Becoming a doctor is a lofty ambition. One that requires dedication, an impressive GPA, extracurricular activities, volunteer hours, and a clear passion for medicine. These days, you don’t necessarily need to major in biology to be on track for pre-med, but you do need to carefully plan for your long-term goals. The earlier you can define these goals and work towards them, the better.
In this comprehensive pre-med guide, we will offer valuable advice for incoming medical students, as well as review key tips for succeeding during your undergraduate studies. So if you’re looking for pre-med advice, read on for helpful tips and other valuable resources.
Choosing a major and meeting your prerequisites
If you are wondering where to go for pre-med or are reflecting on the question “is pre-med worth it?”, it’s important to understand that “pre-med” is not a major or an academic program. Rather, “pre-med” is a professional trajectory — albeit one that requires a lot of planning during your undergraduate degree, but still, not a major.
What should you major in?
So what should you major in for pre-med? Technically, you can major in anything, as long as you fulfill all of your pre-med prerequisites. That said, medical school prerequisites often overlap with various requirements for science majors, such as biology and chemistry.
Discuss your academic plans and goals with your advisor (many schools offer pre-med advisors as well, so be on the lookout for the best pre-med advising programs). Depending on your specific academic and extracurricular goals, you may find it easier to simultaneously fulfill your medical school and major prerequisites by choosing to major in a science.
That said, medical schools value diversity, so feel free to consider some of the most popular college majors and programs in 2022 as well.
What are the prerequisites for medical school?
The most important factor to consider when determining how to prepare for pre-med is to figure out your medical school prerequisites and prioritize taking them during your freshman and sophomore years of college. This will help you stay on track. It may even help to add some more flexibility to your schedule so that you can take more electives or major in something other than a science.
Here are some of the most common medical school prerequisites:
- Biology: Should include a lab component.
- Chemistry: General and organic chemistry; both should include a lab component.
- Physics: Should include a lab component.
- Mathematics: Either calculus or statistics, depending on the specific program requirements.
You might also want to consider taking some of the following courses:
- Behavioral sciences
- Foreign language
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One way to confirm your pre-med prerequisites is to visit the Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR) database. This online database helps prospective medical students compare and contrast various medical school requirements. There are also helpful worksheets and checklists to help you stay organized during your undergraduate studies.
Why you should reach out to medical schools directly
Start researching prospective medical schools early. That way you can email their admissions office directly, to gain further insight on their medical school requirements, as well as other valuable advice or insights they may have to offer.
Make sure that you know how to write an email to a college admissions office before reaching out. You want to do your best to be professional, ask compelling questions, and be respectful of the email recipient’s time.
The importance of your GPA
It’s important to form good study habits during your freshman year and to follow any pre-med study tips you’ve received from your advisors or members of a pre-med club or society. You need a competitive GPA to gain admission to medical school, so academics need to be a priority.
Overall GPA vs Science GPA
Admissions committees will look at both your science GPA as well as your overall GPA. While it’s important to do well in all of your courses, if you are struggling with any of your science or math courses, it’s important to receive extra help right away.
Visit your professor’s office hours in addition to your school’s tutoring center. That said, make sure to seek out extra help if you are struggling with any of your courses. Medical schools are highly competitive and both your science GPA and your overall GPA will be huge admissions factors.
Engaging in meaningful extracurricular activities
One of the best tips for pre-med students is to engage in meaningful extracurricular activities. Medical schools want to admit students who demonstrate passion, commitment, and leadership abilities. Yes, it might be easier to simply focus on your classes and relax during your free time, but if you have medical school aspirations, you will need to take every opportunity you can to distinguish yourself from your peers. Demonstrate commitment by engaging in an extracurricular activity all four years.
Ideally, you also want to try to find extracurricular activities that are related to your larger career goals in some way. For example, if you are interested in working in pediatrics, you may want to consider volunteering for “Big Brothers Big Sisters” or working at the local Boys and Girls Club in order to gain valuable experience working with children. Alternatively, if you are interested in practicing sports medicine, you may want to play an intramural sport.
Job shadowing and volunteer work
One of the best ways to figure out how to know if pre-med is right for you is to engage in job shadowing opportunities. Reach out to your family’s doctor to see if they are open to having you shadow them for a shift or two. If you are part of a college pre-med society, the organization may offer shadow matching programs that can help you get started. Alternatively, you can email hospital departments or individual doctors directly to see what their job shadowing policies are.
Overall, job shadowing is a great way to start thinking about potential specializations. After all, the medical field is incredibly varied so it’s important to start reflecting on your interests early.
Another important piece of freshman pre-med advice: don’t underestimate the importance of volunteer hours. Gain medical-related experience by volunteering at some of the following locations:
- Nursing Homes
- EMT volunteer programs
- American Red Cross
- Alzheimer’s Association
- American Cancer Society
- American Heart Association
You may also choose to pursue alternative volunteer opportunities. Choose something you are passionate about and do your best to engage meaningfully and explore leadership opportunities.
Gaining work experience
While volunteering and job shadowing will help you get a better idea of whether or not you want to be a doctor, gaining actual medical work experience will give you a very clear idea of whether or not you really want to devote your life to practicing medicine.
Thankfully, there are some great and accessible medical jobs available to you as an undergraduate student.
Becoming a Licensed Nursing Assistant (LNA)
A Licensed Nursing Assistant (LNA), also known as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), is a medical professional who works under the supervision of a Registered Nurse (RN). Their duties often include feeding and bathing patients, sterilizing equipment, stocking supplies, and changing linens.
To become an LNA or CNA, you will need to complete your high school diploma or GED, take an LNA training course, and pass your exam (state specific). LNA courses typically take between 6 to 18 months, depending on the program. There are also lots of online, self-paced LNA training courses.
Becoming an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)
An Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) is a medical professional who works alongside paramedics, firefighters, and police officers. EMTs are first responders who respond to 911 calls, transport patients to hospitals and perform basic medical tasks. Many EMTs work for hospitals, fire departments, police departments, and ambulance services.
To become an EMT, you will have to join an EMT training program, complete 120 to 150 training hours, and pass the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) exam.
Engaging in undergraduate research opportunities
Other valuable advice for pre-med students includes engaging in undergraduate research opportunities. Not only will this look great on your resume and medical school application, but it will also help you better decide if you are truly interested in practicing medicine, as opposed to conducting medical research.
Public universities, such as the top public universities in the West, are known for their research programs and often offer undergraduate students opportunities to work with graduate students in the labs. Reach out to your professors to see if they need an assistant or if there are any research opportunities available to you. Some colleges even have a website where they post campus jobs available to undergraduate students.
Studying for the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)
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The MCAT covers topics related to medical school prerequisites, such as biology, chemistry, physics, calculus, and statistics. So while it’s important to create a study schedule for the MCAT and use various MCAT study resources, it is equally important to do well in these courses, take advantage of your professors’ office hours, and ensure that you understand all of the concepts covered in these courses.
Again, it’s important to study for exams, but studying for the MCAT will feel impossible if you didn’t prioritize learning the subject matter when you were enrolled in these courses.
Practicing your interview skills
You will likely have to complete an interview during your medical school applications. This is why it is important to practice your interview skills. As a starting point, review some of the most popular college interview questions and how to answer them.
You will also want to reflect thoughtfully on why you want to be a doctor. Prepare a clear, compelling response. You should be able to answer the question “why pre-med?” thoughtfully and thoroughly. Pre-med is a difficult track to pursue, so why did you do it?
Finally, you will want to review key tips and strategies for how to answer the “tell me about yourself” interview question.