The Idiot’s Guide to Pre-Med (What They Don’t Tell You)
In the words of one of the more interesting characters in The Devil Wears Prada, “gird your loins” or, as I would like to say to my fellow pre-med-ers, brace yourselves.
The long road ahead is indisputably difficult, no matter how high you think your IQ is, or, more likely, how much higher you think your IQ is than the IQ of the guy sitting next to you. This difficult road was designed by medical schools in order to determine who can survive when the road becomes even more difficult. The sooner you become acquainted with the many hoops medical schools expect you to jump through, the better you will be as a competitive applicant. For example, you do not want to be doing intensive research the same summer that you will be preparing to take the MCAT.
Understand that there will be moments when you feel hopeless and overwhelmed, but that you will ultimately persevere and continue on. You will have sporadic meltdowns, wondering what happens when you do not get accepted into any medical school (although there are many backup plans). You may get frustrated that you have to memorize grasshopper appendages, while your friends are getting a “real” education. Unavoidable chemistry labs, which closely resemble Snape’s potion class and are tediously long and pointless. Be forewarned, you will also relinquish Sunday football binges, a spirited activity in Morg Lounge. In short, your college experience will be very different than most of your friends. While you and your philosophy major friend both go to Yeshiva University, you are in an entirely different college.
However, despite how demanding pre-med might be at Yeshiva, take solace in the fact that if you survive with respectable grades, you will be in good shape as an applicant. In truth, I cannot make such a claim at this juncture, as I am only a student and still very much in the process of pre-medding. I cannot claim to have an omniscient view of the GPA cutoffs for getting a medical school interview. Moreover, even pre-health guidance cannot make definitive cutoff points. This is partly because the GPAs can vary (as evidenced by the students accepted) and because medical schools are somewhat fickle in what they are looking for. This does not mean that someone with a poor GPA has a chance of getting into Johns Hopkins. Getting stellar grades should be the primary objective of a pre-medder, but NOT the only objective. Medical schools are looking for students who are not only bright, but also have a combination of motivation, commitment, and personality. Thus, there are additional ways of making yourself a viable candidate, and GPAs for acceptance can vary.
How can a student compensate for a substandard transcript? This question really touches the core of pre-med responsibilities. An admissions board member of Mt. Sinai Medical School once explained to me what he coined “the four pillars” of pre-med:
Letters of recommendation
To be considered by an American medical school, you will have to have a solid foundation in all of the pillars. Take a pillar away and your application becomes substantially weaker. Now, having four different pillars as the barometer of your overall character allows room for flexibility and individuality, a topic we will later discuss in detail.
Additionally, as a pre-med student, you will not only have to strengthen these “four pillars” to the largest extent possible, but you must incorporate downtime and a social life into your schedule. Right now you may be asking, “Is there such a thing as a pre-med student with an active social life?” Such an ostensibly oxymoronic life is indeed possible. The only way to attain this ideal, balanced, four-pillared pre-med-with-a-social-life model is to have proper time management of the “here and now” while simultaneously being a conscientious and farsighted planner.
Therefore, the goal of this column is to first explain all aspects of the four pillars in detail. After examining the basic core pre-med program, some strategies will become obvious. For example, if one takes his science prerequisite courses seriously, this will make the impending MCAT much easier to prepare for. Even while analyzing the four pillars in their proper detail, I hope to be at least mildly entertaining and offer some refreshing perspectives. I will also divulge some of the secrets I collected from chatting up various doctors. Lastly, by doing this, I hope to alleviate some of the more common pre-med symptoms (fear, anxiety, tachycardia, chest pain, night sweats, etc.).
Stay tuned for follow up articles regarding the story of the successful doctor who sucked at Yeshiva pre-med, perseverance as a pre-med despite some below-average grades, and maintaining integrity despite intense competition.
Trying to stay on the road while maintaining my ideals and principles through the cutthroat program of Yeshiva College pre-med