What I Wish I Had Known Before I Applied to Medical School

  • /Reviewed by: Amy Rontal, MD
  • Every year, thousands of undergraduate students are preparing for medical school. Many hours are spent sitting in lectures and studying to earn high grades. Any remaining free time is spent participating in research, volunteering in the community, and shadowing physicians. Finally comes the MCAT and flying around the country for interviews before the first day of medical school even arrives.

    Sometimes, we get so caught up on the process of gaining admission that we don’t actually think about what our lives will be like when we actually get there. Here are a few things you may want to think about before applying to medical school.

    It’s ok to take time off before starting medical school.

    When I was a premedical student, I never entertained the idea of taking time off between undergraduate and medical school. I was working so hard that I wanted to start right away, and even when some interesting opportunities arose, I did not seriously consider them because I felt like I needed to immediately start my medical career. While I’m happy with the path I’ve chosen, I wish I knew then that it was okay to take some time to slow down and experience more of life before starting medical school.

    Today more and more medical students come from nontraditional backgrounds. Some worked alternative, non-medical careers. Others traveled abroad to participate in Fulbright programs or earned master’s degrees or even PhDs. In the end, these experiences are all opportunities for personal growth and allow you to better understand the world around you and the people in it. Will this enhance your medical knowledge? Maybe not. But it will enrich your life and make you a more personable doctor.

    You CAN do it and you are prepared.

    In the weeks and months leading up to medical school, it can be easy to doubt yourself, wonder if you’re prepared, and fear that you won’t be able to handle the new demands. Others may scare you about how difficult medical school will be. They will tell you it’s like “drinking water out of a fire hydrant.” You’ll be told it will be the hardest thing you’ve ever done. You may wonder if you will be able to do it. But you must have confidence in yourself and your preparation. You were chosen by the admissions committee because you are qualified and you deserve to be in medical school.

    These will be some of the hardest but also some of the most rewarding times of your life.

    It’s true that medical school is difficult. You need to be prepared to work hard  probably harder than you ever have before. But you have the amazing opportunity to learn how the human body works and how to serve your community. It can be easy to lose this perspective when you are overwhelmed with exams and patient demands. Before medical school begins, think about how you might get through those more difficult times. Build up your support system. Have hobbies to serve as study breaks. Make friends outside of medical school. These conditions and endeavors will help you to maintain your drive and focus in medicine.

    Getting into medical school is a huge accomplishment, but it can also be challenging and scary. Remember not to rush the process. It is okay to take time off before matriculating, and when you’re ready to begin, be confident that you are prepared. Trust yourself and remember to have fun!