As a pre-med undergrad myself, I know how challenging a pre-med life can be and how you never feel like you’re doing enough. The people that you’re competing with always seem to have one more internship, one more opportunity, or one more class than you. It’s important to remember that you’re doing your best and your best will be recognized. Medical school is difficult to achieve, but if you take care of yourself and dedicate yourself to your work, then it is definitely attainable. Here are some tips and tricks to balance a pre-med life!
1. Make Time For Self-Care
Your mental health is most important throughout your undergraduate work. Having a healthy mental state will allow you to concentrate more, learn more, and produce better work. If you’re mentally well then you’ll enjoy studying more and have a better quality of life. Ensure that you make time to fulfill your daily needs such as sleeping enough, eating healthy food, and cleaning yourself and your surroundings. So many pre-med students that I know study for hours and hours all day and forget to eat a meal or take care of themselves. To do your best work, you need to be at your best, so make sure you put yourself and your happiness first.
A clean space is also really important for self-care because an organized space means an organized mind. Having a clean space improves your mood because it makes you more motivated and gives you more room to work. It also allows you to find things easier and minimizes time completing tasks other than pre-med work. Cleaning your space in the morning (making your bed, doing the dishes, etc.) also helps you to feel accomplished before you start your work so you’ll be more motivated to get your homework and studying done throughout the day.
Taking time for hobbies is also very important as this will contribute to your positive mental health and allow you to take time for yourself. While a pre-med life does require hours of homework and studying every day, also take an hour or two out of your day to do something you genuinely enjoy (not just sitting and watching your phone) to improve your mental health. Some self-care activities I like to do are writing, baking, or reading, but find something you like doing and that you look forward to.
2. Explore Your Passions
Along with taking time for hobbies, find passions and explore them in your undergraduate career. So many students that I know just look to build their resumes without exploring and investing time in clubs or activities that they genuinely enjoy. Colleges like to see a diverse set of interests, not just pre-med research, pre-med internship, pre-med club, and pre-med class. Every other student that’s applying to medical school will have the same exact resume like that, so exploring your interests will also allow you to stand out.
For example, while I’m doing pre-med research and in a pre-med society, I also joined an on-campus sorority and write for Her Campus. I genuinely enjoy these clubs and spending my time doing activities other than the classic all pre-med all-the-time route. These clubs are also great because they can connect to medical school applications through transferable skills such as interpersonal skills, writing skills, and leadership opportunities. These qualities will make you a stronger candidate and allow you to achieve your goals with a wider range of clubs you enjoy.
3. Build Your Support System
Having people around you that support you and your interests is critical to achieving success in your pre-med years. I know a lot of my friends live in the public health or women in stem learning communities, which I completely support, but are surrounded by pre-med friends all day long. This can be great to bounce homework questions off each other or study together for a test, but it can also become super competitive. When there’s a big test going on, all people can talk about is how they’re studying, how hard they think the test is, and how they think they’re going to do. I know this would stress me out, and I’m sure it would give other people lots of anxiety. I have some pre-med and non pre-med friends, and I think that’s the best mix during undergrad years. I love to see my pre-med friends in my classes, work on homework together, and have them to text if I have questions on assignments. It’s also wonderful to go back to my dorm and be surrounded by my friends who are business, and history, and art majors. They remind me that school isn’t the only element of being successful, and often remind me to take a step back and enjoy my college experience.
It’s also important to have a support system outside of friends at college. Whether this is through mentors in clubs, family, or professors, having outside support can be really helpful. I have support from my big (sister) in my sorority and my family at home. It’s nice to have people you can rant to if you’re having a bad day and who will celebrate your wins. I also love talking to my family on the phone if I’m having an issue, whether that be with school, friends, or clubs because it gives me a perspective outside the college bubble. During college, your clubs, classes, and friends can feel like the whole world, so I like taking a step back and to recognize that college is only four years of my life and to enjoy it while it lasts.
4. Put Your All Into Opportunities
I think oftentimes pre-med students feel like they have to have a billion things on their resume, even if it’s mixed between pre-med and non pre-med activities. I know in high school and through my freshman year of college, I was super worried that I wouldn’t have anything to put on my college resume and I was way behind my other classmates. What I didn’t realize was that your resume can only be one page. If you have a billion opportunities and experiences then that’s wonderful, but how much can you really fit on one page and how much did you really gain from those experiences? Going into med school, you only really need 3-4 big clubs, internships, or research opportunities so long as you put all of your effort into them. You can really learn a lot from just a few opportunities, and if you have more to speak about on fewer things, you will seem more dedicated in your activities, which medical schools love to see.
I can assure you that you will have enough by the time you get to medical school. I’m someone who’s always worrying “will I have enough” and “how do I make opportunities happen.” If you keep an eye out for opportunities, one will come your way and you can make the most of it. I was always nervous about research and didn’t exactly know how to reach out to professors. This semester, I got an email about a Zoom call for people in my major, and I joined just to listen to what they had to say. There were several medical students on the call talking about their research projects and asking for undergraduate students to help. I emailed one of the people whose project I was interested in and he let me join right away with no experience needed. I put my all into this research project, and although it’s just one opportunity, I learn so much and I’m involved in the medical field. As long as you’re engaging with programs created for your major, and putting your all into the opportunities you get, you’ll have quality experiences to talk about and add to your resume.
5. Consider Other Paths Too
Another question I didn’t consider going into undergrad was what opportunities there are besides going to medical school. There are physicians assistants (PAs), nurses, genetic counselors, and so many other options than just the single track four-year medical school. Pre-med can be a struggle with work-life balance, and medical school can be even more of a challenge. Looking into other fields and finding other career paths that interest you can help you decide if the medical school route is best for you. Sometimes pre-med can create tunnel vision, where medical school is the only post-grad option, but it’s important to make sure that’s what you really want to do before you dive into it. There are also different requirements for other post-grad options other than medical school, so keep those in mind throughout your undergrad career in case you decide you want to take another route. Really consider other professions, as pre-med can lead to other careers than just medical school!
Pre-med life can be challenging in so many ways beyond just academics. Creating a healthy lifestyle with people who support you while also following and exploring your passions is so essential to keeping your happiness and following your dreams. Make sure that you’re putting yourself first throughout the whole four (or more) years, and enjoy your college experience!