How to Take an Active Role in Your Pre-Med School Experience
Each year, thousands of students enter their first year of college determined to become successful doctors. They’re dubbed pre-med students (not as a major but as a direction for their studies). While many colleges don’t offer pre-med degrees, you could be deemed a pre-med student if your program is heavy with biology and chemistry courses.
Many students declare for med school each year because they are passionate about medicine and making a difference in people’s health. And it’s a bit easier if you have the learning chops and stamina.
A pre-med degree program is difficult enough just by having so much to study usually within short spaces of time. Knowing how to take an active role in your pre-med experience can help you to learn more and immensely prepare you for taking the MCAT and applying to medical school after you graduate.
Here are some ways you can take an active role in your pre-med school experience.
1. Take inventory of your classes
As a pre-med student, you will be expected to complete a certain number of courses in math, biology, chemistry, health sciences, and English, among others. The coursework can be tedious and time-consuming, but with good time management, you can do it.
Don’t allow the coursework to go in one ear and out the other. In other words, don’t go through your classes passively. Think about the material even after class is over. Find something that interests you if you can and make sure you know what you’re getting into.
It would be a waste of time to go through nearly 10 years of schooling only to find out you’re not that passionate or interested in medicine to begin with. Outline your classes and make sure you know what you’re getting into.
2. Get involved in pre-med or non-pre-med student organizations and extracurricular activities
While it is true that pre-med school is very demanding, it does not have to take away from your social life or from being involved in useful out-of-the-classroom experiences. Such involvement will help to improve your communication and leadership skills. You will be able to learn from professionals in the field and seek support from students who are traveling the same path.
In addition to that, there is the very high possibility of networking and developing lifelong friendships. Not to mention that you may also meet your future spouse at one of these organizations. Beyond that, medical schools do look at your extracurricular activities and use it as a factor in determining admittance. So these opportunities are not to be underestimated.
3. Volunteer at a hospital or medical facility at which you would one day like to work
Medical schools want to see that you have the aptitude for the field through your GPA and courses. They also want to see that you’re an empathic person who is willing to listen to people’s needs and take care of them in the best possible way. One way to show this is to volunteer in the medical field before committing to medical school.
Volunteering at a hospital or in a surgeon’s office is a great experience, and at some schools, it is required. However, don’t pick a place just because you think it will look good on your resume. Pick a place where you will feel fulfilled and be able to make a difference.
All experience is good but an experience just for the sake of an experience is less useful. You’ll get more out of it if you enjoy it and are passionate about it. This will also shine through in your medical school applications and accompanying essays.
4. Shadow physicians in a variety of specialties
Similar to doing volunteer work is an experience called shadowing. Some pre-med students will shadow physicians to get as close to a hands-on experience as they can in different medical careers. Shadowing is basically following and observing someone closely.
Due to rules regarding privacy and confidentiality, some doctors will not allow shadowing. However, many will especially if you’re planning on going into the same field (e.g., a student planning to be a neurologist shadowing a neurologist).
A good place to begin is with your family or personal doctor. Some colleges have matching programs in which the college has connections with local doctors and hospitals and will help match student to doctor. If nothing else, take it upon yourself to email, call, or visit hospitals and doctors whom you have researched and ask about shadowing policies.
5. Start working on MCAT prep now
The MCAT is a cumulative test that covers much of the topics you studied in pre-med school including biology, chemistry, physics, and so forth. By the time most students begin even thinking about the MCAT in earnest, they’ve forgotten or vaguely remember introductory concepts from their freshman and sophomore classes.
So, to steer clear of that, start as soon as you can to study the MCAT. Get a MCAT prep book, flashcards, or even a tutor that you meet with for an hour a week. This will keep you in the mindset of taking the MCAT even if it is two years away.
College is an incredible time to learn and take advantage of so many opportunities. As you engage with other students and teachers, remember to prioritize your studies. Turn everything into a learning experience and grow, grow, grow.
Learn more about Kaplan’s test prep options and start building the confidence you need for Test Day.