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Sometimes the people who have your best interest give the worst advice.
I can’t even begin to count how many times a premed student has messaged me on Instagram in a panic because of some terrible advice they took.
To my surprise, much of this bad advice came from advisors, mentoring physicians, peers, and medical students.
The best advice and advising comes best from someone who has truly been in your shoes.
As someone who had to figure out this path entirely on their own, here’s my honest premed advice that I wish other premeds would know.
Premed Advice You Need to Hear
Many premeds often feel confused about what’s expected of them and frustrated with the high standards that are required to get into medical school.
If we want to change the culture and future of medicine we can start by uplifting each other as premeds.
No gatekeeping here!
I jumped into being premed, after changing career paths four times, with no knowledge of what this journey entails.
This is honest premed advice I’d give to my younger self and anyone in the midsts of the premed journey.
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Go to office hours and make connections
I cannot express how important it is to utilize your professor’s office hours!
Office hours is where you can get individual help with homework, go over concepts you’re struggling with, and review past quizzes and exams.
Some professors may even tutor you and give you hints on what’s going to be on the next exam.
This is a great way to build rapport with your professors and might be someone who will write you a letter of recommendation for medical school.
In my experience, professors that I had a connection with were more likely to round my grade to the next letter grade when I was on the border.
This isn’t always the case but hopefully, when your professor goes to enter your final grade, they’ll remember you and think of how hard you worked!
Find a premed mentor you trust
Find a mentor you trust, whether that’s a physician you work with or a friend that’s in medical school, can save you from making A LOT of mistakes.
It’s also great to have some you can confide in that will provide you with valuable feedback.
When I first started on my premed journey, I didn’t have a mentor.
Actually, I still don’t have a mentor even though I have friends I could turn to anytime for advice.
There weren’t many people sharing their stories and giving advice on social media when I first started my premed journey.
You want to find a mentor who is already doing what you’re doing.
It can be another premed who’s a couple of years ahead of you, a professor who is knowledgeable about the career path you’re pursuing, or a physician you shadow/work with.
Create your own path and enjoy the premed journey
We all face different adversities that may require us to adjust our timelines.
Think back to one of your biggest accomplishments…
Why are you proud of yourself for reaching that goal? Most likely, it has to do with the hard work you put into it.
The journey is what you look back on, not the goal itself.
Shift your mindset from “I’ll only be happy when I get into medical school” to “I’m working hard toward my goals and give myself permission to enjoy the journey.”
The journey is where happiness begins.
Don’t be afraid to shut out the external noise and forge your own path.
Our experiences shape us. They teach us about ourselves and help us grow.
Everything you go through on this journey (and in life in general) will help prepare you to become a physician.
If you want to backpack through Europe for a summer, take a break from medicine to explore other passions, or study abroad, DO IT.
The more life experience you have the better you will be able to connect and relate with your patients.
There is no universal path to medical school, so do you boo boo!
Keep track of extracurriculars and memorable experiences
Keeping track of your extracurricular activities and memorable experiences will save you SO much stress when it comes time to apply to medical school.
I keep track of my experiences in Google sheets. It doesn’t have to be all pretty but make sure it’s relatively organized and just put that information in there.
Record all your activities, any rewards you received, leadership, and write detailed stories about memorable patient interactions you’ve had.
After each semester, reflect on what you’ve accomplished, obstacles you’ve overcome, and any activities you’ve taken on. Keep it simple!
Make time for your hobbies and social life
Many premeds are under the impression that you won’t have a social life or time for your hobbies because you’ll be studying so much.
While this is true to an extent, it’s important to keep your sanity and still have a social life!
You’ll make many sacrifices on this journey, but you should strive to prioritize things that are important to you.
For me, indulging in my creative interests, exercising, and spending time with family are what helps me destress.
You may feel guilty for stepping away from your studies and doing something more relaxed, however, making time for unrelated school things is key to prevent burnout.
Focus on your grades and upward trend
This is something I wish I did from the beginning.
I struggled with my study habits and didn’t fully understand what it took to get into medical school.
I thought I was doing well getting a B- in my science classes but that isn’t the case.
Repairing your GPA is expensive and time-consuming, so try and focus on your grades from the start.
Aim for nothing less than a B+ in your classes, especially the premed prerequisites.
If you have a bad semester or even a bad year, don’t worry… it’s not the end of your med school dreams!
If you did poorly in your junior year, make sure you crush senior year.
Showing an upward trend in your GPA each semester is super crucial.
Let’s say you got a C in physics 1. You don’t need to retake this class because a C is considered a passing grade.
Adcoms aren’t impressed with you retaking a class you’ve already passed to receive a better grade.
Instead, you’ll want to demonstrate improvement by getting an A in physics 2.
If you’re struggling with a low premed GPA and want to know how you can improve your chances, check out this blog post.
Surround yourself with friends who uplift you
Find your people —the ones who uplift you, who are happy for you, who notice when you’re off, who make you feel GOOD.
Be picky about who you let into your inner world, not everyone has the best intentions or deserves your energy.
The premed community is competitive and some premeds will do anything to get to the top, including putting others down.
Surround yourself with like-minded individuals, become aware of other’s energy, and don’t get sucked into toxic premed culture.
Major in something you’re interested in
You don’t have to major in biology to be premed. If you’re more interested in psychology, you can major in that!
Premed is a path, not a major.
Premeds will often choose to major in biology because the curriculum includes all the prerequisite classes for medical school.
If you decide to major in something other than biology, you can add a biology/pre-health minor to include the prerequisite classes in your major.
I did half of my prerequisite classes in undergrad and then finished the rest in a DIY post-bacc.
As long as you complete the medical prerequisite courses before applying to medical school, you can major in any subject.
Meet with your premed advisor
Premed advisors are very hit or miss, and you should take everything they say with a grain of salt.
With that being said, some premed advisors do offer great insight.
They can help you make a 4-year plan and inform you of any opportunities for premeds on campus.
I always tell premeds to meet with their college premed advisor and at least give them a chance.
If they aren’t helpful and you don’t like them, don’t go back.
There may be more than one advisor that deals with premeds, so ask other premeds what advisor they go to.
If you don’t know many premeds then I recommend joining the premed club at your college.
Learn what study methods work for you
Figure out your learning style and what study methods work for you.
I realized a little too late that I was engaging in passive study methods (i.e. reading over notes, highlighting, watching videos, cramming for exams).
Active studying requires more effort and is much more effective than passive studying.
My favorite active study methods are spaced repetition and active recall.
Get in the habit of studying for a couple of hours every day without any distractions.
When you study without distractions, you are increasing your intensity of focus.
For example, the student who goes to the library for five hours a day but scrolls through Instagram and checks text messages has a low intensity of focus.
Instead, try studying in the library for two hours without your phone and use a website blocker to limit distractions and optimize your time.
When you study with greater intensity, you’ll end up studying less overall.
Don’t rush the premed process
The premed journey is a marathon, not a sprint, and rushing this process is a recipe for disaster.
If you bite off more than you can chew, it will lead to burnout.
I advocate for taking your time on the premed journey because I tried to rush the process myself.
I wanted to get through the premed classes as fast as I could, which caused me to fail gen chem 1, physics 1, and orgo 1.
Premeds are also expected to gain medical and non-medical experiences while taking the premed prerequisite classes.
Balancing school, work, and extracurricular activities are not easy!
It requires a high level of dedication, self-discipline, and time management skills.
Don’t overload your schedule and take on more than you can handle.
Not only are you discovering who you are in this process but everything you do is preparing you to become a better physician.
Know your limits and don’t rush just because you want to start medical school a year or two early.
Prioritize your physical and mental health
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we have nothing without our health.
We feel best when we engage in some form of physical activity, eating healthy, and taking time for self-care.
It’s easy to get caught up in the daily grind, forget to drink water, make lunch, exercise, etc.
We’re busy humans with lofty goals!
You must prioritize your own well-being to ensure you have the capacity to be able to care for others.
If all you have is 15 minutes to go for a walk between studying, prioritize it.
Bring a large water bottle with you wherever you go and start prepping your meals.
I recommend the $5 Meal Plan, which makes meal planning as simple as possible.
You can also utilize your school’s gym and inquire about free mental health services at your university.
Maybe every Sunday you set aside 2 hours for self-care, meet with a friend, or go to a yoga class.
When you plan, take care of yourself, and put in the work, you set your future self up for continued health, happiness, and success!
Do things you’re passionate about
There’s this idea that premeds should only do things related to science/medicine on their journey to medical school.
Although you will be mainly focused on activities that revolve around science and medicine (i.e. shadowing, clinical experience, research), it doesn’t mean you can’t do the things you’re passionate about.
Medical schools want to see that you have interests other than medicine.
They want well-rounded applicants who have hobbies and life experiences.
If you enjoy playing soccer, sign up for your school’s intramural soccer team!
If you play an instrument, join the music club or teach music lessons.
Doing the things I enjoy outside of medicine has kept me going on this premed journey.
This also applies to medical-related activities. If you don’t like the volunteer position you signed up for, find another one!
You’re not going to enjoy everything you do on the premed journey, but that’s the point!
Figure out what you like and run with it.
You need to be able to write about your experiences with passion, so if you aren’t thrilled about what you’re doing don’t be afraid to switch it up.
Show consistency within the activities you’re passionate about.
A failed exam or class doesn’t define you
Failing an exam, class, or even a semester is not the end of your medical school dreams.
Your grades don’t determine whether or not you’re going to be an amazing physician.
Does a great GPA help you get into medical school?
Sure, but poor performance doesn’t mean you can’t overcome an academic obstacle.
Premeds are juggling so many things and taking some of the hardest college classes.
You’re likely to make a mistake at some point.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing!
Our mistakes can turn into our biggest life lessons.
Showing how you persevered in the face of adversity tells a lot about someone’s character.
Medical schools don’t expect you to be perfect. What’s important is that you learn from your mistakes and demonstrate improvement.
If you failed a class, retake it and get an A.
If you got a C in organic chemistry 1, get an Avin organic chemistry 2.
If you got below a 3.0 one semester, get a 3.5+ the next semester.
Your grades do not define you. In the grand scheme of life, we are all going to fail sometimes, but it does not make us any lesser.
True lessons come from the struggle. Don’t give up!
Learn why you want to be a doctor
The premed journey is all about exploring your reasons for wanting to go into medicine.
Maybe you’ve always wanted to become a physician or maybe you discovered your passion for medicine later in life.
The experiences you have on the premed journey will help you craft your personal statement and tell your unique story.
I highly recommend this book, which will teach you how to write an amazing medical school personal statement.
Your reason for becoming a doctor is more than liking science and wanting to help people.
What initially drew you to medicine is your “seed” and the experiences on the premed journey will help that seed grow.
Don’t wait to get clinical experience
I see so many premeds frantically rushing to get clinical experience in their senior year or right before they apply to medical school.
Getting clinical experience is an essential part of the premed journey and waiting to fulfill this requirement looks like you’re just checking off a box.
Shadowing is NOT clinical experience.
The best type of clinical experience you can get is where you are working directly with or caring for patients.
Here are 10 premed jobs that will give you valuable clinical experience for medical school.
If you’re close enough to smell a patient, you can consider this clinical experience.
You don’t necessarily have to work in a hospital to get clinical experience.
There’s plenty of amazing volunteer positions that will get you clinical experience as well, such as being a hospice volunteer.
Clinical experience will allow you to prove to yourself this is really what you want to do and shows medical schools you know what it’s like working with patients.
Plan early and have short/long term goals
There’s a lot of planning that goes into being premed. You need to be able to see the bigger picture but also understand what to do to get to the next step.
This will challenge you more than you’ve ever been challenged before.
It’ll make you question if you’re smart enough, it’ll make you doubt yourself, and it’ll make you question if this path is right for you.
This is normal and it’s OKAY to feel this way.
With so many requirements for medical school and years of schooling, it’s easy to feel discouraged when looking ahead.
This is why it’s important to set short-term goals to motivate you to work toward something within reach and gain a sense of accomplishment.
Your short-term goals will help you reach your long-term goals.
To emphasize just how vital it is to have a plan, let’s break down the requirements for medical school.
The medical prerequisite classes:
- Biology 1 + lab
- Biology 2 + lab
- General Chemistry 1 + lab
- General Chemistry 2 + lab
- Physics 1 + lab
- Physics 2 + lab
- Organic Chemistry 1 + lab
- Organic Chemistry 2 + lab
- One semester of mathematics (statistics or calculus)
You’ll need to take these classes in undergrad.
Other classes recommended for medical school are biochemistry, genetics, psychology, and sociology.
If you know you want to apply to a particular medical school, check the school’s requirements on their website because some med school’s requirements vary.
On top of these difficult classes, you’ll also need to acquire shadowing experience, clinical experience, volunteering experience, and leadership experience.
Research experience is not required but many medical schools (especially MD) value research.
You’ll also have to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), a standardized exam for prospective medical students.
With so many requirements for medical school, there is a lot of planning that needs to go into this process.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed when thinking about ALL the things you must do before applying to medical school.
But having a 4-year plan will keep you on track.
The best way to go about making a 4-year plan is to plan in increments of 3-4 months (this is what I do).
So, if you plan to get shadowing experience during the summer before your sophomore year then you should start contacting physicians 3 months beforehand.
I say 3 months because it may take you 1-2 months to find a physician who is going to allow you to shadow them.
Then, it may be another month to go through the approval process (HIPAA documents, immunization proof, drug test, etc.)
Not all places have a lengthy process to observe a physician but most hospitals do.
Regardless, you’ll have to do some sort of HR onboarding to be eligible to shadow a physician.
Planning is crucial on the premed journey but you need to be able to adapt and persevere when things don’t go as planned!
Have faith in your ability to succeed
The more promises you keep to yourself, the more you’ll believe in your ability to succeed.
You can increase your faith in your skills by succeeding at small tasks.
For me, this means doing my morning routine every day such as making my bed, taking care of my skin, and eating breakfast.
Act in a way that is consistent with where you want to go and take action toward your goals.
If you want to be successful, you have to believe that what you want is attainable no matter the circumstances.
Be consistent! Consistency is not easy though…
Focus on incremental improvement and forgive yourself when you fail.
Strive to develop discipline, self-awareness, a positive mindset, and consistency.
Your faith in your ability to succeed will become greater as you continue to become the best version of yourself.
We cannot know greatness without failure.
Don’t fall into the comparison trap
If you took the strengths of others and compared them to your weaknesses, how would that make you feel?
Obviously, not good!
We often compare ourselves to others while we scroll on social media without even realizing it.
Being able to recognize your specific triggers will help you from falling into the comparison trap.
It’s important to remember everything you see is someone else’s highlight reel.
Even if you follow someone who is super authentic and transparent, they’re sharing what they WANT you to see.
Social media is a distorted reality.
If you’re really struggling with comparison right now, do a social media detox and shift your focus back on yourself.
When you wake up every morning, write down three things you are grateful for and say three positive affirmations in the mirror.
We are our own worst critics and could all practice a little more self-compassion.
Track your progress, fuel your inspiration, celebrate the small wins, and give yourself some grace.
Make the most out of your summers
Summer is a time when premeds are usually taking a lighter course load or no courses at all.
Unfortunately for most premeds, there’s no such thing as a “summer break”.
I still encourage you to take a few days or a week to relax and regroup for your mental health.
Summer is the perfect time for premeds to boost their medical school applications.
Here are some great ways for premeds to spend their summers:
- Volunteering with patients or in your community
- Getting certified as an EMT or CNA
- Gaining clinical experiences
- Shadowing physicians
- Studying for the MCAT
- Doing research
- Taking the prerequisite classes
One summer, I didn’t take any classes and solely focused on working as a PCT while shadowing a neurosurgeon.
It was the first summer I hadn’t taken a class in four years but the burnout was real and I knew I needed to do something to ignite my passion again.
Shadowing in neurosurgery did exactly that and I absolutely loved it.
Utilize your summers wisely and don’t forget why you’re doing all of this!
Keep in mind why you’re doing this
Last but not least, keep in mind why you’re putting in all this hard work!
Some premed classes are enjoyable but most of them (IMO) are not, lol.
It’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture when all you’re doing is going to class and studying every day.
Working as a PCT is what kept me going through my premed classes.
I knew that I wanted to be in a faced-paced environment where I had to think quickly, so I got certified as a CNA and was hired in a hospital.
related blog post:
I loved being a PCT because it was the closest thing I could get to my dreams with the qualifications I had.
The hospital is its own world and every shift reminded me why I’m on the premed journey.
Maybe you’ve never been in a hospital before and want to volunteer before committing to a more serious clinical position.
You don’t have to do what every other premed is doing. Remember to do what you enjoy and pave your own path.
Sometimes on this journey, we discover that this is not what we want to do.
Please understand that it’s okay to change your mind! This absolutely doesn’t mean you’ve failed.
If anything, it’s a blessing! You put yourself out there and realized what you don’t like…
Which means you’re closer to finding what you truly enjoy and are passionate about.
This is a lifelong journey and there are so many other great careers where you can help people.
Leave a comment if this blog post helped you!
What did you learn? What do you need to focus more on?
If you have any other advice I’d love for you to share! xo