“To become a doctor, you spend so much time in the tunnels of preparation—head down, trying not to screw up, trying to make it from one day to the next….” — Atul Gawande

This has been the summer of Atul Gawande. I have read his articles, listened to his commentary, and appreciated his tweets about the World Cup and Wimbledon. It should come to little or no surprise that I read Atul Gawande pieces on a regular basis; after all, I am in a Comparative Health Systems course and Atul Gawande has written excellent articles that highlight the failings in our healthcare system and he looks to other industries to provide potential fixes for the system. The most recent Atul Gawande piece that I stumbled upon is “Piecework”– Gawande walks through how the prices for medical procedures are determined. It’s a fascinating read and upon reading it again I stumbled upon the quote that I used to set off this post: “To become a doctor, you spend so much time in the tunnels of preparation—head down, trying not to screw up, trying to make it from one day to the next—that it is a shock to find yourself at the other end, with someone shaking your hand and asking how much money you want to make.”

The first half of the quote resonated with me and I am sure as I step closer and closer to being a physician, I will see more of my life in that one statement. Inspired by some recent questions that some readers have sent my way, I wanted to flesh out the ‘tunnels of preparation’ and provide some advice about premedical life. Note: please take my advice with a grain of salt. It something does not sound kosher for you, talk it out with your pre-health advisor.

The advice sections will be broken down into quite a few sections such as academics, gap year, social life, research experience, and more. If you have more questions about a particular section, feel free to comment or shoot me an email!

Academics

1. As a premedical student, you have little wiggle room when it comes to your course-load. There are set classes you must take for medical school admissions but there is no set timeline. Don’t feel pressured to finish all of your courses  by junior year so that you can apply straight to medical school.

2. Choose your major based on what you love, seriously. Don’t force yourself to be a science major unless you love it, and if you do love it: welcome to the club.

3. If your course-load looks out of control, take organic chemistry or physics over the summer (preferably after freshman year, what were you going to do anyway?) so that it’s easier to tackle the rest of your coursework in the year.

Gap Year

1. It is becoming extremely common to take time off before you start medical school. I feel extremely weird as the *baby* in my current MPH courses and who knows what it will be like with my cohort arrives in New Orleans. If you want to take time off between your undergraduate and medical school, go for it.

2. What you do in your gap year does not matter, but what you learn from your experiences in your time off is extremely important. Travel, do research, model, write a novel, or get a job–it really does not matter but you will be asked about your time off in secondary applications or in the interview process, so take notes on your experiences (these will be helpful when you hit application season).

3. If you do not want to take time off, do not do it. Before my application cycle, I felt a lot of pressure from my friends to take time off with them; I heard everything: (1) everyone takes time off now, (2) do you want to interview when you have to write a thesis, or (3) we could apply together next year. You know yourself best and you know the best timing for your application. Do what feels right to you.

Social Life

1. Nobody likes the premedical student who flakes on plans because ze’s busy (everyone is busy) or has plans or has a problem set. People who flake are unorganized or uncommitted.

2. Try to take one day off a week from work. Believe me, it will make you feel so much better.

Research Experience

1. Aim to have some research experience. Ask professors, in classes that you did well, if they have room for you in their laboratories / research groups. If they are unable to take you on, ask if they could recommend you to other faculty members.

2. Try to do research at an unfamiliar campus. NSF curates a list of Research Experiences for Undergraduates; working in a new city is not only an amazing experience (I spent a summer in Denver–amazing time!) but allows you to make new connections and networks.

3. Even if you hate your research and even if you hate your lab colleagues, bring your A+ game to the laboratory on a daily basis. Learning to give your all even with the situation sucks is an invaluable lesson.

Application Cycle

1. Have a polished version of your personal statement prepared so that you can submit the AMCAS the first day that it is open. I know that everyone in the #almostdoctor community says this, but the sooner you submit your (quality) applications, the better.

2. As you explore extracurricular activities and have resume worthy experiences, keep a log of the hours you spent on these activities as well as a contact person for each activity. This will save you time when it comes time to apply. I have a LinkedIn account where I chronicled pertinent information; that was a life saver when application season whipped around.

3. January of your application cycle, go to the Student Doctor Network. Look at the threads from the previous application cycle for the medical schools to which you plan to apply; make a spreadsheet with the prompts and organize them by topic. Over the next five months, write one draft for these prompts. Many of these drafted essays can be quickly revamped and submitted when secondary season begins.

4. Make sure to apply to a mix of medical schools that are private and public, in-state and out-of-state, and reach, dream, and target schools.

5. Write thank you notes to your interviewers (send them out in a timely fashion).

6. Become friendly with your fellow interviewees; you’re likely to bump into them again on the interview circuit. Positivity will make you far less nervous about your interview day.

7. MMIs are tough for most people but if you are incredibly nervous or not particularly good at extemporaneous speaking, ask a friend to practice with you.

Extracurriculars

1. If you are interested in community service work outside of your campus groups; check out Idealist.

2. Don’t try to be a superhuman. It’s better to commit to 2-3 extracurriculars than to be ‘involved’ in ten extracurriculars.

 

For the Princeton students who read this blog: do not worry about grade deflation. I repeat: do not worry about grade deflation. It is what it is. You will still get into medical school. Oh, and take organic chemistry anywhere else–trust me.

 

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