…and so much cooler than everyone else (Then again, I’m biased.).
You’re pre-med. Which means everyone thinks you’re insane, an overachiever, and (though they won’t admit it) pretty awesome (Sorry-not-sorry, biased again!). You have serious addictions to caffeine and “Grey’s Anatomy”, being in control is your happy place, and you’re the only one of your friends who understands everything in “S@#$ Pre-Meds Say”. Welcome to the club!
We all start somewhere different. Some don’t identify “pre-med” until college (where the term comes from the name of the pre-professional track, “pre-medical”). Others explored the option in middle and high school, volunteering at clinics and hospitals, or took up internships and fell in love. A handful have attached to the idea since elementary school, always dreaming of saving lives and fixing people up. And then the rest of us have been brainwashed since the day we were born at a teaching-hospital with no way out unless we submit a thesis titled: “Why I Will Not Become a Doctor” to be approved by our parents.
I kid. Sort of.
A child psychiatrist herself (who also did the majority of an OB-GYN residency), my mom will shamelessly admit that she “brainwashes her children to become doctors”. Going into high school, I applied to join the Public Service Academy, which accepts up to 36 students to prepare them to go into the fields of law, medicine, or emergency services. While I honestly did this because I thought I “shouldn’t” have any desire other than to go into medicine, after four years in the academy, various community service, and poignant life experiences, I left high school finally sure for myself that I loved medicine, and of the careers in medicine, set my current goal to be a physician. I affirmed for myself (opposed to my parents) that I am set on the path to a medical career because I resonate with the its foundations in combined science, service, and care.
Not that medical careers are the only ways to care for humans. But as a biology nerd, and a service dork, and a humanities lover in one (opposed to, say, mathematics nerd, engineering dork, and technology lover who would do a branch of engineering instead of medicine) medicine is where all of these loves come together and fit most comfortably.
- Pre-med is not a major. I must restrain myself every time a wide-eyed munchkin tells me, “I want to major in pre-med!” (Or even fellow college students.) No. Nonononono. Unless you are in an international medical program (most common being the MBBS), you attain a bachelor’s degree in any major, while making sure to take the pre-med track. From there, you apply to an accredited medical school (This path is the traditional US structure to obtaining a medical degree.).
- You do not have to major in human biology/biology/chemistry to be a pre-med, or go to medical school. Though many people will. Why? The bio and chem majors frequently require classes that overlap the pre-track. (Personally, I’m currently an intended biology major, but I am considering sociology as a change of major or double major, with a possible business minor.)
- Liberal arts and humanities are not lost on pre-meds and in medicine. Holla at me, because I chose to attend a small private university with a very strong liberal arts core and no medical school of its own, over a gigantic public university that has a medical school and is very well known for STEM research and majors.
And it drove my parents, some of my teachers, and a ton of my classmates absolutely wild. “WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT. IT’S SO OBVIOUS WHERE YOU SHOULD GO AS PRE-MED!” Well, I love the humanities. And liberal arts and humanities are huge in service. And medicine is founded on care and service. And the school I chose has an 85% acceptance rate to medical school (over the national – and other school’s – average of about 44%). And the advisers at this school fully support, and even suggest majoring outside of science, as you will still follow the track and have a great science education, but also a great education in another major. It fit me, and it is still successful with medical school admissions, and the advising at a smaller university is fantastic.
What is the Pre-Med Track?
Colleges with pre-medical programs typically provide pre-med advisers (help plan your schedules to make sure you’re covering your med school requirements, assist with medical school applications, keeping on track with testing, etc.) and a track of classes that prepare you for medical school (in regards to applications, and the education itself).
The track of classes required by a majority of medical schools are as follows:
- General chemistry with lab (2 semesters)
- Organic chemistry – aka ochem – with lab (2 semesters)
- Physics with lab (2 semesters), biology with lab (2 semesters)
- English (2 semesters)
- Calculus (1 semester)
Some schools may vary on the English and mathematics requirements (more or less semesters with either, and some may require statistics for math).
The stigmas and hate on pre-meds can get nasty.
There’s a whole slough of quips pre-meds get:
- “But you’ll be, like, thirty by the time you’ll actually be a doctor!” More like, bro, I’m going to be thirty anyway, at least I’ll be a doctor. (ZING.)
- “Wait, don’t start yet, let me guess: You parents told you that you had to be a doctor.” During our senior presentations, all students had to discuss their career goals. One panel of judges for the presentations had the section of last names that included a very common one for a certain Asian race. After a few students, they would make this remark. While, sure, it is funny at first, you’re not exactly relieving the stereotype and pressure.
- “Hooked” Pre-Meds: Inbreds – pre-meds or doctors whose parent(s) are also doctors (as used to describe Meredith Grey in season one, episode one); and certain races (in my experience, Asian/Asian Indian) get scoffed at more for expressing the desire to go into medicine. As aforementioned, I’ll gladly embrace the part-joke, part-truth that I’ve always been guided to adore and set my sights for medicine. But sometimes people haven’t gotten past the “hooks” enough to truly believe I love this field genuinely, or that people can’t also have hooks and still have a true gift for the field, or have made an independent decision to pursue it. I’ve heard, “Is it because you wouldn’t be able to handle anything less than the lifestyle you grew up with?”, or “Yeah, you and every Asian kid in America,” and “Why, because you have Asian parents?” (Just saying, if these people ever end up on my operating table…I’m kidding.) (I would never finish and publish that statement online. Duh.)
- “Pre-meds are insane/no-fun/GPA-obsessed.” 1) Being sane is overrated. 2) …do you want someone “having fun” while they’re elbow deep in your chest cavity? Yeah, that’s what I thought. 3) I mean, yes, but to be so into your academics, while enjoying what they study, and loving college life, and doing what they love/loving what they do outside of studying…that’s a commitment in any profession and field that truly takes you places (you’ll see the same in “high achieving” people and many other pre-professional/graduate school bound students). Anyway, we’re not the only GPA obsessed on campus. You just like to pick on us, and we’ll take it because when we’re doctors, you’ll love us. (Jo, your bias is showing again.)
On Caffeine and in Love with Control
Coffee is the liquid embodiment of all that is good in the world. It is also always there for you. And it never asks questions. If you’re not shaking, you need another cup.
- If you’re not yet in college, it’s because you’re up until ungodly hours every night watching “Grey’s Anatomy” or “Scrubs” or crime shows (you love the medically accurate dead bodies and autopsy/medical examiner scenes).
- In college, it’s because you’re #casually taking 20 units your freshman fall semester (is it weird that I’m genuinely excited for this?!), and even though, yes, your school caps units at 18 per semester…you’re a pre-med, which meas they won’t bat an eye at your 20-22+ unit semesters for the next four years (yay lab units!). And yeah, your GPA matters a lot in med school admissions.
- In med school…well, this is obvious.
- Internship/Residency/Fellowship: You’re on another 48 shift, or the attendings are hogging the on-call rooms again. (It has been brought to my attention that the might start limiting interns’/residents’ work weeks to 80 hours…I have listened to many a seasoned doctor complain about this, as they did 100+ hour weeks in their day.)
- “Coffee isn’t just caffeine. It’s a romance that will last you the rest of your life. When he doesn’t call, coffee will always be there for you. It will love you in a way no man ever will.” (From “25 Things You Should Know Before Starting College“.)
- Oh, and people take you more seriously when you’re holding a cup of coffee.
The Desire for CTRL
What are doctors? Most universally, they are known as nurturers. They belong to the world of healers. Why I focus on the career goal of being a physician among all the medical careers (nurses, nurse practitioners, medical technicians, physician assistants, etc.) is because I realized how much I love fixing, diagnosing, and managing. Through many presidencies and projects and leadership roles in high school, I loved overseeing something: diagnosing what was going on, what needed to be fix, and how to fix things. I wasn’t keen on middle managment (maintaining and doing “upkeep” on a project). I even toyed around with going into law and engineering thoughout high school – but I was never one for defense/prosecution, and I wasn’t too creative and was uncomfortable building new ideas/projects.
I could assess and solve problems, but I wasn’t one to create…stuff. In English classes, timed-writes were always horrendous, but doing revisions or long-term essays – where I was in control, could manage it myself, and assess and reasses drafts and revisions – my best work would come out. Control was in seeing everything around a situation, taking them all in – in respect to one another, dissection the ideas and foundations that was apart of it all, and coming out of the chaos with something that could work.
Check These Out
“The Gunner Song” (Thrift Shop Parody) by students from the Harvard School of Medicine/Harvard School of Dental Medicine
Thought Catalog’s “The Different Types Of Pre-Meds You Will Meet” by Matthew Lin
“Why You Should Not Go To Medical School – A Gleefully Biased Rant” by Ali Binazir
“The Road to Becoming a Doctor” and “Timeline for Application/Admission to Medical School” from the Association of American Medical Colleges
The AMSA National Pre-Medical & Pre-Health National Conference (I attended the conference in 2012 and to this day still reference my notes from the speakers’ lectures, admissions panels, and workshops.) This site also has videos from past workshops and keynote speakers!