What is the first thing you think about when you think of the word “premed”? Chances are that your initial thoughts are not good. Unfortunately, premeds have gained the reputation of being competitive, know-it-all, neurotic, selfishly ambitious, annoying, etc. When I was a premed, I even judged other premeds for being overly premed (I am officially using premed as an adjective with negative connotation now). Although not every premed is like that, premed culture is not necessarily the friendliest one. The worse part is, as these premeds become medical students, they recreate the premed culture in medical school. This vicious cycle continues on as they transition from medical school to residency and eventually into full-fledged practice – once a crazy premed, always a crazy premed.
Premeds’ negative characteristics stem from taking some of their positive characteristics too far. For example, being ambitious is a great quality. Nevertheless, being ambitious to the point of harming your relationships with others is bad. Being knowledgeable is a good; being a snobby know-it-all is bad. So why do premeds allow their good qualities to become bad qualities? My theory is that this transition happens when we fail to understand our primary reason for why we want to become doctors.
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In the journey through medicine, it is very easy to let peripheral outcomes take center stage. These are the many great side things that come with being a physician. Respect, status, and above-average compensation are just a few. Nevertheless, these side things are “side” motivators for a reason. Physicians should not become physicians for these side things. At the heart of medicine are compassion, integrity, teamwork, and a genuine desire for knowledge. These are primary. Physicians should become physicians because they want to serve humanity with integrity and scientific acumen.
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You do not have to be a doctor to be compassionate, honest, and hungry for knowledge. Premeds can grow and nurture these characteristics as well. Rather than focusing on getting into the highest ranked U.S. medical school (or maybe even simply getting into medical school), premeds should focus on becoming great people who are genuinely excited about medicine. Premeds are trainees; the way they train affects how they will practice medicine in the future. If you only care about your personal goals as a premed, you will most likely care primarily about yourself as a physician. The temptation to let side things become primary gets more and more difficult to resist as you move up the hierarchy of medicine. As a medical student, sometimes I find myself letting side things define me: extracurricular activities I am involved in, exam scores, USMLE step 1, what residency I want to get into, etc, etc. I also catch myself comparing myself to my classmates in a negative way. When I start doing these things, I have to go back to my roots and remember why I am in medicine in the first place. And most of those roots were planted during my time as a premed. That is why I think that fostering the right attitude, as a premed, is so important.
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I am not saying that we shouldn’t look out for ourselves as doctors. I am saying that we shouldn’t only look out for ourselves. Do not put down others so that you can achieve your goals. Achieve goals together. Do not cry and complain when you do not get the grade or MCAT score you want; your career is not everything and you are not defined by it. Rather use the qualities that make premeds, and ultimately doctors, so great to bless others and achieve your goals in an honest, respectable way. Only then, we can end premed culture.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ProspectiveDoctor. Follow ProspectiveDoctor on Twitter @ProspectiveDr