The journey to medical school can feel overwhelming. It’s difficult to know what you should be doing at any given point in your high school or college career to prepare for taking the MCAT and getting into med school in order to become a top notch physician. If you know a career in medicine is what you want, but you’re unsure where to begin, review my 9-step timeline that I give to my students. It is a good place to start learning how to get into med school.
It is a good idea to keep a personal journal as soon as you can – if you’re still in high school, it’s not too early to start. Don’t worry about having perfect grammar. Just focus on the little moments. You will be glad you did when you’re applying and interviewing at colleges and medical schools.
What should you journal about? Start with these:
When you’re writing, remember not just the facts of who you were with or your specific tasks, but what you learned from the experience. What did that experience teach you about being a doctor and being a person? This will especially help you when you’re preparing for an interview.
If you want to get into Med School, you have to do more than say you want to help people. You have to show that you want to and are able to help people. Getting patient care experience will also help you discern for yourself whether or not you actually really want to become a medical doctor.
Common ways you can gain patient care experience include:
Above all, don’t do things just to check off items on a checklist. Devote your times to things you’re interested in and passionate about.
Many students with the goal of becoming a doctor choose a major in the biological sciences. This is not the only major you can choose. Medical school requirements do not require a specific pre-med major (although medical schools do require prerequisite courses in biology and chemistry).
When you’re picking a major, consider these important points:
You will be required to take the MCAT exam (Medical College Admissions Test). While you’re working on your degree and prerequisites, prepare. The prerequisite courses you complete as an undergrad are preparing you to take the MCAT. Make sure you work to retain the knowledge you are acquiring already during your freshman year. It’s easy to forget what you learned from a course after finals week, but those courses aren’t just requirements to graduate – they’re preparing you for the MCAT, medical school, and life itself.
One area that your science classes may not prepare you as well for is the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) section of the MCAT. This is because the CARS section is not dealing directly with science. So, immerse yourself in reading books of all genres. Work towards improving your comprehension as well as your reading speed.
The MCAT is administered several times a year. You can find the schedule on the AAMC website. If your goal is to get into medical school the fall after you graduate from college/university, you will need to complete the MCAT no later than the summer following your junior year.
Work on building relationships with professors who can serve as mentors. They may know of opportunities for internships, research, or other health-related experiences. Your campus may also have a career center and/or health professions advising office where you’re likely to have access to guidebooks and web resources in addition to an advisor. Seek out these people and resources.
A health care professional may act as a priceless mentor too. They can give you a better understanding of what their typical day is like, and whether it would be something you will enjoy. Ask your own doctors if they know of shadowing opportunities.
Check the science department bulletin boards or websites at your college for opportunities to assist with faculty research projects. Also, check with your academic advisor or your pre-health advisor, as they may already have relationships with faculty or labs. In addition to what is happening on your own campus, look for off campus opportunities during the summer. There are many programs available to undergraduate students that are designed to help them gain research experience.
How did you decide which college to attend? You probably researched it and visited it, so do the same with prospective medical schools. However, it can be expensive and time-consuming to visit all the schools you’re interested in. Look for fairs and conferences that allow you to learn about multiple schools at once. Your pre-med advisor may be aware of events that are in your area.
If visiting medical schools just isn’t possible for you, there are still resources that can help. AAMC also publishes the Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR), an annual report of the overall profile of students that each medical school accepts. This can be very helpful when researching medical schools. Check with your advisor, as they may have a copy on hand.
Medical schools aren’t just looking for students who know medicine. They’re looking for students who know themselves. In other words, spend a significant amount of time considering why you respond to people and situations the way you do. Have a clear idea of what excites you and what triggers anxiety/frustration. Your ability to be self-aware will enhance your ability to be a health care provider as you’ll understand how you respond to others and how they respond to you. You can know all the medicine in the world, but you also have to be able to relate that knowledge to your patients. Explore art, literature, and other topics in the humanities to expand the breadth of your knowledge beyond science and medicine. You’ll be glad you did when you taking the CARS portion of the MCAT, when you’re in an interview, when you’re talking to patients, and every waking moment of your life.
Good luck on your journey to medical school!