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Things Medical Students Want Pre-Meds to Know

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Experience is the best teacher. When it comes to successfully navigating your pre-med years, there are few better people to turn to than medical students. They’ve managed to survive o-chem and the grueling admissions process to matriculate in (even more grueling) medical school. We gathered some advice from recently admitted medical students that you may want to keep in mind as you continue your pre-med journey.

Focus on Your Own Situation

Have you ever heard the saying “comparison is the thief of joy”? It’s very applicable to life as a pre-med student. Today’s social media environment makes it easier than ever to compare yourself to other pre-meds. The Instagram profiles of many pre-med students present a very curated, rosy picture of their studying: they spend hours at beautifully organized desks and wear apparently tailor-made scrubs to their clinical experience. Looking at the highlight reels of others isn’t just a potential time-waster, though: evidence shows that social comparison can elicit feelings of envy, anxiety and depression.

Your journey to medical school is yours, even if it looks different from others’ or takes longer than theirs.

Take Care of Your Own Health

Burnout is real in the medical profession—and in medical education. A 2012 study found that pre-medical students (especially women and Latinx students) were significantly more likely to show signs of burnout, such as emotional exhaustion and depression, than other undergraduates. Your pre-med years aren’t a marathon—they’re the first third of a marathon that includes medical school and residency. You need to pace yourself to finish that marathon. Taking care of your health by mastering the basics will make a difference. Make sure you:

  • Get adequate sleep
  • Stay hydrated
  • Eat a nutritious diet with ample dietary fiber and lean protein
  • Practice stress relief (meditation, regular exercise, hobbies)
  • Seek advice about mental health issues
  • Stay connected with family and friends

There will be times when you have to stay up late, skip a social gathering, or grab something from takeout when you’re in a hurry. But those things aren’t sustainable if they become habits. If you would tell a patient who lives the way you do to dial it back, that’s a sign you should take better care of yourself.

Enjoy What You’re Learning

Why are you passionate about pursuing a medical career? It can’t just be down to the fact that you look that good in a white coat. There’s bound to be something about medical science that fascinates you. Don’t forget to tap into that fascination and sense of wonder when the going gets tough.

Yes, organic chemistry is hard, but it’s also amazing how the elemental processes it describes inform every aspect of human physiology. It’s also rewarding to master difficult concepts. You’re probably also meeting very interesting people, either in your classes, in your clinical experience, or in your volunteering groups. Cherish the process.

Enjoy Your Life, Too

If you’re a traditional pre-med, you are probably in your 20s. Don’t forget to enjoy being a young adult while you’re studying—you won’t get these years back. Make time to go the occasional party (you know, when those are safe again), play sports, pursue hobbies.

Non-traditional pre-meds should take this into account, too—especially those with young kids. Life doesn’t start when you get to medical school. It’s happening now. Stop and appreciate it now and then, even if you have to schedule breaks or days off ahead of time.

Be Willing to Take a Different Road

If you really want to be a physician, you’ll get there however you can. Current medical students advise pre-meds not to be afraid to take a gap year if they need to. Pursuing a post-bacc program (whether a certificate or a special master’s), gaining more research or clinical experience, or taking more time to prepare for the MCAT—all of these are valid reasons to wait a year before applying to medical school.

And if you graduated from college years ago but still dream of becoming a physician, go for it. Plenty of older pre-meds in their 30s, 40s and beyond are completing the courses they need to get into medical school and serve others as a doctor. You can, too.

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