Many freshmen enter college with lofty goals, including oodles of biology-savvy 18-year-olds who are dead-set on going to medical school… until they’re not. Don’t worry – I was one of those freshmen! I’ve seen dozens of my classmates over the last few years dropping the pre-med and there were many days and weeks when even I contemplated giving up on that “pre-med” dream. Why? I think there are two main reasons: 1) college is hard, and 2) people have a variety of experiences and personal growth and eventually decide that becoming a physician is not really what they want to do.
All of that is okay, and I think it’s good to recognize that your goals and passions can and will change over time. But if you are thinking the med route (yay!), this post is for you. The difficult thing about wanting to become a doctor is that it really is a marathon, not a sprint. If you expect to get to your junior year and magically be ready to take the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) and apply to medical schools, you will be woefully unprepared and overwhelmed. However, by accepting that the process is more like making a meal in a crock-pot than a microwave, you will be more prepared and can give yourself the freedom of flexibility in your plans. All that being said, I recommend you read the rest of this article knowing that everyone’s journey is different.
As a little background to my expertise, I have submitted most of my secondary applications and I have my first interview this Friday! If needed, I plan to update this post in the spring, when the results of the cycle are in ☺️
Continuing with the marathon metaphor, you need to know where you’re going. Research the basic medical school prerequisite classes (your college likely has a list somewhere) and sketch out when you’ll take them. Some require their own prereqs, so you’ll need to make sure you have enough time to take the whole series, especially if you aren’t a biology or chemistry major (for example, you typically need to take 2 semesters of general chemistry before taking the 2 semesters of organic chemistry that are required prior to taking biochemistry).
It’s never too early to talk to your pre-med advisor and make sure you’re on the right track. Share your course plan and any other relevant academic interests with them (ex. you want to study abroad, double-major, minor in another field, etc.). Talking with them early and regularly is important because they can provide valuable insights and may end up writing one of your recommendation letters!
Your advisor and the career center can help you find doctors to shadow, volunteer positions, and/or medical experience jobs (ex. medical scribe, CNA, EMT, phlebotomist, etc.). Medical schools like to see medical experience because it lets them know that you won’t bail out in the middle of medical school just because you didn’t realize what being a doctor really entails.
Again, this is so key. Meet your professors and invest just a little of your time into making relationships with 3-4 of your favorites (including ones from outside your major). Ask if you can join their research team. Ask them for studying suggestions. Let them know what your goals are and ask them for advice. Good rec letters come from professors who know you well, and to do that you need to spend some time talking with them.
I hope this one comes naturally to you. It doesn’t really matter what you get involved in, so long as you get involved and are passionate about it. If you’re passionate about it, you’ll automatically be meaningfully involved: helping out at events, learning new skills, taking leadership positions, and building deep relationships with students and sponsors alike.
Like campus involvement, it doesn’t really matter what is it as much as your desire to be there and the commitment you show. There are plentiful opportunities to do service on and off campus.
Take every opportunity to learn and try things that you’re interested in! Whatever you do, it’s a win if you can talk about something you learned or how you grew from the experience, even if (especially if) you failed! Your identity is NOT wrapped up in your future career, so it’s not a waste of time to invest in other things- relationships with people, your faith, other passions, etc.
Your journey, whether that takes you to medical school or not, is completely your own. The sweet spot (and challenge) is finding a balance between enjoying your college years in the moment while wisely keeping your goals and aspirations in mind. Remember that the two are not (and should not) be mutually exclusive.
If you have any questions about this post, leave a comment or reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I love sharing my experiences and helping people avoid the mistakes I made 😉
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Written by Holly Lakin on Sep 08, 2020