As you probably know, the road to becoming a doctor is very long. In college, when I told people that I was “pre-med” they would often ask how long the training was until I was a full fledged doctor. “I stopped counting” I’d say laughing. If they really wanted to know I broke it down to them, which was quickly followed by a, “Oh wow. Well, I couldn’t do it but hey, good for you!” With a pat on the back as if I were crazy for voluntarily working my tail off to be in school for the rest of my 20s and part of my 30s. When I declared pre-med as my major/career path, I knew I would be putting in A LOT of hours behind books and going through different loops and phases until I could finally be able to say,

 

“Hi, I’m Dr. Trotter. What brings you in today?”

 

But as a college student, I knew that wouldn’t be for at least a decade, if not longer (including residency). Rather than being consumed by the never ending studying, exams, and late night pages that I was guaranteed to endure for a long time, I decided to break things up into phases so I could focus on the task at hand.

 

Phase 1: College/Pre-Med Years…”I’m going to be a doctor one day!”

Phase 2: Medical School Years…”What did I get myself into?!”

Phase 3: Residency….”I need sleep.”

 

At that point in my life, I was enduring phase 1: I was a pre-med student-athlete and that was all I was going to worry about, and I encourage you to do the same. Focus on phase 1; the rest will follow when it’s supposed to. Medical schools aren’t going anywhere and residency surely isn’t either. Take it one day at a time and enjoy the ride.

Now onto the meat of this post…

 

If you’ve decided to become a pre-med student then you are ready to open the door to this crazy, overwhelming, long, exciting and very rewarding journey that I call the “blissful maze of doctorhood“. Welcome to the madness!

 

A good habit to learn if you want to be successful is to be assertive. Not aggressive but assertive. If you want something, you have to go get it. Medicine is the perfect example. Being an informed applicant will increase your chances of getting in. How do you get informed? You find the people and the resources that have the information you need. Many of you have never applied to medical school before and may not personally know someone who has. If you have applied before, you must be here because you didn’t get in and you want to know how to get in the next time you apply.

There is always fear in the unknown but you literally have resources at your fingertips (hello, me!) to help you get started. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s easy…start with a simple,

 

“Hi, my name is Alana, and I’m wondering if someone can help me with…”

 

Give it a try. You’d be amazed by how much you can learn from people by simply asking a question. Also, take advantage of the resources at #DoctorGoals; they were made FOR you! The earlier you start “building” your application, the stronger it will be.

 

So, if I were in your shoes…

…knowing what I know now after applying and surviving medical school, these are the first 3 things I would do to jump start my pre-med “career” to maximize my chances of getting into medical school:

 

1. Get a pre-med advisor

Because I had to juggle many schedules each with its own set of requirements, I took full advantage of the advisors provided to me. I had three advisors to ensure that I fullfilled all of my academic and athletic requirements plus my pre-med advisor that I found myself. This was the breakdown (you’ll see why I had so many):

  1. Athletic advisor:assigned to every athlete to ensure we completed enough credits/semester to be eligible to compete

  2. Biology advisor: assigned to ensure I was fulfilling all requirements to complete this major

  3. Afro-American Studies advisor: assigned to ensure I was fulfilling all requirements to complete this major

  4. Pre-med advisor: I took it upon myself to find an advisor who had experience working with pre-med students to ensure I was informed, fulfilled requirements specific to applying to medical school, and was my “go-to” person for advice/questions specific to the application process.

Now, you do NOT need to have four advisors like I did. As you can see, most of them were assigned to me due to the fact that I was an athlete with two majors. I was lucky and the advisors I were assigned to were pretty helpful. But if they weren’t, I absolutely would go out of my way to find a good one.  Valuable advice goes a long way! There is nothing worse than being steered in the wrong direction. That is why I took it upon myself to find a helpful and reliable pre-med advisor.

I wanted to put myself in the best position to get into medical school, so I found an “academic coach”, someone to guide me and offer useful advice. And that is exactly what I encourage you to do.

 

Benefits of having a pre-med advisor:

  • This process is new to you but not to them. They’ve worked with pre-med students before (make sure of that first) and know what works and what doesn’t.

  • They are a great resource when you have specific questions about pre-med requirements and courses offered at your institution. When should you take organic chemistry? Are you overloading your schedule? Are you on track to apply during your senior year (if you’re a traditional student)?

  • You can ask them about great extracurricular activities offered at your institution that you may not have known about.

  • They’ll get to know you and your strengths and weakness, and they can offer advice accordingly. Think of them as your academic “coach”.

  • As they get to know you over time, they can actually serve as a great letter writer for you. That’s what I did; two of my letters came from “advisors”, one was my Afro-American Studies advisor and the other was my basketball coach. Of course, my coach is not an academic advisor but you can easily say she was my “athletic advisor” who knew me personally. In fact, she was the coach who put me through rigorous individual workouts when I came in before practice and on my off days. Who better to get a letter from than from someone who saw you start as a walk-on transfer to a scholarship team captain.

  • When in doubt, ask your advisor!

 

Convinced yet? Even if you aren’t, I still highly recommend it. It will be worth it in the long run.

 

2. Plan out your (tentative) academic schedule + goal MCAT date

Tentative Academic Schedule

You need to fulfill the requirements to complete your major, graduate from your university, and complete the pre-medicine requirements to apply to medical school. This can be an overwhelming task because this is new to you. So where do you start? Ask your advisor! (See, I told you they’d be helpful). Take full advantage of the resources provided to you directly and indirectly:

  • Meet with your advisor assigned to by your institution to get an overview of what needs to be done in order to graduate (number of credits, what the minimum/maximum number of credits you can and should take per semester, etc.). Also, make sure to get an idea of when the required courses are offered at your institution. If a course is only offered during the spring semester, you should take that into consideration and adjust your schedule accordingly to stay on track.

  • Meet with your pre-medicine advisor and ask him/her how previous pre-medicine students have scheduled their pre-medicine courses. Discuss which courses you can take together and which ones you shouldn’t. It’s good to have an idea of which of the pre-medicine courses will be the hardest and most demanding, which courses require weekly labs, etc.

  • Look up the pre-medicine pre-requirements. There are required courses and “strongly recommended” courses. You should know what these are to appropriately plan out your tentative schedule Start with the required; those you have to do. If you have time or personal interest in the other subjects then by all means, take advantage of broadening your science breadth. But keep things simple and don’t overwhelm yourself. This journey is hard enough!

  • Ask your friends and colleagues. As you go through the pre-medicine courses, you’ll start to see familiar faces. Ask them if they are pre-medicine and ask if they’ve taken any courses you have yet to take. You may find out that a particular course requires a lot of studying (organic chemistry) so you shouldn’t overwhelm yourself that semester. That’s smart planning!

  • Consider taking a summer course. Of course, it’s no fun to be studying during the beautiful summer sun and be inside a lab when you could be on a beach. But hey, welcome to the world of sacrificing. Why should you consider taking a summer course?

    • You decided to apply to medical school later on in your college career and are “behind”.

    • You weren’t able to take a certain pre-med course in the spring and it is not offered in the fall and you want to take this course before preparing for the MCAT.

    • You want to get ahead.

    • You’re an athlete or some other obligation that makes scheduling classes difficult. It was hard to schedule classes that had a required lab because I was usually in practice or traveling during that time. How did I solve this? I always took a summer course. Yup, every single summer in college I took a pre-med course. You do what you have to do.

 

Note: I said “tentative” because I want you to be flexible (one of my hardest lessons to learn in life…just ask Mama T). Things pop up in life. One of my most favorite quotes is, “Humans make plans and God laughs.” Religious or not, it shows that a lot in life is out of your control. But you should be aware of your goals, requirements, and goal dates so you can adjust accordingly and stay on track.

 

Goal MCAT Date

Having a goal MCAT date helps you plan your schedule accordingly. If you want to take the MCAT the summer between your junior and senior year, then you should aim for completing all of the pre-med requirements and organize your schedule such that that summer is wide open for preparing and taking the MCAT.

Remember, this is just a goal date; it can change. But try to set a realistic goal date. Never schedule the MCAT to “get it over with”. You need to be prepared. Unfortunately, the MCAT is the “heart” of you application and you don’t want to go into cardiac arrest.

 

What should be your goal date? That depends on different factors:

  • When you will complete your pre-med courses

  • When you have a light schedule

  • When you plan on applying to medical school

  • If you want to give yourself enough time that year to re-take the MCAT…just in case!

  • When you think you’ll be ready

 

What NOT to do:

  • Do NOT be pressured into taking it. A common time is the spring, particularly April. April is not the “MCAT month”. April is…April! If you aren’t ready to take it in April, or the Spring for that matter, don’t take. Medical schools will see each and every MCAT score.

  • Do NOT sit for the exam before you’ve taken at least one practice MCAT (ideally more).

  • Do NOT schedule the exam during a time frame when you normally don’t study. You should practice (study) to mimic your test settings and environment to the “T”. (You ever wonder where that saying comes from…”to the T” Why not “to the B”? If anyone knows let me know lol.) For example, I cannot stand afternoon exams. I prefer to get the exam over with first thing in the morning so that is when I scheduled it.

 

When did I take the MCAT?

Because I was a collegiate athlete and the traveling basketball season went from the fall to the spring, I decided it was best for me to take the MCAT during the summer (mid-August) when I was not traveling and could focus on solely studying for the MCAT (minus summer workouts that took place Monday – Friday and took up half of my day; that’s right, training never ends).

 

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3. Get involved!

Broken record alert! The MCAT and the GPA will be two key components of your medical school application. BUT! That is not all that admissions committees look at. In fact, what you do outside of the classroom is looked at heavily. Medical schools don’t want robots who recite diagnosis and can tell you how many bones are in the human body (206); they want well-rounded, personable candidates who can not only retain a SIGNIFICANT amount of information but also serve as excellent physicians.

Also, they want to know that you truly know what you’re getting yourself into. There are many misconceptions and stigmas about the field of medicine that can make it very appealing ($$$). Yes, being a doctor is an honorable and highly respected position but it comes with its drawbacks. To put it simply:

 

It. Is. Hard.

 

And I don’t mean it’s hard for a year and you’re dancing through a field of daisies. Yeah, right! The journey to becoming a doctor is a LONG, challenging road and being a doctor is hard. So medical schools want to know that you understand what you’re getting yourself into and that you are truly passionate about the field, for it is that passion that will get you through studying 8+ hours a day as a medical student and the frequent call days that will haunt you as a resident. (Did somebody hear a pager go off?)

 

Here are some great things to get involved i.e. application boosters:

(Note: This list is not comprehensive but these are some of the most common activities that the 30+ medical students and residents that I consulted did prior to applying)

  • Research! (Do you have to? Refer to the Top 5 Application Boosters resource guide for explanation)

  • Volunteering

    • Free clinics

    • hospitals

    • Boys and Girls club

    • Ronald McDonald House

  • Work experience

    • Scribe (great option, see below)

    • EMT

    • Nurse

    • Teaching assistant

    • Tutor

  • International experiences

    • Definitely not mandatory as this can be difficult to setup due to time and expenses. Although, if you have the opportunity to go abroad, go for it! I went to Kenya during college and it was life changing! More on that later…

  • Leadership roles

    • Student organizations

    • Team captain of a collegiate sport

  • College athletics (my angle!)

  • Shadowing physicians

 

Note about being a scribe:

This was not common when I was applying, or at least I didn’t know about it, but I think working as a scribe is a GREAT option. Here’s why:

  1. Medical experience: You are working right in the heart of medicine either in an emergency department, hospital, or clinic. This is a great way to get another view of medicine to see if this is really for you. Plus, it’s a “medical experience” that you can list on your application.

  2. You work personally with a physician. What better way to get a letter of recommendation!

  3. You get paid! An income is ALWAYS good, especially for students who will apply to medical school. As you saw on the Start Here page, applying to medical school is expense. Any income can help offset that blow. Get that piggy bank started!

 

 

Bonus Tip: Find a “big sib”

One thing I liked about my medical school was that in the beginning of our first year, we were paired with a second year medical student to serve as your “big sib”. In theory, they were to help “guide” you as you transition into the rigors of medical school. I actually didn’t use my assigned big sib as I became friends with another second year who gave me awesome advice so I “adopted” her. Before every new block as a M1/M2 and before every rotations as a M3/M4, I contacted her (in addition to a couple other upperclassmen I befriended) to ask for advice. They’ve been through courses already and can tell you how to succeed and what not to do. Many of you guys don’t know a medical student personally so may feel lost and overwhelmed. If that’s the case, I’ll be your big sib! Be sure to submit your questions to the Ask Trot Podcast and I’ll do my best to help you out.

If you do know a medical student, be sure to reach out to them. It never hurts to ask for help and to see what worked (and what didn’t work) for them.

Stay fresh!

Dr. Trot