It is crazy to look back and think that I received admissions decisions from colleges and committed over 2 years ago. In some ways, it feels like it was just yesterday, but in others I feel like I have always lived on campus and eaten in dining halls. Regardless of how I perceive my college years, the reality is that I will be graduating in less than a year and moving onto medical school. That stare-granting yet familiar, stress-inducing yet future-minded tag on my name –pre-med – will soon be gone. I have definitely encountered a steep curve to navigating what it means to be a pre-med student in college, and these are the things I have learned along the way.
1 | You can’t get there on your own
In high school, I was the type of student who preferred working by myself to working in groups. The stress of lost accountability and missed deadlines drove me away from partnering up on projects or presentations. This mindset worked pretty well for me, and I tried continuing it in during my freshman fall quarter–close, but no cigar.
In addition to finding myself overworked while completing multivariable calculus proofs, I did not have an outlet to compare answers, check my work, or discuss gaps in understanding outside of professors and teaching assistants. In college, most courses are simply too rigorous and intentionally challenging for students to slide through on their own. The work requires multiple brains to work together in order to succeed.
After my first midterm, I went to office hours and my professor literally suggested making a Facebook group with other students. I have never looked back since and try to create a support network of peers to collaborate with in every pre-med college course. In addition to doing better than I think I am capable with on my own, my grasp on concepts is much stronger.
2 | Requisite courses are not to teach you the “What”, but the “How”
I was one of those lucky students who placed out of inorganic chemistry and started with organic as a freshman due to my AP scores. Yes, it is as difficult as people say it is. In the midst of drawing benzene rings and learning what chlorine ions may be inclined to do in a chemical reaction, I questioned why I was learning what I was learning. Was my capacity to memorize a laundry list of pKa values really representative of how successful I would be as a physician?
After finishing the organic chemistry sequence, I started to gain a sense for why so many tough courses were required. Over the course of year, I had developed a system for studying – a combination of study tactics that make me most comfortable and confident in mastering thick chunks of material. For me, this included early mornings, green tea, and silence and I found myself sticking to it in order to be successful. Each pre-med student goes on this journey over the course of college, which results in an arsenal of strategies. This journey is much more important to focus on than the minutiae of the courses – not to mention that solidifying a study system and the “how” will make the “what” much easier!
3 | Being Pre-Med does not mean belonging to a singular identity
This is a relatively recent realization that I have tried my best to act on in my remaining time as an undergrad. When I came into college, I felt an inclination to become the student I imagined was a perfect pre-med. Time has been one of the strongest forces to detract me away from this unattainable and sometimes even toxic image.
I thought that I had to be a biology or chemistry major in college. Some stereotypes in my head, as well as anecdotes from medical students convinced me that I would be most successful in my pre-med experience if I studied a hard science. This could not be farther from the truth. In fact, the statistics suggest that English majors are some of the most successful pre-meds.
Instead of deciding to study what I was passionate about, I chased an image of what I thought I should do. One quarter of classes in a forced major convinced me otherwise. I was not happy, and switched out. I had to take several biology and chemistry classes to be a pre-med anyway. Why should I make all of my college courses in this subject area?
After floating for a bit, and exploring different subjects, I found out that I really loved the brain, and decided to study Neuroscience. I also picked up a major in Human Communication Sciences, which studies clinical manifestations of and treatments for patients with difficulties in communication (often resulting from neurological disorders). Picking programs that genuinely excite me has made academics as a pre-med much less drab and much more personal. I feel passionate about the material I study, as opposed to a generic template of a student.
I believed that being a successful pre-med in college meant committing myself to most, if not all, of the health-oriented groups on campus. From volunteering at clinics to educating students about healthy living, research clubs to medical fraternities, I had an opinion that I had to do it all. Again, embodying this persona that I had in mind left me unhappy and wondering what else college had to offer. I felt like I was seriously missing out.
During sophomore year, I decided to cleanse my schedule (and résumé), remaining in just a few medical clubs that I was passionate about. I also picked up new interests that I had never explored before, like the Ballroom, Latin, and Swing Dance Team. I came to learn firsthand that there will never be a better time than college to immerse yourself in the new and unfamiliar. Today, the cliche “quality, not quantity” has never rang truer as I look back on the few health organizations that I am part of and the pride and commitment I bring to each of them.