Best Foot Forward #4: How to Best Spend Your Time as a Premed Student
Life Update: Wow. I haven't written anything for a month.
1 month ago, I started my General Medicine rotation and I have been working like crazy. The hard part about this rotation is the 65+ hours at the hospital is stacked on top of the __ hours of studying when you leave the hospital! The blank is filled in based on how much you can take and how little sleep you can operate well on. The silver lining is that I feel like I have learned more on this rotation than any of my previous rotations, by far. I don't plan to go into internal medicine, but the things I am learning here are very important for intern year.
Talking about how to spend your time is one of the most important questions every premed must ask. It has many answers, and I would say that in my opinion, there are many paths that lead to med school, but they all contain commonalities, and this is what is teachable. The unique aspects to YOUR path can only be taught by someone who has been successful in your particular path----> in example, say you are a Division 1 athlete and you want to apply to med school. I did not play college sports, so I can tell you my general approach to getting into med school, but you need the advice of someone who is also a D1 athlete that got into med school. Same goes for any sort of "niche" that makes you unique- non-trad, advanced degrees, RN-2-MD, unique major, student organizations, above average research... the list goes on. I think you get the idea. So, before getting to the specifics to you, let's go over the general pearls and pitfalls.
1. Don't get in trouble with the law or your school
This goes without saying, but the fastest way to not get accepted to med school is to get a blemish on your permanent record. The example that comes to mind right away is the student that was delivering opioids to music artist Prince right before he was found dead. That poor guy will have a rough time explaining during his med school interviews what the heck he was doing as a drug mule for a pop star. Without getting into the details, I think the kid had no idea what he was getting himself into, and I'm sure he was just following orders. Bottom line- if something you're doing would make for a good nightly news headline, it better make you look REALLY GOOD!
2. Any time off from school must be explained
The trend is towards taking a gap year. I know when I started med school ~3 years ago, it was almost more common to have taken a gap year than to go straight through. I'm sure that trend has continued. From IMDB.com
Batman: We will. We *can* bring Gotham back.
Jim Gordon: What about escalation?
Jim Gordon: We start carrying semi-automatics, they buy automatics. We start wearing Kevlar, they buy armor piercing rounds.
Medical school is going through its own sort of escalation, and the winners in this game are the institutions, and the losers are the premed students. I'm sure you've heard many say "Each year it gets harder and harder to get into med school..." or something like that.
This brings about an important point that many non-trad or gap year applicants use to their advantage... and many others are hamstringed by. You HAVE to explain why you aren't in school. Even if your reasoning is that you needed time to decide if medicine is REALLY what you want, you have to explain that.
To take it one step further, I think it is wise to play it safe and be able to explain what you have done every summer since you started college, with the exception if you started college a verrrry long time ago. Doing a little research, working a medical-type job, volunteering in a medical setting, or doing an internship- these are all EXCELLENT ways to relay to your reviewers that you used all the time you had to pursue this dream of yours. It is a wonderful way to demonstrate commitment.
3. Get involved in something early and stick with it
This is somewhat bleeding into specific advice, but I'll say that one of my big tickets to med school was being involved in student government in college. I was elected as a senator and stuck with it to the point that when I applied for med school, I was elected student body president. I say that only to demonstrate that it was another way to demonstrate commitment. It also had the bonus effect of showing that I had a lot of leadership experience. And that's the secret sauce- finding opportunities that reflect on you as committed, as respected by your peers, and as a leader.