Premed Advice

This page will serve as a regularly updated information page for premedical students. I will attempt to use it as a collaboration of all premedical advice I’ve learned learned or wish I knew during my undergraduate education and during the application process. Please feel free to comment with your own advice, and hopefully this will help others in their journey to become a physician!

Note: This page is regularly updated, so please check back often!

Undergraduate Education

Recommended Courses

  • Biochemistry I & II
    • Although not required for most science majors, this course is fantastically beneficial to your future! Despite it being one of the more difficult courses in my undergraduate education, this was one of my favorite courses as well.  The subject matter is fascinating, especially with a knowledgeable instructor.  You will eventually have to learn the information in medical school anyway, so you might as well get a leg up and obtain a solid foundation on the subject during undergrad.  No to be discouraging, but if you can’t handle challenging courses during undergraduate studies, graduate school could be more challenging than you think. Furthermore, I noticed that much of the information we discussed in my biochemistry courses was actually presented on practice MCAT exams regularly. My familiarity with the subject matter made it much less intimidating and I generally performed very well on these types of questions. 
  • Anatomy & Physiology (A combined course and/or as individual courses)
    • I think the benfits of this course go without saying. Anatomy & physiology in medical school will undoubtedly be much more difficult than any undergraduate course you can take so developing a solid knowledge base to build on in the future will help you substantially. Familiarity of facts and information (even if you don’t consciously remember the material) as been shown to drastically improve retainment and recall capabilities.  In other words, the more you see something, the more likely you are to remember it!
  • Microbiology/Immunology
    • It was my experience that the MCAT always had passages related to microbiology and/or immunology in the biological sciences portion of the exam. The most difficult aspect of these passages when you first begin studying is developing a familiarity with the terms and deciphering the general concepts.  By familiarizing yourself with the vocabulary and general concepts of microbiology/immunology, you will make many of the biological passages much less daunting. Essentially, you don’t need to remember everything you learn in these courses (After all, you’ll be learning it again in medical school!), but familiaring yourself with general facts, terms, and concepts will improve over confidence and efficiency in the biological sciences passes of the MCAT.
  • Philosophy
    • I may be biased towards taking this course, because I actually enjoy philosophical concepts and debates. However, I think that any and all students should take this course, especially aspiring physicians. I’m sure many people think philosophy is boring, pointless, confusing and/or a number of other negative descriptors. After all, a vast number of philosophical concepts were developed by a bunch of dead guys hundreds and even thousands of years ago! BUT, philosophy does MUCH more than talk about philosophical ideas. Philosophy inspires uncommon ways of thinking and provokes students to navigate the world in fundamentally different views. Students leave the course with a better understanding of epistemology (the study of knowledge), ethics, deductive/inductive thought processes, structure of valid arguments, and more. My course was extremely interesting, undoubtedly benefited by having an excellent professor, and I highly suggest you give philosophy a chance.

5 Tips to Studying the RIGHT Way

Studying…. obviously this is a must for any premed or medical student and essentially a lifelong requirement of anyone involved in the ever-changing world of medicine. The thing that most students fail to do however, is study how they study!

More often than not, a typical student will study for hours at a time, often only taking a break to use the restroom.  On the other hand, some students take so many breaks that they might as well not be studying at all!  In order to study in the most efficient way possible, the goal is to find a happy medium between these 2 extremes. Not only will you study more efficiently, but you’ll be more likely to retain the information and recall it in the future. Below you’ll find 5 helpful tips on how to study properly.

Nap Time!

Did you know that some of the most famous intellectuals in history took naps on a regular basis? Just do a quick online search and you’ll find that regular naps were common among numerous great minds including Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Winston Churchill, Lyndon B Johnson, and many more!  Research shows that naps have a profound effect on “refreshing” the brain so that it’s able to function more efficiently. A nap is essentially a booster for your brain’s ability to learn new information.  The key concept to take away from this is that you should not be studying for hours and hours and hours.  Those all night study sessions will not only hinder your ability to actually learn the information in the first place, but it will also make it much more difficult to recall it later when your brain is completely fatigued. I have done my share of all nighters and trust me, I wish I’d have managed my time and studied the correct way instead.

Blocks Aren’t Just for Toddlers

Studying in blocks is shown to be more efficient than forcing yourself to study for 2 – 3+ hours at a time.  Our minds and bodies need a break in order to recover from the information we just went over.  Study for about 45 – 50 minutes and take a 10 – 15 min break.  Make sure that during your break you stand up to stretch as well in order to rejuvenate the body.  You should never sit for more than 1 hour straight! Furthermore, try to plan an extended break every few hours or so.  The mind and body can only handle so much without taking a 30 min to 1 hour rest.  Go hang with friends, have dinner, see family, or whatever else may interest you.

Turn the Phone OFF

I know this is a challenge for many people, myself included, but to study in the most efficient way possible, you should turn your cell phone completely off before you even start.  While it may seem completely innocent to send a text here and there, it’s actually taking your mind away from the topics and causing you to lose focus.  Turn the phone back on during your study breaks in order to respond to friends & family or to check out the latest on social media.  In reality, you should be studying in blocks anyway so being without your phone for 45 minutes at a time isn’t going to be the end of the world!

Summarize to Succeed

So you’re reading your textbook and simultaneously taking notes so you can go over the key concepts later.  Notes are always a great idea.  Sounds like a good plan right? WRONG! Evidence shows that taking notes while reading the material is much less beneficial than reading the material all the way through and summarizing what you read at the end.  I’m not saying you need to read an entire book or even an entire chapter and summarize it.  However, you should break the text into segments big enough that it requires you to really think about the information you just read.  By summarizing the information after you’ve finished the entire section, your mind is forced to critically evaluate the information and is much more likely to retain it.  Taking notes while reading may seem like a good idea, but in reality, your mind isn’t doing much thinking at all when you copy something straight from the original text.  Force yourself to think critically after reading the material and summarize the key points without looking back at the text.  You will be much more likely to retain that information for use in the future!

Time to UNDERSTAND NOT MEMORIZE

Some people fail to realize that understanding something is much different than memorizing facts. Although there are times when you’ll have information that requires rote memorization, if it’s possible to actually develop an understanding of a concept, you should do it.

The easiest example to use here is an equation.  Most students see an equation they should know and immediately think they must memorize the equation.  But the better idea is to understand why the equation exists in the form that it does! Why is the area of a triangle A = (1/2)(base)(height).  Well quite simply, the area of a triangle is half the area of a square of equal dimensions.  This is a very simple example and obviously, other equations can become much more challenging to develop an understanding.  However, by developing an understanding of why the equation exists, you don’t need to memorize the equation. Instead, you can simply derive the equation from your understanding of it!

Understanding extends beyond equations, but it seems to be the easiest way to explain the idea.  The same could be said of a variety of subjects, and although I don’t want to describe numerous scenarios here, I hope the main point got across.  Don’t just memorize facts and information.  Instead, develop an understanding of it piece by piece.  Build the foundation, then the framework, and then the roof.  By building on previous knowledge and understanding how everything connects, you will be much more likely to retain it and recall it later.  Always ask the question, WHY?! Try to find the answers in the details and fully reinforce your understanding of the material.

 

Extracurriculars

Clinical Volunteering

The real benefit of volunteering in a clinic, hospital, nursing home, etc. is more than just clinical experience.  To be honest, many volunteer opportunities don’t provide the immersion into medicine that people tend to think they’re going to get.  However, I highly recommend volunteering for several reasons:

a) If you’ve never experienced a clinical setting, this is a good starting point to “get your feet wet”.  Usually, you won’t be exposed to anything terribly unsettling.  If you find situations that are uncomfortable or make you queasy from volunteer work, you should probably consider a career other than medicine.

b) Volunteering opens the door to more interactive opportunities, and better yet, opportunities that you can get paid for!  By no means do I advocate taking an opportunity based strictly on financial gain, but most premed students will be less than financially stable for several years, so it definitely helps to have an income.  There are several jobs in hospital settings that require little to no education, but a big selling point on obtaining a position is your clinical experiences.  By completing volunteer activities, you’ll have the clinical experience that employers are looking for from interviewees.  My very first clinical experience was volunteering in a hospital twice a week with very little responsibility.  However, my next accomplishment less than a year later was a job as a patient sitter where I was able to interact with patients and observe the nurses and physicians in action.

c) You might meet someone who opens the door to better opportunities and/or is able to answer any questions you may have about medicine.  From my experience, doctors and nurses are generally happy to talk with students interested in the field of medicine so take advantage of an opportunity to talk with them!  Volunteer opportunities that provide you with chances to talk to medical personal are highly encouraged.  You could create lasting relationships with nurses and physicians, and you may even see them years down the road when you’re in the medical field yourself.

d) The most obvious and simple reason to volunteer is you make a difference! I would hope anyone aspiring to be a physician has an innate desire to help others.  Volunteering is an opportunity to do just that!  Even if you get stuck with mundane tasks that don’t seem like you’re doing much, trust me when I saw that you are, even if indirectly.  Each task in a clinical setting has a specific purpose and every employee and volunteer makes a difference.  Just a few examples include: a patient greet can ease patient anxiety, cleaning leads to a more presentable establishment that patients can trust, stocking supplies saves the nurses’ time so they can treat patients more efficiently, and many more.  Not only do you get more clinical exposure for your resume, but you help others along the way.

Do Something You Enjoy NOT Related to Medicine!

Obviously, you should have some fun during undergraduate school, so make sure you do something you really enjoy that can be added to your medical school application as well. Also, make sure it’s something besides medicine that, if possible, separates you from the typical applicant. For example, I played soccer throughout my youth from age 3 up until high school graduation. I decided not to play in college, and since I still love to stay involved with the sport, I have coached a team (sometimes 2 teams at a time) for the last 4 years. This past year I even got to coach my younger brother’s team (my brother is 10 years younger than me), which was an extra meaningful experience. For me, coaching soccer is a meaningful, educational, and most importantly, enjoyable experience. All extracurricular activities don’t have to be healthcare related. It is important to demonstrate that you’re a well-rounded individual as well, so find something non-medical that you enjoy!

Application Process

The Top Tips List

  1. Apply early! 
  2. Stay organized!
  3. Apply to multiple schools.
  4. Thoroughly investigate schools of interest in order to save yourself time and money.
  5. Always have a backup plan in case you don’t get accepted.
  6. Read everything thoroughly so you don’t forget to fill out important information or fill it out incorrectly.
  7. Talk with others going through the process!

The MCAT

One of the most dreaded tests of all premedical students, successfully completing the MCAT requires dedication and time-management.  It isn’t something to be taken lightly, but it isn’t something to get worked up about either.  I’ve learned several things about the MCAT during my preparation and although I don’t consider myself an expert by any stretch of the imagination, I do think I picked up some helpful tips along the way.

The Top MCAT Tips

  1. Develop a study plan & stick to it!
    • This is the #1 tip that I have for anyone who intends to take the MCAT.  You must set aside specific time to study and strictly follow the guidelines you make for yourself.  Each person is different so study plans can vary from student to student.  However, treat your MCAT study time just like a real job, because that’s basically what it is.  Show up and work hard.  All the hard work you put in will pay off when you get back a good score.  It’s much better to work hard and do well the first time than having to take the exam again!
  2. Start your study plan several months in advance.
    • Think of preparing for the MCAT as a marathon…. slow and steady wins the race!  Overloading your brain with information during the month leading up to the exam isn’t going to benefit most people on test day.  Expand your knowledge base each week in chunks in order to more fully understand the information, as well as increase the likelihood of retaining it.
  3. Take practice tests. 
    • Obviously you need to obtain the knowledge presented on an exam before you can take an exam.  However, nothing is going to prepare you for the MCAT better than actually sitting down and taking practice tests in the same manner you will on test day.  Plan a day to take a test and do it under test settings as well.  Make sure there are no distractions, keep breaks to a minimum, and don’t look at the answers until the end of the exam.  After you finished the exam, take a long break, and come back later or even the next day to thoroughly examine the answers.  Focus on areas you need to improve!
  4. If possible, plan your extracurricular activities and coursework around the MCAT. 
    • Although this isn’t always possible for those with sports, jobs, or other obligations, try your best to plan your life around MCAT studying and the actual test date.  In other words, take an easier course load during the semester leading up to the MCAT, plan to spend less time at social events and/or with friends, explore the possibility of working less hours at your job, and don’t plan extended vacations or trips during the months leading up to the exam.  I don’t want anyone to get the idea that they should completely isolate themselves from society and become a hermit.  Everyone needs a break and I encourage time with friends and family to keep you sane.  However, you should definitely see a change in your social life during the months you spend studying for the MCAT.
  5. Get on an appropriate sleep schedule in the weeks leading up to the exam.
    • If you stay up until midnight every night and sleep until 11 AM, you’re not going to be able to take an 8 AM exam at full potential.  Be sure to start a sleep schedule a couple weeks or at least a week before the exam in which you go to bed early and wake up at the same time you would to take the exam.  Get your body into a routine before test day to make you life much less hectic for when the day actually arrives!

Key Characteristics for a Successful MCAT Score

Obviously knowledge should be developed to do well on the MCAT, but it doesn’t stop there.  Below you’ll find some characteristics that I personally think are critically important to a successful MCAT score.

  • Familiarity
    • In my opinion, this is one of the most important characteristics to develop before taking the MCAT.  Familiarity is directly correlated with knowledge. The more you study the material and learn, the more familiar you become with facts, vocabulary, questions types, meaningful information, etc. Familiarize yourself with the subject-matter and with the structure of the exam itself. Research shows that familiarity with something will increase your intuitive nature to answer correctly. In other words, even if you don’t know the answer, you’re more likely to answer correctly with an educated guess if you’re familiar with the information presented.
  • Confidence
    • This characteristic is strongly correlated with familiarity since the more familiar you are with the concepts, the more confidence you’ll have. However, you should also develop confidence with regular undertaking of practice questions, practice exams, flashcards, etc. When you find yourself getting most of the answers right, your confidence will increase as well. For this reason, people who are prone to anxiousness before tests should avoid going over material immediately before the exam to prevent psyching themselves out!
  • Stamina
    • The MCAT is a marathon, not a sprint! In order to study in the most effective way possible, you should study in blocks (i.e. 45 minutes of studying, 15 min break). However, you should also gradually increase you cognitive stamina by taking practice MCAT exams. In my opinion, the “best” way of doing this is to start by taking only sections of the exam in a single sitting. Eventually begin taking 2 sections in a sitting and work up to taking the entire practice exam in a single sitting.

3 responses

  1. This is a great page! I wholly agree with the advice to search for solid clinical volunteer experiences. I spent 2 years as a volunteer in the Emergency Department at a county hospital, and they let us do a lot, including EKGs. The admissions committee was really interested in hearing about what I learned about medicine through that experience.

    1. Thanks! I definitely think all my experiences helped with my application substantially. And the sooner you start, the better!

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