The ‘my premed journey’ series is going to be a series where I share my journey to medical school – the ups and downs. I wish I had started blogging about this journey earlier because I could’ve to share how I got here. Many of you who follow this blog or my Instagram are still in that premed leg of the journey and I want you to know that no one ends up here without many bumps in the road. I hope that you may find inspiration here and that it serves as a reminder that it’s all going to be okay.
As I’ve shared before, I definitely was not one of those people who went into college ‘knowing’ that I wanted to be a doctor when I grew up. Both my parents attended med school and encouraged me to do the same – but when you’re 17, you hardly do what your parents ask of you. I resisted the idea for a long time when I was younger but every time I tried to think of what else I could potentially do with my life, nothing else seemed all that interesting. I loved photography and writing, but I knew that I would lose my passion for it if I tried to make a career out of it. I loved public health work but I wanted to know more of the science behind disease mechanisms in addition to studying the epidemiology.
I was in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program in high school, which was integrated with the AP classes and I absolutely loved it. I loved the ‘family’ kind of environment we had since many of us had been in the same classes from seventh grade until graduation. We all took the same classes and as someone very introverted, I greatly appreciated being surrounded by familiar and supportive people. My teachers really challenged us to think about what we were learning and be critical of the ‘norms’ of society. I read A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn as a part of my AP U.S. History class and that’s really when I started thinking more critically. We had an entire class on Latin American history and that really broadened my understanding of our world. We had the same English teacher for three years and he always challenged us to better our writing – so much of why I’m able to run this blog and write about my experiences is because of what he taught me.
When it came time to look at colleges, I really wanted a similar experience of having a tight-knight and supportive community (yes, I realize that this sounds like the opposite of premed culture at many universities but I was ambitious!). I applied to several schools in California and had my heart pretty set on attending USC. I felt really connected to the campus and I loved that it wasn’t a gigantic school where no one really knew each other – but I got rejected. I also applied to several of the UC’s and was blessed to be accepted to many great schools. I was, of course, devastated that I got rejected from my ‘dream school’ but after a couple days of wallowing in self pity, I got back up. I realized that I needed to ‘update’ my dreams and went off to visit the schools that had granted me an acceptance.
Many people assumed that I would attend the most prestigious of the schools that I was accepted to but I really wanted to do what was best for me and set myself up for success. I knew that at the bigger schools, I would get lost in the crowd and be surrounded by extremely competitive people who wouldn’t necessarily be rooting for my success. At UC Irvine, I was also accepted to the Campuswide Honors Program (CHP) and did the stay-over program with some of the current first year students living in the CHP dorms. I had been to the UCI campus several times over the years and didn’t really feel too much of a connection to it – it just felt too big. But after staying a night in that dorm and spending time with the other CHP students, I realized how much the community and family feeling reminded me of IB – it was exactly what I was looking for. By attending a big research university with an associated medical school, I had all the opportunities that I could want and more but by being in CHP, I was able to find a small community where I felt at home.
Because I was still unsure about what path I wanted to take, I entered undergrad without declaring a major. And since I was still considering medical school, I enrolled in the premed classes usually taken during first year: intro to biology series and general chemistry series. As a part of CHP, we were required to take a humanities core class in addition to the science classes, which was a great balance of science/non-science for me.
Knowing that test taking isn’t my strongest suit and that a much bigger part of my grade would be based on exams (rather than majority based on homework, etc. like in high school), I set really realistic goals for my grades during the first quarter of college. And then pretty much just kept working harder throughout college to better my study strategies and improve my grades.
Because I chose to attend the ‘less prestigious’ school, I got to be a part of wonderful organizations and do clinical research & help start a student-run free clinic. Had I gone somewhere else, I’m sure I would’ve got lost in that sea of premed students and probably would not be where I am today. Many people disagreed with my decisions and were pretty vocal about it but at some point you have to stop caring what people think.
Ultimately, my point is this: do what’s best for you. Go to the school that’s best for you. Find a place where you can be successful and don’t feel obligated to attend the most prestigious school you get into. Set yourself up for success from the beginning. If being close to your family is important to you, then stay close. If you want to have a grand adventure in a far away land, then go there.
College was the most transformative experience of my life. It’s where I started to become who I wanted to be. It’s where I met people who helped me decide what I wanted to do with my life. It’s where I learned about the world and all the wonderful and horrible things that happen here. It’s where I met and fell in love with my husband. It’s where I met people who will always be a part of my life. And I’m so glad I made the best decision for myself, even if it wasn’t the most ‘obvious’ choice.
As a side note, I also want to say that I’m not the biggest fan of those 6 or 7 year accelerated premed + med school combined programs. I think that in other countries, such as Pakistan, it works for students to go straight from high school to professional school because that’s the mentality they’re raised with, that’s the culture that surrounds them. Here in the U.S., I think it’s really difficult to know that you want to go into medicine as a senior in high school. And even if you do know, I think skipping or accelerating through college is really a disservice in the long run. So much of who I am and where I want to go came from my experiences in undergrad (especially the experiences outside of medicine) and I really got the chance to grow up before getting to medical school. The average age of a first year medical student at my school is around 26/27, which I think is so wonderful. It’s important to have real life experiences that help you grow before you commit to this profession. I have friends and relatives in these programs who absolutely love them and there are certain people who don’t really need the typical ‘college experience’ to become who they are. But if you’re feeling pressured to race through this journey, please please slow down. And don’t feel the least bit guilty about doing so.
This series is meant to help premed students get an idea of how to navigate their path to medical school. Obviously, this is just my own personal story but I’ll try to include other paths/opinions throughout as well. If you have any specific topics that you’d like to see addressed in this series, please leave a comment! I can’t promise that I’ll get to everything but I’ll definitely try.