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Thursday, December 8, 2022

Academics & Research

Advice: How pre-med freshmen can start preparing now


Juana Garcia/The Cougar

So, you’ve decided you want to be a doctor. Welcome to the pre-med world at UH — it can be a long and crazy ride, but if you’re confident you want to be a physician and are willing to work hard towards your dream, you can get there. As someone who initially felt lost, here are a few things I wish I’d known going in.

Major

You can major in anything and still be pre-med. No major is better than another for medical school admissions, so pick something that interests you and that you can do well in. While majors like biology include many of the prerequisite classes required for medical school and surround you with other UH pre-meds, non-science majors can add variety to your courses and allow you to meet people outside your pre-med bubble.

Classes

Most medical schools require general biology, general and organic chemistry, biochemistry, physics, statistics, English and advanced biology, for example genetics, regardless of major. Check the UH pre-health website to see what classes count towards these.

Do your best to do well in them- schools look at biology, chemistry, physics and math grades. Being engaged in class will make it easier to do well in future courses and exams and secure strong letters of recommendation.

Volunteering

Community service goes a long way as a pre-med student, as it shows your desire to help those around you. Whether you tutor middle school students through a campus organization or help at a nearby animal shelter, try to show consistency and initiative in something that matters to you.

You can even create service projects as you gain more experience. Student organizations can help you access volunteer opportunities and leadership roles.

Clinical experience and shadowing

Clinical experience can be anything from volunteering in a hospital to working as a medical scribe. In contrast, shadowing means you follow a doctor around and observe their daily activities. It’s essential to have both to understand the realities of the medical field — maybe you’ll find it’s not for you, and that’s OK.

These experiences can be hard to find, especially if you want a specific schedule, location or salary. So you’ll have to be proactive and get used to cold calling. Since UH is near the Texas Medical Center, you can find many opportunities that are just a short car or Metro ride away.

Research

While research isn’t strictly required, medical schools appreciate applicants who show critical thinking and scientific inquiry. Opportunities include wet lab pipetting, mice work, computer modeling, translational and clinical research, health disparities and even research completely outside of health.

Most UH labs are willing to take on undergraduates, but you must be eager and persistent when asking to join. Cold emailing to ask for a meeting with the professor in charge of the lab, the principal investigator, is a typical way to start. You can also reach out to the Office of Undergraduate Research and Major Awards.

Employment

Non-medical employment can pay the bills and boost your application. Being a waitress or cashier shows you have people skills, are dependable and can balance a real job with school. These often pay more than entry-level clinical jobs, so it’s something to consider if you find yourself strapped for cash.

Hobbies

Don’t forget to keep up with what makes you, you. Whether rock climbing, drawing or just getting boba with friends, these activities can help you de-stress and can also be put on your application if they are significant to you.

MCAT

I put this last because you don’t need to stress about it yet. The Medical College Admissions Test consists of four sections- chemistry/physics, reading, biology/biochemistry and psychology/sociology.

Students usually take it between sophomore and junior year at the earliest, with most taking it during the spring semester of their junior year if they want to enter medical school right after graduation. The most important thing you can do to prepare as a freshman is to do well in your relevant classes and retain the material.

Bottom line

If you feel overwhelmed already, don’t be. No one is perfect in all these aspects nor capable of focusing on all of them simultaneously. Medical schools understand if your circumstances prevent you from doing as much as you’d like. Be sure to check out the UH Pre-Health Advising Center website for more detailed information, and best of luck as you begin your journey.

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