“To solve a difficult problem in medicine, don’t study it directly, but rather pursue a curiosity about nature and the rest will follow. Do basic research.” — Roger Kornberg, PhD
We all have dreams, but doctors it seems have callings.
If you feel like you have the calling to work in the field of medicine then chances are you do. Being a doctor takes curiosity, compassion, tenacity, and grit as well as of course, a ton of preparation.
Sure, it’s tricky to get into med school, and becoming a doctor is a long process. However, with the necessary preparation, you too can achieve your goals. If you’re looking to create a plan to help you prepare for a pre-med degree, then you’ve come to the right spot. So grab a pen and paper or open a document and start to form out your map to success.
In this course we help you cover everything you can do right now while in high school to help prepare you for your future as a doctor.
Why Do I Need to Prepare for A Pre-Med Degree?
Pre-Med is what you will focus on as an undergraduate before applying to med school. As you can see, if you want to be a doctor you are playing the long game with regards to your career. Not everyone will have the grit and tenacity to pursue their career for this long.
The process of becoming a doctor alone weeds out the people who are capable of the profession and those who are not. Let’s do the math.
Undergraduate degree in pre-med or related discipline: 4 years
Med school: 3-4 years
Residency: 3-7 years.
Total: 10-15 years.
This profession requires a long-term commitment to the field! And that is exactly what med schools seek to determine when making their selection- do you have what it takes to complete programming? Are you passionate enough to do the work of a doctor?
This is why a plan in high school is a very wise decision. You’re learning to play the long-game.
What does it mean to play the long game?
When you have a long-term goal in mind it is difficult to get there for any person no matter what their age. Life throws a lot of distractions our way and it is very easy to get swept up by those distractions. Some of them feel really important and we live in a world where distractions are everywhere. The sooner you learn to engage your executive functions, ignore distractions and stay focused on the end goal, the better off you will be in the end. The application of this practice is called grit. Grit is the essential ingredient to success. Listen to Angela Duckworth talk about the topic.
“Grit is sticking with your future day in and day out. Not just for the week. Not just for a month, but for years.” – Angela Duckworth
And this is why it is essential to have a plan when preparing for your career as a doctor.
Great, now we know that we need a plan and that preparation is a keystone habit to form in order to have success. But what skills do you need to prepare for a pre-med degree?
Let’s take a look.
Three Essentials to Prepare You For A Pre-Med Degree
The Ability to Take College-Level Classes- medicine is an academic pursuit as much as it is a calling. While in high school you can prepare yourself for what is required from a college level course by taking advanced placement (AP) classes. AP classes are similar to college classes in terms of rigor. They also require a final examination much like a college level course often requires a comprehensive exam. AP classes also require that students invest a significant amount of time learning the material and depending on the class itself may require much more reading than other non-AP classes.
Another way to prepare for college level classes is to engage with much more reading. Most college classes expect you to be able to “argue” a case or present a few academic perspectives. This requires a ton of reading- far more than most high school level classes. Get in the habit of looking for related reading. Ask your teachers to make recommendations for articles and books related to the subject you’re learning. Try your hand at some independent research. All of these skills are essential for when it is time to sign up for college classes.
Do Meaningful Volunteer Work- Meaningful volunteer work. We didn’t say volunteer work, we said meaningful volunteer work. Start a campaign as a volunteer to help create change in your community. Maybe you want to raise awareness about diabetes prevention or maybe you want other teens to be interested in healthy cooking. Perhaps you want to see that underdeveloped parts of the world have better access to clean water, vaccination, probiotics, or other health-promoting essentials. Whatever it is, as long as it is meaningful to you, then pursue it.
Do not, however, waste your time with volunteer work that you are not passionate about. It just sucks up your hours and contributes very little if anything to a college entrance essay. You are far more likely to create an essay or message to a university about your value as a student if you have engaged with meaningful volunteer work than if you just chose to say, babysit someone’s house fern.
The more connected your volunteer choices are to pre-med and med school, the better use of your time. And remember, your time is valuable. It is today and always will be.
Pro Tip: Volunteer at a Hospital. As a medical student you are going to spend a lot of time there so you might as well get used to it.
Here’s an insider’s perspective on volunteering in a hospital as a teenager:
Demonstrate Qualities that Med Schools Care About-
First of all, how do you figure out which qualities med school cares about?
Let’s take a closer look:
Med schools are looking for someone who is scientifically-minded. You will learn this in pre-med or related undergraduate degrees. Sure you can also demonstrate this through your AP classes but the pre-med degree is where you will gain the additional lab experience and extracurricular opportunities that demonstrate this.
Med Schools are Looking for Someone Who is Professional- You will have to be more than academic to make a great doctor. We all know the old school doctor who didn’t score too high on social awareness. That is no long the type of candidate a med school is interested in admitting. Today doctors are looking for candidates with the following soft skills in tow:
- oral and written communication
- Emotional stability
- Observation skills
Focus your attention on what matters (back to grit) and ignore the nonsense that is getting in your way (there’s a lot of nonsense out there).
What Classes Prepare Me For Pre-Med?
This is taken directly from Stanford University’s School of Medicine Eligibility and Recommendation Requirements:
Biology- How cells are organized to create life and diversity
Chemistry and Physics- chemistry and physics as they apply to living systems.
Physics and Mathematics- Statistics applied to phenomena in the world
Laboratory or Field Experiments- Labs are part of your AP classes as well as the pre-med degree. You need to demonstrate that you understand the process of science and how findings are validated or otherwise.
Communication-Stanford is not the only school that requires students hone their oral and written communication skills. Oral and written communication skills are soft skills required for success in any field or profession. Do not skimp on these skills. You will not succeed in med school or any aspect of life without these essential communication skills.
Become a Top Notch Student
In order to become a top notch student you need practice at it. Luckily contrary to popular belief you don’t need a 4.0 to become a doctor. However you do need something close to that in order to be accepted to the top universities in the country. If that is your goal, work on it systematically.
Start by learning how to study. Sure, you could take the approach where you bring up your grades with extra credit assignments etc., but if you learn how to study then you are going to set yourself up for success and beat the cycle wherein you are always playing catch up.
Evidence-Based Video On How to Study– All of Ali’s videos are fantastic so if you are looking for insights from a Cambridge-trained doctor, look no further than this channel.
Learn New Content- using active recall and spaced repetition. Ali explains it much better but basically you need to force yourself to understand and then remember information and then you need to practice it at timed intervals throughout your study sessions. Pro Tip: Don’t rote learn information (memorize it) focus on understanding the content. When you’ve gotten to a point where you can teach someone else the content that is how you know you have learned it.
So, there is some value in studying with peers but there is particular value in studying with peers to teach them material. If you can teach it, then you have learned it.
Make the Grades- Figure out each of your classes and how they work. Are tests weighted more heavily? Is it most important for you to do each and every homework assignment? Talk to students who have been in the class before and if you feel confident (which you should by now since you are honing your oral communication skills) talk to your teacher about a strategic plan to help you do better.
But most importantly, focus on the details. Take your time with every essay that you write and be meticulous about every sentence and every aspect of your work. Hone and perfect. Those two skills are also a part of grit.
- Be an Angel
- Show up and Shut Up
- Ask Questions Often
Which Major Should I Choose to Get Into Medical School?
The major needs to have
- Bio with lab
- General chemistry with lab
- Organic Chemistry with Lab
- Physics with Lab
- English (see written communication skills appear again- don’t miss them).
The Best Pre Med Majors Proven By Med School Acceptance Data – discusses which majors will maximize your chances of getting into medical school. If you aren’t sure which major to choose, head here to help you make your choice. Here’s a spoiler: grit is more important than the actual choice.
Who Should Be a Doctor?
Someone who really wants to be one. This may sound like a no-brainer but time and again teens are pressured by their parents to become a doctor. This could lead to years of unhappiness leading up to a profession and potential unhappiness in the profession. Yes, doctors make a really good salary but not all of being a doctor is helping people and raking in the dough. A lot of it is problem solving (see below) and paying off student loans as well as other forms of debts (consider malpractice insurance a debt). It takes a lot of school to be a doctor. So you really need to want it to stick with it and apply yourself for that many years consistently.
Someone With Grit. We said it twice already but just in case you weren’t paying attention earlier (we know this stuff can get a touch tedious) you really need to have some grit. After seeing Angela Duckworht’s TED talk on the subject maybe you have been inspired to read her book. Great- do it! Grit Grows (a chapter from her book) and is absolutely a skill that you can learn.
Someone Who Can Solve Problems- It is important to know that med school is not going to cover everything you will need to know on the job as a medical doctor. With chronic disease on the rise medical ailments are complicated and seem to be more so each decade. Chances are you are going to need to research to grow in the field as part of your profession (especially if you work in a university hospital).
Someone Who Cares- Another Important Feature of Being a Doctor and Maybe another no-brainer, but the fact is you need to care to become a great doctor. This job is all too often about prestige or about family pressure (see our first recommendation “someone who really wants to be one”). Caring helps to tie this job to your personal values which will make it much more likely that you can be successful in your career in the long term and get through those tough weeks when you are “not sure why you signed up for this to begin with.”
Learn compassion along the way even if it feels like you are too busy to do so. You’ll want a healthy dose of compassion for others but don’t forget yourself. Becoming a doctor is a long ride and one that is not for the faint of heart.
Not sure you have what it takes to be a doctor? Take a look at a very real video about a common path to becoming a doctor:
How To Prepare for the MCAT
- Grab the Princeton Review content set for the MCAT. You will also be given three online practice exams.
- Take a minimum of 2 months to study for the MCAT. Some people say you can do this in one month but give yourself two. Just do it. You won’t regret taking some extra time.
- Grab the Verbal Practice by Next Step.
- Be extremely thorough. Make sure you can recall information from every subject area.
- Take Practice Tests Regularly- Helps you to check in on where you are and where you need to improve.
Need some more insights? Check out this incredible video on ways to study for the MCAT.
She emphasizes that you know yourself best and that you should find what works for you. We think that learning how to study is essential and that taking the time to learn that process will be exactly what you need to gain acceptance in med school.
For more test prep check out these videos:
This tutor is absolutely amazing and will help you find out how to crush your ACT and SAT scores.
That about wraps it up. Remember becoming a doctor is absolutely a calling. If you feel the urge strongly deep within you and want this and nothing but this more than anything you can possibly imagine then go for it. Becoming a doctor is likely to be among the most rewarding things you can do for your life.
“Difficult Roads Often Lead to Beautiful Destinations.”