I’ll start by letting you in on the best kept secret in the pre-med world: truthfully, none of us are 100% sure we are taking the right steps, or doing the right things at all times. In fact, it can feel like your spot in medical school is never safely secured until you are finally there. If that is true, then maybe we should not be surprised of the sad reality that many pre-med students in the US drop out of their programs prematurely, or for the wrong reasons. I wonder how many of those students may have shown all the signs of a promising future, but decided they were not cut out for this business because of skewed perceptions of the pre-med world. Even in my own journey, it seems like the reasons to drop out of your program have held higher authority over of the very reasons you should stay in it.
It is a long stretch to say every pre-med dropout is caused by some outwardly generated, skewed perception. After all, only you can sign your own papers to switch to a different major. But that surely does not keep me from wondering if the PreMed world has contributed some unnecessary negativity that keeps some students doubting their abilities, and keeps some students out altogether. In fact, I am led to believe if everybody spent a little less time reading firsthand accounts and “PreMed horror stories” on Student Doctor Network, more people might actually think of the PreMed experience as enjoyable – not long and horrific like many portray it as. For once, let’s take a deep breath and be better than that. Check out these signs that you are generally in the right place as a pre-med student instead of signs you are in the wrong place.
Everything else aside, you see yourself fitting into medicine, someway or somehow
Try something different in the next few days: instead of looking up different specialties of medicine, spend some time writing down the qualities you are looking for in your career. When you look at specialties, you may be more prone to spending too much time looking at hours per week, salaries, or steep prerequisites. While those are important, perhaps it misses the point a little bit.
- Do you want to be on your feet, maybe working with your hands?
- How do you feel about treating anybody who may walk through your door?
- Are you okay with learning, even after you begin practicing?
- How do you feel about the business aspect of medicine, such as potentially owning your own office and doing paperwork?
Although it is great to have a general idea of what you want to do, maybe it is a little less intimidating to just know that you fit into the field in the first place. Put your GPA and opinions about organic chemistry aside and ask yourself if you want to be a doctor. Positive responses to questions like these help establish that being a pre-med student is not a waste of your time. Especially early on in your PreMed experience, do not worry about the details of finding the perfect specialty so much. Odds are that you already fit in some way.
You are (generally) enjoying science
While I would never expect you to like every aspect of science, I would surely hope that you could at least appreciate how vastly cool some of things you learn are. After all, doctors are simply scientists who experience the added bonus of working with people on a daily basis. Personally, I could not imagine what my journey would have been like so far without that kind of appreciation, and I would guess that most doctors would say the same.
You do not mind the work
Perhaps there is something strangely fulfilling about the demands of a pre-med load. In fact, you might realize in a twisted way that you kind of enjoy the extraordinary demands that are placed on you. When professors ask you to perform superhuman acts of studiousness, you might cringe a little, but they are also paying you a compliment. Nobody can ace three science exams, run a perfect assay in the lab, and write a flawless paper all in a week, but you can. Surely very few other majors experience that kind of pressure, and very few other majors can attest to the sweetness of doing it well. The work might be tough, but if you do not mind it then go for it.
You recognize that each premed is unique
Before you start comparing yourself to other pre-meds, I hope you are realizing that everybody brings different experiences to the world of medicine. By far, I would estimate that most students switch out of their pre-med programs prematurely because of this reason alone. While some pre-gunner out there may be rocking out a 4.0 GPA, it does not necessarily mean they will make a great doctor. Being a good student still seems to say very little about how compassionate you are toward patients, or whether or not you work with others well. So do not worry if your GPA is a little less than stellar. You are surely bringing experiences with you that reaffirm why medicine is right for you. It is no secret that you will have to be able to compete with others in GPA and MCAT scores, but keep in mind that your uniqueness as an applicant can set you apart as well. Be confident.
Somewhere along the line, we have to remove the perception that you have to be a god among men in order to get accepted into medical school. While those kinds of opinions deter some brilliant minds away from pursuing medicine, they also make for an unrealistic representation of what it is actually like. Perhaps the secret of the pre-med world is that you do not have to be anything special to be good at what you do. You only have to be optimistic that you are in the right place, and everything else seems to follow after that. Better yet, maybe we could just work on keeping one less secret altogether. As it turns out, I have never been too fond of them anyways.
Austin Greer is a 4th year student at Indiana Wesleyan University and a current Student Advisory Board Member for PreMedLife.