How do most students get interested in medicine?
- I think there are 2 main ways that interest in medicine begins.
- The first way is due to personal experience. Usually the student or a close family member such as a parent, sibling or grandparent unfortunately experiences some type of major illness, thus exposing the student to the world of healthcare. And I think for some, this experience has a such major impact on them – particularly because sickness isn’t something you’re supposed to think about when you’re that age – that becoming some type of healthcare provider ends up becoming a calling for them.
- The second way is that they have family members with careers in healthcare. Usually it’s a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle who might be a doctor, PA or nurse so they get consciously and subconsciously immersed in the world of healthcare through conversations that they partake in or overhear.
- And I just wanted to add that while the two ways I just mentioned are great reasons for pursuing medicine, I want to stress that at the heart of whatever career decision you make, the most important factor needs to be internal motivation.
- The pathway to becoming a doctor is expensive, long and challenging – even for the most diehard premed. Therefore, this journey will be miserable if you’re doing it mainly because of external motivation, whether it’s because your parents want you to become one or because all your friends are on so-called prestigious, lucrative career tracks like medicine, law and business and you feel pressured to do the same – when in reality, for example, what you really want to be is an English professor.
- One of the most powerful tools you should rely on as you get inundated with advice from others is your gut instinct. Gut instinct cuts through the riffraff so listen to it.
What should be your 1st steps if you’re interested in medicine?
- The first thing is making sure you understand what a career in medicine comprises. While everyone knows about the patient care aspect of it, there are 2 other areas of medicine – particularly if you work at a university: research and education. And the beauty is that you’re not limited to doing just one area. I’ve met many physicians who did all 3 things.
- Once you understand that, then you can go onto the next step, which is gathering information. I would start online, where you read reputable informative websites like Prospective Doctor to begin getting a comprehensive understanding of this profession. Some things that you want to research include, for instance, the types of doctors that you can become (i.e. do you want to deal with general issues like an internist or a family doctor or do you want to specialize in an area like psychiatry or dermatology), what they do both in terms of patient care and beyond patient care, and the training to become one.
- After this you should do primary information gathering if that’s possible. That means talking to doctors and getting a more in-depth understanding of what they do, the challenges they face and other insights.
- The last but most important step is getting first-hand exposure, which means shadowing a doctor. If you can shadow a doctor in the area you’re interested in – pediatrics, urology, ophthalmology – that’s of course ideal. But if you can’t, you still need to do it. Start with internal medicine or family medicine since those are the bread and butter of medicine.
How early do you need to prepare? In high school? Freshman year of college?
- I think that ideally, it’s good to begin freshman year of college so that you can start strategizing the next few years accordingly. The reason I say strategize is because by the time you apply to medical school, you need to have a unique, cohesive and compelling story based on your academics and extracurriculars that will help distinguish you from the thousands of other highly qualified applicants.
- In terms of academics, this means spacing out your premed courses between freshman and junior year so that you’re not overwhelmed. It means figuring out your major and fulfilling your school’s academic requirements. Doing all of this requires meticulous planning.
- In terms of extracurriculars – where I think most students drop the ball when it comes to strategizing – this means focusing on one or two areas, usually research although it certainly can be other activities – and demonstrating passion, commitment, evolution and results.
- That being said, if you have an epiphany about wanting to be a doctor sometime after freshman year, that’s perfectly fine. Don’t not pursue medicine because you think you’re too late. It’s never too late.
How do students get a realistic view of what medicine is?
- At the very least you should gain clinical experience. And by that I mean you should shadow a doctor. You can find out about such opportunities by joining a premed organization like AMSA or talking to your prehealth advisor.
- If you don’t shadow a doctor, you won’t have any credibility when you apply to medical schools because how can you say you’re interested in medicine if you’ve never experienced it?
- Furthermore, if you’re interested in applying to a research-oriented medical school, it’s imperative that you do research while you’re in college. And if you really want to impress research-oriented medical schools, you should try to get a paper published.
What are some of the pitfalls that students face when pursuing medicine? (e.g. organic chemistry as a “weeder” class, low GPA, etc.)
- One general pitfall and one specific pitfall come to mind.
- In terms of general pitfalls, I would say anxiety and potential burnout. Being a premed is a stressful and tiring journey because it lasts most of college. You have to take premed courses that are challenging along with their labs and compete for top grades against other premeds – and this grading is usually based on a curve, which is even more stressful. And then beyond academics, you have to think about extracurriculars, the MCAT and ultimately applications, which is a mini-job in and of itself. And if you’re lucky, you get invited to a lot of interviews – which, while gratifying, is tiring and expensive. And so the culmination of all of this is often anxiety and potential burnout.
- My advice for dealing with this is fourfold. First, plan meticulously ahead of time – whether it’s for exams, the MCAT, applications or interviews. Because a lot of stress comes from feeling pressed for time, efficient/effective planning will free up more time for you and consequently, you’ll feel less stressed. Second, have a great support system in terms of family, friends, faculty and staff and be sure to lean on them when you’re going through tough times or when you need advice. Third, don’t forget to have fun. You don’t want your only memories of college to be about how you prepared for getting into medical school. It should be about great moments and conversations you had with amazing people. And finally, if you really feel overwhelmed emotionally, get professional help from your university’s mental health center. There’s no shame in seeing a mental health professional and you would be surprised how many students actually see one. It’s no different than seeing a doctor because you have the flu or some illness.
- In terms of specific pitfalls, the biggest one is probably organic chemistry. Just say those two words in front of premeds, medical students or even established doctors and you’ll hear a groan. That’s because this is usually the class that stands between premeds and their dreams of becoming a doctor. But as an aside, I think one of the reasons students struggle with it is because they study for it the wrong way.
- My advice for dealing with organic chemistry is a bit extreme, but it worked for me when I did it. The summer before I took organic chemistry, I created a flow chart connecting every single chemical reaction from my textbook. I hung the flow chart, which was the size of a mini-mural, on my wall and every day I sat in front of it and memorized parts of it until I had memorized everything. When I took organic chemistry that year, solving problems was a breeze because all I had to do was just pull up the flow chart in my brain. I ended up getting a flat A both semesters. And believe me, I was no Einstein when I came to science classes. I was below average smart at best.
About ZIG Consulting
ZIG Consulting is a luxury boutique education and career advisory firm where college students work one-on-one with the founder, Ziggy Yoediono – a Harvard, Yale, Duke and University of Rochester educated and trained physician with an MBA and former Duke college academic advisor.
To get a top job or into a top graduate school, college students need a unique, cohesive and compelling story based on their academics, extracurriculars and ultimately applications – particularly essays and interviews. My specialty is helping them create, develop and present the best story possible.