I've never been a bad student in my life. I mean it. I remember running home crying on my first day of kindergarten because I wasn't assigned homework. I wanted to be just like the older kids, I wanted to be older and smarter.
Fast forward to my high school self, I was still a serious student-- one who couldn't purposefully avoid homework or studying until it was done. I did come to realize, however, my strengths and weaknesses. I always have done well in English and history classes, whether it be the material or the teacher, I felt genuinely good at both subjects. On the other hand, I realized the subjects that I struggle in throughout my high school experience-- those being of science and math. I always found science fascinating, however, I was never a natural at it. I also loved math-- when I understood it.
I'm notorious for being extremely hard on myself. So, naturally, at about the age of 16, I said "nope, you're not good at math or science" and that was that. I didn't even take a science my senior year, although I remained in the AP math courses I had been taking. I took up debate and decided I'd be a lawyer and never take a math or science class again.
Here's the thing: college is a fresh start, and I failed to notice this at the beginning.
I entered my freshman year as a business major. I decided I'd do business then apply to law school later. At least I would have a practical degree, right?
Let's just saw a couple weeks into the semester, I realized that, for myself, if I ended up doing business for the rest of my life, I would be disappointed. I knew this wasn't what I really wanted to do. I wanted to help people. And I know, I know. You can help people through business, but let's be real here-- no one really does a business major to help people. They do it to get hired. Or to have a broad curriculum for law school. Or they want to make money/start their own business/etc. I'm not saying any of these are bad, or that these are the only reasons someone is a business major because everyone chooses their major for a different reason.
I also soon realized that being a lawyer really isn't about always doing what you think is best or most moral-- which was a big aha moment for myself-- and I also realized that it really wasn't going to be as interesting 85% of the time like it is on Law & Order.
I remembered when I was younger and I thought I could do anything. I remember browsing through the Stanford University webpage when I was in 5th grade, telling my dad that I'd go there someday and become a doctor. I remembered looking at my pediatrician and saying "yeah, I'd like to do this someday". I tried to remember why I stopped wanting this. I couldn't.
My university is unique in the fact that you can pretty much change majors to anything as long as you're not too far along in your older major. So, in October last year, I opened up the majors and minor catalog and started looking for what I wanted. I had already declared a minor in psychology, and my passion to study the human cognition drove me to find my current major: neuroscience.
I decided to enroll in the pre-medical course load and start taking science classes the following semester.
I am a good student, I'll give myself that, but I am in no ways an exceptional one. Now that I've started getting waist deep in pre-med courses as my second semester as a neuroscience major has just gotten into full swing, I'm passionate about it. I'm motivated to study because I really do believe what I'm studying is important to me. I want to be a doctor and someday, I believe that everything I do now will determine my future.
The average GPA for medical school applicants ranges from 3.4 to a 4.0, but most competitive medical schools only take GPAs around the 3.8-4.0 range. That doesn't even factor in MCAT scores.
Quick breakdown on the MCAT for anyone who doesn't know: as possibly one of the hardest tests in the world for graduate school, the MCAT lasts a straight eight hours long and tests everything from critical thinking to biochemistry.
The people who go to medical school are some of the best students in the world.
So, here's where I'm at: not even close.
There's no way I'm going to be a top competitor for medical school and I'm most likely not going to be going to Harvard or Stanford for medical school, unfortunately.
So, what is it like being an average student who wants to be a doctor? It sucks. I always feel like I'm not doing enough. Nothing to do on a Saturday night? I shouldn't be going out with friends, I should be studying for the MCAT, like a "real" Pre-med student. If I don't do well on a test, I naturally compare myself to the people around me. I see students who get into med school as the ones who are the brightest in the class. I see them as the ones who help me. The ones who I look at and say "they're so much smarter than me". In no way do I see myself.
My GPA isn't bad by any means, but with taking biology, calculus, chemistry, etc., there's no way I'm going to pull that 4.0 every semester.
So what does the average pre-medical student do to stop being so hard on themself?
I remember talking to my doctor in August when I went to see him for an appointment. Naturally, we talked about the pre-medical student life. My doctor is absolutely brilliant. He attended UCLA for almost 10 years, for undergrad as well as medical school. I remember the many times I sat in his office waiting-- looking at all his degrees and certifications.
How intimidating as a pre-med student, right?
Well, wrong. As I sat on the chair talking to him, he told me how competitive it is. He asked me what my plans were and I told him how I plan on taking the MCAT junior year and hopefully going to medical school right after my undergrad. I asked him what he did.
"Well, I actually took a couple years in between to build my GPA more."
I was surprised. He seemed to notice this and said, "I only had about a 3.4 to 3.5 so I wanted to get it higher for better med schools."
He went on to talk about how he had difficulty concentrating in his undergrad and how he knew he wanted to go to the UCLA medical school (one of the best in the world), so he continued working on his GPA post-undergrad and was eventually accepted to UCLA for medical school.
"You have to be dedicated. It's hard for those of us who are social butterflies. I had one night where I had to decide whether to study for the MCAT or go to an Elton John concert, do you know what I did?" he asked.
"MCAT?" I asked.
This moment is one I always think of when I get down on myself for not being that top student who can do everything from organic chemistry to physio. I'm in no way perfect, I'm not the best student, and I'm not going to be the one setting the curve in my chemistry lecture.
I'm going to be a doctor because it's something I'm passionate about. I'm going to be a doctor because I believe in myself.
What my doctor told me, even if he didn't realize it, is that I can do it. I might not fly through chemistry or be a tutor for math or even get to go to medical school right after college, but if I keep working my hardest and keep pushing myself, I will get there. And even if I do, I get the pleasure of surprising myself.
So here's my advice to those pre-med kids out in the world who always think they're below the curve to go to medical school.
1. PRE-MED IS HARD!
No offense to those other kids, but we're not just studying for an accounting test, or writing a paper for our journalism class-- we're learning stuff that we're not only going to have to know for the rest of our careers, but we are going to be constantly tested and pushed to our limits within the next years of undergrad and medical school. Between now and becoming a doctor, I have plenty of things that are going to push me to my limits and show me what I'm capable of in this field.
This stuff is really hard. And I know business or accounting or English, etc. is hard, but when every one of your core classes is challenging and pushing you, it's a whole new level. I'm by no means comparing my pain to anyone else's, however, the pre-medical track is hard for anyone-- regardless of how "smart" or accomplished one is.
So remember to give yourself a break. Did bad on a chemistry exam? It's okay, really. As long as you continue to work your hardest and push yourself, you'll be fine.
2. Don't compare yourself.
This one is SO HARD. Why would I not look at the smart kid next to me and have a "well, it would be him over me" attitude when that's exactly how graduate school make us feel?
The truth (which I always forget) is everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses. Everyone contributes something. Everyone criticizes themselves.
3. Give yourself a break.
It's okay to give yourself a break. It's okay to go out. It's okay to want to do things that normal college kids do.
The tricky part here is realizing that you will have to make choices. Unlike some people, most of us can't go out the night before and still ace our test when its chemistry or math or biology. That just won't happen.
You can't take advantage of every social opportunity and you're going to have to make choices. This is part of why it's so hard. Just stay focused.
So next time you start to think you can't do medical school or that you're so far behind everyone, remember these tips.
Here I am, a pre-med student, who never even took an AP science class in high school, but is able to get a 92% on a college chemistry exam, when the average was a 60%. I'm a pre-med student who has never had a parent or family member who was a doctor but still strives to be the first one. I'm a pre-medical student who was on her high school debate team. I'm a pre-med student who has minors in psychology and history because I love both social sciences and the medical field.
Why do I want to be a doctor? I believe that I can make a positive change in women and children's health. I believe that I can make a positive impact in the medical field, a bigger impact than any other career field I have looked at. I may have never been the 5% of kids who can do this track without a blink of an eye, but I've always had a strong work ethic. Most of all, I want to work hard for this and I want it badly, so I'm not going to let a small voice in my head tell me that I can't reach my dreams.