The journey to medicine is rewarding and exciting, but also incredibly long and challenging. For many, including myself, the path to medicine begins with college. I remember entering my undergrad with a burning desire to pursue medicine, but also a sense of uncertainty with how to make that happen. The point of this post is to share a couple of key suggestions that are applicable to anyone that is interested in pursuing medical school. I’ve intentionally left out the generic tips because there is already an abundance of content available on the topic.
4 tips to prepare you for medical school (and beyond!)
1. Keep a journal
By far, one of the best suggestions that I received from a counselor at my undergrad was to keep a journal, and this is a routine that I’ve maintained through my first year of medical school. College is a time of immense personal growth and self-discovery. For many, it is a time that is saturated with euphoric highs and difficult lows. Through this period, especially through the various challenges you overcome, I urge you to engage in reflective writing of any kind. Growth and maturity come not only from the experience itself, but also the reflection of that experience and the identification of the lessons learned. One thing that I realized in college was that time flew by so quickly every semester and I could often forget the small but meaningful moments that I had experienced unless I took the time to sit down and reflect on those moments.
Keeping a journal is particularly helpful when it comes to shadowing – what moments provided you with a powerful insight about medicine? It can also be helpful for reflecting on volunteer experiences or leadership experiences. These journal entries will eventually turn into stories that you can use for medical school applications, interviews, and even for conversations with friends.
There is so much flexibility with how to keep a journal. For me in undergrad, it meant having a Google folder dedicated to separate entries. Anytime I experienced a powerful moment, such as being a Camp Kesem counselor, or listening to an interesting talk, or having a challenging experience, I would create a document and write with a complete stream of consciousness about anything that came to my mind. Years later, I now cherish these documents because they contain pivotal experiences that contributed to shaping who I am.
2. Get to know your upperclassmen (and support your underclassmen)
Mentor-mentee relationships are at the core of medical training: 1st year students are mentored by 2nd year students, who are mentored by residents, who are mentored by fellows and attendings. This chain of support is something that I find to be so beautiful about medical training and it can extend even to undergrad. As a freshman in college, I was fortunate to have incredible upperclassmen friends that took the time to invest in my success and wellbeing. Being a little further along their journey than me, they scoped the terrain ahead and were happy to share the lessons they learned, such as how they studied for the MCAT or survived organic chemistry, so openly with me. Additionally, they shared several opportunities with me and made themselves available whenever I needed advice. When it came time to working on my applications, they read through multiple drafts of my essays and provided crucial feedback and insights. Ultimately, the point I’m illustrating here is that upperclassmen mentorship is so important to success in the medical journey at the undergrad level and beyond. Along with persuading you to meet your upperclassmen, I also encourage you to be that “upperclassmen” for the people that are behind you to pass on the support that you received when you were in their shoes. As I mentioned earlier, one of the beautiful parts of this journey is the chain of support along its path.
3. Develop healthy routines and identify your sources of stress relief
As mentioned at the beginning of this post, medical school is a rewarding, but challenging journey. At times, it can feel like there are too many expectations pulling you in too many directions. When there is so much to do, it can feel really easy to let your work consume every second of your day. However, I cannot stress this enough – it is okay to have fun! Be intentional in carving out time away from anything school-related for yourself and your wellbeing because this will help you both in the present and also in the long run. Identify and engage in hobbies that help you relieve stress and make this a part of your routine. These can be as simple as finding time to keep up with close friends or going for morning runs. You’ll find that you are more efficient and successful when you’re happy and well-rested. Establishing these habits early on will only make the journey to medicine more manageable in medical school and beyond.
4. Read from physician authors
One of the best ways to learn about the life of a physician is to read pieces written by physician authors. There are quite a number talented writers that have published books and articles on a variety of interesting topics within medicine ranging from AI in medicine to the history of cancer to the physician-patient relationship to the concept of mortality. Since I didn’t have too many connections to physicians in undergrad, reading pieces that were written by physician authors provided me with a window into the world of medicine and the types of topics that are on the minds of physicians today. Learning about these topics has been very influential in shaping my perspectives on the definition of a physician and understanding the areas in which medicine can improve. For those that find reading uninteresting, many physicians have also given incredible Ted Talks and are involved in a variety of podcasts that I would encourage you to explore. Being informed and knowledgeable about the medical field will undoubtedly lift the fog on your path to medicine and help you get a better idea of what to expect down the road (and also help you identify if you are interested in continuing the journey).
The tips that I have outlined above transcend the “pre-med” component of the medical journey – I still actively engage in these habits to the best of my ability as a current medical student. For me, these habits have brought color and meaning to my day-to-day experiences. I highly encourage you to try to incorporate these suggestions and to ultimately be intentional in how you practice wellness.