Letter of Rec: How to Get One while Volunteering

Originally posted April 2nd, 2014, revised April 2017

Wouldn’t it be nice if things could just be consistent? Like if the way you get a letter of recommendation from a professor you could just translate over to getting one from a place you volunteer. Unfortunately, things are never that clean. So how exactly does someone go about getting a letter from a volunteer agency?

A word of caution though. Volunteering is meant to dedicate your time to someone or something else. To expect anything more is losing the essence of what volunteering is. Please take this as suggestions to help you if getting letter is something you see as fair and plausible.

Do volunteer work you actually enjoy

Volunteering should be fun. You should be doing something you enjoy and feel at least a little bit passionate about. Doing something you care about makes you appealing as someone to work with and it makes you someone others can share their passion with.  More than that though, it makes it an experience you can relate to a gives new perspective you may not get otherwise. Don’t just volunteer for perks, do it because you want to. I understand not every opportunity is ideal and that there’s certain…expectations about it, but if you don’t like the idea of building a tiny house on your school’s campus don’t volunteer for habitat for humanity because you feel like you have to. Do something that means something to you.

Do research before you start

There are a plethora of places to get volunteer hours, so it can be hard to figure out what’s legit. The things you are looking for are the program coordinator, the people who interact the most with the volunteers, and the mission statement. These are all preliminary moves to know who can give you guidance during your volunteer activities. When you are at the location for a fair amount of time and have foraged some relationships then you can start scoping out who you think would make a good letter writer. For example, you are in a clinic, a doctor or administrators are good choices. If you volunteer for youth programs, the coordinators are your best option.

A little birdie told me…

Keep one ear open about what the agency does in regards to letters of recommendation. Some places are known for just giving them out, but others almost seem to have hidden requirements before you can even ask. Things like this are you need to work at the site for at least 4 months, or you have to acquire X skill first. Ask around and listen to other volunteers, but be wary of rumors and exaggerated stories. This of course can hurt just as much as they can help.

Longevity is key

This is both a point for asking for a letter and something that is highly appreciated on applications. Being a volunteer for a substantial amount of time at one locale makes it easier to obtain a letter, sure, but also admission committees for grad/professional schools love to see that you have a commitment to something (it doesn’t specially need to be volunteering though, its just that sort of thing they like to see). Your potential letter writers like to a commitment to their passion too.

Don’t act like you deserve a letter for being there

It’s fine if you want to know about getting a letter from a place. Asking other volunteers and maybe even group leaders about letters and such is okay, but you really shouldn’t be jabbering about how great it would to be to have a letter from there or how everyone gets one when you’re still new to a specific volunteer group. You’re there to work, not to take advantage of someone. There is no such thing as a true guarantee and acting like you don’t need to earn anything is a good way to be an annoyance, rather than an asset. The last thing you want to do if offend anyone because it might look like you are only participating to reap the benefits. Later on after you have established some type of meaningful relationship, go for it. Ask about it. But don’t get cocky.

Be personable, be outgoing, show appreciation

I had a friend who did volunteer work with elephants for close to two years. When she approached the head coordinator for a letter she said “Who are you? I’m not writing a letter if I have no idea who you are.” And that was that. My friend would go to the site, do the work and leave. She never truly interacted with anyone besides her friends and never made an effort to make a reputation for herself. Obviously a good reputation is what you want, but you need to make an effort to know the people who are putting in the heavy work where you’re volunteering. Connections aren’t given, they’re earned.

Face-to-face

In contrast to a professor, asking for a letter of rec from a place you volunteer should be done in person. These people have made time specifically to volunteer so hopefully they should be able to spare a few minutes to speak to you as you are one of their volunteers. There are certain situations where an email is totally acceptable to use as well, but you need to be the judge of that. Being a volunteer is partially about being able to cooperate with others, so directly asking, I feel, is good in this case because it shows you are fully there and the organization isn’t an after-thought.

Keep volunteering even after you get the letter

You should be volunteering in a place you like, like I said before. If you need to stop because of something, that’s alright. But if you can keep going, don’t stop! Getting a letter should not have been a goal, just a bonus. Keep up the good work are doing, and enjoy it.

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Pick A Major, Any Major

Originally posted March 31st, 2014, reviewed 2017

A guideline to help figure out what route to take in your college years based off the experience of yours truly.

The college major. Your conversational starter, your ice breaker, your identifier. The one thing that will define your college career as it appears on your diploma.

But how can you know what direction to go? Out of so many different options which one (or ones) make the most sense for you?

Maybe you know exactly what you want to do. Maybe you’ve known since your were 3 years old. But maybe you don’t. Either is fine! But in case you have reservations, I’m sharing my thoughts and devised a bit of list to help those who are seeking find a direction to go in.

This is to help those who are struggling to find a major figure out how to go about it. This is not specifically how you should pick one, just some ideas to consider. There are no rules.

What are your interests?

Alright, this seems pretty obvious. I mean you should do what you like, right? But think about your answers to this question as if they were to appear on an application. Interests include; sports, drawing, hiking, reading, base jumping…I have no idea what you people are into. But they don’t really sound like college majors. So, if no major sticks out to you right away, think of your favorite subjects and favorite activities. How do they relate and how can you bring those together? There might be a major that stands out as one you may not have thought of before.

What are you good at?

When I was little, I was really into aeronautics and space related things. But as I got a little older I realized something. I don’t like math and I’m not that talented in relation to it. So doing something engineering related wasn’t really in the cards for me.

HOLD ON RIGHT THERE THOUGH. I am not at all saying if being an engineer is your dream, but you aren’t amazing at math you should give up on it. If you know that is what you want, work your ass off and go get it. Kick math’s butt.

But but if your direction isn’t so clear cut, you can find yourself at least a temporary place in subject you’re more interested in and with things you understand and have a natural inclination for. Even if it’s not what you end up doing in the long run, choosing something based off general interest and skill can at least get you moving in the right direction rather than picking at random and you’ll most likely do well in those classes. You can take some time to figure it out that way.

Be a little brave, and experiment.

Even if it takes you a little longer to graduate.

There are really no hard and fast rules for “time spent” in college anymore. Sometimes you’re there the traditional 4 years but maybe you’re only there two. Maybe you’re there eight. What matters is that you’re getting to where you feel you need to go.

My college roommate is a lovely example of this. She is so intelligent and wonderful, but a lot of her high school career was planned for her. So when she got to college, she was lost. She tried so many majors; biology, hospitality, finance, and maybe other ones that I can’t remember. But she knew she would never know or be satisfied unless she actually tried on every shoe, so to speak. Yes, she’s graduate a year later than expected. But is she secure in what she wants? Yes she is. No questions, doubts or regrets.

Now if you’ve know exactly what you wanted to do since birth, I still say experiment a little. I’m not saying you have to outright change your major, but take a class that sounds interesting, even once. You never know.

What can you see yourself doing as a real adult in the real world?

I’m not a big fan of the “where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years” because I’m not a person who is good at looking at specifics when it comes to my future.

I’m “focus on the now” kinda gal.

But I have pictured, the big picture, of what my adult life could be like, because it doesn’t need to be specific. It just needs to have a general feel. What kinds of things do you see? A family? Being totally invested in a career? Traveling the world? Use these visions of the future to help guide you to a major that can make these less dream and more reality.

How much are you willing to work in college?

While no major is better than any other, there are differences in how much the workload is, or how intense they will be. And some people really thrive on the non-stop, while others need life to be a little more chill. Nothing wrong with either.

There are majors that are higher in intensity and a bunch that are lower. Intensity does not mean easy or hard, it means more time invested into a single entity. It just means that someone who is a engineering major probably has to spend more time (literally, most schools have it as a 5 year program now) than someone who is a religious studies major. It just depends on how well you know your own work ethics and how much of “the college experience” you feel you need.

Is there a specific career path you want to take?

Some majors matter when it comes to what you want to do, and sometimes they don’t matter in the slightest. Medical school and law school don’t really give extra consideration to what your major is as long as you have certain pre-reqs and testing in place. But if you want to go into televised journalism, a physics major isn’t going to help with that. You also need to do research on your career goals. Is it really what you expected? Are the classes something you truly enjoy? Think about it, do your research, get experience.

Do you need to go to grad/professional school to make your major work?

Working off the last questions, med school and law school aren’t picky about majors. There are certain majors that make it easier to cover what you need for these types of schools, but in the long run your major isn’t as important. So if you plan on being a doctor, you don’t need to sweat the major as much.

But say you want to be an archaeologist, maybe a biologist, perhaps a college professor. Your undergraduate major alone won’t get you anywhere you want to be. To have any successful in that field, you at least need to have a masters in it. Are you ready to go the distance? Did you know you had to go further?

 

Don’t let your past get in the way.

I spent most of my education doing art. When I went to college, I decided that I wanted to be a doctor which is a complete 180. A lot of my high school friends seriously questioned me and said if I gave up art I “was wasting my talent” and that there was no way I would do well in the sciences. I’m not friends with them anymore. But the point being is that you can’t take what you once were and think you always need to be that. You need to do what’s right for you, even if that means you change.

And changing is part of growing up, as mushy as that is.

Don’t let anyone make the choice for you.

During college, I met more than a few people who were completely miserable in their major. When asked why they don’t just change a lot of the answers were “Well I told my parents I wanted to do this already”, “My parents won’t pay for my anymore if I don’t do this” and finally “Well I don’t want to disappoint anyone.” Is this worth hating your entire college experience? I personally say no, it’s not. If you disappoint yourself, then you’ve disappointed the most important person in your life. Choose a major that makes you happy.

Do what you want.

If you’re reading through this and thinking “Stop telling me what to do Sass!” then don’t listen to me. I’m no expert. But the most important thing you ever do in college is to choose what you want. No other time in your life will you have the freedom you have during college and you should take advantage of that. You have the right to be passionate, excited and happy in college so choose a major you love.

Letters Of Rec: Getting Them From a Professor

Originally posted March 24th, 2014

The university I went to is known for having massive stadium style classes. The biggest one I ever had was my chemistry 1 class, which had 400 people in it. Four hundred. That’s absolutely insane.

So how exactly are you supposed to get to know one professor in a sea of other students? You need to stand out of course!

Well, here are a few trick and tips that I used to get on your instructor’s good sides so they can write you a recommendation letter that leave admission committees swooning. Remember, everyone’s situation is different and what works for me might not work for you. But these should be a pretty good way to start.

Know what you need

Different graduate and professional schools have different needs in terms if who they want letter from, but most of the time you’ll need an instructor letter. For example there are some general guidelines that most medical schools require out of letters of recommendation. One of these criteria is you must have at least 2 letters from science professors. But other schools want other things specifically. Do a little research.

Do some digging

Okay, so now you have idea of what you need and want. Take a look at the professors you have in your arsenal. Do you like the subject the instructor teaches? Have other people received letters from them before? Do they know if they get a generic letter or a personalized account of your performance in the class? Do you need to take more than one class to be considered for a letter? Do they only write letters for TAs? These are the important things to find out.

Sit where you can be seen

I am not saying you need to park it in the center seat in the first row of your class. But you should sit somewhere you can be seen fairly easily and that eye contact with your professor is possible. This way, you can demonstrate that you are interested in the material without being too…uh…desperate.

Oh also, show up to class as often as possible. You can’t ask for a letter if you show up for tests only people.

Ask and answer questions in class

Whoa now, make sure you know how your instructor is with questions though. I’ve had both great professors who take all questions and answer them to their best ability, but I’ve also had professors who will put someone on blast if they don’t like a question/answer/response. So if you’re in the clear, make sure you participate in class and get those questions right!

Go to office hours

I cannot stress this enough. Even if you are doing well and understand of the material, think of a question and get to that office. Be interested an involved in the subject. This is really how, especially in a large class, a professor comes to actually know you.

Remember the details

Does your professor like to mention little things about their life? Remember those little quips. When you see them, instead of always asking about class, grades or whatever you can have an actual human conversation with your instructor. This will help them see as more of a peer rather than just a student. Also let them know a little bit about you, especially your future goals. They will feel like they can share in that too.

Do well in class

No matter what you do, no matter how hard you work to impress an instructor if you don’t do well in the class it’s a completely lost cause. And I when I say well, an A or B should be good. But professors need to be able to say how you excelled in the class along with your other med/health school worthy traits. Most teachers in general are uncomfortable writing letters for students if their grades aren’t good even if they really, really like the student. It’s a tough fact, but it just has to be done.

Other things that can help you get professor letters

  • Do research with them
  • Take multiple classes they teach
  • Become a TA
  • Stay in contact with them

Good luck with letters and applications!

Writing a Killer Personal Statement

Originally posted March 25th, 2014

If you haven’t seen my stuff already, why yes I do like writing. It’s something that comes fairly naturally to me, but also I do a lot of it. So I would like to say that my personal statement is pretty good. So with the 2014-2015 application cycle winding down and the 2015-2016  one picking up I thought I would lend some helpful tactics to help write a personal statement (but reviewed in 2017).

In some ways, it will almost be a step-by-step guide to writing your statement, but make sure you do it on your own.

Write out the exact reason you want to be a doctor

I had so much trouble with this. If you are anything like me, you can FEEL that you want to be doctor. It’s just this weird internal struggle that if you can’t do this nothing else is the world will make you feel right. But you can’t really vocalize that, or say you just “have a feeling”.

So, the best way to do this is to say it out loud “I want to be a doctor because…” and then write it down. Then do it again. And again. Do it until you have a solid, coherent reason that is something besides “I want to help people.”

In the end, it should read like a kindergarten fill-in the blank; “I want to be a doctor because of these reasons.” Now you can start.

 

Different kinds of personal statements

The Princeton Review medical school books say there are three major types of personal statements. I mostly agree with this, except I have seen four. I will now tell you about the types! To start your personal statement you should pick which path you plan to follow. Remember, these are tracks, not themes and general guidelines, not rules. They are just the foundation of your personal statement. It will help you keep focused throughout your statement.

A personal history

It’s as straight forward as it sounds. This type is basically gives your life story in 5300 characters (including spaces) and how, over the course of your life, you found your passion for medicine.

An academic history

It basically overviews your academic experience in relation to how you can become a good doctor. This one is a little tougher, because you need to explain how your educational experience relates to your passion in medicine.

A story

This is a main illustration of something that happened in your life that, you guessed it, makes you want to be a physician. This is a much more focused than the other types, and should guide the reader through an experience.

The random

Or as I like to call it “the bat-shit crazy”. I’ve only seen one or two examples of these kinds of personal statements ever. And I suggest you don’t go for it unless your prose and purpose are pure magic. They tend to read like random, philosophical drabble and one that is written correctly makes you feel like you had an existential experience.

My personal statement was a mix between academic history (75%) and a story (25%). Yes, you can mix them, but don’t let it overwhelm you or try to mix all of them.

Pick a theme

What do I mean by a theme? Well, what do you plan on writing about? A theme, or a topic, can really be anything in your personal statement.

If you picked an academic history, you theme falls within the bracket of school, but you need to narrow it down. Will you specifically talk about which classes made you love medicine, or about how being involved in campus did?

If a picked a story, the theme should be pretty easy? What is your story about? But tread lightly here, and do not let it become a sob story.

Basically, a theme is critical for your personal statement because it helps keep your writing coherent and focused. You shouldn’t be jumping around too many ideas or concepts. This way, you can accurately describe your intentions without leaving anything half written or too open ended. It’s an exercise in writing in general as well.

My theme was martial arts and medicine and influences of science classes. You can have more than one theme! But personally, I suggest having MAXIMUM 3. It just depends on what you choose to write about.

Use developed, relevant vernacular and syntax

We’re not poets here. A lot of us haven’t even taken a substantial writing class since our first year, so how exactly should we be expected to write a masterpiece? In reality, the people who will be reading your essay know that they shouldn’t expect personal statements to be the perfect representation of the English language. BUT they do expect you to write like an adult with more complex vocabulary. You know, compound words, using proper grammar, and smooth transitions.

If you know you aren’t the greatest writer a good way to go about this is just write your statement like you normally would. Then go through and count how many times you used certain words like “said”, “want” or “doctor” and if they feel overused find synonyms (that make sense, check meanings out before replacing words).  A lack of word variety makes a paper boring. Also check for things like too short sentences, run-on sentences and colloquial conversation words.

Describe something that demonstrates your abilities and traits 

Saying you want to be a doctor is just peachy keen! But in your personal statement should have something that proves you can actually be a doctor, not just explain how great being a doctor will be. You need to demonstrate, through your writing, that you have the passion and dedication to be a doctor as well as exemplary traits.

This can be done a few ways; you can state it (not recommended), you can sprinkle it throughout your paper or you can give a specific example. Each one has merits and faults. You just need to pick the best one for you and the flow of your paper.

Hash out anything you feel might need explaining

That is, if you choose to do so. No need to talk about mistakes if you don’t want to. But if you do, for this, it’s not a point of going over all the mistakes you think will hurt your chances of getting in. But if say you didn’t do well a semester, if you’re major isn’t so science-y, or even if you took a nontraditional path you have the right to mention something about it.

For instance, my lower grades happened in my sophomore year (when I started my pre-med track), so I talked about the struggle in transitioning to science classes, and even though I loved them they were a challenge for me. If your major is not the normal science track, explain why you picked it in a sentence or two and how it will benefit you in the long run.

Remember, you always need to take something less than complimentary and turn it into a positive note. Negativity is not very well received, especially in writing.

Read your personal statement out loud

Everyone says it. You know why? Because it works.

In most cases, a personal statement should have a conversational feel to it. If it doesn’t sound conversational, it isn’t. If it sounds broken and sad, it is. Reading it out loud will give you the best sense of how your paper portrays you.  It’s also a fantastic way to watch grammar and syntax errors you normally don’t “see” on paper.

Use your online resources

Basically just polite ways of saying look at other personal statements online. What you’re going to look for it those ones that are labeled “really awesome” and read them. You aren’t looking for yours and theirs to actually be similar. You want a similar feel. Writing is an extremely powerful tool that conveys emotion and purpose. And you want to be able to do that with your personal statement. You want your readers to feel just how being a doctor is important to you.

Let everyone read it

This does not mean let everyone edit your personal statement. Just let them read it and give their opinion. You shouldn’t ask if they think it’s good. I mean, I guess it’s nice to hear, but what you should ask is “does this make me sounds like a really good candidate for medical school?” this will provoke much more critical answers from you essay readers that you can actual build off of.

Make sure that you do have people who can edit your paper though.

Love your personal statement

Shit. What a concept.

I’m being completely serious though. Being confident in your personal statement is the same as being confident in yourself. Your personal statement is about YOU after all! You need to stand behind what you’ve written because it’s the first impression an admission committee will have of you beyond your scores. Love what you write, love who you are and love what you can become.

Good luck all you applicants out there! Believe in the power of the pen!

50 Things to Get/Do Before You Start Medical School

Originally posted March 18th, 2014

At this point in the game a lot of pre-meds are accepted or getting accepted to their medical school. Congratulations! And I’m sure everyone is very anxious to get started and get all their brand new medical things which is super exciting. But what about all the other things you need to get that aren’t on your most exciting school supply list EVER?

Let me share ALL the things I was told to get/do before I start school in like 6 months.

These are things I was told by medical and graduate student and figured out by doing a lot of digging around. This is not advice for what medical equipment or what study books are the best to have. I don’t know that yet. (Also, all these things will probably run you a pretty penny, so you DEFINETLY don’t need to do it all). The things are for your life I’ve found might be different from the things you need and get, and of course that’s cool too. Just have some of mine.

Tech it and Wreck it

  • If your laptop is more than 2 years old, get a new one, have parts replaced or run a major systems overhaual. If you are going run that poor machine into the ground, might was well do it without lag.
  • Get a tablet. These little suckers will save you time and time again.
  • Don’t have a smart phone yet? Come join us in 2014. You need one to be able to stay on top of your email, obligations and meetings, and frankly just people. Schedule changes, canceled classes and seminars will all be found on your smart phone in a quick hit too.
  • Is a planner technology? I don’t care if it’s not, but you should still get one that has both weekly and monthly pages.
  • Learn how to use all of your tech. Don’t walk into class the first day with your brand new laptop and be like “where the fuck is Word?”
  • Secondary on that, don’t switch your system unless you have a few months to play with it. If you’ve always had Macs, don’t try to switch to a PC a week before classes because you will be confused as fuck.
  • Learn to use google drive if you don’t already know. Trust me.

 

Dress to Impress

  • Scrubs will soon be your best friend. Buy one pair that make you look like a real person.
  • The rest of your scrubs should come off the internet and cheap enough to toss at the end of your labs (because they smell like guts, chemicals and stank).
  • Pair your throw away scrubs with throw away sneakers! The look is in.
  • Anatomy labs, really labs in general, tend to be suffering an eternal winter. Get yourself some cheap thermals and long sleeves to save you from the pain.
  • Get yourself some business appropriate clothing. You never know when you have to go to a conference or a meeting.
  • Get a white coat you can junk up. Learn how to maneuver in it. Break that shit in.
  • Find a hair stylist you like BEFORE YOU START. Life is much easier this way, trust me.
  • Get a formal outfit. Whoa, crazy right? But you need to have at least one black tie event outfit because you never know.
  • Moving to a place with a different climate than where you’re from? Plan and get clothes accordingly.

Live well

  • Make sure you find a place and move in at least 2 weeks before you begin. I know this sounds obvious, but the process can be overwhelming and take longer than your think. Also ending up house hunting during school sucks shit.
  • Find a place where you feel comfortable and safe. An apartment that is 2 bed 2 bath costs $500, costs that little FOR A REASON. Even if you have to spend a little more, it’s worth it.
  • Learn your weather! Moving to Florida? Learn about hurricanes. Moving to Kansas? Tornados. What about California? Earthquakes. Be ready people!
  • Have your new living situation set up before you begin. Don’t get buried in boxes.
  • Do you want to do the roommate thing? Don’t just do it because it’s cheaper. Make sure you know your options about this, it’s a big deal!
  • If you do choose to lives with other peeps, you must figure out all financial information. I’m talking rent, bills, and other expenses. Also you need to set ground rules. We’re all adults(ish) here.
  • If you don’t already have a dry erase calendar, I might be judging you.
  • But also get a dry erase or chalk board. These were already widely useful in undergrad, and it won’t change for med school.
  • Get a big ass desk. You’ll be thankful I told you this.
  • Also a comfy study chair.

The pet brigade

  • If you decided to get an animal which needs attention (cat, dog, ferret, etc.) you NEED to get it minimum six months advance before you start medical school. Why? These animals need time to forage a bond with you to be able to trust you. And if you’re gone for 12 hours a day these animals will only see you as a hand which serves food.
  • You also should have a pet for a while because baby animals are hard work, and you won’t have for those poor creatures.
  • That being said, having a fuzzy (scaly or feathery) friend in medical school can help your stress and keep you level headed that yes, there are others in this world you need to take care of besides you when you aren’t in class.
  • Find a safe place for your pets to stay if you go out of town or subsequently start 3rd year rotations.
  • Get all of your vaccines/bug medication/checkups for your little (or big) dude out of the way before you start.

Friends and family

  • You should take the time out to explain to non-med family and close friends about the changes that are going to happen in your life and how it may affect your relationships. How no matter how long you may not be in contact, no matter how many events you have to miss that you still care about them and want them to stay a part of your life.
  • Some will understand others will not. It’s up to you to figure out what to do.
  • If you have a significant other you’ve been with for a while, you have to discuss what your plans are and what both of your needs are. It’s upsetting, but you can’t drag anyone into this who doesn’t want it.
  • Get closure. If you had a friend you never resolved a fight with, a family member you stopped talking to and WANT to try to close that chapter or fix it now is your time.
  • Take time to see the family members you know you may not get another chance to see for a while. Same with close friends.

Medicine for you

  • Go to your doctor! Go for just a general check. Seriously.
  • Have a procedure you may want done? Do it now before it gets worse and then so you have time to heal.
  • If you’re moving, find a new healthcare provider. This shouldn’t be too hard and your school should be able to recommend someone (come on now).
  • If you have prescriptions get them filled out anew before you start. And if possible, try to get your pharmacy to do the three month thing. It’s nice.
  • Only if you feel like you need it, get a mental health assessment. Better to figure out why you get anxiety attacks and do something about it rather to just let them happen.

Trips, tips and tricks

  • Go somewhere you’ve never been before! Experience brand new sights, cultures and food.
  • Go somewhere you love. Enjoy all the best parts of that place.
  • Revel in your “thing”. Love volleyball? Hard core gamer? Make crochet pillows? Do as much of your thing as you can.
  • Find a new “thing”. Ever done aerial yoga? Made pottery? Gone paintballing? No one says you have to love it and do it forever. But who knows maybe you will.
  • Read all the things!
  • If you do research, find out if you’ll be a co-author for a paper. The find out when it’s going to be published. If it gets published while you’re in medical school, guess what? You have a published paper in med school.
  • Get in contact with a current student. They will be able to give you tidbits about your school as well as opportunities you might want to get into.
  • For goodness sake DO NOT PRE-STUDY. There is a slew of reason why not to do it, so just don’t.
  • Enjoy your time before you start and be happy.

50 Things to Help Deal with Pre-med Stress

Originally posted March 17th, 2014

Or really anyone who has stress with school interviews or just in life.

If you’re any kind of pre-health hopeful, you know the ever mounting stress that comes along with all the classes, extracurricular activities and the pressure you put on yourself. Learning how to deal with stress in healthy ways in the best thing you can do for yourself, as well as learn way how to prevent stress all together.

These are just things that I’ve found to have worked for me, but you might be totally different! These are just my thoughts about it. You can build your own experiences and learn how to deal with stress in your own way, in your own time. Just have a few quips of mine.

What is stress?

  • Stress is the non-specific response by the body when change occurs.
  • To most pre-meds, this means change that could that could mess up our grades, our lives and our futures which make us act completely crazed.
  • Stress comes in many different forms, ranging from just barely there to anxiety attack inducing.
  • Everyone feels stress differently, and so everyone copes differently.
  • Stress can help us preform and reach limits beyond our own expectations.

Prevent a disaster  

  • At the beginning of the semester, go through all of your syllabuses, meetings and deadlines and write down every important date on a calendar, in a planner or make reminders on your phone.
  • Don’t tell yourself you are going to study X hours every day at the start of the semester. Learn to plan as you go otherwise you will be like “I couldn’t keep a promise to myself for studying. I’m a terrible person.” This is bad.
  • But continue being proactive in your scheduling and don’t let things fall behind.
  • Quickly identify if you feel like you will struggle in a subject or task. Find help immediately. Waiting until after you fail a test is too little, too late and causes much stress.
  • Figure out which friends bring out the best in you and have good, positive vibes.
  • Set your alarm and (non-phone) clocks a few minutes early.
  • Join a non-science related club, preferably one where you move a lot.
  • Find a way to work out. “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands. They just don’t.”
  • Do preemptive research to know what you’re getting into. Walk in to class or an interview ready for action.
  • Learn the difference between being stressed out and panicking.
  • And learn how to not let stress turn into a panic.
  • Make time to have fun. All work and no play makes you the weird smelling, recluse roommate.

In the midst

  • Learn breathing exercises. I ended up in the emergency room because I lost control of my breathing, which, btw, is the fastest way to get into the ER.
  • Put your head down on your desk. Darkness can help you calm down.
  • Consistently tell yourself you will be okay. Repeat it until your believe it.
  • Don’t allow yourself to blank out during a test. I honestly really dislike this excuse for a poor grade; because that just means you let your nerves get the better of you. If you can bring yourself out of that panicked place you will be alright.
  • This also counts for interviews and interactions with higher ups.
  • Take breathers. Walk around if you get the chance to.
  • DO NOT let yourself get overly emotional during the situation. Keep as level-headed a possible.
  • Play the “what do I look like” game. Do you look like your about to cry? Do you look like you’re anal clenching? Reassess and address.
  • Having trouble with something? Don’t sit there stressing yourself out. If you can come back to it later, do it. Do what you’re good at first to gain momentum.
  • Fake it ‘til you make it honey.

Release

  • Cry when you need to cry. I’m the queen of being tough, so I know this rule fo sho.
  • HIT SOMETHING. Not someone, don’t do that. But gong to the gym and beating the shit out of the heavy bag until you’re completely exhausted is really amazing.
  • But if you’re not cool with that, working out, running or dancing will get the job done just as well.
  • Have someone you trust and talk to them (in person or over the phone). Venting about it will help, but make sure you can reciprocate for them when they need it.
  • Do a favorite something and let your mind focus on that instead of your stressful times.
  • If you chose to partake in substances (you know what I mean) don’t let that become your coping mechanism.
  • Figure out what made you stressed out. Did you not study enough? Or are you someone who natural stresses out?
  • Know when to stop. If you just finished a test, but have another one in 2 days, take a few hours to chill and then jump right back on the gravy train. If not, take a day or so to wind down and completely de-stress.
  • De-stress with friends too! Even the most introverted of us have people we like to see.

General guidelines

  • Figure out what you can and cannot control. Take it from there.
  • Stay organized. And I don’t just mean schedule organized. Keep your study space and living space somewhat clean. Clear space, clear mind.
  • Learn to laugh at yourself.
  • Learn from your mistakes. Be a better you because of it for next time.
  • Put things into perspective. Is that one C really worth crying for 2 days? Probably not.
  • Find your happy food. Moderate said happy food.
  • Stay healthy! It’s truly awful being ready for that big interview and then becoming a booger monster.
  • Give into the glory of sleep.
  • Update your mp3 player or playlists frequently.
  • Change negative thoughts into positive ones. Turn “I doing hate this.” Into “I’ve done this before and I can get through it.”
  • Don’t get sucked into other people’s dilemmas. You can be helpful and supportive, but don’t become a player if you don’t need to be. You already have enough stress.
  • Learn to apologize. Most of us get pretty big heads every once in a while. But don’t let your ego cause you guilt and subsequently, stress.
  • Be able to handle confrontation. Someone will always have a problem with you somewhere for whatever reason. Learn to control the stress that envelops you in these situations.
  • Don’t allow yourself to wallow in a failure. Always thinking back to that time you did this and that won’t let you move on and become great.

It never gets easier, only better.

A Week in Pictures

So I’m trying this new things where I take pictures everyday to help preserve the fleeting memories of my medical school experience, seeing as 3rd and 4th year have a bit more excitement to them than years 1 and 2. I think I’ve already done a better job with this over the journal type entrees. The only time I successfully kept a journal was when I was in the 10th grade (so…10 years ago…) so it’s safe to say I think the moment has passed for me.

January 1st 

A bit of New Years cheers, as I celebrate at my parents house since I’m home for the month during my orthopedic surgery rotation. After the night had passed, I let my cat out for his first stroll of the new year (we take him out on supervised walks) and then after I let him inside, I promptly locked myself outside the house and walked my sorry ass to Publix so I could get something to eat and wait for my fiance to come help haha.

January 2nd

Back to the hospital. It’s a hospital I’ve never rotated at before which meant credentialing and scrub lab. I at least got to have something in the morning, seeing as I generally sleep until a last minute and forget that breakfast is a thing. Also, this hospital has the most hospitally hospital hallway I’ve ever seen.

January 3rd

If you know anything about me, its a very wonderful skill I have to forget to pack food because of that whole sleeping in thing I mentioned earlier. Luckily, I was saved by one the front staff who fed me whatever this is. It was excellent.

I also stayed at my parents’s house this day to dog sit while they were gone. I’ve had Rocky since I was 9, so he’s old af and needs to go out every 4 ours. He’s old as dirt but I still love him even if he can’t hear or see well and hobbles. He’s just happy to be here.

January 4th

I drew up my fist cortisone shot! This is not the one I did because I made it and gave it, this is one a PA did. In all honest, it’s much prettier than mine was, but I still did it and I felt good about it. We also traversed to the gym, which I dislike because I feel like the gym doesn’t give you any other usable skills besides running, maybe?? I like group classes and sports but since I have no access to them and staying fit is important to me, I went. Also, here’s an unattractive picture of my cat.

January 5th

I only took one picture this day and it was of this massive gel pen collection my fiance got me randomly. I haven’t used gel pens since forever, so I’m excited for them.

January 6th

I remembered to take a picture during an OR day (outside of the suite, mind you) with my OR blankey that I was allowed to have because the ortho surgeon keeps the OR at a brisk 40 degrees F. I don’t scrub in for arthroscopic cases, so that means without a little protection I’d basically just be standing the OR freezing my ass off.

Besides being cold as hell inside, I did get a chance to warm up with hot pot, Vietnamese style (my fiance is Vietnamese) as well as a picture of a cat that my dad sent me while he was doing consults. He works as a sales rep, doing big ticket items for homes like windows, gutters, etc. And he’ll take pictures of the pets for me because I love pets. And just as big of a deal, I got a cover for my keyboard. Since I don’t have mac, I don’t get all the pretty cases and things so this was very exciting for me.

January 7th

It snowed. I guess.

January 8th

STUDIED AT STARBUCKS. I love studying at Starbucks, because I like being around people even if I’m not interacting with them.
They did give me coffee instead of my chai tea latte. I got it fixed but I learned today I still can’t, and probably won’t ever be able to drink coffee. I stay awake solely on willpower and anxiety.
Also, I ended up on the far side of town today which means we got to go to Trader Joe’s!! I never get to go! If you haven’t ever had them I highly recommend the macaroons.
I also started the hunt for away rotation spot and starting to pick where I may want to interview…I’m going to a lot of help with this so let the hunt begin.