If you’re reading this, you may have a son, a daughter, a family friend, or know of someone who is in college and considering medical school. As a medical student mentor, I share words of advice to my alma mater’s American Medical Student Association chapter and thought I would share them here.
1. When preparing for the MCAT, take a diagnostic test at the beginning of your study period, one in the middle, and one a week or so before your test date. Do every single practice test available from the AAMC and practice under real test conditions. Also, whether you take a prep course or not depends on your learning style. If you are highly motivated and already have a good grasp on the topics at hand, self-study might be the right thing for you. If you are motivated, but sometimes struggle to keep a clear schedule, a prep course may be a good idea.
2. One bad grade won’t break you. Only if you have a pattern of grades below a B, or something similar, is that a warning sign to medical schools.
3. At the beginning of every semester, you should see your professors one-on-one to get a feel of the expectations, tips for studying, and what the final will be like.
4. To remember information from the beginning of the semester, it all comes down to repetition and practice questions. It is also essential to reach a level of understanding with what you are learning (this is a key point made by medical school faculty to students). Granted, some things have no rhyme or reason (like Biochemistry pathway enzymes), so you have to memorize it and review it often (using handwritten flashcards, Quizlet, Anki). But for everything else, you should make an honest effort to understand the “why.”
5. Take advantage of tutors, and always make an effort to see your professors during office hours. If you are doing well in a class, seeing a professor one-on-one could lead to other opportunities, such as research or being a TA, and possibly a recommendation letter for scholarships, summer programs, and ultimately med school applications.
6. Remember to take time for yourself while studying and being a pre-med student. Take short breaks for endurance. Active studying (doing all the old exams given by professors and passed down from upperclassmen, flashcards, verbal recall) over passive studying (watching videos, rereading PowerPoint slides, glossing over book pages) will garner you the highest score you can get.
7. Your first email draft is always your worst. If it is an important email (to your supervisor, a physician, a professor, or to someone you have never met before), write it, and let it sit in your draft box. Then revisit your draft and edit it. Imagine you are the person you’re writing too. Would you read the whole email? Or would you ignore it because it is not complete, or riddled with spelling/grammatical errors? Always ease into an email, like “hope you are doing well,” “hope you had a great weekend!” or “hope this e-mail finds you well” before getting to the crux of your message. Also, never send an emotional email. Once you click “Send,” it’s on the internet forever, and if you sent something of poor taste, it could be forwarded to other people. Take time to write a thoughtful email as if you were handwriting a letter before dropping it into a mailbox. (Is that still a thing? Yes!)
8. If you are not an extrovert by nature or like public speaking, take advantage of volunteer and leadership opportunities that will give you a chance to hone your social aptitude and to increase your social capital. For me, I used to be a shy person throughout high school, but started to love talking with anyone I met once I took on leadership and volunteering positions. So many opportunities opened up to me because I was willing to put myself out there.
9. When meeting new people, be mindful of your posture and appearance. Engaging your lower back will straighten your entire back and make you look confident when talking with other people. Also, people love it when you ask them questions about themselves. By nature, we naturally love talking about our interests and passions, and if you can get a person to do this, you’ll build rapport and instantly become memorable (important for say interviews). If you’re meeting a professor or a dean, always wear appropriate clothing. People will take you more seriously.
10. Be yourself and not something you aren’t. People can tell right away if you are genuine or not. Always be honest with people, but not brutally so. Talk with a smile and not a frown. Don’t look down at the ground when talking with someone. Make meaningful, but now awkward eye contact. All of this takes practice, and one day it just becomes second nature.
11. Be kind and respectful to everyone you meet. You never know when you may cross paths with them in the future, or with someone that knows them. We do live in a small world.
12. Do not neglect your physical and mental health. Exercise, whether it is yoga, weight lifting, or running, will pay dividends in the short and long run. Eat a balanced diet, though the occasional pizza and ice cream is okay. Practice self-awareness. Understand why you are feeling the way you are feeling, and always talk with your family and friends. Ultimately, you will be more energized to tackle every day and become the best version of yourself possible.
13. My most important advice to premeds is to be proactive and to pave your own way. What one person does to get into med school is not necessarily the best path for you. Visualize your end goal, and do everything in your power to reach that goal so that you don’t find yourself having regrets and saying, “What if?”
Ton La, Jr. is a medical student and student editor, The New Physician.
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