Be sure to read Part 1 before starting this article.
Finding an Advisor
In order to navigate the steps before medical school, it is critical that you have the right advisor by your side. Specifically, a pre-health advisor is an invaluable resource that you can rely on to ask questions or give you personalized advice. However, keep in mind they are not under any responsibility to get you into medical school. That’s up to you.
If your school does not assign you a specific advisor, it is essential that you seek one out. Many advisors will give you generalized advice that may not be applicable to your situation. Consider the fact that some might have more in-depth knowledge about med school requirements than others. Some advisory offices will only pass along letters of recommendation to medical schools, while others might handle the entire process themselves.
Therefore, do not be afraid to be proactive as you find mentorship and guidance in your college years. Don’t hesitate to switch advisors within your college if you feel like the one you’ve been assigned is not a good fit, or if they are unable to give you the mentorship that you need.
Initial questions for your advisor should address preparation for the MCAT exam and the timeline to apply to medical school.
Plenty of well-qualified, professional advisors can also be contacted over the internet, but remember that your college’s pre-med office probably has a large network of connections with medical schools. If you choose to look externally, you can find a listing of qualified advisors through the National Association of Advisors to the Health Professions.
Keep in mind that choosing not to capitalize on your pre-med office’s relationships can be a risky move to make, since medical school admissions officials might be a bit wary if you have not used any resources found at your school.
No matter what route you take in finding an advisor, remember you are the medical school applicant, and the work ultimately falls on your shoulders.
Finding Volunteer & Other Extracurricular Experiences
Medical school interviews always include questions about both your volunteer experiences and other extracurriculars, including clinical experiences, general employment, and community activities.
Extracurriculars give admissions officers great insight into your personality, as well as reassurance that you can handle a hectic medical school schedule.
They also give prospective medical school students a great way to show what is important to them, as well as provide an enjoyable way to spend time away from academics. It is usually easy to tell when a pre-med student embarks on outside experiences just to fluff up an application, as a couple of one-day gigs are not as valuable as something more substantive.
Check out local resources to find opportunities for volunteering and internship experiences, especially if they are in the medical field. Many hospitals have volunteer departments that would be happy to use your help, and are often willing to work with you to ensure you have a fulfilling experience.
Some hospitals allow you to you pick a department of interest, and many even have a specific volunteer program for pre-med students.
Opportunities to work on research projects within your university facility also make for great experiences. You should search department websites, where most of these positions are listed, just before mid-term time or during the middle of the semester.
In addition, summer programs like the free six-week Summer Health Professions Education Program are a great opportunity for first- or second-year college students interested in medical or dental school.
Any position in which you interact with people on a regular basis is great preparation for medical school, which is why you should seek out a clinical experience during your pre-med years. Clinical experiences usually consist of shadowing a physician as they work with patients so you can get an idea of their day-to-day work.
If you know the field of medicine in which you would like to pursue a career, seeking out a clinical experience in that area will give you a great opportunity to explore your interest. Draw on the contacts of your family, friends, and school to find a practice that matches your interest and comfort level. University alumni who are physicians often are willing to invite current students to shadow them.
Consider These Things Before You Hit Submit
A lot goes into making your med-school application competitive; therefore, it is important to make sure that all of your bases are covered. Keep in touch with your professors and advisors, as letters of recommendation go a long way in strengthening your case for medical school.
If you’ve had some trouble in a class, or have had to overcome challenges, a letter of recommendation can be a great tool to provide outside perspective.
Throughout your college career, keep your parents or guardians informed of your postgraduate plans. In order to get financial aid for medical school, you may need information from them to help you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA form is usually filled out the January before the year a student applies to medical school, and you’ll need to complete it to be considered for financial aid.
Admissions committees also call for the prospective student to provide a personal statement. This gives you a chance to state your “why”, or a way to ‘sell’ the committee on how your passions and interests would translate to medical school success and to a later career in medicine.
However, a lot of personal statements hurt applicants more than they help them, so be careful in what you choose to write. Admissions officers sometimes scan statements for anything interesting that would warrant an interview.
You should emphasize important life experiences, relate them to your decision to become a doctor, and skip the extraneous fluff. Good editing is paramount. The Student Doctor Network is a good resource to use as you consider what to include in your personal statement.
Overall, the process of preparing for medical school is often arduous, but extremely rewarding. Many students view their pre-med experiences to be a good way to learn more about the goals they have for the rest of their lives.
Above all, prepare your application with enthusiasm, but don’t forget to energize yourself for the exciting times to come.