MCW has a kickass program where its students can be paired with premed undergrads. I jumped at this opportunity given my passion for mentorship (after all, that is why I started this blog). The premed I was lucky enough to be paired with recently asked a series of insightful questions. The first was along the lines of what would I have done differently throughout my premed journey and why? This immediately got my thoughts churning and I knew a few lines could not do this question justice. Moreover, I thought the answer would be beneficial to a wider audience as well, and as such, this blog piece was born.
My advice to premed me, specifically college premed me, can be summed up with the simple phase: enjoy the journey. This can be elaborately peeled back to reveal multiple layers though. First, and most importantly, is to appreciate the world around you. This varies at every level. In college, you could start by taking a moment, no matter how stressed you may be, to think about how cool whatever you are learning about may be. You have to admit that our current understanding of biochemistry is mind boggling. How the hell did people theorize about all of that and then actual confirm it through elaborate experiments. Shit’s cray. Not everything is going to be rosy though. You will likely not enjoy every class you take, but overall, you should be upbeat about your courses, otherwise why are you studying that material. Also, don’t forget about the things outside of school. Perhaps you are grateful for athletics or extracurriculars. Maybe it’s the irreplaceable friendships you have made. Whatever it is, be mindful of it and allow yourself to be present throughout your journey.
Now that we are all yogis, centered ever so perfectly, let’s move onto point number two: pursue what you love. Obviously this includes medicine in some form, otherwise you wouldn’t be contemplating this path (or reading this blog piece I suppose). However, I did not wholeheartedly incorporate this tenet while building my medical school resume. If you pursue things you love, it adds to your enjoyment of the journey, which quite frankly can be a bit of a grind at times. Moreover, it virtually guarantees success. If you have a deep seeded passion for something, you will inevitably be able to pour your heart and soul into it, excelling to a greater degree. If something is truly a chore, you can only fake it for so long. Here is an example. I love tennis. It was a large part of the reason I would up at a small division three school not many people have ever heard of. Pursuing this lead to so many more wonderful opportunities. First, and definitely the most important looking back on it, I developed invaluable lifelong friendships. As a collegiate tennis player, I immediately has a close knit group of friends walking onto campus. These relationships only blossomed and new ones were added to the mix over the ensuing years. It was also an incredibly fantastic outlet physically and socially from my demanding coursework and other extracurriculars as well. Finally (notice how I prioritized this last, more on that in a minute), it contributed monumentally to my medical school application. Beyond it being a meaningful experience, I was a team captain my senior year, won a handful of awards that tie together athletics and academics, got a stellar letter of recommendation from my coach, and had a backdrop to my personal statement. Side note, check my personal statement out here, complete with commentary, if you are struggling on yours. So, from one passion, a huge chunk of my resume was filled out. Might I mention that this was no chore either. I wish I had taken this same approach with my other extracurriculars. Honestly, there was no central theme to the other things I did, including a hodgepodge of research, medical employment and volunteering, and nonmedical volunteering. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed these things, but they were not guided by some deep, underpinning passion. In short, reflecting on the impact you want to have and then going after that wholeheartedly will produce not only the best results, but also the most happiness along the way, both selfishly and altruistically. This is the single greatest piece of advice for any premed seeking to build an application. Do not merely try to check boxes off (I mean you have to do that to some degree unfortunately), but have a direction and story within your journey, which should highlight the things that make you tic.
Damn that was a long winded speech, but hopefully I got my point across. The third thing to stress is not to completely define yourself by medicine. Yes, it will be a large part of your life (reflecting back on it, it seems as if it dominated undergrad at points and it is certainly dominating my life at the moment with step one on the horizon), but don’t lose sight of yourself outside of medicine. What are your hobbies? How can you continue to develop them? Even in medical school I still incorporate pastimes and have even picked up a few new ones. I simply schedule them in, regardless of whether or not I think I have time for them (except leading up to a test, a period which feels a lot like a black hole). I don’t have time for as much as I would like (my gains in the gym are suffering and I am certainly not committing as much content to this blog as I would like), but it is a lop sided compromise at the end of the day. So, you are more than a premed and will be more than a medical student and physician. Please don’t forget that!
In my mind, the last piece of enjoying the journey centers around alleviating any angst that you may have on the horizon. First off, anyone and everyone is capable of matriculating into medical school, you just have to put the work in. It is certainly not easy, but it is not an impossibility by any means. Moreover, once you do get in, you are more than capable of succeeding. After all, no school would invest in you if they thought otherwise. Imposter syndrome is real and can be crippling, rearing its ugly head from time to time throughout your training, but rest assured, you are capable and ready to rise to any challenge that may present itself.
In closing, premed me, please don’t overthink things, trust yourself and the process, but most importantly, enjoy the process. The next few decades of your life are going to be a process, but would you really rather have it any other way?
I would love to hear what other current medical students, residents, or attendings would have to say to their premed selves, so please don’t be shy and send guest posts to firstname.lastname@example.org :)