Being pre-med can be difficult. Besides the ever-growing competition both in number and strength of applications, it is a long road with payoff much further ahead than many other jobs. As we delve into this topic, bear one thing in mind: you will never know everything, and that’s okay. We at Pre-Med Hub are still continuing to navigate pre-med life, just like you. But over the years, here are a few things we have learned along the way:
- Stop comparing yourself to other pre-med students. This is something that everyone struggles with at some point, but it is so important to remember. Everyone has different experiences. Some people have 1000 hours of volunteering, others have published 3 papers by their sophomore year, and yet others simply have a 4.0 GPA and 525 MCAT score. It’s fine, and maybe even effective, to motivate yourself with your peers. However, just because you don’t have those particular experiences or statistics, it DOES NOT mean you will not get into medical school and become a doctor. Find volunteering and research that YOU are passionate about, and can therefore talk extensively about, and that’s what will shine through in your application in the end.
- Don’t stretch yourself too thin your first few semesters. This is advice that all premeds (ALL OF US) have gotten and yet, we still chose to ignore it. Take that fun freshman seminar! Take a semester abroad! We don’t say this just because college should be enjoyable, but because it is really hard to counter the effect high credit-low grade classes will have on your GPA. Taking all your organic chemistry and physics courses freshman year might seem like a good idea, but your GPA and MCAT score will thank you if you wait on taking them until you are ready. So many of us try to take as many classes as we can early on in undergrad and we only realize senior year that we could have taken things at a much slower pace. It is common for us to develop more efficient and self-catered study tactics as we progress through college, so it can be very valuable to wait to take classes that you anticipate will be difficult for you until you become more seasoned. Taking all your essential premed classes like biochem and psych early won’t help if you forget all the material by the time it comes to take your MCAT. If it becomes necessary, retake a course you struggled in significantly so that you can show improvement in that subject area.
- Take biochem as close to your MCAT as possible – semester or summer before preferably so you don’t forget the material. Remember that two different sections of the MCAT (Chem/Phys and Bio/Biochem) will test material from your undergraduate biochem course.
- Do your research on every class you register for. Although a class syllabus or intro information may seem interesting, and an unfair professor or a ridiculous grading scale may make you regret your choice for the semester and lose interest in the topic. A good source to check out is https://art.ai.umich.edu/, where you can see official grade distributions of previous classes, some over several terms.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for letters of recommendation during freshman or sophomore year when your professor still knows you and remembers you. HOWEVER, be sure to keep in contact with them until you apply, whether that’s through email or stopping by their office about once a semester. Time will be on your side and they’ll get to know you even better.
- Attending a big university like Michigan has a lot of benefits. We have so many opportunities at our disposal. Use the Career Center for interview tips, go to Newnan to see a pre-health advisor, or go to the Sweetland Writing Center to get your personal statement edited. Find a student organization where you can make a significant impact, or create your own. This is your opportunity to create your own path and discover where your passions lie.
- Join a mix of big and small student organizations so you see what suits you more. It’s a lot easier to get more involved in small orgs and you can really shape the way it is run, but large orgs can give you access to people and opportunities you wouldn’t be exposed to otherwise.
- On a similar note, our campus has so many cool organizations that aren’t health-related at all. It’s important to have a personality and interests outside of premed. In fact, there’s a portion of the AMCAS that asks for hobbies and other interests to see that you are well-rounded and aren’t spending all your time on Netflix. If you’re interested in dance, music, religion, arts/photography, activism, cooking, fashion, sports, or even squirrels, THERE’S AN ORG FOR YOU! It is important you invest time in activities you are truly interested in and are passionate about, not just for the sake of your sanity, but also for when you are interviewing at medical schools.
- Speaking of activities outside the medical field, seek out non-clinical volunteering. It will strengthen your application, show that you care about your local communities, and you can actually learn a lot of lessons that can later be applied to your work in healthcare. The key here is to volunteer with a population that is “unlike your own or the community you come from”. For example, that could mean volunteering in the underserved, elderly, or veteran communities. We highly suggest that you do not volunteer among your peers on campus. While this can still be meaningful and worthwhile, it doesn’t allow you to expand your horizons and learn what it is like to help people outside of the college bubble. Some local places to volunteer in Ann Arbor include Ozone House and Safe House.
- Don’t close off any career paths or specialties or fields for yourself before you get to experience them. I’ve met people who go through their entire undergrad as premeds, only to realize that their true passion lies in nursing or teaching or research. They never gave themselves time off to think about their end goal because they go through undergrad with a myopic fixation on medical school as a result of preconceived notions and family expectations.
- If you are considering applying to DO schools, try to shadow a DO doctor to get a feel for what it consists of and try to get a letter of recommendation from them if possible. It’ll show that you know how this part of the medical field operates, and it will help demonstrate that you chose to apply to DO because you genuinely like and understand the philosophy.
- Go to speaker events and panels – as many as you can! I know you’re busy with classes and a million other things, but doing all these ~optional~ things can help you validate your own choices about the trajectory of your future. Don’t be like the typical pre-med that is obsessed with charting their every hour or only puts in effort into projects that give them a direct academic or career benefit. A lot of the mentors and speakers you will meet are really passionate about working with students, especially undergrads, and can help you in ways beyond finding that alumni/shadowing/research connection.
- There are a lot of cool ways to get involved in the healthcare field as an undergrad. Of course, you can volunteer in hospitals. But you could also train to be a medical scribe, EMT, or CNA. There are classes here in Ann Arbor as well as in a number of community colleges across the country.
- Just because you are pre-med does not mean that you have to be perfect. Please take time for self-care. You are not alone. Pre-Med burnout is real. Physician burnout is real and prevalent more than ever. Please use the resources you have available to you in order to get any support you feel like you might need. Whether that be petting dogs on the diag or in the library during finals or venturing to CAPS, do what you need to do to stay mentally healthy on campus. The last thing you, and the people who care about you, want is for you to crash and burn. Prevent this by taking steps to prioritize mental health throughout your entire time on campus. Learning how to take care of yourself now will be extremely useful during your future as a physician, especially in order to deter compassion fatigue. Overall, finding a self-care strategy that works for your lifestyle will help you on your pre-med path, during medical school, and as a physician.
And finally: enjoy the process. The pre-med process can be really rough, but hopefully, you’re taking science classes and participating in all these activities because you find them interesting and want to learn. When the going gets rough, try to keep that in mind.
8 thoughts on “What I wish I knew earlier as a pre-med”
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