Looking back on my time as a premed, I realize how many missteps I took along the way, and how many assumptions that I'd entered school with but didn't even recognize until months, sometimes years later. I don't blame my younger self – after all, hindsight is always 20/20 – but you don't have to make the same mistakes I made. Here are the things I wish I knew earlier in my journey to medical school:
1. The premed community doesn't have to be cutthroat
Going into undergrad, I feared that the premed community (especially at a large institution) would be extremely competitive. To the best of your ability, go into your premed courses with an open and trusting mind. Don't let this myth of hyper-competitive premeds hold you back from forming friendships with others in your classes, as these are the people you'll lean on during hard times. Having friends to go through the premed journey with makes the whole process so much easier and happier!
2. There's no standard path towards medical school
It might feel like there's a set list of what to major in, which extracurriculars to do, and which clinical experiences to have, but your classmates will reveal the sheer variety of paths there are to medicine. Medical schools really appreciate students with varied interests who can show their commitment to what they're passionate about, so lean into whatever that is for you.
3. Choose a medical school that you can actually see yourself being happy at
Fear of not getting into medical school can cause you to apply to schools you know you wouldn't be a good fit for (or that wouldn't be a good fit for you). This was definitely a trap I fell into - I applied to many schools I wasn't particularly interested, creating a lot of unnecessary stress and wasting time that I could've used to better applications I really cared about. Everyone has different priorities for what they're looking for in a school (location, finances, dual degree programs, social support, etc) so think about what those are for you and go off of that when applying and committing to a school. Medical school is hard and tiring, and you want to be at a place where you feel supported and happy.
4. Start your application early
Since the application is long, it's important to try and start early (even 6 months or more out). Expect to go through a lot of drafts for your personal statement, activities section, and more. Share your drafts with people both close and not so close to you to get a variety of opinions. Be open to making both big and small changes - this is how you'll end up with the versions that you like the best!
5. It's okay to take time off
I definitely felt the pressure to always be doing something medicine-related and to go straight from undergrad into med school. Candidly, I regret missing out on time where I could have pursued passion projects or traveled. Your grades/test scores/clinical experience are only one part of your application, and it's okay to devote time to completely unrelated activities or relaxing (those passions/hobbies also make you interesting to admissions committees!). Most importantly, take care of yourself and your mental health.