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Dealing with Stress During the Medical School Application Process

Making sure that the process doesn't overtake your well-being is very important

By: Ziggy Yoediono, MD MBA

I’m not here to tell you that the medical school application process shouldn’t be stressful. It is stressful because it requires a lot of time, effort and money for something that will impact your life. And while there are uncontrollable contributing factors to such stress, there are also contributing factors that you can control to diminish some stress. Here are three of them.

The first is lacking time. You already have classes, extracurriculars and maybe even a part-time job. How are you supposed to squeeze in applying to medical school? First, start early as possible! For instance, the AMCAS application can usually be submitted at the end of May. Don’t wait until mid-May to start working on it. Start working on things such as writing your personal statement or getting letters of recommendation as soon as possible because these things take time. Otherwise, you’ll feel rushed, which usually translates into lower quality and more errors. Second, come up with a detailed plan of action in terms of what you’re going to work on, when you’re going to work on it and by when you plan to finish it. Otherwise, time will fly by and you’ll find yourself scrambling.

The second is feeling overwhelmed. This is a natural feeling and something you’ll experience many times throughout the application process. While the feeling is transient for some, for others it can linger and end up leading to procrastination because for them, the medical school application process feels like scaling Mt. Everest. And who wants to scale Mt. Everest? The key is to break down the unscalable mountain into a bunch of walkable hills. For instance, instead of dreading the prospect of having to complete the entire AMCAS application, focus on just one section at a time. Tell yourself, “Okay. For the next few days, I’m only going to work on filling in the coursework section. And that’s all I’m going to think about.”

The third is comparing yourself to others. While having pre-med friends is important, it can be detrimental at times – particularly when you compare notes on the application process. No good ever comes from comparing yourself to others because inevitably, you compare yourself to others who are supposedly doing better. They’re on the third draft of their personal statement while you’re still brainstorming. They’ve finished six secondaries while you haven’t even received that many. They’ve already been invited to three interviews at top-tier medical schools while you’re still waiting to hear from your in-state public school. Comparing ends up making you feel more stressed and less confident.

One final tip: take breaks regularly! It’s easy to get sucked into a vortex of non-stop activity when you’re doing applications plus a million other things. But think of yourself as a gas tank. At some point, the gas runs out. While you of course need the basics like food, liquids and sleep; just taking time each day to walk around, exercise or dawdle at a café will make all the difference in the world in terms of your mental and emotional state. Trust me. I used to be a practicing psychiatrist too.

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