The idea of preparing to go pre-med in college can seem daunting. As a high school student, you may be thinking: Am I taking the right courses? Are my extracurricular activities setting me up to succeed in the medical field? Do I need to have a published scientific study in my teenage years in order to stand out to colleges? These stressful questions flutter through our minds as we attempt to sort through our passions in high school, as the medical field is one that’s notoriously competitive and undoubtedly not easy.
Experience will assuredly help you thrive in whichever area or field of medicine you’re passionate about. From immersing yourself in the mechanisms of a science lab to signing up for clubs that pertain to the medical field to shadowing doctors or finding internships over the summer, any ounce of experience you gain throughout high school will allow you to have a broader sense of your field of interest and strengthen your understanding of what pursuing pre-med in college will entail. With the uncertainty of the pandemic, there have been increased challenges for in-person volunteer opportunities. But despite the current inability to have a hands-on approach to learning about the medical field, there are still a myriad of opportunities available to high school students interested in pre-med. Here’s how you can pursue your interests and see if pre-med might be the right path for you.
Challenge yourself with your coursework
To get started on the road to pre-med studies in college, you should challenge yourself with rigorous coursework in high school. Not only is it important to build a strong foundation in core science classes like biology, chemistry, and physics, but challenging yourself in other courses like English and history will allow you to thrive in any field you go into, including the medical field. In addition, enhancing your skills in each core subject may lead you to discover a love of literature and make you want to major in English rather than Biochemistry, which is the nice thing about the pre-med track: you can major in any subject and still be on the path to becoming a doctor.
As The Princeton Review notes, there’s no such thing as the “best” major for going pre-med, and knowing this allows students to expand their education in other majors that interest them without being limited to just science majors. All pre-med students are required to take core science classes such as biology, chemistry, biochemistry, and physics as well as various courses like mathematics, which is why it’s vital to be thoroughly challenged in high school to prepare for the college-level classes you’ll take. Challenging yourself with AP, IB, or other advanced courses will help you develop a more scholarly approach to your academics.
Take advantage of club opportunities
In addition to enrolling in challenging courses, it’s also important to find a balance and get involved in less stressful activities regarding medicine. If there’s a “rising doctor,” neuroscience, or any club relating to the medical field at your high school, you should use these extracurriculars as opportunities to gain experience. If there aren’t any clubs related to medicine, then start one! Establishing a club of your own will not only demonstrate your interest in medicine but also highlight your leadership skills and ability to facilitate a club. Within your group, you could view live surgeries, get in contact with local doctors or professors at universities, and research different fields of medicine—all things that can help you learn more about your future career path.
Pursue activities outside of the classroom
Outside of the school environment, it’s never too early to gain job shadowing experience. The first step to this is reaching out. As a student interested in pre-med looking for experience of my own, I emailed a list of professors at local universities asking if they’d be willing to take in a high school student for clinical research. Of course, with the pandemic, having high schoolers help conduct research in the lab wasn’t allowed. However, I was able to sit in on Zoom lab meetings for some interesting clinical studies that professors at UCLA were working on.
When emailing professors, make sure that you research their work prior—get a feel for what they do in the medical field. Once you have somewhat of a grasp on their research study, begin your email and discuss what interests you about this topic. Don’t forget, they are doing you a favor by taking you in and allowing you to shadow their work, so show your interest in what they do! It’s also important for them to get to know you as a student, so attach a résumé highlighting your work experience and/or accomplishments in school. Most importantly, don’t get discouraged if no one responds. It took a lot of time, patience, and work crafting persuasive emails until I finally received a response. It will take knocking at a few doors to finally get an answer, but when you do, the information you receive from these professors is invaluable. In addition to research experience, websites such as Volunteer Match offer numerous volunteer opportunities and even categorize these opportunities by interest. Simply click the “health and medicine” option to be directed to the many volunteer events within the medical field.
Be passionate about medicine
Colleges will see right through your extracurriculars if you aren’t truly passionate about what you’re doing. If that’s the case and you find yourself not enjoying extracurriculars related to the medical field, that is completely okay. The point of engaging yourself in challenging classes and signing up for extracurriculars pertaining to medicine is so you can gain an understanding of what being a pre-med student is like, so trying these things and not liking them allows you to further discover other passions of yours. In addition, it’s important to consider the competitive nature of pre-med studies, taking the MCAT, and applying to medical school. If pursuing a career in medicine is someone else’s idea for your future rather than your own genuine interest, you will definitely have a difficult time throughout your pre-med experience in college.
Although building a strong foundation in medicine may seem like a scary, challenging experience, know that it will also be one that will prepare you for what’s to come. Not only will this experience prepare you, but it will teach you lessons about patience by waiting for professors to write back to you; it will teach you leadership skills if you decide to run your own high school club; it will teach you perseverance and dedication through the rigorous courses you enroll in; and most importantly, it should hopefully excite and inspire you to do your best in hopes of becoming a doctor in whatever field you choose.
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