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Pre-med Survival Guide

By: Natalie Dixon

In 2008, only 45.6 percent of medical school applicants were accepted into at least one school.  Although most laymen know how rigorous medical school curriculum, many people do not realize building a resume and being accepted into a medical school is just as difficult, if not more so.  Students beginning their undergraduate education often have no idea how they can increase their chances to be accepted to medical school.  A pre-med student must stay informed about medical school admissions processes and current issues in medicine such as the Affordable Healthcare Act.  Not only is the information useful during the interview process, but it can also spur academic debates and thirst for knowledge in the future physician.

Though freshman year may seem less crucial than the following years, it is critical that students have a strong foundation GPA.  While medical schools generally look for an upward trend in grades, a high GPA in introductory classes will allow room for the occasional lower score in much more difficult, upper-level classes such as organic chemistry and genetics.  Also, medical schools average the scores from each class taken more than once, resulting in a low GPA even with an excellent score the second time a class is taken.  Though each student needs time to relax and unwind from the stressful environment of college, classes should never be taken too lightly.  College should be treated like a job; only students who put in quality work and time will succeed in the long run.

Another important point of freshman year is getting involved on campus in extracurricular activities.  One common perception is that in order to be accepted to medical school, a student must be a member of an inordinate amount of “prestigious” clubs. While medical admissions committees may be impressed by a student’s ability to balance a large amount of clubs and classes, a student would portray his true self by choosing a few clubs and activities about which he is truly passionate.  Whether the extracurricular activity is a mission trip to Uganda to participate in clinics for underprivileged children or participation in a club ultimate Frisbee team, one key element that admissions committees will consider when reviewing a student is the amount of commitment to the activity, leadership and ability to work together with a team.  When becoming involved with a club, a pre-medical student is more wise to choose something that truly interests him rather than a stereotypical “medical” group.

Sophomore year is roughly a continuation of freshman year activities, with a slightly more intense course load.  A student should remain active in his chosen extracurricular activities and apply for leadership roles.  The most important characteristic of the second year of undergraduate study is securing recommendation letters from professors.  One of the best ways to develop a relationship with a professor is by attending office hours. This gesture will emphasize to the professor that the student is dedicated to a genuine understanding of the material.  Also, the time spent in office hours will give the professor a more personal relationship with the student, which will allow him to write the student a more sincere letter of recommendation.

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 A second crucial part of the sophomore year of pre-medical study is shadowing a physician.  Students should research local physicians and contact those in their desired specialty.  Several different types of medically-related activities are available for interested students: one could shadow a physician, volunteer at a hospital or in a local clinic, apply for an internship at a local physician’s office or complete undergraduate research with a professor.  A student should choose these activities according to his individual desires and goals; the key property of a good activity is the student’s genuine interest in the program and intellectual stimulation to learn more about medicine.  Even if the student believes that he knows which branch of medicine he would like to specialize in, he should try to attain as many shadowing hours as possible to illustrate an overarching interest in the field of medicine.

During the fall of a student’s second year as a pre-medical undergraduate, the student should consider applying for a summer program.  Summer is a very important time for students to become more involved with the medical field.  One possible activity is research.  Though the idea of becoming involved with undergraduate research may seem daunting, UGA provides a large number of active research projects.  A curious student simply needs to email the principal investigator of research that interests him and inquire about undergraduate positions.  Professors welcome interest in their research and will always give a student a chance to work with them if possible.  Even if denied for research, a student should not give up but rather continue searching for interesting projects and inquiring towards undergraduate positions.

Junior year is traditionally the most difficult year in a pre-medical undergraduate student’s career.  This year is the time in which a student must bring all of his resume activities together, take the MCAT and apply to medical schools.  Beginning in the fall, students should consider taking an MCAT preparatory course to review all of the necessary material.  The MCAT is traditionally taken during the spring of junior year for pre-medical students; a student should schedule his test early to ensure a seat.  Keep in mind that MCAT scores are released 30 days from the test date; therefore, the test should be taken at least one month in advance of any application deadlines.

A solid resume is an often-overlooked part of a medical school application.  Though it may be tempting to write down every award received and every extracurricular, a student should remember that a resume is meant to be “a brief account of one’s professional or work experience and qualifications.”  The word resume literally means a summary.  Only the most important and influential facts should be kept on one’s resume.  A pre-medical student could benefit greatly from attending a resume workshop, which are held regularly by the UGA Career Center.

Another important aspect of the application process is the writing of a personal statement.  The personal statement is a short essay usually around 250 words in which a student describes himself to the admissions committee.  It should “function as both an essay and an advertisement.”  Admissions faculty may read more than fifty applications per day; therefore, a student must work hard to make himself stand out from the other applicants.  The best way for a student to approach a personal statement essay is to be genuine, sincere, and mature while describing life experiences that lead him to be motivated to become a physician.  The student must spend a good amount of time developing his statement and ought to have as many people read it as possible.

During the fourth year, the student should focus on remaining prepared to begin study at a medical school.  Opportunities to mentor and lead other undergraduates are plentiful on the UGA campus and would allow a student to share any insight he gained over the course of his undergraduate study.  Once a student finishes applying to medical schools, he must prepare for interviews.  Several different medical clubs on campus provide “mock-interview” opportunities in which a student can practice responding to common interview questions.  The most important things to consider when attending an interview is to dress formally and be genuine.  Admissions committees use the interview as a tool to perceive a student’s personality, aptitude, and fit for their respective school.

Once a student has decided which medical school he would like to attend, he must continue his hard work until graduation.  Hard work put in during senior year taking upper level science courses will pay off during the first year of medical school.