There’s so much advice out there from so many sources. Your aunt, cousin, and grandpa think they know what to do to be successful in your pursuit of medicine. All of your friends are experts — and why aren’t you a doctor already?
I know, I know … This time in life is hard. You are comparing yourself, and you are hearing so many messages.
So, I’ll make it simple.
Here are three pieces of advice for pursuing a career in medicine while staying human and sane:
1. Concentrate on your classes. Seems easy: Go to class, study, take a test, repeat. But it’s not so simple for everyone. For those of you with financial struggles or family obligations, these things can vie for your time. If you are a mom, married or older, then even more distractions accrue. Set aside dedicated study time and stay ahead by pre-reading for lectures and use a course syllabus. I didn’t do these things until later on in college, and I regretted it. The same philosophy applies to MCAT study. Grades and MCATs get you in the door, but your motivation and your “why” for being a physician are what will solidify your chances for admission and carry you through challenging times.
2. If you have to work, decrease your course load to something manageable. Again, simple right?! Nope. We think so highly of our abilities that we don’t realize our limitations. No — working at Genentech, taking Biochem and Calculus at UC Berkeley was not a good combination for me. I emphasize for “me.” I was driving to Genentech campus in traffic and wasting so much time that could be spent, well, studying or being with people I cared about. So, I had to drop my courses since I wasn’t doing well with the combination. Learn from my mistakes and don’t repeat them. Give yourself a chance to do well in each course and to attend office hours if possible.
3. The most important thing, in regards to studying and in life, is to set realistic expectations. Give yourself concrete goals and a fighting chance to complete each task. If you have to cover a lot of information, give yourself longer to complete the task than you think and plan ahead. Build in leisure time and self-care, so you stay balanced. You can’t always work well under pressure, and it generally takes much longer than we anticipate to complete a task. Give yourself a break sometimes and make sure you really comprehend the information. You will retain more this way.
In order to set realistic expectations for what a medical career is like — get out there and find out. Volunteer, touch a patient, shadow, find a mentor and stick with them.
In regards to applying, set goals for admission to medical schools you are likely to gain entrance to by looking up their stats of their accepted applicants. If your GPA or MCAT score need work — work on them. If you did and you are applying, apply widely but to programs which will consider your total application. This may mean moving across the country, but this is a sacrifice, right?
I hope these words of wisdom set you on a course to find your right fit in a medical school and a place where you can thrive in learning medicine. But first things are first — you have to gain admission. One step at a time and you will get there. These are just a few tips to make the journey easier.
Candice Williams is an anesthesiologist who blogs at the Premed Consultants Blog.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com