We all go through it. We all have regrets in life. They simply become painful, inescapable daydreams of “what could have been” if only I had only… I often remind young college freshmen who have finally gotten a taste of freedom stepping out of their parent’s home, that what they choose to do in the next 4 years just may dictate the rest of their lives. Our 20s can make or break our future sometimes. Many adults in their 40s and 50s look back wishing they had only taken school more seriously or that they didn’t give up on their dreams. Life is similar to a race in which a poor start can be detrimental to your finish. As we get older, it will become tougher and tougher to reach your goals but it is never too late. I will now share with you my top 10 mistakes premedical students make. I hope this will encourage young students to stay on the right track by avoiding these pitfalls.
1) WRONG FRIENDS: I cannot emphasize this enough. Show me your friends and I will tell you who you are. Never underestimate the influence those you keep in company have on your life. If you want to become a doctor then associate with doctors and other premeds. I am not suggesting that you dismiss old friends because it is great to have a diverse group of friends but a serious mistake made by many students is that they select or continue to associate with friends who are more focused on parties, alcohol, or other distractors.
2) DOING TOO MUCH: Burn out is real. It is understandable that many students need to work in order to pay their way through school. However, you are to blame if you have selected a job which distracts you from your goals as a student. Instead of working as a waiter/waitress why not apply for a job at the library or as a receptionist at the local gym or student health center where you will likely have quiet time for yourself. Time management is also very important for the student athlete, those holding leadership positions, and those with other obligations. You must know when these extracurricular activities become a detriment and take some time off from them if necessary.
3) CAN’T PAY TUITION: I am not a proponent of relying heavily on student loans but sometimes they are unavoidable. There are many scholarship opportunities out there that many students simply fail to apply for. Who doesn’t like free money? Taking a good hour each week to search for these may save you from being forced to work or taking out more loans. Remember, the better you are able to perform in school the more likely you will be rewarded with scholarship money. Try to be prepared and research in order to avoid having to take time off from school.
4) I DIDN’T KNOW: When are you taking the MCAT? What are you going to do the summer before senior year? When is the deadline for this application? Don’t be the student who did not take an organic chemistry class because you were not aware it was a prerequisite and now you have to change your entire summer schedule. Be prepared as early as possible. Attend premed meetings and communicate with upperclassmen to make sure you are on track.
5) BEWARE OF SOCIAL NETWORKS: Schools are watching you. Your professor or boss may also be watching. In this highly connected world most people are only a Google or Facebook search away. It is hard to take serious a premed student who has posted a half dressed photo on their Facebook profile or even if your friend is the one posting inappropriate comments all the time. It matters little how well you’ve done on the verbal section of your MCAT if your writing on social networks is barely interpretable. It’s okay to show character on these websites but be mindful that others are watching.
6) WRONG MAJOR: You do not need to major in biology or chemistry to be accepted into medical school. In fact, according to AAMC 2012 data, only 51% of medical school matriculates majored in the biological sciences. Nonetheless, GPA and MCAT scores were similar across the different majors. The good side in choosing a major in the biological sciences is that you will be learning material that you will certainly come across again in the future. However, for some these classes may be too challenging. Never select a major or minor solely based on convenience or interest if the material is too difficult for you. You also want to avoid a major which is known to be very easy. If you need to switch, do it fast before it becomes too late. Also, make sure you know what prerequisites are needed.
7) ALL YOU KNOW IS MEDICINE: We all have come across that student who can name every bone in the body but cannot name the most popular music artist in the world. Medical schools are searching for well-rounded students. Patients want doctors they can interact with instead of robots. College is a great time to meet a variety of people with different cultures, participate in intramural sports, and try new things. I personally still look back and partially regret not joining my friends in a study abroad program. But then again, I used the time for research.
8) NOT BEING TRUE TO YOURSELF: It is important that you join the rat race, which is medicine for the right reason. Do not be pressured into this or you just may regret it. If your best answer to why you want to become a doctor truly is because you “want to help others” or your “parents are making you do this” then you just may want to think things over. If you are shadowing a provider or volunteering only to get a checkmark on your application rather than truly using the time to explore the field then you need to have a one-on-one with yourself. Why spend the next 7-12 years of your life studying, taking board exams and spending late nights in the hospital if this is not your passion?
9) DISMISSING ADVICE: It is important to know where to go and where not to go for guidance. Half of the battle in getting into medical school is speaking with others who have taken your path. Both younger and older physicians can provide great perspectives. No man or woman is an island. Those who make it to medical school almost always have interacted with a mentor even if they did not see this person in that way. I highly encourage you to find a local physician and get a mentor!
10) STAY ENCOURAGED: Hard work and persistence pays off. You can go to any medical school across the nation and find at least 10 stories that will inspire you. It is not an easy path for any doctor. Life does not pause while we are in school. Tragedies will happen and life may take a toll on your grades but I guarantee there are others who have also been through a similar situation. I always say you need the thunderstorm in order to appreciate the sunshine. If you are serious about this journey you will persevere and ultimately get there. When I interview candidates for work in my clinic, my questions tend to be about how they coped during stressful and tough times. I am very impressed when I hear they have had a battle in life or failed at one time but learned a great lesson and stood up to the challenge. Stay focused and motivated. While still young, there is no time to wallow in regrets. There is plenty of time. Roll up your sleeves and get back to fighting for your dreams.
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