My Voice - 2021


Your Pre-Med Journey

By Ananya Koripella

It might be my own biased opinion, but it seems like interest in the medical field grows every year. I frequently hear students declare that they are pre-med but many, including me, never really know how to be pre-med before starting our undergraduate years. We need good grades to get into medical school but what else? What really is the right way to get into medical school?

The correct answer is actually the one that no one wants to hear: there is no right way. As nice as it would be for the journey to be simple with a just few basic things that will make us the perfect applicants, the pre-med journey is more complicated than that. It challenges us to dig deeper, find our true inspirations and persevere through the countless hours of studying for the MCAT, running experiments in the lab and applying to loads of internships.

The pre-med journey is tough and it's quite easy to feel like we have bitten off more than we can chew. The key to ending that daunting feeling is simple – make smaller goals. I made a mini checklist of all the things that I knew I wanted to accomplish in my years as a pre-med: I wanted to do research, study abroad, volunteer at the hospital in town and much more. Here's the catch though. Our plans never stay concrete. Our interests always change and with that, so should the activities on our list. I replaced volunteering at the hospital with leading a medical brigade abroad. Why? Because I quickly realized that I am passionate about public health. While the essence of my list stayed the same – research, service and leadership – the way I showed my passions began to change. That is the key to your pre-med journey. Your passion.

The first question to ask yourself is “why medicine and why a doctor?" The response to this question cannot be something generic like “I like helping people." Why do you like helping people? There are so many ways that we can help others so why do it through medicine? It's natural to begin the pre-med journey with just a piqued interest and not a substantial answer. We often start off with that interest and through our various experiences, truly learn why medicine may be the right path for us. However, by the time you do apply to medical school, you truly do need to know the answer to this question because choosing medicine is only the first step to a difficult yet rewarding career.

As I tried to deal with my once wavering certainty in pursuing medicine, the next question I had was regarding my major. I had a variety of interests, but I didn't know which major would help me to get into medical school the most. I thought I needed to major in a subject like Chemistry even though I did not like it that much. I was quick to learn that majors and minors actually do not matter when applying to medical school. I could major in the Arts or Humanities and go to medical school as long as I had completed all my pre-requisite courses. Being pre-med is time consuming and, often, very draining.

It's important to pursue interests that are outside of the medical field like choosing a non-STEM major, joining a dance team or even singing in an acapella group. It makes for more well-rounded students and is an excellent way to keep burnout at bay.

Other activities like research, service, leadership and, especially, clinical experience are extracurriculars that a pre-med student definitely needs. However, like I mentioned, make sure to modify these to be interests that you actually enjoy and not activities that you grudgingly do to cross them off your list. For example, you may not like doing research in a lab setting like I did. Some find it boring and that's okay. There are other types of research to pursue in clinical or public health settings. If you like the hospital more than the clinic, instead of working as a medical assistant in a primary care office, shadow more surgeons, serve as an interpreter or even get trained to be an EMT. All it comes down to is finding your passions and staying true to them.

Next to your passions, the second most important part of the pre-med journey is to give yourself grace periods. As pre-med college students, there is so much to do and so much to figure out. The pre-med journey does not have to be limited to exactly four years while we finish our undergraduate degrees. I attend medical school with peers of a variety of ages, backgrounds and most importantly, pre-med journeys. We each arrived at medical school with varying timelines filled with unique experiences and interests. Our different passions and our hard work make us who we are and were integral to paving the path to our MD's.

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Ananya Koripella is a second year medical student at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University. She also mentors high school and pre-med students at A Plus Tutor USA. Contact her at aplustutorusa1@gmail.com