Although most of your pre-med experiences will take place during your undergrad, you don’t have to wait until you start college to begin gaining skills and knowledge that will help you in your future medical career. Here’s a list of steps you can take that will help you prepare for a career in medicine before you even start your undergrad.
Take your high school science classes seriously.
Undergraduate pre-med requirements include classes in biology, chemistry, psychology, physics, and more. Although you won’t be able to use high school classes to count towards these requirements—often even if you receive AP credit,—you can use high school science classes to build a strong foundation for your college pre-med classes. If you do well in your high school science classes, you’ll be more comfortable in your undergraduate science classes, which are the ones that will count for medical school applications.
Do your research
When you were younger you might have said that you wanted to be a doctor when you grow up. But now that you’re getting a little closer to beginning your medical studies, you should do some research to learn more about what kind of doctor you’d like to be. If you don’t know yet, that’s okay! You won’t need to make a decision about your specialty until well into medical school, and you’ll likely change your mind a few times before then. But there are many, many different opportunities in medicine, and having some idea of what you’d like to pursue will help guide your studies. Consider what about being a doctor appeals to you. Is it...
- funded research opportunities?
- long-lasting doctor-patient relationships?
- the excitement of saving lives in an ER or ICU?
Depending on what interests you, you might choose to be a medical researcher at a university hospital, a family medicine provider, or an emergency medicine or internal medicine doctor in a hospital.
Get shadowing experience
Once you have an idea of what medical subspecialties might interest you, look for shadowing opportunities. Ideally these opportunities would come through people you already know; perhaps your own doctor, or family members or friends working in medicine. If this isn’t an option, though, you can always call nearby doctors offices or hospitals and ask if there are any doctors willing to let you shadow them. Many doctors have experience being shadowed, so it’s often not an inconvenience for them to have you tag along for the day. That being said, you should give them plenty of notice so they can plan for you to come on a convenient day.
Here are some ways to make a good impression while you shadow:
- Don’t be late. Doctors have busy schedules, and to be respectful of their time you should arrive early.
- Come prepared with some questions. You’ll likely have some time to chat with the doctor about his/her profession in between patients, and you should use this opportunity to learn as much as you can about being a doctor.
- Be fully present. Turn off your phone and take notes.
- Dress professionally. You may be given scrubs to wear, depending on where you’re shadowing, but if not, err on the side of business casual (with comfortable shoes!).
Keep in mind that these shadowing hours won’t count towards the amount of hours medical schools expect you to have; however, it’s worth it to pursue shadowing opportunities just for the experience.
Get volunteer experience
Look for volunteer opportunities that align with your interests. Don’t worry right now if the service opportunities you find aren’t medical, since these community service hours won’t count for your medical school applications, anyway. The most important thing is to find something you enjoy and stick with it for a while. Volunteering will make you more well-rounded, give you leadership opportunities, and show that you’re interested in helping others—all things medical schools like to see in an applicant.
Get clinical experience
While you’ll need official clinical experience with patients to be a competitive medical school applicant, for now it’s enough to focus on getting familiar with medical techniques and medical facilities. Whether you’re working with actual patients or practicing sutures and surgical knots on an orange, early hands-on medical experience will help you get a feel for the medical field. You could choose to get certified as a CNA or EMT, which would put you in direct contact with patients in a medical setting, or volunteer in clinics, nursing homes, or hospitals. Another option for clinical experience is a pre-med summer program. Many universities and other organizations have immersive week-long (or longer!) programs in which high school students spend time on a college campus attending classes by medical school faculty, participating in labs and dissections, and learning about medical school.
Decide what degree(s) you want and where you want to get your undergrad
While there are several BA and BS/MD programs in the U.S., most pre-med students get a bachelor’s degree and then apply to medical school separately. It’s a common misconception that in order to qualify for medical school you need to get a science major. As long as you complete the medical school prerequisites, you can major in anything! In fact, medical schools often like to see that applicants are well-rounded—that means that if you want to major in Art History and supplement your studies with your pre-med requirements, you might stand out more than applicants who focused solely on science.