I am currently a freshman at community college and first generation to go to college. My goal is to pursue medicine, but I dont have anyone to talk to about it. I was wondering if you can give me any advice in how to advance in my journey towards medical school as an undergraduate. What are the things you did? I would appreciate any feedback.

Congratulations on being the first generation to go to college! I know your family must be very proud. Hold that dear to you. Their encouragement will help you through the next four years as you challenge yourself, find yourself, consume your time with attempts to fill up your resume, take your MCAT, apply for medical school, walk across a stage holding a college degree, and hopefully matriculate into medical school.

Since you say you’re in community college, I’m assuming you’re trying to do some of your core classes and move on to a university. Take this time to learn how to study in college, how to take tests, how to deal with independence and organize yourself. See if you can volunteer. Find a hospital, your local clinic, hospice centers, psychiatric centers. Volunteering doesn’t have to be entirely medically related. You can work at a food bank, with refugees services, in homeless shelters-whatever will get you interacting with people, whatever you’ll find fulfilling. This serves two things-your medical school application has a volunteer section that you’re required to fill out, and volunteering will start building your empathy.

Have you decided on a major yet? That’s the next thing I want to discuss. Many pre-meds get stuck in a rut where they believe they have to do a science major. I personally majored in Biochemistry. You can, if you wish to, but if you’re passionate about another major, or want to have a different perspective, feel free to choose otherwise. You don’t have to be a science major to get into medical school. The only thing you need is to take pre-requisite classes, which include science and math. Look up the medical schools you want to apply to and see the courses they require. Take those courses, make sure you do as well as you can in them, but do not stress yourself out by choosing a major you’re not interested in. Whatever major you choose though, watch your GPA. Sadly it’s one of those things that are really important, but don’t feel discouraged if you don’t have a perfect 4.0 (I sure didn’t).

In university there will be many student organizations. Join a pre-medical one that suits you. They’ll offer volunteering opportunities, leadership opportunities, bring speakers from different medical schools, introduce you to other people who are aspiring physicians. They’ll be a support group for you, give you tips on professors you should take, classes you should avoid, schedules you need to tweak because you’re crazy for taking eighteen hours of science (I’ve been there). Join whichever other organization you want. Be active in it, give it your all. This is where you start growing and giving back and start rounding yourself as a person.

A lot of pre-med students do some research. This one is a bit harder and requires a lot of time. There are research summer programs you can do, but the best thing is to email professors who have projects going on and ask if you can work in their lab. Make sure you understand the project-this so happens to be a go-to question for interviewers. If you don’t like lab research, it’s okay. There’s a whole bunch of types of research out there. Find one that suits you.

Of course there’s shadowing. This is often the most dreaded because it seems to be the hardest one to find, especially if you’re the only person you know pursuing medicine. It’s also one of the most crucial-how can you know if you’re truly interested in medicine if you’ve never seen the day-to-day workings? Ask your PCP, any doctor your family sees, to shadow. If they say no lookup a directory of doctors near you and start calling down the list until someone says yes. Physicians generally tend to help if a student asks, so don’t be afraid to ask.

You’ll do this for a while, then become a junior. It’ll be tough, juggling studying and volunteering and research and shadowing but if you really, truly wish to pursue medicine it will be worth it. As a junior this is where the monster comes in-taking your MCAT. If you can take a prep course, they make studying so much easier, but if that’s not the best way for you to study it’s completely fine to buy books. The key to the MCAT is practice. That’s all it is. Do question after question, take practice test after practice test, until you’re confident in your ability to do decent. That’s all. Decent. You don’t have to do perfect. It’s a hard test that pushes you physically, mentally, emotionally so don’t let it drain you. Do your best. You’ll be fine. Take it as early as possible so that you can apply as early as possible. Applications start opening May of Junior year. Submit your application as soon as you can, a lot of medical schools are on a rolling basis. Then sit back, enjoy all the work you’ve done and the accomplishments you’ve had, and hope you get an interview.

Now I hope as you’ve made your way through this e-mail that I haven’t caused you too much anxiety. It’s a lot, I know. But you should be familiarized with a very popular term in the medical community: delayed gratification. It’s the concept that everything comes in due time. You’ll see peers around you goofing off, having fun, partying it up, doing whatever college students do, when you’re going to be stuck in the library studying organic chemistry or biochemistry or genetics. Find a balance, between studying and friends and fun and family, but realize there are sacrifices you’re going to make. Whether these sacrifices are worth it are up to you, but I can tell you from my position they are definitely worth it. This is not to say that you’re not going to have fun in your college years. You will. But your fun might be defined slightly more differently than a non pre-med, and it’s absolutely okay. I use to remind myself to take it a day at a time. I didn’t think about what I had to do a month from now, a year from now, as long as I could do what I need to accomplish that day. Whenever you’re starting to feel overwhelmed, just take a deep breath. You can do it. You’ve already made it this far.

Remember how I mentioned how your family must be very proud of you? They’ll be rooting you on your way. Medicine is a marathon.

I tried to keep it general to cover as much as possible-if you have any more specific questions please let me know I’ll happily go more in-depth!

Wishing you all the best on your journey,

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