Whether you knew you wanted to be a doctor since you were born, or you just sort of fell into medicine by chance, you have declared yourself a pre-med student. Welcome. You are about to embark on the journey of a lifetime. These next few years as a pre-med student will only be the beginning. The beginning of the road to becoming.
Now that you’ve committed to becoming a physician, below are some helpful tips to help your pre-med experience go smoothly.
1. Take your prerequisite courses seriously
There are many reasons why you have to take prerequisite courses before matriculating into medical school. One of the main reasons is for the admissions committee to get a good idea of whether or not you can handle the workload of medical school. If you are just barely passing your prerequisite science courses, there is more reason for an admissions committee to worry about how you will handle medical school if accepted.
Another reason why you have to take perquisite courses is to make sure you enter medical school with some prior knowledge. This will allow your future professors to teach at a certain academic level. Medical school is only four years long and you’ll only spend a small fraction of that in the classroom. Prerequisites allow for some of this classroom time to be expedited.
Taking your prerequisite courses seriously should be a no-brainer. But that’s not always the case. Taking multiple classes per semester may make it hard to dedicate an adequate amount of time to understanding the material at a more advanced level. Nonetheless, you should aim to do this. Taking your perquisite courses seriously will make it much easier to do well in the courses themselves, which is obviously the goal. In addition, if you take your prerequisites seriously, you will less likely have to start from scratch when it comes to studying for the MCAT and matriculating into medical school. The material truly does come back and there is no need to waste time relearning material that you should have learned a few years ago.
2. Don’t overdo it on the extracurriculars
Quality trumps quantity when it comes to extracurricular activities. The more you do, the less time you spend doing each one which could more of a negative than a positive. When it finally comes time to apply to medical school, you will be asked to write about your experiences and if you don’t have anything meaningful to say about them, then they don’t count for anything. It’s better to pick a few things that you actually like and immerse yourself full into them. It’s much easier to write and talk about the things that you really dedicated yourself to. Your extracurriculars don’t need to be related to medicine. Admission committees love an applicant that is well-rounded and has multiple interests. Do the things that speak to you and you’ll actually find that there is a relationship to medicine in everything.
3. Sometimes you WILL have to check boxes just to check them
Depending on the schools you are interested in applying to, you may have to participate in experiences that you otherwise wouldn’t. Take research for example. For many medical schools, it is highly recommended that you have at least one research experience. Whether or not you want it to be an extensive one is up to you. Research is an integral part of medicine and medical schools who suggest participating in a research experience prior to applying simply want students to get a sense of whether or not they’d be interested in pursuing that during their medical careers. Again, medical school is only four years so value time is saved if there is an opportunity to figure something out before getting there. You may not like research when you get to doing it and that’s okay. It’s just important for them to know that you gave it a try and that your decision was based on something other than a hunch.
4. Befriend other pre-med students
Being a pre-med student will not be a walk in the park. Sacrifices will be made to get where you want to be, and it won’t always be easy. This is why it’s so important to surround yourself with people that can relate to what you’re going to. Do not isolate yourself. Make friends with the people in your science courses because you are going to see them over and over again for the next four years. You’ll get a good sense of who is pre-med just by being aware of your surroundings. Pre-med students typically move together and there will probably at least one person in most, if not all, of your classes from the beginning to end of undergrad. Take advantage of this. It is so necessary to have allies during this crazy ride to medical school. Friends that are also pre-med make for good study buddies among other things. It will be comforting to know that you are not completely alone in what you’re feeling on those not-so-great days. Now, this doesn’t mean cut off your best friend since high school because she happens to be a political science major. This simply means that you will have different academic struggles and you may not always be able to relate to each other in that way. It’s totally okay to have different friends for different things!
5. Set weekly, monthly, and semester goals
At this point, everyone knows that your ultimate goal is to be a doctor. But that’s a goal you won’t be able to say you achieved until many years from now! It’s so important to set more short-term goals as it reminds you that your efforts, even know, are purposeful. If you’ve committed yourself to being pre-med, I’m sure you have already calculated just how many years are between you and attending physician job. Undergrad, maybe a year or two off, medical school, residency, possibly fellowship… it doesn’t end! Everything that happens during these years have meaning and it’s crucial that you recognize it in real-time. This is a marathon not sprint so celebrate the small wins when you can.
6. Map the next 4 years out
By declaring yourself a pre-med student and committing yourself to the pre-med life, you have taken a pretty big leap. You know exactly where you want to be 4, 5, 6 years from now which can be very reassuring. In fact, that’s more than many others can say for themselves. Now that you know where you want to be, it’s time to do your research and plan accordingly. Making a 4-year plan can be very helpful. Because you will know all of the things you need to do before applying to medical school, you should put together a schedule that projects what you will get done every year until it’s time to apply. The 4-year plan should be very specific. From what prerequisite courses you are going to take each semester, to how many letters of recommendations you plan to get by the end of freshman year, to when you’re going to shadow a doctor, do research, and take the MCAT. It may be a good idea to do this with your pre-health advisor if you have one, as they may have insight on things like what courses to take together to make for a smoother semester.
Congratulations on getting to this moment. The journey to becoming a physician will be long, hard, and maybe even unbearable at times but it will be so rewarding in the end.
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