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So You Want to Go to Medical School? Part 1

So you want to become a physician? Me too! Now that I have finally been accepted to medical school, I want to share some things I learned along the way. This post will cover shadowing, coursework, and clinical experience. But don’t worry – this is just the beginning of a series to share all you need to know to get to medical school!

We are starting here because you can shadow physicians BEFORE you even begin undergrad. Shadowing is also an excellent opportunity to see the daily life of a physician and explore if medicine is the perfect career for you.

So, how do you find physicians to shadow? Start with your inner circle. Ask your current physician(s) and any family/friends you know that are physicians or work in healthcare to connect you!

So, what if I don’t have any connections in my inner circle? No worries – I didn’t either. However, once I got to my undergrad, I connected with our health professions advisor and learned about multiple opportunities. Personally, I explored a popular option at my school – our Clinical Applications and Health Practice course. This course allowed me to

hear from 1-2 physicians each week, AND I got to shadow as much as my schedule allowed through our local hospital system. Even if your school doesn’t have a program or course like this, check with upperclassmen who are premed to see if they have any connections. If not, cold calling or email works too. Do not be afraid to reach out and see who is willing to have you for a day, a week, or even more!

So, should I just shadow the specialties I’m interested in? NOPE! One of the things I love about medicine is that I don’t have to be committed to a particular specialty before medical school, and medical schools don’t expect you to have been exposed to everything before starting. I think it is great to shadow a variety of specialties to get the exposure, plus you never know what you might fall in love with!

Now that you have shadowed and decided that you want to pursue a career in medicine, let’s focus on prerequisite coursework. Unfortunately, every medical school has slightly different requirements. I highly recommend checking out the website for each program you plan to apply to. However, those can change from year to year, so I am sharing the basic courses that most programs will require/recommend.

General Medical School Prerequisites

  • 2 Semesters of General Biology with Lab

  • 2 Semesters of General/Inorganic Chemistry with Lab

  • 2 Semesters of Physics with Lab (I would highly recommend algebra-based, unless you just LOVE calculus)

  • 2 Semesters of Organic Chemistry with Lab

  • 1 Semester of Biochemistry

  • 1-2 Semesters of English/Writing

  • 1-2 Semesters of math (statistics >> calculus!)

Some other courses like psychology, sociology, anatomy, physiology, genetics, and cell biology are required by select schools, but they can be beneficial for the MCAT! While I was applying, I also had some schools that required a certain number of semesters of humanities coursework, so those can’t hurt either.

I know it can seem overwhelming to take all of your prerequisites while also satisfying your undergraduate degree requirements. Check out this post to see how I made it all work in my four-year plan, and use my pre-health planner template to get started on your four-year plan!

I know you’re thinking, hold up - didn’t we just talk about shadowing? Yup, we covered shadowing, but that is TOTALLY different from clinical experience. Shadowing is a passive activity where you observe a physician. Clinical experience is a hands-on activity where you directly interact with patients. Clinical experience gives you an authentic feel of what it will be like to communicate with and care for patients in the future.

There a tons of ways to get clinical experience. You can get a certification and work as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), Medical Assistant (MA), Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), and more. BUT, you don’t have to get a certification, nor does your clinical experience need to be paid.

My first clinical experience was in Costa Rica the summer after my freshman year. For two weeks, I visited communities and set up free health clinics. There, I collected medical history and vitals for patients, so the information would be ready when the physician saw the patient. You can check out Part 1 and Part 2 of those experiences.

My second clinical experience was at one of my university’s on-campus clinics. There, I collected vitals and ran lab tests, such as urinalyses. Unfortunately, this experience was cut short due to COVID-19. However, it landed me in my current clinical position that I’ve been in for 1.5 years. I work at a primary care office and get to do a TON. In the mornings, I help my answering the phones to answer patient questions (which include a lot of advising about COVID-19), put in refill requests, and schedule appointments. Once we settle into the day, I get patients checked in for their appointments by collecting vitals, updating their chart, and getting information on their current illness. I have also been trained to give injections.

Some people decide to be hospice volunteers or scribes, in addition to the many other options above. There are so many ways to get clinical experience!

I know that this all may seem like a lot, but you can do it! When it comes to being a premed student, it is all about choosing activities that you enjoy. Don’t view shadowing and clinical experiences as boxes that you need to “check off” to get into medical school. Instead, look at them as opportunities to further explore your future career.

If you are just getting started in the process, be sure to check out my FREE 4 Year Pre-Health Planner to start keeping track of everything.

In "So You Want to Go to Medical School? Part 2," I will be covering Volunteering and Research. Until then, comment any questions you have, and let's chat!

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