The question warrants asking, considering the high percentage of students who start out their undergraduate careers with a premed designation on their major tracks versus the relatively low percentage of students who actually graduate from undergrad having completed all their premed requirements. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with a need to change your major or choose another career track—college, after all, is a great place to discover your strengths and interests—there are also a few things that “true” premeds tend to have in common that sets them apart from those who switch out to another career choice during undergrad. The following questions, when answered correctly, are what sets real pre-meds apart from the crowd:
Are you willing to sacrifice fun for focusing?
As anyone knows, the premed track is definitely not for the faint of heart. Science courses tend to be difficult, particularly when you’re studying “higher” premed requirements like organic chemistry. Because of this, you’ll most likely be spending a good deal of your time studying for tests; unlike high school where a decent percentage of your grade in a class might come from homework assignments, grades at the collegiate level typically are based primarily on exam scores, at least for science courses. Because of this, doing well on exams is essential to maintaining a competitive GPA.
On top of simply studying for a busy schedule loaded with science courses, premed tracks are also filled with long lab hours. While there’s always a chance and a hope that you will get out of a lab early, there’s also the chance that you’ll be stuck filtering your chemistry product for the full four hours. Additionally, competitive premeds are often involved in numerous extracurricular activities, from volunteering around a city to leading biology clubs to contributing to undergraduate research projects. When it all adds up, a true premed will find that he or she will have to commit most of his/her time to focusing on having a competitive medical school application. While this certainly doesn’t mean that true premeds never have time for fun, it does mean that you’ll probably need to say “no” to some undergrad events at times.
Are you interested in medicine because you care about people?
Saying “I want to go into medicine because I want to help people,” has long been mocked as the cliché medical school admission essay statement, but there’s a flip side to this as well. While saying “I want to help people” is far from a strong argument for convincing an admissions committee why you’re a unique applicant, being someone who simply doesn’t care about humanitarian causes really won’t help you during the long nights of studying either. Specifically, if an interest in the potential of earning a relatively high paycheck is your primary reason for wanting to go into medicine, then there’s a good chance that you’ll drop off the premed track sooner or later. There are other career tracks where a passion for money can be a better source of motivation than the field of medicine. If you really want to go into medicine, caring about people is a must.
Is taking a summer course or having to taking a heavy load of courses within a quarter/semester an option for you?
It’s true—you can be a premed concentration in any major, science or non-science. The “premed” designation simply means that you are someone who completes the required premedical school courses, including basic biology, chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics. Other courses like calculus are often recommended for having a competitive application as well. While it’s obviously easiest to fit these premed courses into a biology, chemistry, or other science major, it still is definitely possible to be majoring in anything and attend medical school; you just need to be able to fit these courses into your schedule somehow. For some students, this might mean taking an extra heavy load of courses during a semester; for others, it might mean fulfilling some of their premed coursework requirements over a summer break. Whatever the requirements may be, true premeds will be dedicated to staying on the premed track, even if it means that completing their undergrad degrees takes extra time or money.
If you find yourself with time between undergraduate school and medical school, what will you do with it?
While some students dream of completing their medical degrees by the time they’re 26 or 27, the truth remains that statistically this isn’t very likely. The average entrance age of a first year medical student is older than that of an average college graduate. This means that many students end up taking “gap years” in between completing college and enrolling in medical school. For some, this simply means that they take the liberty to defer their already offered enrollment for a year. For others, this means that they are still needing to get accepted into medical school.
For those who fall into the latter camp, the answer to this question (What will you do with any time between undergrad and med school?) is really important for determining how likely they are to ever eventually enroll in medical school. If they are taking a year off to prepare for and take the MCAT (or even retake the MCAT), then they need to arrange their schedules so that they have time to aptly study for it. If they are taking time to earn money through employment, then they ideally should be employed in a science or medically-related field, either through research labs or through a healthcare career opportunity. As a whole, students who intentionally spend any time between undergrad and medical school in such a way that it enhances their applications are much more likely to be considered serious premeds than those who do not use their time intentionally.
Have you created a strong base of encouragement for yourself?
The saying “You are who your friends are,” holds some truth when you’re a premed. While it definitely does not mean that you can only surround yourself with people who are also premed majors, it does mean that you should be intentional in your friendships. Being a premed major is not easy, and you’ll need to have friends that are there to encourage you to push through studying when they might be out partying. (You’ll also need friends who know when to pull you away from your books for a good study break too though!) Medical school is much, much harder than undergrad, and having a strong base of friends who believe in you and your dreams is crucial to your success.
On top of having a good group of friends, seek out mentors who will be good influences for your path to medical school. This can include doctors and other healthcare professionals who were once in your boots. It can also include other adults in other professions that are willing to hold you accountable to following through with your goals, even when things get tough.
Are you intentionally exposing yourself to the healthcare practice?
Whether you’re applying to DO schools or MD programs, a requirement across the nation is that of shadowing experiences. Ideally, a shadowing experience should overflow into medically-related volunteer work or possibly even a medically-related employment opportunity prior to enrolling in medical school. Schools look for premed candidates who not only are capable in the classroom (as shown through their MCAT scores and GPAs) but also are knowledgeable of what the groundwork of a physician’s life really looks like. Being a real premed goes beyond just being a student of your college; it extends into being a student of the healthcare field as well.
What will you do if you aren’t accepted into medical school on your first try?
This question, perhaps even more than any of the other ones, really is the one that separates serious from non-serious premeds. Generally speaking, premedical students are those who are used to doing well; they often haven’t had to deal with facing rejection. Medical school, however, is an entirely different playing field from undergrad, and there are many excellent premed candidates who for some reason or another are not accepted on their first tries. What they choose to do then is really what determines whether or not they will someday be wearing a white coat as a medical doctor.
Reapplying is an obvious step for anyone who has been rejected but still truly wants to be a physician. The steps that students take to ensure that they eventually do receive an acceptance letter, however, are what determines the likelihood of that acceptance ever happening. This requires a careful evaluation on the part of the student to determine what might have been the reason for the lack of an acceptance letter, and is also requires taking appropriate steps to address those issues for the next admissions cycle.
Overall, declaring yourself a “premed” major takes relatively little work. However, actually following through all of the premed requirements take a good amount of commitment, both to being focused in your studies and to being focused on making good friendship decisions. While this list is not a guarantee for success as a premed, it still is a good series of questions to run by yourself in determining just how serious you are in your desire to one day become a successful physician.