You’re working full-time in your undergraduate degree and you’re showing up to organic chemistry tired, maybe a coffee in-hand. You’re going to be a doctor someday, right? You will, but right now all you want is to take a long nap and have someone buy you a week’s worth of groceries.
First, let me congratulate all of you, “poor kids,” for even being in college. Whether you are first-time college attendees in your family, or just from a working class home where people can’t pay your tuition, you have already beat the odds and started your degree. The first hurdle you’ll have in going to medical school is simply completing your bachelor’s degree. The close second hurdle will be in applying to medical school and competing with applicants who have been groomed for medical school since they were in high school. That’s where I come in though.
GRADES: The student sitting next to you in your class had all weekend to study for the exam, while you might be studying between work shifts or late at night. This can appear on a medical school application as having a lower GPA when, in fact, the grades are not equal. You need to address this aspect on your application and make sure to let your medical schools know that your grades were accomplished while working. It is harder to get a B while working full-time and taking a full course load than to get an A while only attending college. Highlight this for the medical schools.
ADVISORS: Aside from a grade discrepancy, your resources when applying to medical school are likely smaller if you attend a small public university. Many private universities, and some larger state ones, have pre-medical advisors who’s soul purpose is to help with medical school applications. They will help with collecting letters of recommendation, reading your essay, and preparing you for the medical school interview. These are things that this medical mentor program can assist with. The application process is arduous, but the sooner you connect with an advisor in your undergraduate degree, the more they can help you look on par with other applicants.
EXPERIENCE: A lot of students do not access to physicians in their family or through pre-set contracts in their college. This can make finding physicians to shadow and write letters difficult. There is also a cultural aspect that some students face where they have never spent much time with physicians and find the experience intimidating. Don’t worry, that feeling will fade over time. A pre-med advisor should have networking experience to help you make connections for medical experience. The shadowing and letters are a vital part of your application, so don’t wait until your senior year to begin scheduling them.
An example: Having had a student with no vehicle, because they could not afford one, I was able to find physician shadow opportunities that did not require a car.
SCHEDULE: Your timeline for applying to medical school is imperative. The day the application opens is when it should be submitted, letters and MCAT scores included. This is not the time to begin filling the application out of collecting letters of recommendation. I recommend having your letters of recommendation uploaded or collected with at least one month to spare. I also recommend taking the MCATs soon enough that you would have time to repeat them, if necessary.
I truly believe that humble physicians make better doctors. I also believe that coming from a difficult background often brings a lot of humility into this career field. I am proud to work with many doctors who had to fight quite hard just to eat during their undergraduate years. If you’re working hard too, in the words of Dory, “just keep swimming!” I promise it will be worth it in the end.