Anyone aspiring to become a doctor, or who’s close to an aspiring doctor, knows that it takes a lot of hard work and dedication. You’re constantly worrying about your GPA, looking for research opportunities and health-related experiences, participating in any event that could set you apart from your peers and make you a more competitive applicant, and dealing with the normal day-to-day stresses of being a college student.
I came from Syria three years ago due to the political situation. The medical school process there is extremely different. During my three years in the U.S., I have found that catching up to the students who have spent their whole lives preparing for a U.S. medical school is exhausting, but definitely possible. There are many resources out there to help students understand the steps they can take in order to reach medical school admissions. I have spent hours reading articles and watching videos by medical students, trying to plan my path to medical school admissions. After much research, I have a few tips I learned from my own experiences to share with you all:
1. Don’t wait. As soon as you know you want to pursue medical school, start looking for medically-related opportunities. This includes volunteering or getting a job at a health clinic, hospital or medical institution, getting involved in research, and determining the mentors you are going to ask for a guidance and possibly a recommendation letter. (Tip: Be sure to consider other health professions offices such as physical or occupational therapy which will also give you experience in a medically-related environment.)
2. Be creative. Many medical schools look for students with new perspectives. That means students from different majors, with unique experiences, and diverse background stories. You don’t need to major in biology or chemistry. You can major where your interests lie while still fulfilling the medical school prerequisites.
3. Become a leader. Perhaps you can start your own club, or project, or work your way up to a leadership position on campus. Developing leadership skills is essential in any career; however, is it especially important if you plan to become a doctor. Patients need their doctors to have these skills in order to receive the care they require and deserve.
4. Establish connections. Go to any and all pre-med or healthcare-related events that you have time for. It is important to establish connections with people in the field. If a medical school has an open seminar, attend it. If there is a research day at your university, participate in it. If there’s a local health professions or medical school fair, attend it. Talk to professors, mentors, students, and advisors. You can never know enough people. With these connections you will have access to so much information and so many valuable tips that could potentially lead to you receiving that acceptance letter.
5. Have fun. It is a long road to becoming a physician, so don’t forget to go out and enjoy yourself every once and a while. A night out with friends or family can really help you feel motivated and refreshed the next day. And when you’re motivated, you will be able to do so much more.
These tips have helped me catch up to my peers in a relatively short amount of time and reach a level in my education that I am proud of. Hopefully, they will also help you reach your ultimate goal of becoming a physician and helping people lead a better life.
About Susan Alsharif
Susan Alsharif is a junior studying family and consumer nutrition services (FCNS) with an emphasis in individual and family development, with a minor in biology, at Northern Illinois University (NIU). She is currently working as the undergraduate research assistant in the chemistry and biochemistry department at NIU investigating the effects of anthocyanins on the aging of retinal pigment epithelial cells. Growing up in Syria, Susan always dreamed of becoming a doctor. Due to the extreme process of medical school in Syria, as well as her personal situation, she did not believe it was possible for her to attain her dream. However, once she moved to the U.S., she realized her dream was possible again. Through hard work and dedication, she hopes to become a pediatrician, travel to third world countries and help the children in need by teaching them as well as treating them.