As pre-med students we are expected to achieve a great deal. We need to have a multitude of community service hours. Serve as a leader on our campus and in our community. Get straight A’s and maintain a 4.0. Oh, and facilitate world peace while we are at it. When is it enough? Medical schools have changed over the years. It is no longer all about academics. As my advisor put it, “They are looking for well-rounded people, not robots.” I walked out of there thinking, “So I’m considered a robot?”
I did not know I had to be Superman to get into med school. Heck, I didn’t even know I needed a bachelor’s degree, since I started out at community college to complete most of my basic requirements. Gradually, I learned what was required by going to several of my dream med schools’ websites and looking at the criteria. “Is every school this way?” I asked. I didn’t think I would be fortunate enough to get into an elite school, so are all medical colleges this strict? The answer is yes, sort of. All schools have their own set of requirements, although the general requirements are very similar across all 144 U.S. MD-granting medical schools. Requirements are not strictly based on your test scores or GPA. There are a lot of factors that contribute into making you a successful or competitive applicant.
I’m here to enlighten those who are feeling just as lost as I once was. To tell you the truth I’m still a little lost. But now I know just getting a bachelor’s in biology won’t cut it. (Note: you can major in anything you want. You are not limited to a science degree or any other specific degree.) Therefore, to enhance my application for medical school I have started volunteering a few hours every Saturday this semester. Now, I would suggest if you haven’t started volunteering yet, start looking for places where you might enjoy spending your time. If you aren’t able to find a volunteer position on campus, you may be able to find opportunities in your hometown. I found my position through my love for the environment at my local birding center. It has been a great experience for me. I believe the team that I work with has made an impact in our community by conserving and preserving the beautiful land here in South Texas. It’s important to learn where you want to spend your time, be able mange your time, and learn your limitations so you don’t take on too much.
After you start volunteering, it is important to keep a record of your hours. I created a sheet with the institution’s name, my name, what I did that day, and the hours completed. I have it signed every time I go. It is an easy way to help me remember everything I’ve done, which will be helpful when the time comes to fill out the AMCAS activities section, write my admission essay, and talk about my experiences during interviews. Start out with small commitments, then do more as you get comfortable and learn what you can handle. Investing your time to a good cause may lead to more opportunities for a greater position at that or another organization. What is important is to show that not only did you participate over a sustained period of time, but that you grew from the experience and so did your role from when you began volunteering there.
In addition to volunteering in my community, I’m working on getting more involved on campus. During the fall semester, most school organizations open for new recruits. Join something your passionate about. Such as the biology club, pre-med organization, environmental club, you name it. Start volunteering for responsibilities and with time you can climb up the ladder and become an important part of the organization. Don’t get discouraged if you are trying to get into an organization and it becomes a lengthy process. Currently, I’m trying to land a spot at a shadowing program at a local free, low income clinic in my hometown. Don’t be surprised if you are asked for background checks, especially if you want to spend time with children. Picking a place to share my free time has been extremely difficult for me because I want to help and be involved with everything. I finally narrowed my list to two organizations and I’m doing my best to make sure I can balance them with my heavy fall schedule. I am confident that I will learn and grow from these experiences.
Most importantly I’m making time to study. In addition to having experience, medical schools want to see that you are able to master difficult upper-level information and course work. They are looking to see that an applicant can be well rounded, participate in clubs or sports or research or volunteer opportunities while still performing well academically.
As pre-med students, we don’t have to be some mythical superhero, but we can try our very best to achieve all that we can. We are human, after all. It’s important to learn how to balance all of these activities. Being able to handle competing responsibilities is part of being a physician. Although it may seem like a long time from now, our time is coming soon. Start researching the medical schools you think you might be interested in and look into their requirements so you can prepare yourself accordingly. Are you already a sophomore or a junior? It’s not too late. You can start now and make a difference. Everyone’s timeline is different and that’s okay. What will get us through it is our dedication to achieve our goals and dreams. I am 22 and I feel sometimes like I barely have my act together. It is alright to start late, what is not alright is not to have started at all. This path we have taken requires thick skin, sometimes we are going to feel like we are not good enough. But we are! It takes courage and dedication to go down this road. Now keep it going my fellow future docs!
About Stephanie Cantu
Stephanie Cantu is from El Paso, TX and is now a sophomore at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. She is a Pre-Med Biology major with a minor in Spanish and Chemistry. She is the first of her family to attend to a university. She volunteers at La Quinta Mazatlan where she protects the local environment. She is in the process of getting more involved in her new community and school. She is on a new and mysterious road where she has been doubted if she can succeed. She proves them wrong as she will become a junior in the spring where she will be taking the remainder of her biology courses.