Do you aspire to become a doctor? Are you unsure of whether medical school is for you? Are you unsure as to how to go about preparing for entrance exams to get into medical school?
I’ve created the ultimate resource for all pre-meds out there having such burning questions about medical school and becoming a doctor. I interviewed 9 medical students from around the world – US, Canada, UK and Europe, to provide you with a well-rounded perspective, all of them highly deserving of what they’ve accomplished so far. I asked them all sorts of questions – on having a well-rounded lifestyle as well as on the technical stuff. Through their responses, you will not only gain insight into various techniques they used to avoid burn-out/demotivation, but also gain valuable tips and information about their application processes. You’ll notice certain trends in their responses for some questions which accounted for their success, but more importantly, you will realize how each of them have uniquely paved their path towards medical school and that there is no definite “checklist” one has to follow. Their responses don’t include the usual “fluff” we’re usually exposed to. In fact, they’re real, comprehensive and to the point.
First, here’s an introduction to all the medical students who took out time from their busy schedules to contribute to this article. They are either yet to start, a few years into or almost done with medical school.
My name is Ethan Pritikin, and I recently graduated from the University of Chicago with a major in Biology and specialization in endocrinology. This upcoming fall, I will be starting at Keck School of Medicine of University of Southern California this year. In addition to my academic and extracurricular hobbies, I really enjoy staying active. In college, I greatly enjoyed partaking in intramural sports, going to the gym, and running/hiking in nature. Also, in my free time, I enjoy reading about massive corporate scandals, such as Bad Blood (summary of Theranos).
If you wish to reach out to him, you can email him at email@example.com or follow him on instagram @ethanpritikin
My name is Priya Desai, and I finished my undergraduate studies in the Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences at Boston University, with a major in Human Physiology and minor in Public Health. I will be starting at the Boston University School of Medicine this year. I am particularly passionate about healthcare for underserved and exploited populations and my hobbies include photography, dance and cooking.
Feel free to reach out to me with any questions on my instagram @pj.desai or on LinkedIn!
My name is Danielle Lewis, and I completed three years of a BSc in Biological Sciences at Ontario Tech University, with a specialization in Life Science before receiving early acceptance to medical school. I will be entering my second-year of medical school in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto this fall. During my undergrad, I was involved in many initiatives on and off campus. I am particularly passionate about mentorship and teaching which inspired me to create my Instagram page, @medbyme, where I share her journey to medical school, my experiences as a medical student, and advice for premed students pursuing their goals of becoming physicians! Outside of medicine, I enjoy cooking, exercising, spending time with friends and family, playing piano, and watching Netflix!
My name is Roya Akbary, and I graduated from the University of Toronto with a Honors Bachelor of Science where I completed a Psychology Specialist and Physiology Minor. I am now entering my second year of medical school at the Michael G. Degroote School of Medicine at McMaster University. I am passionate about womxn’s health and advocating for gender equity. For fun, I like to watch Netflix, cook and try new foods, and play with my pet hamster, Mochi.
My name is Amelia Srajer, and I completed three years at the University of Toronto in the Neuroscience Specialist program. I am now a second-year medical student at the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary. I have an interest in mental health research as well as women’s rights and maternal health. I also enjoy teaching and have been tutoring high school students for the past 4 years. In my spare time I enjoy running, singing, reading books, and spending time with my friends and family.
My name is Wondu Gebeyehu, and I completed my Honors Bachelors of Science in Chemistry at Carleton University. I will be starting at the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto this year. I’ve lived in Ottawa my whole life. I’m extremely passionate about addressing educational barriers for low-income and racialized students, particularly within the Ethiopian-Canadian community. In my spare time, I enjoy playing pool with my friends and eating shawarma.
My name is Siddarth Raj and I graduated from the IB Diploma Program in Dubai, having taken higher-level Biology, Chemistry and Economics. I am a final year medical student at King’s College London and I have obtained a first-class degree in Regenerative Medicine and Innovation Technology (BSc). In school, I was passionate about the Water for Life Club (a charity linked with the Aqua Initiative), Model United Nations (as I got to travel) and football (soccer). At university, I switched sports and started playing cricket 4 years ago. I have become passionate about cricket and I currently serve as the Captain of the United Hospital Cricket Club, which comprises London’s 5 university hospital teams, and as President of the Guy’s, King’s and St. Thomas Cricket Club, which has over 75 members. Over the years, I have also developed a keen interest in surgery and to that end, I have become the Co-President of the KCL Plastics, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgery Society, which hosts the largest student-led plastic surgery conference in the UK.
Note: Siddarth also runs a successful instagram page (@theworldwidemedic) and has his own YouTube channel (here’s the link: http://www.youtube.com/c/TheWorldwideMedic ). He focuses his content mainly based on talking to other doctors to give us a glimpse into their thoughts and make the field of medicine as transparent as it can get.
My name is Shweta Madhu and I’m a final year medical student at the University of Nottingham with special interests in pediatrics and academia. I also hold a degree in BSc Biomedical Sciences having studied treatment burden in Cystic Fibrosis. Prior to this, I graduated with the IB Diploma Program in Dubai. Alongside medical school, I’m also the President of PsychStart – the UK’s first student-led mentoring scheme for medics. I’ve spoken at the coveted BMA conference and sat on the committees of multiple other societies. Over the years, I’ve developed a keen interest in research that even took me to Singapore, studying antibody treatments and genomics in pulmonary oncology and the prestigious National Cancer Center.
My name is Niyonika Seth, and I studied in ISC curriculum during high school where I took Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Psychology. I am now a second-year student at Charles University, Faculty of Medicine in Prague. I am particularly passionate about psychiatry, plastic surgery and cardiology. My hobbies include singing, boxing and playing badminton.
Now, the part you’ve been waiting for – their responses. They’ve provided you with their personal experiences and the best pieces of advice to help you pave your journey towards medical school and becoming a doctor.
Note – some questions have been skipped by few of the students because they may not apply to them.
A well-rounded lifestyle:
How did you cope with burn out/demotivation?
Ethan, USA – Having role models that I looked up to and admired was extremely useful for me. Ironically, one of my main role models was Floyd Mayweather. I would listen to videos discussing his extremely intense training, and it reminded me that eventually, hard work will pay off.
Priya, USA – Burnout and demotivation are really common among college students, especially pre-med students. The pressures to perform well in classes, extra-curriculars, and professionally can be a lot for any person. One thing that I did to make sure that I didn’t suffer from burnout is to take time out of the week to do a hobby that I really liked. It’s important that this hobby is something that engages your mind in a different way than academics do, so sitting down and watching Netflix all day doesn’t count. For me, my hobby was dance. I was on a dance team during college and we would have practices throughout the week. During those times, I was able to forget about school and do something that I loved. So, I highly recommend picking up a hobby or joining a club in school for your hobby so you have a break from such a high-stress lifestyle.
Danielle, Canada – Over the years, I have learned the importance of recognizing when I am overwhelmed and employing the appropriate measures to lower my stress levels to avoid burnout. The first step is listening to my body’s signs and signals that I am under a lot of stress. This includes a loss of focus, fatigue, and anxiousness. The next step is to identify what is causing me to be stressed. Finally, the third step is developing a solution to alleviate my stress. These coping mechanisms include sharing my feelings with my friends or family, exercising as a means to alleviate my stress, and taking a break when I feel overwhelmed.
I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve felt burnt out or lost my motivation as a premed student. In undergrad, studying for my MCAT, and during the medical school application cycle, I experienced times when I felt overwhelmed. I think it is so important to stop, reflect on what is causing you to feel this way, and develop coping strategies. Unfortunately, feelings of burnout are not just experienced by premed students. As you move on in your academics and career, your work days will become longer, more challenging, and burnout may be somewhat impossible to avoid. Nevertheless, developing coping strategies will be key to pushing through these feelings and never losing sight of your end goals.
Roya, Canada – There were a lot of ups and downs throughout my premed journey. It helped to keep my eye on the big picture goal because it can be easy to get bogged down by all the steps it takes to get there. It is also absolutely necessary to keep space for friends and fun! We all need time to recharge. Having people who support you along the way is so helpful. Finally, my biggest piece of advice is to hold on to extracurricular activities that really energize you and ditch the ones that do not. Which activities don’t feel like work to you? These are likely the ones you are more interested in and intrinsically motivated to pursue. When your extracurriculars are fun for you and don’t feel like work, you are less likely to burn-out and lose motivation.
Amelia, Canada – When I start feeling burned out, one of my coping strategies is to avoid putting too much pressure on myself. Whenever I am feeling burned out, I tell myself “stop comparing yourself to others, if you are doing your best that is all that matters”. This mantra helps relieve some of the pressure I am feeling and allows me to focus on myself and my goals.
Siddarth, UK – I’m no expert, but I believe that prevention is better than the cure. I always try to work in such a way that I cannot get burnt out – I treat my physical and mental health with as much importance as I place on my education as I try not to compromise on either. In terms of dealing with demotivation, I believe that there are times when everyone feels demotivated and it’s important to recognize that this is normal. Some days will be fantastic and unbelievably productive, but some days will be an absolute write-off and that is normal too.
Shweta, UK – By embracing and honoring it, mostly. I always knew burn-out would become more of a reality once I was in med school so I taught myself how to tackle it early on. The medic in me perceives burnout as the symptom, not the disease. When I’m feeling unmotivated, there’s usually a reversible reason behind it – lack of food, sleep etc. If I can’t pinpoint a reason, I take a “mental health day” where I chill, hang out with friends, workout and basically do anything that isn’t medicine. My housemates and I even implemented PMT’s at home; a play on the “protected meal times” that patients get at the hospital. Essentially, it’s medicine-free time. I strongly advocate breaks, work-free days and prioritizing your mental health; remember, you can’t take care of someone else when you haven’t taken care of yourself.
Niyonika, Czechia – To be very honest, I didn’t face much demotivation in high school, mainly because the subjects I took were ones that I enjoyed studying. The only subject that I was let down by was physics, mainly because I didn’t take mathematics so my problem solving was an issue. The reason I didn’t take maths was because as a medical student in most universities (for medical entrance exams), you are required to choose between maths and physics. The only way to cope up with a specific subject is to put in extra hours and get help from peers or teachers regarding any topic that you do not understand, because the key to medicine is understanding and not memorizing. Make sure to treat yourself with a well deserved break after every exam and remind yourself that in the medical career, you will never have a time when there are no exams. Exams become a part of life because you need to be tested on topics thousands of times to make sure you are ready to take a person’s life into your hands. As long as you are motivated to become a doctor, you won’t dread it as much.
How did you balance completing all your pre-med requirements with having a social life and more importantly, ensuring a healthy and stable mental health?
Ethan, USA – I would say that I improved my ability to balance my social life and pre-med requirements later in my college career. When I first came to college, I felt pressure to establish myself as a high-achieving student. As time went on, I became less whole-heartedly focused on grades. In my junior and senior years, I didn’t feel as much pressure to finish all my work before having fun. For example, if I had a midterm on Monday, I would be OK with going out on Friday, knowing that I would be able to study for the bulk of Saturday and Sunday. Allowing oneself to take a break from thinking about school is essential to prevent becoming burnt out.
Priya, USA – One of the biggest things that helped me throughout college was time management. With the workload that comes with being a premed, it is really easy to either fall behind, or on the opposite end of the spectrum, create this black hole that seems like schoolwork is the only thing in your life. During my time in college, my calendar was my best friend. I would log when I had classes and also label times throughout the day when I would do my homework. This method helped me visualize how much time I really have in a day and showed me how to work efficiently and without distractions. Creating a schedule helped me compartmentalize my attention which is really helpful when you have to get an assignment done in a specific amount of time. If I knew I had a social event coming up or that I was hanging out with my friends, I would make sure that my calendar depicted when I would finish all of my homework before that event. That way I was able to hang out with my friends without worrying about any homework that I may have or any procrastination that may happen.
Danielle, Canada – In terms of balance, time management as a premed student is key. Having multiple responsibilities or school, working, volunteering, and researching can be a lot to handle. Not to mention making time to see your friends and family and taking care of your own wellness. As a premed, I would plan out each week ahead of time to ensure that I was allocating enough time to complete all of my tasks and responsibilities. Time-blocking my days also helped me maximize my time and hold myself accountable to getting everything done. This helped me balance all of my premed responsibilities, while also seeing how much spare time I had in my weeks. Of course, there were many times I had to sacrifice my social life for another responsibility, but overall I still always made time for my friends and family. Also, ensuring I lead a healthy lifestyle was a top priority for me. I would alot time in my week to exercise which helped me destress. I would also plan for night/days (usually on weekends) that were allotted to self-care, whether that was watching Netflix, seeing friends and family, etc.
It is important not to lose sight of your other hobbies, interests, and relationships along your journey to medical school. You are so much more than a premed student! Finding a balance is crucial not only to succeeding academically, but to stay healthy and well during these busy years.
Roya, Canada – It was definitely hard to manage my time between school, extracurriculars and personal life. Between second and third year of university, I hit a point where I was sacrificing my personal wellness to say “yes” to more extracurricular opportunities and responsibilities. I had to learn to say “no” when I had enough on my plate. Especially as a premed, it can often feel like you need to do everything when really, there is no way to do so. There are not that many actual pre-requisites to apply to med school in Canada. A lot of things are presumed requirements (research, clubs, volunteering, etc.) because we compare ourselves with other premeds and want to fit that “perfect applicant box” which does not exist. Instead, each individual should evaluate which activities are most important to their unique identity and story. Which activities energize and excite you? These are the ones that will not drain you. As I said before, if it doesn’t feel like work it will be easier to feel balanced. I also depend on Google Calendar to stay organized and on top of my work. It is important to schedule in time to study and time for yourself, fun, and friends as well.
Amelia, Canada – I personally like lists so most days I make check lists of the things I want to get done. I also use a day planner which I find helpful for keeping track of assignments and tests. I even put my plans with friends and family into my day planner. For me, having a support network and making time for them is important and helps maintain my mental health. Making time for hobbies and fun activities is also great for mental health!
Wondu, Canada – I think setting priorities and making reasonable sacrifices is the key. As much as people want to have everything in their university experience, this is the quickest way to burn out. In my personal life, I chose to prioritize studying, my volunteer work, spending time with my friends and family, and pastimes like playing pool and going to the gym. Although I missed out on a lot of partying and excitement that other university students were quite interested in, I don’t regret it because these sacrifices allowed me to achieve my goals while not spreading myself too thin.
Siddarth, UK – As aforementioned, I think it’s about treating your pre-med requirements, your social life and your overall health as equal priorities. There will be times when you go a few days without as much sleep or physical exercise as you’d like because your work takes over, but that should be an anomaly and not the norm! On the whole, you should definitely take care of your health!
Shweta, UK – I started at medical school straight out of high-school which meant I treated it like any other university application process. I told myself that if I can’t balance this now, how am I going to balance things at med school? Besides, all doctors are jugglers, with their time, energy and education. So might as well learn early on!
Niyonika, Czechia – Time management is the most important thing. I learnt it as a student from high school and it made life in university a lot easier for me. I always set targets for myself and told myself that you have to finish this much portion and then, go for a gathering or a festival or just binge Netflix. I never felt like I had to give up my social life. I never had the “lets delete instagram” phase in my life because I always knew how to prioritize my time. It’s better to put in 2 hours a day of 100% focus work rather than 10 hours of 20% focus. I also made sure to never let go of my hobbies, I continued my vocal training as well as went for boxing lessons to destress. It’s important to keep doing things you love to take your mind off.
How did you confirm that medical school was the perfect fit for you? What would you advise to students conflicted about going into medical school?
Ethan, USA – I think rarely in life are things a “perfect fit.” I think the best way of determining what career/profession one wants to pursue is making two lists. In one list, write down all of the subject-independent aspects of work that appeal to you. For example, in the list, I would include not working at a desk for 8 hours straight, or requiring some form of social contact with people. In the other list, write down the areas/topics that interest you. For example, in that list, I would include heart disease, but I would also include corporate fraud. Then, create a list of jobs that merge the two lists. Even though I’m interested in corporate fraud, most lawyers need to sit at a desk and read hours everyday with not much social interaction (so that eliminates that option).
Priya, USA – Personally, I always gravitated towards science and medicine. I always knew I wanted to do something with the human body and I wanted to help people. Of course, that’s just the first step to determining if medicine is really what you should do as a career in life. The most significant experience that contributed to my decision to continue on to medical school were events that involved primary exposure to the medical field. Such exposures included shadowing, working as an EMT, and working in an assisted-living facility. These experiences placed me in a position that helped me envision my life in the next couple of years. It provided me with information on whether or not I want to spend a lot of time, money and schooling on this particular end goal. I found myself enjoying each and every experience that I had within the medical field and it further pushed me to pursue medical school. My advice to students that are conflicted is to find ways to get primary medical exposure so you really know what it feels like working in the field. Also, make a pros and cons list about going to medical school as well as a list of what you want out of life. Medical school is a long hard journey and there are a lot of sacrifices that need to be made in the future, so make sure you’re okay with making those sacrifices.
Danielle, Canada – I don’t think it was an “aha!” moment for me, but rather a combination of didactic, hands-on, and observational experiences in the sciences, patient care and clinical settings. I was very indecisive about whether I wanted to pursue medical school or other career paths. I first took the time to explore different careers that I could pursue with my Bachelor of Science degree. I shadowed a variety of professions like dentists, genetic counsellors and doctors. I also volunteered in research departments to get a sense of whether pursuing research through a Master’s was a better fit for me. In addition, I spent a lot of time volunteering in hospitals to better understand the roles and responsibilities of health care providers.
However, the more I learned about medicine, the more I realized that this profession is a combination of everything I love – teaching, solving puzzles, science, research, lifelong learning, leadership and advocacy for vulnerable populations. It was a culmination of all of my clinical experiences- shadowing physicians, volunteering in hospitals, researching with clinician scientists, and volunteering with vulnerable populations that I found a sense of purpose in knowing I had found a career that was right for me. To all of the premed students who are also unsure of pursuing medical school, that is completely okay. Answering the question of “Why Medicine” is by no means easy. Reflect on what you are looking for in a career. Shadow a variety of professions. Reflect upon what drives you, what you enjoy doing, what your weaknesses and strengths are, and what draws you to pursuing medical school. Then reconsider, “Why Medicine?”
Roya, Canada – It is really hard to know what med school and being a physician is like until you are actually doing it. Volunteering and shadowing are ways that you can get an idea of whether medicine is something you could see yourself doing. I volunteered in hospitals and clinics in high school and throughout university. Through these experiences, I learned that I liked the healthcare environment and could see myself as part of a healthcare team in my career. A really pivotal moment for me was when I had the opportunity to travel and shadow physicians practicing in underserved areas. That’s where I saw physicians listening to patient’s stories, problem-solving and caregiving and I knew medicine was what I needed to do. Being in medical school only reaffirmed that I made the right choice. If you are conflicted about pursuing medical school, seek out experiences in healthcare environments such as volunteering at hospitals or retirement homes and then with physicians such as shadowing a doctor for one day or more or even helping out with clinical research. Many schools have career exploration shadowing programs to facilitate this so looking for those is a good start.
Siddarth, UK – Work experience, or job shadowing, is the best way to figure out if medicine or even medical school is the perfect fit for you. Reach out to medical students and doctors and ask them questions. And remember, there are no bad questions. If you’re feeling shy, you can find out a lot from reading medic blogs, watching vlogs or even messaging students/doctors on LinkedIn. That being said, I personally think it’s best to go into a clinical setting and observe doctors carrying out their day-to-day roles and ask yourself: is this what I want to be doing?
Shweta, UK – It was the 2 things that every medic says (and the 2 things you definitely shouldn’t put in your college essay) – I liked biology and helping people. I did a lot of shadowing and intern work in various settings before applying to get a feel of the job. I also weighed the pros and cons of the career. For instance, is the stability worth the long education pathway? It’s definitely important to figure out because medicine is less of a job and more of a lifestyle. I suggest talking to medics about their experiences, joys and regrets. If you don’t know any, follow medics on social media; I love Tash the Medic and Kharma Medic if you’re UK based. I’m an avid list-maker so I’d also definitely suggest breaking it down to anyone who’s on the fence. Note down every aspect of your life from family to finances to hobbies and think about how being a medic (and eventually, a doctor) will affect these. What sacrifices are you willing to make? How will you juggle various commitments? Essentially, what are the pros and cons and how does it all fit into your life? Most importantly, what’s your backup plan if you choose not to go into medicine and how does that compare?
Niyonika, Czechia – Honestly, medical school isn’t for anyone who wakes up one day and says ‘I’m going to be a doctor’. As a child, I always wanted to help people, but obviously medicine isn’t the only way to help; you can be a lawyer and save people life, or as my counsellor said, “Become an NGO, why do you want to spend your entire life studying?” It wasn’t about studying, but it was more of a fascination to perform surgeries and just do something that truly interests me. To the students thinking about going to medical school, I would say its not how the world makes it out to be. You are not going to spend 20 hours a day, 7 days a week studying. Trust me, as a medical student, I may have studied a maximum of 2 – 3 hours a day, 4 times a week. It’s just about studying regularly and not piling your work. I choose to study a little everyday so when it comes down to finals I don’t have to do everything from the start. I recently gave my first year finals and I studied for about 6 – 7 hours a day, for a week before my finals because I kept up with the work, as compared to my peers who had to pull all nighters and run on 3 hours of sleep because they procrastinated all year. As long as you know how to manage your time, you will have enough time for yourself. And let me tell you, medical school doesn’t take away any of the feels from a “real” university, You still have parties, gatherings, free days, and ‘no compulsory attendance’ like any other university.
Research & Volunteering:
Which research opportunities inspired you the most? Which opportunities would you strongly recommend premed students to take and why?
Ethan, USA – I would encourage all premed students to consider applying to the summer programs the NIH offers for college students. I worked in a lab at the NIH for both my freshman and sophomore summers and greatly enjoyed my experiences in my lab and at the NIH. Everyone is extremely nice, and the program coordinators go to a lot of effort to make the program enjoyable. In addition, there are opportunities to contribute to research and potentially be published.
Danielle, Canada – I pursued both clinical and basic science research opportunities to gain a wide depth and breadth of knowledge into the research field. I absolutely loved my clinical opportunities, which further drove me to pursuing a career in medicine. Nevertheless I learned a lot through my wet-lab experiences such as perseverance, problem solving, and collaboration. As a premed, pursue research opportunities that interest YOU. Oftentimes, research opportunities are difficult to find and just getting a position is exciting. However, it will be SO much more fulfilling and enjoyable if it is a project you are passionate about.
Roya, Canada – The Research Opportunity Program at U of T let me try out research in a Psychology lab in my second year and I really enjoyed my experience. Subsequently, I pursued summer studentships in two different Neuroscience labs and then completed my fourth-year thesis in one of them. I would recommend taking these opportunities to get course credit for research. Following these pre-existing structures can also make it easier to find labs that are looking for undergraduate researchers. You can also seek out summer studentships where you may be paid a stipend for a summer research project. You can find a studentship or grant you would like to apply for and then reach out to Principal Investigators (PIs) that can apply for one with you or vice versa. These are just the ways I went about finding research opportunities, but it looks different for everyone and it is also possible to get into med school without research experience if it is not something you enjoy!
Amelia, Canada – For me personally, clinical research opportunities where I got to interact with patients was the most meaningful, but I think all research experience is valuable. Research teaches you about time management, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking/appraisal of scientific literature. So any research experience is a good experience!
Siddarth, UK – My first opportunity to carry out research was in my third year of university when I intercalated, which entails completing a BSc in 1 year. As part of this programme, I was fortunate enough to work with a great team and carry out research on peripheral nerve regeneration in vitro – this turned out to be one of the best experiences I’ve had at university. If you’re a pre-med at university, definitely try and do a lab-based or clinical research project so you can gain some exposure to research – it’s a welcome change from the clinical environment and is definitely enjoyable!
Shweta, UK – I learned early on, in high-school, that lab-based research wasn’t for me. I did not know, however, that there’s a million other kinds of research including patient studies that involve a lot more human interaction and so, were more up my alley. I injected research into most of my volunteer/intern positions before medical school to get a taste of it. There is no one opportunity I strongly suggest for premeds. Rather, do what interests you and you’ll find that the passion automatically reflects in your applications.
Niyonika, Czechia – I didn’t have a lot of research opportunities, but I did my own for interest purposes either way. I did an internship in a medical center back in high school and that was one of the best decisions I made because getting the feel of being in a hospital environment for a month motivated me that much more to be a doctor.
How do you recommend premeds seek for research/volunteering opportunities?
Ethan, USA – First, I would email a premed advisor and ask what opportunities there are. I would also look up opportunities on any online job posting sites (our school used Handshake for example). Second, I would do a google search on a field you’re interested in followed by your school name. For example, my freshman year I searched in google “nutrition education UChicago.” Based on that search, I contacted a doctor working at UChicago’s hospital, and I was able to become a part of two different programs that completely fit my interests. In addition, later on, I was able to shadow that doctor, and she wrote one of my letters of recommendation for medical school.
Priya, USA – Most universities have some sort of research program that college students can apply through to secure a research position. Regardless of those, all universities have professors who are doing some sort of research in every single field. I recommend going to college departments’ websites and browsing around the research section. Every department in college has a list of faculty doing research as well as what their research project is. If there’s a specific research project that you are interested in, just send the principle investigator an email saying that you were interested in the research project and would like to be a part of it. Most students attain research positions this way. One thing to be wary of is that you may have to send multiple emails to different professors for research. Rejections are very common, and not hearing back from the professor is even more common. As for volunteering opportunities, there are clubs at college that are specifically geared towards volunteering within the community, so definitely check those out.
Danielle, Canada – There are many ways to get involved in research. Network with your professors at university to see if anyone is conducting a research project and needs an extra hand. Apply to summer research positions in labs at academic institutes, organizations, or hospitals. Take a research course in undergrad (like a thesis) that will give you some research experience. You can also send out “cold emails” to research supervisors and principal investigators fields that interest you to see if there are any opportunities for you to get involved with. You’d be surprised by the positive responses you will receive.
Roya, Canada – As I mentioned before, look at programs your school has (such as the ROP program at U of T). You can also ask your friends who have had research experience about how they found their opportunities and if maybe they can refer you to the lab they are in if you have similar research interests. Oftentimes, that initial connection can be really helpful. Besides that, sometimes cold emailing professors is what you need to do. Look for PIs online and read about their labs and research, email the ones you are interested in and let them know what kind of opportunity you are looking for (summer, year-long, volunteer, paid etc.). It is draining and tedious but all you need is one email at the right time to get that interview and that opportunity. Pro Tip: Seek these opportunities super early – if you want a summer research opportunity, email in October/November (that’s how it worked at U of T at least). And if you aren’t having any luck, don’t be discouraged, ask your friends or mentors to look over your emails and keep sending them, a lot of times it has to do with timing and all you need is one opportunity.
Amelia, Canada – I think in the beginning, most students end up cold emailing supervisors for research opportunities – try reaching out to your professors or finding supervisors at your university whose research interests you. Some universities also offer research programs for high school students so it might be helpful to look into those if you’re interested in getting some early experience, but it’s definitely not required!
Siddarth, UK – In the UK, carrying out research before you join medicine is not a necessity – it’s actually a bonus as you’ll get to talk about some great transferable skills in your personal statement. As for volunteering opportunities, there are several options – you can work as a volunteer at a hospital, an old-age home or a disability daycare centre to name a few.
Shweta, UK – Never stop networking. I didn’t come from a family of medics so I had very few contacts that way, but it definitely is a place to start. Your next port of call would be local research and/or healthcare facilities. Remember, it counts even if it’s not at a clinic or hospital. Working in a day-care, special needs school and/or hospice counts too! Finally, set up a good LinkedIn profile and network with local doctors and medical students who can point you in the right direction. My top tip is to always approach anyone with confidence. The worst they could say is no, but at least you would’ve tried! And every rejection is one step closer to a life-changing opportunity.
Niyonika, Czechia – Most high schools nowadays have internship opportunities, so I would recommend you ask a career counsellor, or you can go into clinics and ask them for a non-paid internship as a doctor shadowing position.
There are a lot of opportunities out there for volunteering at different organizations. What would you recommend pre-meds should get involved in, so as to ensure quality over quantity?
Ethan, USA – I would find out exactly what the organization does before joining it. I would try to understand if the organization’s mission overlaps with my own interests. For example, my first-year I was considering joining Peer Health Exchange; however, I realized PHE focused more on sex and drug education, whereas my area of interest was more centered on obesity, nutrition, and heart disease.
Priya, USA – My biggest advice for choosing a volunteering experience or a research position is to choose something that really resonates with you. That’s how you will get quality over quantity. In my experience, medical schools like to see that you are passionate about a specific project rather than to see you have multiple projects throughout your college career. If you resonate with a certain volunteering position or research position then you can utilize that passion and explain it in your personal statement and how that contributed to your drive to become a doctor, which can only help you.
Danielle, Canada – Get involved in an organization you are passionate about. This may sound cliche, but it is so SO important. Your medical application will be stronger if you can show that you were a part of longitudinal activities- activities that you participated in for a number of years and were meaningful to you. This is why it is important to get involved- whether it is volunteering or in extracurriculars, in things that you genuinely enjoy doing. Quality is so much more important than the quantity of activities you take part in, so get involved in activities you are passionate about and committed to.
Roya, Canada – Once again, try different things and stick with what energizes you. Ensuring quality over quantity is definitely important to keep in mind. Ask yourself, “what will I take away from this experience and be able to tell others?”. Having fewer experiences that you were more invested in and can speak to at an interview is more valuable than having several experiences that you cannot talk about because your heart is not invested. An experience that ended up being really valuable for me was advocating for women in STEM and being involved with mentorship and high school outreach with Women in Science and Engineering, U of T. This was not directly medicine-related, but I gained a lot of valuable skills in leadership and communication that helped me make the case that I would be a good physician. Additionally, for Canadian medical schools, look at the CanMEDS framework and think of how your activities reflect the qualities for physicians listed there.
Amelia, Canada – I would recommend students volunteer with organizations/causes that they are passionate about. Avoid doing things just to put them on your resume. The more interested you are in the organization, the more you will enjoy it and learn from it. Also try to avoid volunteering with too many different organizations and spreading yourself too thin. Pick 1-2 organizations you are passionate about and focus on those!
Siddarth, UK – Quality over quantity! It’s about what you learn from your volunteering experience and not how many volunteering experiences you have. Keep a journal and reflect on your volunteering experiences so that you can refer back to this when you have to write your personal statement.
Shweta, UK – Well, the answer’s in the question. Aim for quality over quantity. Longer periods spent doing meaningful work that you can reflect on shows far better than a series of weekly opportunities that lead to nothing. Also, always keep a track of your daily activities while you volunteer and/or intern. If not, it’s easy to find yourself preparing to write your essay or sit your interview without remembering a single worthy moment from those jobs. As for specific opportunities, as I said earlier, don’t only look for clinical work. There’s a lot to learn from other sectors including management, psychology, pharmacology, palliative care etc.
Niyonika, Czechia – As a high school student, it would be difficult getting a position, because honestly, you cannot really help them in any way, but you should ask for a doctor-shadow position. Make sure you get the opportunity to visit every specialization possible as sometimes, you can have really good conversations with doctors and they can tell you about interesting stories from their work experience. It’s also better to do one two-month internship at one firm rather than a one-week internship at 5 – 6 firms, mainly because every firm will send you to a general practitioner or the labs, and by the time you get done with the basics, your time is up. But if you go to one firm, when they begin to run out of things, they find new places and opportunities for you.
In retrospect, how do you wish your study habits were during your pre-med experience?
Ethan, USA – In general, I was satisfied with my study habits. I wish that I had spent less time studying and more time socializing; however, I say that after having been admitted to medical school. Had I not been admitted, I would have probably wished that I had studied more.
Priya, USA – I definitely was one who used to work hard instead of working efficiently. So if there’s one thing that I would change about my study habits is that I would work a lot more efficiently and pinpoint struggle areas versus trying to memorize everything from the beginning, because that just wasted time for me.
Danielle, Canada – I wouldn’t change anything about my study habits as a premed student. I developed strong habits throughout my undergraduate studies that have paid off as a medical student. I would encourage premed students to learn what is the most efficient way for them to study as each person learns differently. Recognizing this early will continue to pay off as you pursue further education.
Roya, Canada – Stop procrastinating and study more consistently every day. The times that I have been able to spread out my studying a bit more, I always feel less stressed when it comes time for exams. One trick I started doing to try and achieve this was making a note in my calendar two weeks before every exam to start studying for that exam – that way I could pace myself and start studying a little bit every day. I did not always stick to this schedule, but the intent was there. I am still trying to procrastinate less in med school.
Amelia, Canada – While I had pretty good study habits during my undergrad, I wish I had spent more time on major concepts rather than worrying about minor details. You don’t need to understand absolutely every detail from lecture and if you can, understand major concepts and their applications. I think that is what matters most – this is especially true in medical school.
Siddarth, UK – While I was preparing for my IB exams, I wish I had studied consistently throughout the 2 years instead of in short bursts closer to the exams. I think it’s better to study consistently than to cram when it comes to actually retaining what you learn, which is of absolute importance in medicine.
Shweta, UK – I wouldn’t do a single thing differently. I had a fair few academic setbacks prior to medical school and for a moment, acceptance seemed so far away. But every achievement and failure molded my study technique (and attitude) to what it is today. If I hadn’t had those experiences, I wouldn’t be as committed or driven as I am today. My only nugget of advice would be to learn more than you study. By that I mean, don’t read a book for the sake of sitting an exam. Learn it as though someone’s life will depend on it, because someday, it will.
Niyonika, Czechia – I am honestly lucky to have been the way I was in school but the one thing I would say is STOP PROCRASTINATING. Procrastination was the biggest problem I faced in school and a little bit in university. In medicine, you have way too many terms, meanings and other new things to remember. This makes procrastination very easy because it seems like too much effort, but once you pile it, it just gets worse as you’ll have to do everything altogether.
Did you have a mentor as a premed? If yes, then how did they help you reach your goal? If not, why did you choose to not have one and in retrospect, would you wish to have had a mentor?
Ethan, USA – My premed mentor was the premed advisor I would say. I wish I had contacted her earlier in my college career. I made my choice to apply to medical school somewhat late (summer of my sophomore year) for someone applying to medical school without taking a gap year, so there are a few things I would change if I could do the process again.
Priya, USA – I did not have one single mentor throughout my college experience. In fact, I tried to find mentorship in everyone that I met. I would ask my teachers questions, my boss questions, and even the surgeons that I shadowed questions. I tried to have an amalgamation of knowledge from different people with different experiences.
Danielle, Canada – I had an amazing mentor as a premed student. I met my mentor in first year university when I signed up to be paired to an upper year student through a mentorship match program. At the time, my mentor was applying to medical school and was then accepted. She helped me learn how to be not only a successful undergraduate student, but a successful pre-med student. She helped me learn how to study in university, pointed out what opportunities were available on campus, and provided me with immense support. Our mentorship relationship then turned into a strong friendship. My advice to premeds is to seek any and all mentorship opportunities that are available. Don’t be afraid to ask your mentor all your questions and actively contact them. They sign up for these programs because they WANT to help you. Had I not met my wonderful mentor, I would have been lost as a premed student. She helped me immensely, demonstrating the strength of mentorship.
Roya, Canada – I had several different mentors, some more formal through mentorship programs, and other people that I met along the way that I could reach out to with different questions. I think mentorship is really important especially for people with underrepresented backgrounds and experiences in medicine. If it’s just to share little tips and tricks of the trade or just to get another opinion on an experience, it is really nice to have someone. If you are not sure if someone could potentially be a mentor to you, just ask them! Even if you don’t formally call them your mentor, you can ask them for career advice, check in with them via email every few months to let them know your career progress and continue to ask for advice if you need. You can find that support. You can also join a formal mentorship program! When it comes to mentorship, remember that everyone is different, and a mentor is not a role model. You will have your own unique journey but having supports around can definitely help along the way!
Amelia, Canada – I don’t think I necessarily had one mentor, but I had many people who supported and provided me with guidance throughout my journey. Some of them would help me apply for new opportunities, awards, and jobs. Some would answer my questions about the MCAT and medical school applications. Some of them looked over my medical school essays and helped me practice for my interviews. If you don’t have a mentor, never be afraid to reach out to someone and ask for guidance or advice! Most people are happy to help as they were in your same shoes at one point!
Siddarth, UK – I had university counsellors and teachers at my school that I could rely on and they were fantastic. That being said, I think it might also be worth seeking out a mentor in the form of a medical student as they can help answer any specific questions about life as a medical student.
Shweta, UK – I did not have a mentor before applying to medical school. As I’d mentioned, I came into it straight out of high-school and at the time, only one other person from my alma mater had been accepted into a UK-based program. Now in my final year, I’ve mentored many pre-meds in their journey to medicine and I’m so grateful I get to give them the retrospective insight that I didn’t receive. I would definitely suggest finding a mentor! If not in person, there are so many inspirational people online so find a virtual mentor.
Niyonika, Czechia – Yes, I did have a mentor. It’s very important to have someone in your life who has your best interest at heart, preferably a senior student, teacher, career counsellor or tutor, because they have already experienced everything you are going through and hence, will guide you in the best way possible. A peer could be a great choice too but they still have not been through certain experiences and they are in the same struggling phase as you. For me, my mentor was a physics teacher. She did not only help me with physics, but with life in general, and I went to her for any help I needed regarding university choices or dealing with examinations in school. It helps knowing you have someone who understands you and will give you advice that best suits you.
When do you recommend starting MCAT/UCAT/Entrance Exam preparation and how did you prepare for it? Which methods did you find most successful and which ones were a waste of time?
Ethan, USA – I believe the best way to prepare for the MCAT is to simultaneously review the section of the MCAT one is learning in class. Meaning, if one is learning about chirality in organic chemistry, then I would review that section in one’s MCAT book. Then I would prepare for an intense 8-9 weeks before the test (taking a practice test once a week).
Priya, USA – I personally started my MCAT preparation the semester before I was supposed to take my exam. I took my MCAT in the summer, so I took a MCAT preparation course my spring semester, and then I had two months in the summer of complete dedicated MCAT preparation time. I did the bulk of my studying in those two months because that’s when I had the most time to dedicate to the MCAT. One thing that I recommend is to not spend too much time on content review, because you should already have some sort of knowledge from all of the classes that you’ve taken in the past years. I would do practice questions to test my knowledge and if I got a question wrong, I would go back in the book to re-read the information on that specific topic. The most useful thing that I did during my MCAT preparation was a lot of practice questions. It helps with critical thinking, strategy, and it helps gauge what information you know and what information you need to learn.
Danielle, Canada – Most premed students write the MCAT in the summer after second or third year university. I wrote my MCAT in the summer after second year university, since if it didn’t go well, I would rewrite it in third year university. To prepare, I took a Princeton Review course. This is completely person dependent- and you definitely DON’T need to take a prep course to succeed on the MCAT- I just felt I needed the extra motivation and push of participating in a course. I spent three months studying. My first month was spent doing content review, and the next two months were spent practicing. I used Princeton Review materials, some Khan Academy sources, and Jack Westin and the ExamKrackers 101 Verbal Reasoning book for CARS. I also used AAMC materials during my last month of studying. In retrospect, I would have spent less time focusing on content review and more time practicing. Practicing is key to succeeding, as the MCAT is all about application, not memorization. I also would have started preparing for CARS earlier, perhaps the summer before as I struggled in this section and didn’t think three months was enough time to study it.
Roya, Canada – It really is up to the individual. I personally self-studied the summer after second year while doing research. I had taken most of the topics covered on the MCAT in first and second year (except physics) so it was nice that those were relatively fresh in my mind. In short, I always say that the MCAT is more of a test of your testing ability, not really memorization. It is passage-based so it is more about critical thinking and problem solving as well as whether you can keep that up for 6-7 hours of the test. Instead of focusing on memorizing, I would recommend spending more time on taking practice tests in a fully simulated environment. I did one every weekend with the actual number of breaks and time limits and then spent a lot of the week reviewing concepts I didn’t get on the tests. This way, I was focusing more on the gaps in my learning rather than reviewing things I already knew well. I used the Next Step Practice tests as well as their MCAT question of the day, Kaplan and The Princeton Review books, and AAMC practice tests. I’ve heard good things about ExamKrackers books and tests as well. Check out the MCAT reddit for more info, there are a lot of good resources there.
Amelia, Canada – Most students write the MCAT the summer before they apply for medical school. I took the MCAT in early August and spent May-July studying for it while doing research part-time. Some students are able to work full time while studying whereas others take the summer off and just study. Both are good options, do what works best with your schedule! Similarly, some students take MCAT prep courses whereas others study on their own. I personally didn’t take a course – I spent about a month reviewing the content and then spent the next two months doing practice questions/tests. I truly believe there is no one right way to study for the MCAT – do what works best for you!
Siddarth, UK – I think you can prepare for the UCAT in 4 weeks. There are only 2 resources that I would suggest: Medify and the official UCAT practice tests. These 2 resources are arguably better than any textbook because of the digital format that reflects what the actual test is like. Overall, I’d suggest sitting at least 2 full-length practice tests before actually taking the UCAT. The test is fast-paced and the aim, as obvious as it may sound, is to get as many questions correct as possible. By that, I mean each question in a given section is worth the same number of points, regardless of how easy or difficult the question may be. Focus on getting as many of the easy to medium level questions correct in the given time you have instead of wasting time on the more difficult questions that can deceivingly lure you in.
Shweta, UK – I only prepped for a few weeks prior to sitting the UKCAT but I scored pretty decently. One of my biggest regrets, though, was paying for professional courses. You definitely don’t need them and they’re so overpriced. My advice? Find free online question banks and do them till you get a hang of the format and skills needed. I found it useful to strategize each section, coming up with a fool-proof formula on how to tackle a question if the answer wasn’t coming to me right away. It’s not a knowledge-based exam, so don’t stress too hard. It’s one of those things where less is more.
Niyonika, Czechia – Since I applied only to universities in the Europe Union, they all had their own entrance exams. I gave 2 entrance exams and each of them had 3 papers (Biology-Chemistry-either Physics or Maths). The career counsellor I went to prepared classes for us and gave us materials to study from, but I found just going over the Year 11 and 12 portions was more than enough. I found researching topics on the internet was completely useless and finding information from different books was a waste of time because the information in science does not change and the books you used in high school are the books you are already familiar with. Plus, you would have made notes of marked important things in your books so for most of the topics, I just read over those and didn’t bother reading each sentence, whereas if you were to purchase new books, you would have to read every sentence and it would waste a lot of your time.
What was your overall medical school application process like? Which aspects of it do you think you did great on and which aspects do you wish you did better/spent some more time on? How did you prepare for your medical school interviews and how did they go?
Ethan, USA – I practiced with a few people. Basically, I would just have them ask me practice questions and I would try to identify the key aspects of my response (rather than memorizing answers). I think this system worked well for me – I was admitted to 3 out of the 4 schools I interviewed at. In addition, the one school that rejected me post-interview was Kaiser’s medical school; they interviewed nearly 1000 students for less than 50 spots.
Danielle, Canada – The application cycle for medical school was rigorous. I only applied to 4 medical schools in Ontario, the ones that accept 3rd year undergraduate students as I was applying early. The application itself was time consuming. I waited to receive my MCAT scores in mid-September prior to working on it, as my scores would dictate which schools I would be applying to. This left me with 2-3 weeks to prepare the application, which wasn’t a lot of time. I wish I had started the application earlier, specifically the UofT essays, so that I wouldn’t have felt so rushed. However, by the time I submitted my application, I felt as though all aspects of my application were strong. My biggest advice is to allocate a lot of time to the application. It is very lengthy, and requires a lot of editing. Since it is due in October, it is smart to get a head start in the summer when the applications release.
I received two interviews, one at UofT and one at uOttawa. Each interview was unique, although my prep for both were similar. I found a lot of practice questions on the internet that I would use to prepare. These included ethics questions, standard interview questions, healthcare questions, etc. I practiced with a variety of people- friends, family, mock interviews offered through the careers centre at my university. I also would record myself answering and listen back to it to try and correct anything that sounded unprofessional (for e.g. “um”, “like”, etc.). My interview went really well, and by the time of my interview I felt as though I practiced as much as I possibly could. No question was of surprise to me, and I felt confident leaving the interviews at both schools. When preparing for interviews, ensure that you are practicing and receiving as much feedback as possible. It is important to get the perspectives of different people, as interviews are very subjective.
Roya, Canada – It really is hard to know especially since there is an element of luck involved in the medical school application process. I think I did well at painting a picture of my story. I had an advisor who told me, in preparing my applications: think about an autobiography of your life up to today, what would the theme of it be? For me, it was advocating for womxn’s health and gender equity. Centering my activities and purpose around that theme really helped me in essays and interviews. I think besides that you have your MCAT, GPA and CASper (for some schools) and after you do those, they are a bit out of your control. It also depends on the school! Almost all Canadian schools have different requirements and are looking for slightly different things. So, it really is hard to say!
I practiced interviewing with a lot of different people at different stages of their careers. I reached out to career advisors at my school who gave me practice questions and practiced with me. I would say you want to practice a lot so that you get beyond the stress of the timed situation of the MMI, MPI or panel, but don’t practice too much that it sounds rehearsed. Make sure to practice for all the types of interviews you are preparing for. In addition, I would work on being myself but also fixing the quirks in my speech that might come off as less professional (i.e. saying “like” a lot).
Amelia, Canada – Medical school applications can take a lot of time and effort. Each school’s application will vary slightly but they can ask for transcripts, essays, MCAT scores, a list of extracurriculars, reference letters, etc. I would recommend getting an early start on the application if you can – most schools will open the application in the summer so you can take a few months to work on them. Use your essays to show the admission committee who you are and what makes you unique!
Everyone prepares for medical school interviews differently. I found interview questions online and practiced my answers with friends, family, and my university career advisor. If you’re not comfortable practicing with people, you could also record your answers to hear how they sound. That being said, I also have classmates who did very little preparation and did great on their interviews. Find what works best for you! For me, practice questions helped me realize how fast I talk when I’m nervous so that was something I worked on!
Siddarth, UK – In hindsight, the overall application process was quite straightforward – the main deadline to keep in mind is the 15th of October for the UCAS application. Ideally, you should have all of your work experience done and UCAT completed over the summer so that you can focus on your personal statement and prepare for the BMAT from mid-September onwards.
My school was very supportive for my medical school interview – they arranged a mock interview in the Multi Mini Interviews (MMI) format, which was very similar to the actual interview I had. For this section, it’s important to have good, honest answers that do not sound rehearsed – be yourself and let your passion for medicine shine through. Don’t just say what you think the interviewers want to hear – make your answers personal and memorable.
Shweta, UK – When I didn’t make the grades that my conditional offer depended on, I was told that I was still given admission because my interview and personal statement had ranked very highly in their selection process so I’m inclined to say that those are the bits I did best on. I do wish I’d worked harder on my entrance exam. While my score was well above average, I had initially aimed a little higher. However, every medical school weighs the various parts of your application differently so applying to the right places is important. If they don’t see what you’re worth, someone else will.
Most UK-based medical schools conduct a multiple mini interview (MMI). This involves the applicant rotating through multiple stations, spending about 10-15 minutes at each one. The stations test various soft skills including time management, prioritization, communication and problem-solving. There are also stations centered on your personal statement (similar to a traditional interview) and medical ethics. I prepared by making a list of every skill they’d look for and then finding relevant examples from my life and career to showcase the same. I also prepared answers to all the common questions one can except (e.g.: “why medicine?”, “why xyz medical school?”). As mentioned earlier, I was told I did very well, ranking in the top 10 out of hundreds of applicants. As a general rule of thumb, I suggest prepping but not preparing. By that I mean, make pointers of things you’d want to mention but don’t memorize a speech because they can usually tell when you’re playing a part as opposed to speaking from your heart.
Niyonika, Czechia – The application for my medical school was not hard. I had a career counsellor throughout who handled it for me and I didn’t have to write any essays or do anything extra that people applying to the UK, USA etc. had to do. The hardest part of my entire application was the visa process. It also helps finding someone in the university you are about to attend, as they can be your best guide.
Personally, I never gave an interview, But the entrance exam had a provision that they would call in people that they felt the need to interview at their own discretion. One of the main questions they ask you is “why medicine” and you need to have a very good answer because they don’t want to know that it’s because “you want to save lives” or any of those answers that everyone talks about. I’ve heard it’s better to talk about your experiences and your instances in life that helped you make up your mind. It’s better to prepare with someone who isn’t necessarily supportive of or doesn’t completely understand why you chose medicine and if you can convince them, then you know you will do great. For me that person was my mother. She never wanted me to spend years studying and wanted me to just enjoy life. One thing I told her was, her definition and my definition of enjoying life was very different.
What are some things you wish you knew as a pre-med, aside from academics? What would you change and what do you appreciate about your pre-med experience?
Ethan, USA – In general, I would say always have a general plan. If one knows one wants to become a doctor before entering college, then brainstorm the clubs, organizations, research positions one wants to pursue/join. Create a list of the summer opportunities one wants to pursue. Plan when to take the MCAT. Of course, one doesn’t need to rigidly stick to these plans; however, having some direction will prevent aimlessness and being ineffective in how one spends one time. If one is not a freshman, then still make a generalized plan. No one else is looking out for your future; you need to be the one in the driver’s seat and advocating for yourself.
Priya, USA – The biggest thing that I wished I knew about being pre-med was how time consuming it is. I definitely placed a lot more emphasis on my academics and my future instead of the living in the moment and enjoying everything that comes with being a college student. There were definitely some days that I could have taken off from studying and spent that time with my friend and making memories instead. It’s really important to have balance in anything you do. I wished I focused more on maintaining that balance.
Danielle, Canada – As a premed, it’s important to recognize other things are important, aside from academics. I was lucky enough to learn this through amazing mentors I had who guided me along my premed journey. Even though my premed years were full of long days, lots of studying, and a lot of stress, I think they helped me grow as a person and develop resilience. I learned a lot about myself during my studies, when I studied for the MCAT, and reflected about my personal experiences during my application and interview cycle. It helped me reflect on my strengths, weaknesses, values, and characteristics. Being a premed is definitely a pivotal point in your life, but it’s important to also live and have fun during these experiences. Do things that make you happy, take time off, and do things outside of medicine too! All of your experiences will inevitably change you and shape the doctor you will someday become.
Roya, Canada – There’s no such thing as an ideal candidate. It is important to be well-rounded for your own wellbeing. Carve out time for yourself and non-medical activities and do it for you, not for how it will look on your applications. If you are doing a certain activity only because you think it will get you into medical school, re-evaluate whether it is really the best use of your time. I spent a lot of my first year of university trying to catch up to what other people were doing instead of focusing on what I would like to do. I wish I spent more time cultivating my artistic side. I gave up on a lot of hobbies from high school that I wish I kept up. In my experience, activities that I pursued just because I thought it was needed for my application were not fruitful because my heart was not invested. Yes, some clinical exposure to medicine is important to show that you have knowledge of the field, but this does not have to interfere with your self-care and non-medical activities you are passionate about. All sorts of different people with different experiences can get into med school on their own path. Your journey is your own and you don’t need to fit a box to get in.
I appreciate the people I met in university and how they challenged me to grow. I appreciate how I found part of my identity and passion in advocating for issues around gender equity, education, and womxn’s health. Throughout applications, reflecting on my premed experience only strengthened my conviction that medicine was and is the right path for me. Everyone is different and it is hard but try not to compare yourself to others, focus on your own journey and doing what energizes you the most and I believe you will end up where you belong.
Amelia, Canada – If I was to change anything about my journey, it would be to allow myself more breaks and to believe in myself more. I think we often underestimate ourselves and our abilities. We see statistics such as “10-20% of medical applicants get accepted” and we automatically assume we are in that bottom percentile. Do not base your success rate on other people’s statistics, but on your own previous successes. If you have worked hard and achieved your goals in the past, you will most likely achieve them again. I think if you are passionate, hardworking, and a dedicated student you will reach your goals. It might not be the same path as some of your classmates but that is okay!
Siddarth, UK – One thing I wish I knew as a pre-med was that there’s no rush to get into medical school. In the UK, medical school takes 5-6 years to complete, followed by 2 years as a foundation doctor and at least another 8 years to become a surgeon (which is what I’m interested in). I know now that there are many more hurdles to jump through after getting into medicine, so if I could give any advice right now, it would be to just enjoy the pre-med process and enjoy medical school – it’s definitely all about the journey! Overall, while I thoroughly enjoyed my pre-med experience, I do wish I had taken a year out before I started university, also known as a gap year. I think it would have been great to defer my offer by a year to take some time out to travel and relax before jumping into medical school just months after finishing the IB programme.
Shweta, UK – Something nobody tells you about medical school, and something you wouldn’t be able to prepare for even if they did, is that you grow up very quickly as a medic. I joined medicine when I was 18. I’m now 21 and I’ve seen so much that’s made me reflect on and appreciate life and death. The way you perceive your life will change dramatically. It’s truly a coming-of-age movie on its best days. Also, and completely unrelated, imposter syndrome is very real and you’ll definitely feel it but don’t let it get you down, it’s just part of the process. As for what I would change? Again, the answer is nothing. I’m happy to be where I am and I may not have got here if things had gone differently. My advice to pre-meds is to just enjoy the process and go with the flow.
Niyonika, Czechia – One of my biggest concerns coming into a medical school which was ranked number 1 in the Europe union was – will I have enough free time to experience ‘Uni Life’. I never wanted to look back at my university experience and see that I spent all my time looking at books. I’ve been in this university for a year now and have lived my first year to its best. I have gone out as much as I possibly could, spent days lazying around, got no work done on a lot of days and it’s completely fine. Compared to high school, it is 10 times more work, but which career path and university doesn’t have that? No matter what you choose, you will have to work hard. As long as you manage time and stay focused, you can make friends, travel, go partying, pursue your hobbies and everything else you want.
Another thing that people told me was, “You will study for 10 – 15 years and still not earn until you are 40 – 45 years old”. This is absolutely not true. Medicine undergraduate study varies in different countries. In my university, it is 6 years long, including 1 year of work, after which I will be a certified doctor (with an MD degree) who can begin working in a hospital. The reason why the medical career is long is because you cannot perform surgeries or be a specialized doctor unless you do the postgraduate (specialization) in a specific field which lasts from 1 year to 5 – 6 years, depending on the complexity of the course you take. The postgraduate study can be done part-time, so you can work, earn a living and be studying simultaneously. So, you will be able to live on yourself by the time you are 23- 24 years old, which is the same in the majority of careers across the world. Lastly, I want to say that no one other than your peers will have the same life experiences as you. Having been in university for just one year, I have had the opportunity to do things I would never be able to do – I am, of course, talking about dissecting real cadavers, learning how to use the ultrasound machine, or measuring a person’s eyesight. This was definitely one of the best decisions of my life, but it has to be a decision you are 100% sure about.
Unfortunately, we’ve come to the end of this article. I hope all the responses above really resonate with you (they definitely resonated with me and I even put up a bunch of quotes from some of their responses to motivate myself). I hope this helped clear up some major misconceptions premeds have about medical school and becoming a doctor.
Lastly, I want to thank all the people who contributed to make this article a great resource for all of you out there. Also, I want to give a major shoutout to Lina Elfaki. Although she was unable to send in her responses due to her hectic schedule, she helped me connect with other people to make this article better for all of you, so it would be wrong to not feature her in the article 🙂
Here’s a short introduction:
Lina Elfaki is a second-year medical student at the University of Toronto. She completed her Master of Science at the Institute of Medical Science, exploring the novel use of Gene Therapy for Cardiovascular Diseases. She double majored in Physiology and Human Biology for her undergraduate studies at UofT. She has been exploring various medical fields but is aiming to become a clinician-scientist that incorporates cardiovascular procedural patient care and advocating for her Black and Muslim communities. As a Black Muslim immigrant woman, Lina has also been promoting gender and racial equity in healthcare and in the STEM through spearheading experiential programs, mentorships and evidence-based curriculum changes that are developed with an inclusive community-centered lens. Her lived experiences and UofT networks have uniquely equipped her with the interpersonal and technical skills and supports to advocate for systemic changes at the institutional and provincial level. She strives to encourage underprivileged youths to pursue STEM careers and create nurturing patient care and student environments for all of us to thrive.
Thank you so much for giving this guide a chance to educate and inspire.