A simple Google search is all you need to do to gauge the difficulty individuals have with asking for help.
“How to ask to shadow someone.” 43.1 million results.
“How to ask for a letter of recommendation.” 66 million results.
“How to ask for help,” 3.73 billion results.
From the popularity of these topics, it is evident that people have a hard time reaching out and balancing coming across respectfully, but still receiving a positive response.
There is seemingly no field that is exempt from needing to ask for assistance from higher-ups, and the journey from pre-med to medical school is no exception. During undergraduate school, pre-med students are faced with the daunting task of finding clinical and research experience to bulk up their resume. Many also need to find shadowing opportunities to assert for themselves that they do, in fact, want to pursue a medical career. They also need to find individuals who are willing to mentor them. When applying to medical school, pre-med students need to ask for letters of recommendation. The list of assistance that pre-med students need to seek out for themselves by asking of others is lengthy and navigating these years of building yourself as an individual by constantly asking for others’ support, is an intimidating and often humbling experience.
So, how can hopeful physicians navigate this difficult journey without nervously sifting through the millions of suggestions on Google search?
In the last few years, I have been lucky to find mentors without formally asking to be mentored, and my mentors have helped me gain the experiences necessary for bulking up my credentials as a hopeful medical student to-be. These relationships between physicians and pre-med students often take on aspects that are similar in dynamic to a child and parent relationship. Physicians, unique among other professionals, mold their careers around helping others. Whenever my toddler asks me to help her with something, especially something I know she cannot do by herself, I feel that it is my responsibility and my pleasure to help her. Physicians often (not always) feel the same way when it comes to an aspiring physician asking for help; they feel responsible in their role, and they feel happy to give back.
It is clear that it was not because of any hidden secret of mine that I was able to help a physician grow his non-profit; it was not because of intelligence that I had the opportunity to assist in clinical research; it was not because of social adeptness that I had the chance to work in a hospital overseas. Many times, I was given the chance to take part in these roles without even having to send in a resume. Recognizing how deeply rooted in giving physicians are, I was not scared to simply, “Just ask!” Realizing that there were so many people who were looking to do good on behalf of an aspiring physician, and not being afraid to put myself out there and hoping my sincerity comes across were parts of the mindset that allowed me to experience all these unique roles. The only technique of mine that was different than that of my peers, who did not have the same opportunities that I had, was I asked, and I knew that the worst that could happen was someone could say, “No.”
The ability to ask someone for help does not lie in the semantics of how you structure an email (although a well-written email definitely helps); it is in your mindset of reaching for what you want to experience and allowing willing individuals to support you.
Sheindel Ifrah is a post-baccalaureate student.
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