Comprehensive guidelines on what to expect
Entering college in 2015, I was oblivious about what being pre-medicine would entail for the next four years. Certainly, I had conducted research on my part by asking high school counselors and college students in the healthcare field, however, nothing could have prepared me for what I faced in actuality.
In college, surrounded by many distractions and freedom from shackles of strict South Asian parents overwhelmed me to forget my purpose. Lost in parties, and other shiny materials — I finished Freshman year with the worst GPA I had ever received in my life. I genuinely put in identical amounts of labor into classes as in high school — so what was different now?
With hope, retrospective reflection on my study patterns and a brief outline of what to expect each year of college — something I did not have a concise understanding of — will make your journey to becoming a physician slightly simplistic (to some extent).
Being a first generation college student in America, my experience was slightly more complicated than those with family members with college degrees — especially in the healthcare field. Experiences highlighted below focus on strategies for people with limited knowledge of the resources available, however, is applicable to everyone within this field — or anticipating entering into this field.
Recommended Pre-medicine courses completed during Fall and Spring Semester of First year:
Biology I & II
Chemistry I & II
The hustle and bustle of the first year of college is as exciting as it sounds — new living space, giant campus, eager (and some cute) faces, meetings, exciting classes & events. My behaviour must have been comparable to that of a squirrel, distracted and perplexed by every single thing happening around me. It seems impossible to prioritize and zoom into academics without getting FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).
FOMO was the defining feature behind my Freshman year experience. I wanted to live out every experience, and if I didn’t, I would miss out on all the fun gossip and drama that happened, meaning I would be left behind by the group of people I was trying to befriend. How could I let that happen?
So, let’s dive into some of the things that I would have done differently during this year.
Credit Hour and Classes: Undoubtedly, college is supposed to be a fun experience. Intentionally depriving yourself from this pleasurable time could lead to regrets in future. To some extent, choosing your schedule wisely will lead to a balanced experience. I wish that I had consulted ratemyprofessor to assess the difficulty of classes before registration. Clipping away premedical course requirements by eagerly signing up for too many classes during the first semester is not the best choice. Meet with your premedical advisor (and trusted upperclassmen — if you know any) early on to gather a better sense of classes that you will need to take and when you will need to take them. The way college classes are structured and the environment they are taught in is a lot different than what most students have been previously exposed to. Limiting the number of premedical classes during the freshman year will allow you to explore your best studying habits, while also providing some wiggle room to have the typical first year experience. Curating your schedule around the “first year experience” will also allow you to explore different organizations that are offered on campus. Many students tend to join too many clubs at once to amp up their resume without being able to sustain them long term. Medical schools are more interested in dedicated investment in few extracurricular activities than scattered attempts to accomplish everything without meaningful contribution to either. Try to commit to a few clubs that you are truly interested in and set yourself up to obtain leadership positions within one or two.
Volunteer: Contrary to the popular belief, I recommend waiting until second semester or summer after freshman year to start any volunteer work. New transition is taxing enough, your efforts should not be divided on things other than sustaining good grades and on-campus activities.
Faculty Relationship: The most important advice, which applies to all four year of college, is to build personal relationships with faculty. They will aid in providing you with future research positions and a letter of recommendation when applying to medical school. Not taking advantage of office hours offered by professors, as well as tutoring help offered by my institution, is my biggest regret of freshman year.
Friendships: Pursuit to medical school is less draining in collaboration with other students that are in a similar boat. Absolutely try to expand out of the ‘premed bubble’ and meet people outside of your college, but invest in a couple good friendships within the premed community. Most non-STEM majors have trouble understanding the course load of STEM-related majors, so surrounding yourself with smart and motivated students will help you to continue moving forward when you want to give up (and you will want to give up a couple times).
Sophmore year was the most difficult period for me because I was taking the most difficult classes of my college career. The timing may differ based on the University you attend.
Biochemistry (Cellular and Molecular)
Not only was I struggling to learn the Krebs Cycle, but I was learning a thing or two about time management here. Suddenly, I had the urge to pick up mess from first year by over-committing to different jobs and organizations. Here, I held a job at the campus gym and started scribing for a local emergency department — along with intermittent volunteer work.
By sophomore year, you should have a better understanding of time management and study pattern. I recommend scouting for shadowing opportunities and volunteer work. Your goal should be to obtain clinical exposure in whichever way possible to gain clarity around commitment to this field.
Scribing was a great experience for me because I was able to work 12 hour shifts with doctors while gaining knowledge around medical terminology, bedside mannerism, etc. It is a way to peek at what your future might entail as a physician.
Junior and Senior Year
These years I focused on knocking out other prerequisites needed for medical school admission, including physics, calculus, etc. I also took some elective science classes, such as exercise physiology, human physiology, anatomy, genetics, etc.
Understanding what your elective science class will cover by getting advice from seniors who have already gone through the course is a bonus. I tried to revolve my extra science classes on topics that would be covered on the MCAT.
Lastly, I started studying for my MCAT the summer after Junior year. In retrospection, I would have started “lightly” studying for the MCAT starting Sophomore year. The MCAT books do an amazing job at explaining different concepts, which would have helped me achieve better grades in some of my college classes (Biochemistry, physiology).
Determination of when you should study for MCAT is based on multiple factors and looks different for everyone else. Do your own research and ask students for advice.
I want to end this article by stating that the path to medical school is extremely taxing, but with determination and hard work is achievable. Please remember that going to medical school should be a part of your life, as opposed to it being your life. The journey is far too lengthy for you to burn out at such early stage. Try to aim for as much balance as possible by exercising, eating well, resting adequately, and indulging in some fun activities from time to time.