So you’ve successfully gotten accepted to a quality Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Medical Program. You’ve worked hard to get to where you are, and you are proud of being there. You would rather be in “actual” medical school right now, but you understand that your decision to do a year in a post-bac program is probably for the best and will most likely help enhance your chance of eventually being accepted into your dream medical school in the future. At the same time, however, just being accepted into this program is not necessarily a guarantee of you choosing to follow through with your dreams of becoming a physician. Instead, it is up to you to stay focused throughout the entire duration of your program in order to best enhance your chances of moving forward to the next step in your journey (that is, medical school). Post-Baccalaureate Programs are set up to help ensure your success as a premed student. This set up typically includes many long hours of science-focused lectures; often classes are done in a time-crunch plan, with an entire year or semester’s worth of material being condensed into an 8 week schedule. (However, the particular schedule of classes of each post-bac pre-med program varies from school to school).

Days within your life as a post-bac pre-med student might also include spending time studying for the MCAT and learning basic clinical medical skills as well. Shadowing physicians and completing volunteering hours might also be a part of your program, and many post-bac programs work hard to ensure that each student has the option of having an individual mentor as well.

However, despite the structure of a post-bac pre-med program being meticulously designed to improve a student’s chance of getting accepted into medical school, it is still up to each individual student to make the most of his/her time in the program. Additionally, even though getting into a post-bac pre-med program is a step in the right direction, sometimes being in such a program can actually make things harder for students to push on and pursue their medical school dreams afterwards. Specifically, there are several pitfalls that students within such a program need to avoid in order to keep their spirits alive for the challenge of medical school.

Burnout

Arguably the greatest enemy for post-bac and medical school students alike, suffering from burnout (without ever finding a way to successfully cope with it) can often be the difference between success and failure for many students. The workload in a post-bac program is designed to be one that adequately prepares students for the workload of the classes in medical school; as such, the pace of learning is easily comparable to that of having to sprint during a marathon. While your undergrad work will have ideally prepared you for the challenge of the classes within a post-bac program, the fact remains that the majority of post-bac pre-med students probably will never have experienced such an intense academic load all at once before.

Stay ahead of the game and actively work to avoid falling prey to burnout in a post-bac program. Keep written reminders to yourself of why you wanted to become a physician in the first place. Stay in touch with friends who know how badly you want to work towards your dreams and goals, and call them to remind you whenever you feel like giving up. Although the majority of your “free time” will need to be spent studying, make sure to build in time to relax and refresh yourself. Successfully working towards your goal of completing your post-bac pre-med program and getting accepted into medical school will mean learning how to deal with the stresses of a grueling course load without giving in to academic burnout.

Depression

In line with burnout, depression is another struggle faced by post-bac and medical students alike. Although burnout is definitely a major contributing factor to overall depression (and arguably vice versa), depression also tends to affect an individual on a deeper level than academic burnout does. While burnout may just affect a student’s focus during his academic pursuits, depression will spill out into every area of his life.

However, even though a surprising number of graduate students will experience symptoms of depression during their studies, this potential pitfall definitely does not need to be a struggle that prevents them from achieving their dream career goals. Instead, post-bac students must learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of depression and to fully acknowledge them in their own lives if they are there. Seeking help through licensed counselors and other healthcare professionals is the next step, and post-bac programs often have mentors who are available to help students with their struggles as well. Student support groups can also be of incredible importance for the post-bac pre-med student struggling to keep his dream of medical school alive; knowing that you are not alone in your struggles is important for helping you to push through and pursue your dreams.

Procrastination

While telling yourself, “I’ll finish this lecture tomorrow” can be essential to preserving your own mental health at times, making a habit of doing so is almost guaranteed to create a pit for yourself that will be incredibly hard to dig out of. “Tomorrow” might have been a reasonable option for studying in undergraduate classes, but it really is not a practical approach to the course work within a post-bac program. Since the post-bac pre-med program is designed to get you in shape for medical school, the coursework within these programs is also designed to push you to develop steady study habits that will lead to your eventual success as a medical student.

Avoid falling into a hole of procrastination by creating a strict study plan for each day of your week and sticking to it. Obviously, unexpected emergency situations will arise occasionally. However, the student who is on top of all of his studying (or who at least has a definite plan for how to stay on top of it) should find such situations less stressful than the student who already has mounds of catch-up work to do on top of the unexpected occurrence. Additionally, be quick to recognize that procrastination is often not so much a problem of doing nothing but a problem of doing the wrong things. In other words, even though it may be tempting to justify cleaning out your car instead of studying the day’s lectures, as long as you’re in school the lectures should probably be placed as a higher priority and should be accomplished first.

Lack of concrete future goals.

Finally, a common pitfall for many post-bac pre-med students is a lack of actually solid future goals. This may sound like an unlikely problem for you if you’re currently enrolled (or currently planning on enrolling) in a post-bac program, but it is unfortunately a real problem. In fact, this potential pitfall can be one that makes all of the other previously mentioned problems unmanageable. Without concrete solid goals for your future in medicine, you are much more likely to give in to the stresses of your post-bac work and give up on pursuing your doctorate. With concrete goals, on the other hand, your goals will propel you through difficult nights of studying and days spent inside libraries. 

Be proactive in avoiding this common pitfall by forcing yourself to have a real realization of why you want to do what you want to do. Know exactly why you want to pursue a career in medicine; have a solid grasp on the desires behind your dreams, knowing why being a doctor is what you want to do with your life. Keep a reminder of whatever sparked an interest in medicine in you in the first place; write a solid plan for how exactly you will go about pursuing your career in medicine once you complete your post-bac program. Will you take a year off to take the MCAT and apply to medical schools? Will you spend time working in a research lab? Would you like to get a stronger grip on medical terms and work as a scribe in the ER of a hospital? Whatever you choose to do, have a solid plan that you can remind yourself of whenever you get frustrated or exhausted while plowing through your post-bac program.

As initially stated, your position as a post-bac pre-med student is definitely an exciting one to be in. You’ve worked hard to get to where you are; regardless of the steps that led you to choose to pursue a career in medicine, your position in a post-bac pre-med program is one that will probably bring you one step closer to your dreams, provided that you can avoid these common pitfalls of students. Once you have successfully completed your program (and found a way to work through these common problems), you will find yourself to be well prepped for medical school. Not only will you have a stronger academic background through your concentrated science course work, but you also will have successfully faced many of the struggles fought by medical students before even entering medical school. Finding ways to conquer tendencies towards procrastination and feelings of burnout while you are in your post-bac program will help you be an even stronger student (and person) during medical school.