By Adela Penagos, PhD
Every year, at every institution where I have served as an academic adviser, many of the incoming first year students, declare pre-med as their academic intent. During my initial conversation, I try to understand why the students are contemplating this choice as sometimes it stems from family and personal pressure that could set everyone up for disappointment. I have seen many students accomplish their pre-med dream at the end of their undergraduate career. I have also witnessed several pitfalls that I hope future pre-meds can avoid.
1. THE HIGH SCHOOL SCIENCE WIZ.
Some students are truly gifted in science and took the most challenging curriculum prior to their arrival to college. If this sounds like you, your chances of success in your science courses in college are rather high. Reaching this conclusion requires a clear sense of the rigor of your high school and its courses. If you were not offered the highest caliber of science classes to this point, but did very well in the courses you took; regrettably, you will be likely start with an academic gap. Your journey is going to be more challenging, as you will need to invest time in catching up. While getting to your end goal is still possible, you must be honest with yourself: start by taking one science course your first year, work with a tutor and your professor to breach the gap, and plan the remainder of your curriculum wisely.
2. DO WELL AND BE AWARE OF THE COURSES YOU NEED TO GET IN.
Your major matters very little when it comes to getting into med school. The most important thing is to take the right science courses and excel in them. Be careful and thoughtful in designing a long-term schedule. Plan to benefit from the knowledge you gain in the classroom and its application to your clinical and research experiences as well as for the MCAT.
3. BUILD A SUPPORT NETWORK.
I encourage you to work closely with a knowledgeable pre-med adviser as early as your first semester in college to ensure you are receiving the needed support to succeed in the application process. Building a strong support network is as important as excelling in your courses and often both are interconnected.
4. BE UNIQUELY YOU.
Make sure to work on the core skills needed to get into med school while being your true self. This means that you should find a research opportunity that aligns well with your personal and academic interests. Engage in a service-learning opportunity at home or abroad during the summer. Learn a new language -many doctors work with international patients and there is no better way to serve one’s patient’s than communicating with them in their own language. And, while you engage in these opportunities do not forget to develop a strong relationship with anyone who supervises you. Eventually, a more experienced doctor will supervise you during your residency. Thus, the sooner you learn to make the most of these type of relationships the better off you will be.
Getting into med school in the US is not easy, but there is a high demand for doctors. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), this need is projected to increase in the upcoming years. Therefore, if you have what it takes to get ready during your undergraduate career, you will likely become a physician in the future. Start in the right path from the moment you arrive to campus this fall.