Dare To Be You
Written by: Kelby Hunt
Any pre-med student is aware of the trials and tribulations that lead up to applying to medical school. There are the sleepless nights and stressful hours spent in the library studying; the pressure to rack up countless hours of volunteering or research or shadowing; maintaining a social life and your health; and also for many, balancing working, club involvement, sports or hobbies. When facing the overwhelming pre-med years, many students grasp onto the so called “pre-med checklist” as a lifeline, focusing solely on what is “needed” to be accepted into medical school.
The Association of American Medical Colleges reported 52,777 applicants for entry in the Fall of 2018, but only 21,622 of those matriculated. That’s just 41% of applicants. These numbers show the importance of standing out as an applicant. Don’t make the mistake of conforming to the idealized picture of the pre-med student that has ticked off every item on the checklist. While you shouldn’t necessarily ditch the checklist as it is based on many important things that schools want in an applicant – such as academic performance, volunteering and clinical exposure – you should merely use it as a guide. Spend your undergraduate years cultivating your unique abilities, interests, and attributes.
Let’s start with one of the biggest questions I hear from fellow pre-medical students: what is the best major for getting into medical school? Automatically, students assume it would be a science, particularly biology or chemistry; however, your major is one of the biggest opportunities you have to stand out from the pack. Although scientific majors make completing prerequisite courses a breeze and certainly provide a thorough background for medical school coursework, they do not necessarily increase your chances of acceptance. Imagine an admissions dean looking through the thousands of applications they receive each year. Among the countless scientific- or healthcare-related majors they find a Political Science, Art History, English, or Sociology major. These backgrounds bring incredible diversity and completely different experiences to a matriculating class. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you shouldn’t major in a scientific field – I, myself, am a biology major! If titrating solutions, performing dissections, or writing out reactions is what makes you happy, then that’s great. However, if you’re truly passionate about a different path of study in addition to medicine, PURSUE IT, whether it is your primary major, a double major, or even just a minor. You shouldn’t feel that you need to declare a certain major because it will look the best to medical school, as it has been proven over and over again that simply being a well-rounded applicant is what will boost your chances the most.
While on the topic of areas of study, if you have wiggle room and space for elective classes, take what interests you. Colleges today are adding some of the most unique classes to their repertoires: Death in Perspective, Street Fighting Mathematics, The Idea of Wine, Psychology of Romantic Relationships. Taking classes that you truly find interesting will not only be more enjoyable for you, but they will often lead to better grades (always a good thing) and could be valuable talking points when interviews roll around.
So, outside of academics, how else can you let your individuality shine through when it comes to application time? If we look at the “pre-med checklist” again, volunteering is one of the most required or recommended activities. Volunteering or service activities are some of the best ways for ADCOMs to see that you are a service-oriented person and depending on the nature of volunteering, it can also count for clinical experience. It is for this reason that many students will volunteer at a hospital or a clinic. While these opportunities can be great and provide exposure to the day-to-day goings of medical facilities, they often consist of stocking, cleaning and other non-clinical opportunities. While this is not bad, many students don’t enjoy this type of work. Don’t feel as if you must volunteer in a hospital, unless you truly enjoy it! Your volunteering activities are often brought up in interviews and you want to be able to speak passionately about your experiences. If you love animals, volunteer at your local Humane Society. If you are passionate about nutrition and healthy living, look for opportunities to teach healthy cooking classes in your area. Are you a people person? Consider volunteering in a retirement home keeping elderly individuals company.
With that being said, clinical exposure is important to medical schools as it shows that you truly understand the career you are choosing. Without it, the picture you have in your head of medicine may be closer to an episode of Grey’s Anatomy than the truth. The rise of pre-med Instagram accounts, many of whom have jobs or positions in clinical settings, has led many students to believe that they must have a similar experience to be competitive. While these opportunities are wonderful if they suit you, they don’t work for everyone for a variety of reasons, and they are absolutely not essential to be accepted into medical school. You could sacrifice other commitments to make room for a clinical job, but if they are commitments that you are passionate about and that you enjoy, then focus on shadowing or clinical volunteering to gain that exposure instead. Being able to answer important questions such as why medicine or why not nursing can be answered confidently after experiencing firsthand the ins and outs of such career paths.
Your unique individuality should be fostered. Are you worried you can’t be a student athlete and a pre-med student? You absolutely can, and you can bring an amazing experience and set of skills to the table. Do you have your own business? That entrepreneurship and work ethic is also a standout among applicants. Love to paint, draw, sculpt, design? Your artistic abilities and creative nature are an asset. Let your individuality shine. Don’t conform to what is portrayed as the ideal pre-med student or applicant. Dare to be you, and you will not only have a better experience throughout your pre-med years, but you will also stand out as a unique and versatile applicant.
“Always be a first-rate version of yourself and not a second-rate version of someone else.”
― Judy Garland