody) (NC) at $25,860.

If you cannot afford to go to medical school, there are other ways you can still become a frontline health worker.

EMT pushing a stretcher

The Other Pathways

After graduating from high school, provided you are 18 years old and above, you can go straight to a school that offers emergency medical technician or EMT courses to become an emergency medical technician. This is a program of about 160 hours that includes lectures, training, and practice and prepares you to take the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) certification and the advanced emergency medical technician program. The basic course costs about $985 and the advanced course about $875 plus textbook expenses.

Emergency medical technicians respond to accident sites or home emergencies, providing immediate lifesaving and harm-reducing medical care and continuing to do so as they transport the patient safely to the hospital via ambulance or air transport. Emergency medical technicians provide basic, noninvasive interventions and advanced emergency medical technicians can perform limited advanced and pharmacologic interventions. Their care ends as the patient enters the hospital.

As a certified emergency medical technician, you can work and support your further studies as an advanced emergency medical technician. Upon certification, you can work at the advanced level and support your further studies as a paramedic.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2020, EMTs and paramedics earned a median annual salary of $36,650. A paramedic earns at the higher end of that scale because a Certificate program takes a year to finish while an Associate program that includes general education courses takes two years. A paramedic can perform pharmacologic and invasive interventions such as intubation and resuscitation techniques.

Bridge Programs to Nursing

While working as a paramedic, you can support your studies in a paramedic-to-nursing bridge program. Such programs normally assume that the students are working, so they offer asynchronous online classes.

The average program length is two years to get an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) and qualify to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). With an ADN and license you can already work as a registered nurse, OBGYN nurse, neonatal ICU nurse, or travel nurse.

If you decide to later obtain a four-year B.S. Nursing (BSN) degree, your ADN credits will count toward it. Further studies will mean an increase in income because while an ADN will get you an average annual pay of $69,000, a BSN degree will get you an average annual pay of $83,000 according to You can earn even more if you pursue further studies as Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), and Ph.D. in Nursing Science while working.

If you still want to pursue medical school, you can decide between saving up enough and then studying full-time or continuing working part-time while studying. Either way, your background as an emergency medical technician, paramedic, and nurse will serve you well from your application to your actual studies.

Journey of Service

If you are set to be among those working on the medical front lines, you can do so even if you cannot afford to go straight to medical school. If you take the longer path, you will be able to serve earlier as a health frontliner and continue to do so throughout your journey toward becoming a doctor.

If you do not become a doctor, you can choose to be a nurse, instead. You may also decide to continue working as a paramedic. In any case, you will still be a frontline health worker providing much-needed services. Your journey becomes part of your destination.

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