Medicine is an extremely rewarding and competitive career path. Some people dream of becoming doctors at a young age and want to begin preparing as soon as possible. If you are one of these people, there are several action items you can complete during the summer that will prepare you for success in the field of medicine.
Before I get into these tips, I just want to set the stage for my young readers. For most American kids, summer is the time of the year to enjoy unstructured leisure free of school or other commitments. High school is the time when summers become increasingly regimented and filled with summer school, test prep courses, or internships designed to boost one’s chances of getting into college or beyond. Certainly, college and medical school admissions are becoming increasingly competitive and many students (or really, their parents) are pressured into embracing the arms race that is the American higher education system. And you should: your college education really does affect your career and the rest of your life. That being said, please make sure to have fun and leave yourself some free, unstructured time to spend doing the things that you love with people important to you. You will have the rest of your life to work hard and achieve your goals.
Ok, getting off the soapbox now. Without further ado, here are five tips that high school students interested in medicine can follow in the summer to get ahead of the curve.
1 | Demonstrate Leadership
Demonstrating leadership is probably the most important (and convoluted) tip for someone interested in medicine from a young age. Physicians are usually leaders that are looked on with respect by those in their communities, and medical schools are looking to admit students that will be future leaders in medicine. Furthermore, proving that you have leadership potential will not only help you get into college and medical school but also help you succeed in life. Summers offer a lot more free time to pursue extracurricular activities that demonstrate your leadership.
One way to demonstrate leadership is to identify and commit yourself to a longitudinal volunteer opportunity, particularly with underserved communities. Working with the disadvantaged is particularly beneficial for young people interested in medicine, as doing so will deepen your empathy skills and demonstrate your commitment to the needy. Some good volunteer opportunities include tutoring students from disadvantaged backgrounds, serving homeless populations, or working with disabled individuals. Whatever you do, stick with the one volunteer opportunity so you can demonstrate your commitment to service and possibly take on more responsibilities.
This longitudinal volunteer opportunity does not necessarily have to be related to medicine. On the contrary, I recommend that your sustained volunteer work not be related to medicine. This is because you will probably not be given enough responsibilities to demonstrate leadership skills in a medicine-related volunteer activity, as medicine requires years of specialized training and you are in high school with basically no real skills.
Another way to demonstrate leadership is to get involved in student government or clubs. These activities will teach you how to organize events, bring your peers together, and manage your time well. Like your one longitudinal volunteer commitment, I would recommend working in student government or a particular club throughout high school so you can rise through the ranks and hold some leadership positions in the latter years of high school.
2 | Volunteer in Something Related to Medicine
Exposing yourself to medicine through volunteerism offers several advantages. For one, you will start to understand what being a physician actually entails and what working in healthcare facilities is like. Secondly, you will demonstrate your commitment to, and interest in, becoming a physician. Some volunteer opportunities related to medicine include volunteering in clinics, hospitals, or emergency rooms. Bear in mind, you will likely be doing mundane tasks like folding sheets, cleaning patient rooms, or wheeling patients around in wheelchairs.
3 | Shadow Physicians in Different Specialties
Shadowing physicians is a great way to see what medicine is like and understand what it takes to become a physician. If you have any family or friends that are physicians, make sure to reach out to them to see if you can shadow them. If you do not have such connections, a good place to start is asking your primary care provider if you can shadow them or if they can refer you to someone to shadow. Cold emailing a physician is unlikely to turn up much and should be treated as a last resort.
4 | Apply for Research Internships
Laying a strong foundation in scientific thinking and investigation skills is very important for aspiring physicians. This can be done by taking the initiative to secure biomedical research internships. I would recommend applying for internships at major research universities that are close to your home. This is because many of these internships are unpaid; thus, living at home during your internship makes financial sense.
For instance, I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. The closest major research university to the house I grew up in is Stanford University. A brief Google search reveals that Stanford offers an 8-week program for high school students over 16 years old that exposes them to basic research on a medically-oriented project. It is likely that the major university closest to your house offers something similar. These are competitive internships, so make sure to start working on your application well before the deadline.
5 | Take Summer Coursework
Taking summer courses is a good way to beef up your academic numbers and make sure that you have the grades and test scores to get into a competitive college. That being said, I only recommend taking academic coursework over the summer if you have poor grades or test scores. Summer should be about enriching yourself with extracurricular activities (emphasis on the extra), and more schoolwork is not going to broaden your horizons or open your mind to new things.
If you do decide to attend summer school, I would recommend focusing your attention on courses related to STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). These include math, biology, chemistry, and physics. Make sure that you are prepared to take the AP and SAT II tests relevant to these subjects and STEM.
For those students interested in medicine from an early age, high school is a great time to begin preparing yourself for this rewarding career. The five tips described in this post will ensure that you are ahead of the curve compared to your peers and will make you stand out to college admissions committees. I applaud the initiative you are showing in researching how to prepare yourself for medical school from such an early age; however, make sure to keep an open mind through the remainder of your high school and college education. Medicine is indeed a wonderful field, but there is so much else out there and you do not want to pigeon hole yourself too early.