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The Complete Guide to Being Premed (The 2nd Thing I learned Junior Year)

Posted by on Sunday, December 17, 2017 in Academics, College Life, College of Arts and Science, College of Arts and Science, Exams, Extracurriculars, Finals, Freshman Life, Learning Style, Pre-Med, Pre-Med, Student Life, Student Organizations, Undergraduate Research, Year in Review.

**Check out The 4 Things I learned Junior Year, and its companion, The 11 Things I learned Sophomore Year! Obviously, I’m just much wiser this year.**

A little introduction: I’m a math major and current junior as of December 2017. I’m writing this having received mostly B’s and B+’s in my premed classes, 2 C’s in two math classes I took (as a math major, yes, I know, there’s a post and everything), and with Physics, Biochem, and Bio II left to go. I can’t claim to know everything about premed, but I have gleaned a fair amount talking with many medical students at both Vandy Med and Meharry (I’m part of the Catholic Med Students Association) and many, many premed students at Vanderbilt. The best advice came from a premed student named Izzy who’s now, ironically, at Yale Law, which was that it’s “all psychological.” Izzy was accepted at many prestigious MD, JD, and MD/JD programs before choosing Yale last year (2017) Her advice was incredibly inspirational to me, and I hope that it is to you too!

Although I don’t know what the future holds, part of receiving less-than-stellar grades is that it’s not a do-or-die thing for me anymore. I love medicine, I want to be a doctor so, so much, but I know that there are other options out there too, and not just law school.

I will answer your email within the hour if you tell me you watched this AMAZING show

Okay, friends. The thing about being premed is that it’s all psychological. Really. (Just in case you skipped the intro!) I’m breaking this down into four section – what being premed really is, some about extracurriculars, a lot about grades, and then about the ‘psychological’ aspect of premed.

1. What is Premed really about?
Accepting failure. Doctors have to deal with failure all the time on a much bigger scale. I’m not saying this flippantly, as if to equate academic failures with life-and-death situations, but little failures can acclimate you to an adaptable frame of mind that’s much more optimistic and strong than before, a mindset that can train you for bigger situations. Persevering through difficult classes because you love the material and know that you’ll one day get to use it is the reason for being premed
Growing in confidence. Smart, confident doctors are what the world needs today. Being able to overcome obstacles (yes, I know, cliche) such as research mistakes, the fear of public speaking, and developing really good small talk skills will make you into an amazing doctor.
– Also, no one can predict how you’re going to do in a premed class before you take it. I’ve known people who have taken AP chem and had a breeze in GenChem and those who haven’t and it’s still been great because they knew how to study. I’ve known people who have taken AP Chem and done badly in GenChem and also those who didn’t and who also took badly. What I’m saying is– I can’t predict how you’re going to do in GenChem. I’m still not sure why I get these emails.
2. Grades:
– You must know how to study (see later post: How to Study)
– Yes, you can get C’s and still get into med school. A few Vandy Med students I know received C’s in their premed classes in undergrad. No, you will not die of shame.
Focus on your grades first semester. The activities and resume will come in time
– Getting a B in lab may seem like the end of the world. It’s not.
– Don’t take bio, chem, and calc in the same semester unless you really, really know how to study. (If you’re taking that combination, I hope that you’ve at least had some experience in AP Chem and AP Calc (at least AB) so that you’re not going into each completely blind). By that I mean you know how to compile study guides, you’re good at explaining information to yourself, and you understand how to study for both problem-based tests (chem and calc) and memorization/concept-driven tests (bio). But really, you don’t have to rush into it all at once. I would just recommend taking chem and seeing how you do.
Liking GenChem is not an indicator of if you should be premed or not. If you get through orgo and bio and hate both’s contents (not the grade and not the professor), that’s probably an indicator that you shouldn’t be premed.

3. Extracurriculars
No, you don’t have to get involved in research first semester, although some people do and for them, that’s great. I would recommend checking out research opportunities first semester, though, and having a plan starting second semester (It’s what I did and it definitely worked out)
– Also, you don’t have to do everything. I’ve said this before, but the best resumes come after a strong semester of first-year grades. Focus on your grades, get involved in two activities, and invest time in the friendships on your floor, your house, and those two organizations.
Have a plan for getting involved in something service, something leadership, and something research-based. If you get involved with any organization freshman year that you are really passionate about, chances are a leadership opportunity will roll around junior year if not sophomore year, which can lead to an exec board position later junior or senior year
– Shadow a little, but Dr. Kyla Terhune, one of my mentors, told me this and I think it’s true: Once you know, you know. Keep shadowing, cause you will need it for your med school resume, but don’t obsess about it in the first year and a half. Just do a few hours when you go home for breaks and in the summers, and it will all add up

I just love this picture. Cynthia Vu is part of both communities of UCat and Phi Lamb that have gotten me through

4. It’s All Psychological:
– Be casual. You’re premed, but what does that mean? As a freshman, that probably just means that you’re in General Chemistry. As a sophomore, Organic Chemistry and Biology. Essentially, you’re just taking courses. “Being premed” will actually become reality junior year when you start studying for the MCAT and looking at med school apps.
– The less you talk about “med school,” the less you check YES for updates on your GPA, the less you obsess over Brightspace and the difference between and A and an A- and OH MY GOODNESS you’re getting a B- in a class wait why… the less you’ll be concerned. Just take a deep breath.
– Also, this.. Friends, I’m half-Indian. That means I have an Indian mom. Most of the stress-induced days I had freshman and sophomore years were because I was asked to calculate my GPA every single day. Although she’s getting better (once every two days instead of each day), I eventually made the decision to call her less often or to make sure our conversations stayed away from grades as much as possible. This may be necessary for you to continue your motivation and persevere.
– You will most likely just scare yourself and others if you talk about med school admissions before you’re a junior who is still premed (since you’ll start working on apps in the later spring before your senior year). Take the required sciences, don’t take Calc 1300 or 1301 (or so I’ve heard), and you’ll be good. Seriously, you’ll just get nervous thinking about what those faceless, nameless “med school admissions board” will want. If you asked them, they’d probably just ask you to chill.
Having a community such as a sorority, fraternity, religious community, cultural organization, or some sort of support system is an absolutely amazing thing that I can’t stress enough. These people will be there for you when you inevitably encounter the nights when you’re just not sure if you can do another organic chemistry mechanism and you can’t remember why you wanted to be a doctor again. They’ll encourage you and give you hugs. Most of the reason I’m still premed today and LOVING learning about healthcare and internal medicine is because of my Phi Lamb sisters and some very influential, amazing people in University Catholic. If you do nothing else, try to find a community of real people who will be there for you no matter what. And this goes for even if you’re not premed
Always, always keep in mind that being a doctor may not actually make you happy. Ultimately, you should aspire to be happy, not necessarily prestigious. Explore other options – (most typically, law school), the Master’s or PhD route, engineering, nonprofit management, consulting, nursing, literally anything else. I’ve had a few times that I’ve known for a fact that I really wanted to do this. Academically, when I took organic chemistry and fell in love, when I reviewed my bio notes and teared up a few times learning about the lac operon, and when I shadowed in the MICU and calculated some numbers for the Director of the Vandy MICU #mathmajor. Interest-wise when I felt so much adrenaline reading my first-ever article about the Camden Coalition. And people-wise when Marita, an absolutely lovely lady who is a custodian in Stevenson, told me that “You’re going to be my doctor one day.” I knew in that moment that she wasn’t actually referring to herself, but to people in general… all I had to do, she said, was to “keep my eyes on the big picture.” I remember writing in my diary that day that I met an angel.

So! Goodness, that’s everything. I’ll probably update this post as I think of more things, but these are the results of conversations I’ve had over the past two and a half years about being premed. By my schedule, I’ll actually be applying after graduation, since I’m planning on taking a gap year, and I’ll actually be finishing the premed track (four more classes left!) by graduation. But in the past five courses I’ve taken, this is what I’ve learned. I can’t wait to keep learning.

As always, feel free to email me at! I’ll still probably answer your email within the hour, even if you haven’t watched “The Good Doctor” yet <3 Love, Sophie