Medical School Should Be No-Fly Zone for Helicopter Parents

But it’s perfectly fine, and even recommended, to discuss your M.D. applications with your parents.


With the success of Amy Chua's book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and the addition of the phrase "helicopter parent" into our lexicon, it's clear that we are in a new era of family dynamics. But while you may laugh at the idea of your mother forcing you to play an instrument to perfection or your father still packing your lunch when you're 25, parental overinvolvement is a real issue and one that can impact the medical school admissions process and beyond.

In 2006, the National Academic Advising Association, a 10,000-member professional organization based in Kansas, published the paper, "Causes and Implications of Parental Involvement in the Advising Process." While the paper's focus is on undergraduate admissions, the insights still resonate for premedical students.

[Learn about the perils and perks of helicopter parents.]

The paper lists dozens of factors that might motivate a parent to become a helicopter parent. Parents who wait longer to have children and have fewer kids than their own parents may have a tendency to be overprotective. Family affluence, as well as parents' own level of education, are also major factors in the perfect storm, which leads to children who have rarely made independent decisions and have never managed their own lives.

Of course, before we go down that rabbit hole, it is obvious that some parental involvement is normal and beneficial for individuals. Bringing your parents on a tour of your potential campus? Totally acceptable. Asking your parents for their opinion on what school you should go to? Sure, we all want mom's and mad's approval. But what about applying to schools they want you to apply to and you don't have much interest in? That can quickly become a slippery slope.

[Check out four tips for selecting a medical school.]

Medical school is a big investment. It will take years of hard work, a substantial amount of money, and intense dedication to the future profession. Some parents may gently encourage a child to consider medical school, but a helicopter parent could push too hard for that child to fulfill this dream. The first thing you need to ask yourself, if your parent is heavily involved in your medical school application process, is whether you want to go to medical school. If you can't emphatically say that you do, perhaps you need to have a heart to heart with yourself and your parents about what career inspires you.

As the one going to medical school, you need to be the one who is passionate about pursuing an M.D. If a medical career is your dream, your parents should be a source of support, but you need to be sure that you are the driving force behind all aspects of the application process, as well as the decision about which medical school to attend.

While they can try to influence your future, your parents will not be the ones living it. Plus, it's best to choose your destiny now, before they become "lawn-mower parents." These parents have been known to attend their children's job interviews, and even try to negotiate salary. Remember, it is better to face mom and dad with the truth now, than to have to introduce them to your boss later. 

Scott Shrum is director of admissions research at Veritas Prep.