Freshman year is an anxious time for most students. While adjusting to the newfound freedom and lifestyle, we are met with many social and academic challenges. On top of that, as a pre-medical student, you are thrown into a track where your success outside of the classroom is just as important as your success within. We have created this guide to help you navigate all aspects of the pre-medical track in hopes that you don’t make the mistakes we did. In this blog post, we will touch on classes, research, volunteering, and clinical exposure.
Picking classes and creating a manageable schedule does not have to be difficult or stressful. The best way to make it easy is to go semester by semester. The first thing you want to consider is getting started on your introductory chemistry and biology courses. These intro science classes require time and effort. Their structure and grading may be new to you and require some adjusting to. Always seek help when you need it and do not let yourself fall behind. Join an SLC study group, go to office hours, or meet up (in-person or virtually) with classmates or GSIs for help. There are so many resources for you to use, so take advantage of them!
In general, a good rule of thumb is to limit your STEM classes to 2 maximum per semester, especially in your freshman year. This will give you the chance to adjust to college life, get familiar with the structure of exams, grading, office hours, etc. and modify and strengthen your study habits in science classes, which is key to doing well in the many science classes you will be taking as a pre-med.
Here is a link to Newnan’s pdf checklist of pre-med courses to take. It may also be helpful to fill this out with a Newnan advisor or with one of us!
Besides science classes, there are many classes you can choose from to fill your schedule. They can be narrowed down into a few categories.
– Language Requirement (LSA only): Freshman year is a good time to take language classes because they are very manageable in terms of workload and are smaller, which makes it easy to meet new people.
– First-Year Writing Requirement (LSA only): The most common classes to take are ENGLISH 124 or 125, but there are many interesting first-year seminars that also fulfill the writing requirement.
– LSA Distribution Requirements: The best way to do this is to look at the LSA course guide and filter out humanities, social science classes, or race and ethnicity classes. Some common examples are SOC 100 or 102, ANTHRCUL 101, PSYCH 111, and PHIL 183.
If you would like to see a template schedule and read some advice, click here.
If you would like to see past students’ schedules, click here.
Finally, take a look at majors you may be interested in. Make a list and look through their prerequisites. The best way to see if you like a major is to try out some of their classes. Remember, your major should be a subject you are genuinely interested in, NOT something you think looks good on applications. More and more, medical schools have emphasized how choosing a science major is not required. Most importantly, they will be able to tell if you are truly passionate about your major or if you chose it simply for application purposes.
If you have no clue what your interests are, do not worry. Here are some suggestions to start thinking about as you are considering potential majors:
– Look at a specific subject of interest on the LSA course guide and find a course that sounds interesting to you. Those classes may lead you to new passions/interests you never would have known otherwise.
– Pick one or two classes on topics you have not taken but want to learn more about. Explore something new and you may just find your passion.
– Ask upperclassmen about their experiences with majors you are interested in (or read through this post).
Once you have found your major, scheduling your classes will come easy. However, it never hurts to get an extra set of eyes on your schedule; meet with a pre-health Newnan advisor, ask an advisor in your major’s department, or ask one of us! We are here to help.
General Medical School Course Requirements (non-exhaustive)
One Year of Inorganic Chemistry and Lab
One Year of Organic Chemistry and Lab
One Year of Biology and Lab
One Year of Physics and Lab
One additional semester of Biology
One semester of Biochemistry
One semester of Mathematics/Statistics
One semester of English/Writing
Taking part in research is a great way to learn more about the research process/methodology, improve your critical thinking, and learn more about evidence-based medicine. There are many ways to take part in research at Michigan, the biggest one being the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP). UROP is a year-long research program that accepts first-year, second-year, and transfer students, with a deadline in the Spring of the previous academic year. The application process requires you to put down which subjects you’re interested in conducting research in, such as Health Sciences, Humanities, Social Sciences, Life Sciences, Engineering, Physical Sciences and more. Once accepted into the program, you are placed in a seminar group that usually meets biweekly throughout the academic year. These seminars not only introduce you to fellow students who go through the research process with you, but they also facilitate your professional development as a new researcher. There are a large variety of projects available, from behavioral/social science to clinical to more wet-lab based research that you can choose from. UROP has a process allowing you to apply to projects that you’re interested in, with the help of your seminar peer facilitator (an upperclassmen student who was previously involved in UROP) and every student accepted to UROP gets placed in a research lab. There is a symposium at the end of the academic year (April) in which you present your research! The Michigan Research and Discovery Scholars (MRADS) is similar to UROP, but is a residential community in which you reside with your fellow MRADS students in the same housing. The MRADS application process is around the same time as UROP, and both programs allow you to ultimately pursue the same research. However, students are only allowed to participate in one of these programs.
Aside from UROP/MRADS, students can also find research assistant postings through the Student Employment website. Additionally, many students find research opportunities by emailing faculty. I would recommend making a list of topics you’re interested in pursuing, and emailing faculty/professors that conduct research in these subjects. Another option is if you enjoy one of your academic classes, you could reach out to the professor and ask if they have any research opportunities. PMH also has previous blog posts regarding research, linked below, that are beneficial!
Volunteering (Medical and Non-medical)
Volunteering is a great way for a pre-medical undergraduate student to learn more about the career in medicine by interacting with patients or develop the essential characteristic of kindness and altruism in order to become a future doctor. Whether the volunteering experience is related to medicine, it is a wonderful opportunity to help out a community and also show medical schools that you care about the well being of others. There are multiple ways to get involved in volunteering at Michigan. Even though the recent COVID-19 situation forbids in-person volunteering at Michigan medicine. There are still various ways to volunteer with the hospital system at Michigan.Volunteering opportunities include packaging masks and sanitizers. It will be a good idea to email the volunteering department to learn more about the ways to get involved. Besides Michigan medicine, there are also other volunteering opportunities available. You can check them out at the career center website:https://careercenter.umich.edu/article/volunteering-employment-and-gap-year-resources In addition, joining an organization concentrated on volunteering or rushing a pre-medical fraternity can also open doors to more volunteering resources. You can check out all clubs at Michigan by browsing through Maize Page: https://maizepages.umich.edu/ It is important to remember that it is a special time right now, and don’t get discouraged if you are not able to find a volunteer position right away. There will be more opportunities available later on as the pandemic gets better and also remember that you have four years here to explore.
Gaining clinical experience is beneficial for your medical school application. It demonstrates your commitment to entering a health profession. Various activities encompass clinical experience; what counts is pretty broad. Generally, they include clinical volunteering, clinical positions, and shadowing. I will break each of these categories down further.
However, it may be difficult to gain clinical experience at the moment due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Clinical volunteering is exactly what it sounds like: volunteer work done in a healthcare setting. This can include volunteering at a hospital or a hospice, or any forms of patient interaction (patient interaction can always be counted as a clinical experience, but clinical experience can’t always be counted as patient interaction re:more on this). As long as you are volunteering in a healthcare setting, it falls under clinical volunteering, thus it is clinical experience.
The UMich Career Center has a comprehensive list of clinical opportunities here. This list includes nearby clinics, hospitals, summer camps/programs (i.e. Camp Kesem), and more that you can work with!
Study abroads (more here) or Alternative Spring Breaks (volunteer trips) can also be a way to gain clinical experience if you are working among and interacting with health professionals or patients.
Note: Many students volunteer through UMich Medicine here. They’re not admitting new volunteers currently due to COVID-19, but if you’re interested, I would keep the future information dates on your calendar because spots fill up very quickly. Additionally, you could look at volunteering at the VA hospital or St. Joe’s Hospital (which are less competitive because they require a bus to access).
You can also gain clinical experience through a job. For instance:
- Medical Scribing: “Scribing is a paid opportunity to shadow doctors in the emergency department. There are a few companies that work in the Ann Arbor area, but be warned that the hours do tend to be long as you are working at a doctor’s pace. If you are looking for a scribing opportunity, check out companies like PhysAssist or ScribeAmerica, and watch for job openings through Handshake” (source). You can read more about scribing in this blogpost.
- Clinical Research Position: this involves research that involves a hospital or some clinical setting. You can find such positions using the student employment website (note: I would suggest looking under the recent posting section to simplify your search because other sections also contain jobs that were posted a while back and weren’t taken down). More on the clinical research can be found here (near the bottom of the page).
- Other jobs: phlebotomist, nurse assistant, medical assistant, EMT, doula, medical interpreter/translator, or home health-taker (there are many more possibilities, but these are some). Some of these positions require certifications. These certifications can typically be completed over the summer at a community college. Upon completing required coursework, you will be able to take a test to achieve certification. More on this here. Some notes:
- Many pre-med clubs (such as AMSA) offer opportunities to take a phlebotomy course.
- Washtenaw Community College offers some coursework if you are staying in AA for a summer and need something to do.
Shadowing, while not necessarily required, can make you look more competitive for medical schools AND (more importantly) introduce you to healthcare setting dynamics and various fields in medicine. Many students struggle to find shadowing opportunities due to limited connections, but don’t be afraid to send an email to a professor you’d like to shadow. You can browse through doctors here. I personally cold-emailed and found a doctor to shadow! In my email: I introduced myself, briefly talked about my medical-related ambitions (doctors are busy, so it’s best to keep it to a paragraph or two), and attached my resume.
Another opportunity I was made aware of was “Webshadower.” I heard about it through a newsletter sent out by a University Pre-Med-related Handshake newsletter. This is new, so I haven’t personally tried it. More on joining a career track through Handshake here.
- Don’t compare yourself to other pre-med students on campus on grades or number of activities that you guys are involved in. Everyone has their own perks and remember medical school admission is a holistic review. Just do whatever you are passionate about and try your best.
- Choose a major and extracurriculars that you’re truly passionate about — it can be tough to not give into the mindset of “medical schools would be impressed by this”. At the end of the day, you are unique and your passions will show through clearly in your application, which is what matters the most rather than perhaps trying to fit into the “typical pre-med” mold. It’s encouraged to choose your undergraduate career on these interests, even if they aren’t science based! (Lakshmi)
- In addition, choosing a major that you are passionate about will be evident in your medical school interviews. If you’re able to follow your passions in undergrad (while still taking the necessary prerequisite courses) you will be a more standout candidate than someone who tried to fit the “typical pre-med” mold.
- Keep an open mind regarding how your undergraduate experience may progress. I know many people have come into college with a certain expectation of their major/future career, only to find a passion or interest in a different subject. Whether this means switching majors or choosing to pursue the pre-med track later in college or in life — this is normal!
- Do not be afraid to ask for help! Whether it is learning the material in your classes to looking over your resume for a research position, asking for help is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of strength and determination to improve. Keep in mind that it’s okay to experience challenges or fall down a few times, but what’s most important is getting back up. Being pre-med is not easy nor meant to be! Be kind to yourself, learn from your mistakes, and keep moving forward.
- Seek advice from advisors, upperclassmen, medical students, etc. BUT take their advice with a grain of salt. There is NO recipe for getting into medical school. Remember that everyone’s path is different and filled with unique ups and downs. Stay true to yourself.
- I know taking a bunch of tough courses all at once may seem like a great idea initially, but the stress is not worth it. Prolonged stress can lead to burnout, which is all too common among premeds today. Take some time to invest in hobbies beyond the scope of medicine, get sleep, practice healthy care habits, or binge a Netflix show every once in a while! However, if you are confident, or want to take a heavy course load, then don’t let this piece of advice scare you or steer you away!
- General note during this time of the pandemic: take it easy on yourself. If you’re stressed about losing a potential shadowing or clinical opportunity that you had lined up, know that everyone else is too. COVID is impacting so many people in so many different ways, and now is a great time to do some reflecting on why you want to be a doctor in lieu of getting some in person experiences.