Pre-health (and any pre-professional track) is exhausting. We're working around the clock to maintain our GPAs, get internships and experiences for our resumes, make connections with professors, have a social life, and stay mentally sound at the same time. While we're on the grind, we sometimes forget why we're doing what we're doing and we want to give up. Here are just a few things I think are common struggles we all face and what I tell myself to get through the tough times.
*I'm going to be speaking in terms of pre-med (since that's the track I'm on), but this applies to all pre-health/pre-professional tracks (this includes students planning to go to graduate school)!
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The moments before an exam are always filled with the urgent whispers of Omg I'm gonna fail! Do you think the professor will curve our grades? I need to get at least a 61.948384748190 in order to get a B+ in this class. How did you study?? When grades come out, the ruckus only heightens. We rush to compare our grades with others and with the class average, hoping we're above it. Sometimes, we can't help but notice that our premed peers did way better than us, and we go into another existential crisis wondering whether we're really smart enough to be on this track.
Then comes the added stress of seeing social media posts. "__ was recognized for her academic excellence in biology!" "__ presented his research at a national conference!" "__ won a Nobel prize for curing cancer!"
Although we may want to feel happy for our friends' good grades and achievements, we can't help but feel just a twinge of jealousy (maybe more than just a twinge at times), asking ourselves why we aren't placed on a pedestal and getting cool prizes. Later on, we may reprimand ourselves for feeling negatively toward our friends when we should be congratulating them!
Before you start spiraling into I'm such a bad person!, let me tell you that you are not a bad person! Being on a pre-professional track often pits students against each other, regardless of whether they are our friends or not, so we are conditioned to compare ourselves to our peers and stay on the alert for competition. I know, it's an extremely toxic mindset, but despite its perpetuation by the pre-professional culture, we should remember that we all have different strengths, and those strengths are not necessarily quantified by grades! On social media, our peers only present the best parts of themselves, and although we may not be able to scratch off a Nobel prize from our to-do list, we (believe it or not) have plenty of experiences and qualities that set us apart from them!
"There's nothing special about me/ I'm boring."
"I'm bori--" I'm going to stop you right there before you finish that sentence. Are you like me? Have you grown up with or have a relative who's a doctor, and you've known that you wanted to be a doctor since you were three years old? Or maybe you had a meaningful experience with a patient that made you realize you wanted to be a doctor?
Whatever the reason may be for pursuing medicine/your field of choice, don't throw it away because it sounds "boring." Your reasons for pursuing a certain field are valid if your interest is genuine! If you're scared that medical/professional schools will reject you because your reason is "boring," then they must have nothing better to do. Your experiences have led you to develop as strong of an interest in the field as anyone else, so you deserve to have your story heard, no matter how "boring" you think it may be. The key lies in telling your story creatively, but most of all, genuinely. Be proud of your story! Show how much it means to you by telling it compellingly! If it matters to you, make it matter to medical/professional schools as well!
"I wish I could do things for myself, instead of just for med school."
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Med schools make us feel like our college career is just an endless checklist. Research? Check. Volunteer experience? Check. Shadowing experience? Check. Leadership? Check. Those are just some of the things that a lot of premeds aim to have on their resume, and many times, we just don't have enough time or the right opportunities to get it all in, and that's okay!
Many times, thinking of premed as a checklist takes away all the fun in it. Many of us pursue medicine because we have a passion for science, or we're interested in learning about how the operations of a hospital or medical clinic play out, or we love helping the community! However, knowing that we have to do these things for med school takes away our personal drive to do them. We no longer feel like we're volunteering at an animal shelter because we love animals, but that we're just doing the bidding of med schools because they want to see us doing community service.
The solution to this is simply to remember that we're pursuing this field because we love it! Forget what med schools will think, and apply for opportunities because you want to do them! When you go into an extracurricular knowing that you pursued it out of your own interest, you'll find the experience more meaningful and worthwhile!
"If I don't get into med school, I'm worthless."
A lot of us may have thoughts like this, and as crazy as it may sound to us sometimes, seeing it typed out on the screen makes it look even crazier. For many premed students, premed basically becomes our life, the air we breathe, the language we speak, the first thing we think about in the morning, the last thing we think about at night... you get the point. Getting into med school is the thing we want most because it'll be the ultimate validation of all the effort we've put in for the past few years.
Which means, if we don't get in, all our efforts were worthless...right? As much as it may seem like it, med schools aren't God. They shouldn't be able to assign a value to the efforts we've put in and the dreams we've cultivated. If a med school rejects our application, that doesn't make us worthless. We're still worth every bit that we were before the rejection, and we still have all the same potential. If you are still bent on getting in, there are always future application cycles to look forward to! Alternatively, (as much as premeds hate hearing this) there are other options out there that are just as rewarding and enjoyable if med school isn't working out! And if med school doesn't work out for some reason, that doesn't make you any less of a person; it just means there are better things out there for you!
Pre-health and pre-professional tracks can be difficult at times, but I hope the advice I've given you can help you transition into the new year with a healthier mindset! Thinking positively is definitely easier said than done, but investing some time into appreciating yourself and your strengths will lead to long-term positive results, and you'll be able to appreciate your experiences more!
Especially now, COVID-19 is making it difficult for students to snag opportunities to put on their resume, which makes us even more susceptible to comparing ourselves to others who may have managed to get a lucky opportunity. Remember to be easy on yourself. We're in the middle of a pandemic and people are losing their lives. It's okay to not be on your A-game right now. Don't lose hope and keep an eye out for opportunities when you're feeling ready!
On another positive note, remember to do things you love as well! Med schools love to see a well-rounded person with distinct interests, but more importantly, you're entitled to enjoying your college years by exploring other interests!
Lastly, whether you're premed or not, remember that if you're truly passionate about something, you'll make it if you keep trying! Don't give up, and good luck!!
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