Originally posted May 2014
And 10 ways to make sure you don’t make them
1. Doing a ton of stuff
Want to know a secret? Medical school don’t really care how much you’ve done, how many clubs you are in or how many times you have volunteered. They like those things, but if it’s a ton of short little sprinkles rather the actual nice, fulfilling, well baked cake, its still just decoration. They are looking for commitment and longevity. They want to see that you can stick with something and see it through, as well as grow and succeed. Jumping from one thing to another doesn’t show your passion.
2. Thinking an A will get you a recommendation letter
It might be a requirement from the instructor to have an A in the class before asking for a letter, but how can they write you a letter if they know nothing about you? The whole point of a letter of rec is so that an admissions committee can get to know you as a student and that you can not only perform but show initiative. If you don’t know your professors at all, then it’s just another paper with a grade. And to be honest, having a bland letter without a personal perspective is quite telling. If you have one like that, okay, but if that’s all of them…you better have some other outstanding assets, I’ll just leave it at that.
3. Overloading on classes to look good right from the start
If you have an intense major that requires things that just happen to be medically related, that’s sort of convenient on your path. But you don’t need to take every human/biology/medically type class offered at your university. I’ve seen people who have done this from the get-go and it looks painfully obvious that they are trying to get brownies points. Most of the time, people don’t do as well when they do that, and then try to make the excuse of “my schedule was just so rough”. Spacing yourself out and learning to take on more and more difficult classes as you progress looks way better and more responsible. Plus your grades will most likely be better.
4. Not knowing the difference between constructive criticism, tough love and negativity
No one is really that good at taking any form of criticism at 18 (when most of us start college). Especially when it comes from sarcastic or uninterested figures of authority. But so many people never learn the difference between help and hurt because no one wants to be wrong. There will be people who try to bring you down, but there will also be people who try to point out the things that would hurt you or that you might not be doing effectively. Those people aren’t trying to say you are wrong or stupid; they want you to do your best.
Remember, not everyone comes in with a gentile approach. Pay attention to the context and the message rather than the tone or, well, abruptness of what is being said.
5. Not understanding that the due date and submission date shouldn’t be the same thing
Someone needed to give me this memo way earlier than I got it. Most of the time we get the “earlier is best” spiel, but sometimes it’s hard to think that way because we are so used to things being “due”. Just because you submit something on-time doesn’t guarantee you anything and in the world of medicine everything kind of becomes first come first serve. You need to make deadlines for yourself and stick to them (and also do things early).
6. Thinking advisors don’t know what they are doing
Okay, advisors tend to have a bad rap when it comes to premeds. Most advisors have delt with premeds before and will continue dealing with them long after you’re gone. They may not have gone through the process but they (generally) have their facts straight.
Here is the thing though. Universities and colleges have tons of advisors. If you don’t like an advisor, or they are not helpful find a new one. If you have one assigned that sucks but that doesn’t mean this person is your only resource. Not only do those, “advisors” technically don’t need to have that title. It could also be other faculty members you believe can help you in a positive way. Putting in a little leg work can go a long way.
7. Not taking the advice of those who have gone through it
My favorite phrase I hear about that is “well that won’t happen to me”. The intern at my lab just learned that indeed everyone fucks up sometimes (like I told him) as he failed his first immuno test this week (s’okay, he gets a drop test). It’s really easy to say you know what’s up or that you won’t make the same mistake but invariably someone always does. Experience is the best way to learn, but that doesn’t mean that failure needs to be that teacher. Take it from those who have already been there and who have already made it. You don’t need to follow word for word, but you can learn some interesting and invaluable things.
8. Avoiding the statistics
No one likes looking at things that make them sad. And medical school statistics are not exactly joy-filled. You can’t avoid them though. You need to know where you fall comparatively to know how competitive you are so that you can adjust accordingly for your goals. You should know MCAT averages for schools, GPA averages, and how many students have participated in research and volunteering to that gained acceptances to schools. You should know that the average age that students start medical school (25 for those of you freaking out about a gap year or 2) among other things.
Do you need to freak out about this stuff? No. Why? Because statistics is a math that is inherently skewed and made to look better than they really are. A mean is just a compilation of a whole bunch of numbers, so if a school averages a 30 MCAT someone might have a 31 while someone has a 28. So you shouldn’t try to match stats. But you should still know what you’re up against.
9. Thinking you have to choose a science major
This is probably the biggest mistake premeds make. If you are interested in doing a science major, go for it! If you aren’t sure what to major in but want to be a doctor a science major is probably a good choice. But don’t pick biology or chemistry if you don’t think you will enjoy it. Here’s the thing, everyone who gets into med school takes the same basic classes and everyone basically starts on the same level. And just because you’re major says biology, that doesn’t make you a master of all and every human biology. Plus, a lot of other major can help fill is secondary gaps you might not have considered like writing skills, research and statistics knowledge or mastery of a second language.
And just as a personal point, I don’t really like the idea of “premed majors”. My university just opened a new major called “biomedical science” which directly translates to I want to go to medical school, at least at that specific institution. The issue here is that this degree offers zero flexibility if for some reason you choose not to go to medical school. It also really limits your access/timing to advance upper level classes where research is much easier to find. So just tread carefully and always look prospectively at your own school’s major requirements.
10. Trying to “make it through”
Would you want a doctor who is just moving through the motions to get to the end of the day? Probably not right? Don’t get me wrong, it happens to the best of us, but you wouldn’t want someone who’s totally miserable managing your health. You don’t need to be an ace or beat out the curve on every test. But pre-medical students who allow themselves to fall into a pace of easy satisfaction, or doing what they have to so they can get by won’t make doctors who enjoy patient centered care. Settling should not be an option. Even in the future, when you feel like you are dragging your feet, half-assing things should not be an option. Whole-ass it.