The 10 Pre-med You’ll Meet in College

Originally posted April 1st, 2014

Ah categorization. Don’t we all love it? These are some pre-meds I have seen in my day. Maybe you have seen them all; maybe you haven’t interacted with anyone like these. Is this all of them? Of course not! Its just a few who stick out and who you might not ever forget. You might even be a combination of a couple of ‘em.

The doctor-to-be since birth

These pre-meds have it covered. They’ve been volunteering at hospitals and clinics since they were legally allowed to, already have umpteen doctors ready to write them recommendation letters, and know exactly what kind of doctor they need to be. Whispering sweet nothings of physician-hood since they were three, they will let nothing stop them from achieving the goal. They are slightly intimidating at first, but eventually they become less so as classes get more intense. Besides their total one-track commitment to medicine, they are pretty helpful and are general nice.

The perfect candidate

How are they so good at everything? Great grades, good test takers, they seem to know exactly what to do and have all the right doctorly attributes. But you can’t hate them. You don’t even dislike them because they are pretty nice. They are the ones willing to help a straggler, teach a study group and be a beloved officer in a club. You really find yourself cheering for them along the way. The trick with the perfect candidate for medical school is they don’t believe themselves so great. The word is humble.

The forced

In your heart you want to shake the forced. They don’t really want to be a doctor, but feel pushed into a corner. Maybe it’s from parents; maybe they just put too much pressure on themselves. A lot of people who are forced to be pre-med start off okay, but slowly decline. Whether they are losing steam or lose complete interest its clear they are not happy doing this. You can only hope they figure it out before they get into medical school.

The nonchalant

“Oh yeah, I guess I want to go to med school. I do pretty well in my class.” They say while not even bothering to look up from whatever they are doing. And you have no idea if they are the best in class or drowning at the bottom. They just don’t seem fazed by any of it. They are good to have around if you’re panicking though. “Why panic? It’s not going to make anything better.” They say. The wise words of someone who reads the organic chemistry book like a novel.

The Ivy Leaguer

Every pre-med has a dream school but these pre-meds are going to Harvard for med school. Or so they say. And say it they will. It’s nice to think big, but some goals seem just a little bit lofty don’t you think? Tread carefully around these pre-meds, for they don’t take it well if you try to talk about thinks like less prestigious schools, or heaven forbid, BACKUP OPTIONS. They tend to have a slight air of superiority, even though they don’t go to their dream Ivy League. And nothing will break the delusion, except an actual rejection.

The baby gunner

You won’t always notice them right away but it comes pretty apparent when one day you are shoved out of the way as baby gunners plant themselves in the front row of your class. Some live up to their crazy study (or not) habits, but most just act like the top of the class. To them, everyone is competition and there is no way they are going to let anyone get ahead of them. It’s a dog-eat-dog world after all. So don’t ask for advice or about what happened in class that day because you certainly won’t get a good answer. You can’t beat them either, in anything. Got a 95 on your test? Well they got a 96. There isn’t much to gain here.

The panicked

We all get stressed sometimes, but why are they crying after the test? The panicked will always seem up in arms about something, whether it is an upcoming test, not being 100% ready for an event or they started thinking too much. These anxiety driven individuals can get things done, but it’s usually accompanied with sobs and a breakdown. Usually they do alright, but they don’t really get the whole fact that if they did well once, they can probably do well again. Do not provoke.

The confused

“How high a score can you get on the MCAT? Why do I need to take physics? We have pre-med advisors?” They aren’t doing it to be annoying; the confused just don’t quite know what’s going on. They want to be a doctor, they really do. They most likely have just never had specific guidance so they have turned to you for all their medical school questions. Be patient though, one day they apparently figure it out (but really still have no idea what’s happening).

The survivors

The survivors have made it though. The students who have seen it all, done it all and now have the great honor of entering medical school. Keep them around for your questions and expectations. If they like you, you will gain a treasure cove of information. They took your path and there they go. Hopefully, they make you feel like if they did it, you can do it too.


The 10 Commandments of the Pre-med

Originally posted May 7th, 2014

Being pre-med is a little like being part of really weird religion. We have specific rituals we must complete so that we might ascend to a higher plane (aka getting into med school). And no one quiet gets it unless they themselves are pre-med too. So here are some commandments* to follow while we try to get into paradise (or is it hell?).

1.       I am pre-med, I believe in myself

If you want to become a doctor, this is not only the first thing, but the most important thing. The minute you completely stop believing you can reach your goals is the moment you won’t achieve them.

2.       Thou shall not follow nonsense

False prophets so to speak. If you heard a rumor about something or hear people talking up a storm about a class but something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Do your research, but also trust your gut. Don’t go along with something just because everyone else is.

3.       Thou shall not take thine classes in vain

If you are pre-med you should know how important your classes are. Don’t take advantage of them and actually learn the material even if the teacher sucks or you might not get as high of a grade because you took the harder class.

4.       Remember all exam dates

These are the pre-med scared times, so it would behoove you to keep track of them. You should also know the dates when applications open, deadlines end and any events you have are obligated to go to.

5.       Thou shall honor thine mother and father and all instructors

Respecting parents once you’re in college? Slightly easier than high school. Respecting all your professors? Sometimes really easy, sometimes you plan an axe murder in class. BUT they are still experts in their field and willing to instruct. You don’t have to like them, you just can’t fly off the handle at them. You should take action if the problem extends beyond obnoxiousness.

6.       Thou shall not medically touch any person

You are not a doctor. You are not even a medical student yet. You have no right or responsibility to try to diagnose or “aid” anyone unless you are specially trained to do so (phlebotomist, CPR certified, etc.). You’ll get there one day, stay smart and safe.

7.       You shall not receive grades immorally  

There are some times in college when it is sooo tempting to cheat. For pre-meds though, college isn’t the end of the road for us. We aren’t just trying to make it through. We’re here to learn the tools we need to be successful doctors, and cheating is counterproductive. Plus, it is not worth it to get caught. Rather get a crap grade than be kicked out of school.

8.       Thou shall not steal or be deceitful

This goes right along with cheating, but also with lying about grades, class material or stealing shit off the internet. What’s the point of doing those things? Because it certainly doesn’t make you any better at anything.

9.       Thou shall not slander others

It happens to the best of us, where we totally shit talk people. It’s not the end of the world, but you probably shouldn’t tarnish anyone’s reputation, intended or otherwise. You also should not be verbally abusing people and bringing them down.

10.   Thou shall not covet what other achieve

Admiration is a good thing. It can help you set your own goals. Seething jealousy over other is bad. It will only drive you crazy when you compare yourself to others and want what they have. Most of them earned the things they have. No one get a gold star for free in medicine.

*These are based off the Judaic translations of the 10 commandments, pretty much in order with 3 dos and 7 don’t. I am only familiar with that version, but got creative with the old English.

Do You Wanna Hear an MCAT Horror Story?

Well do you?

Originally posted March, 13th, 2014


I want to preface this story by telling you what my pre-med advisor told me when I told her this story after it happened.

“I’ve been a pre-professional advisor a long time. I’ve hear a lot of stories about MCATs and LSATs that were pretty bad. But yours is the worst. I have no idea how did that.”

So there’s your warning.

This all starts after I got my first MCAT score back in late August (I did a summer MCAT course) and it was not what I wanted or expected to get at all. Because of that, I decided to retake the exam on the last day the MCAT was offered in September/October so that I would still have all of my online study material and all that jazz.

So there I am, sitting at the bus stop early on Wednesday afternoon after my bio 2 class. I hadn’t checked my phone in a while so I figured now was as good a time as any.  There is a voicemail from a number I’ve never seen, but I figure if I have a message the call must have been important. The person who was sitting across from me must have thought someone died from my reaction to the voicemail.

It said “Hello Miss Sass. This is Prometrics. We’ve made an unfortunate mistake in our booking system and overbooked the testing facility you will taking your MCAT at on Saturday. We had to cancel your test reservation. We hope this hasn’t caused you any issue. Please call us back if you have any questions.”

If you want to know my reaction this, it was that first I let my phone fall out of my hand, and hit the pavement while I stared completely unmoving. Then I screamed and started crying. Because this was the most mature reaction I could think of at the time. But can you blame me? They canceled my test. Four days before the test. The very last test.

The first thing I did was call my mom because I was really just a mess. We ended up calling Prometric back trying to figure out with them what to do. Over the span of three hours a solution was found! There was one place left in the country. One place in the entire United States where I could take the MCAT. And it was in San Diego, California. Oh and just for reference, I live on the east coast. So I went.

Yep, that’s right. I flew across the country to take an EXAM.

I blame my hero’s spirit from reading way too many mangas for shit like this that I do.

So yeah, two flights later and one favor called in by my mother to a friend I was in California. The good thing though was the 3 hour difference made it feel like I was taking the MCAT at 11 am instead of 8 am which was kind of nice. But if you think my troubles ended when I got to the testing center you would be wrong.

The physical science section was by far my weakest section. I generally struggle with more math based concepts and I’m not great at mental math. I’m about 50 minutes into the section when the screen goes black. My first reaction is SHIT I broke the computer SHIT SHIT SHIT. But then I see a head pop over the cubicle next to me, face screaming pure panic. A few more heads bob up and down, but only from my row down. Half of the room had lost power.

At this point, one of the other test takers managed to wave down a proctor without making too much noise. In the exact fashion you expect, the proctors realize what’s going on and RUSH into the testing room, scaring the absolute shit out of the other half of the room who has no idea what’s happening on our side. Now everyone in the room in panicking and freaking out.

They got the problem fixed, and no lost any test data, but everyone in the room was anxious after that. In the end, I just kind of figured the MCAT must hate me, but I actually didn’t do so bad. That MCAT score was the one that got me into med school despite the most traumatizing test experience I think I’ve ever had.

So there you have it. That’s my horror MCAT story and I pray that no one ever have to go through what I did.

Here’s what to take away from this story;

  • I really really really let nothing stop me from becoming a doctor. I will literally jump over any hurdle.
  • I’m a glass-full kinda person.
  • These were real things that happened. They will probably never ever happen to you.
  • Despite the complete bullshit that happens around you, you can do this. Everything will turn out the way it’s meant to.

Good luck to everyone taking the MCAT out there!

Surgery Week 3

Well, it’s official.

I’m a white cloud.

If you don’t know what clouds are, basically in medicine there are black clouds, white cloud and everyone in between. A black cloud follows the idea of; “if it rains, it pours”. Basically everything that can go wrong will. You’ll see the craziest things comes in. Outcomes aren’t always favorable. It’s tough.

A white cloud is just the opposite. It’s basically clear skies all day, everyone that comes in a simple problem with a simple solution and everyone goes home without complications.

I was on call. All. Week.

Literally nothing happened. My preceptor was so confused. In all the years of his practice that had never happened before. Ever.

It’s not that I want to see bad things happen to people. I’m not particularly fond of the side of medicine that deals with things like death. BUT I wanted to see SOMETHING. This could the only time I do this, who knows. I want to see a lot. But my particular status is in the way of that, I think. I would like not have such silly superstitions but when the signs are there, they’re there.

Aside from that, I’ve been getting to help more and more, being more involved in actively doing things and actually knowing what’s going on. Plus, if I have any questions my preceptor is really amazing about lecturing  on whatever topic, because let’s face it. I’m not the brightest star in the sky even though I do try hard haha.

To Take or Not to Take

This post will pertain mostly to osteopathic students, as only DO students have the options to take both the USMLE and COMLEX. Despite that, I would urge MD students to give it a read as well only because you may find yourself in a position where a DO student would ask you what you think about this situation and the more you know the more you can help.

Welcome to boards season. A time in every medical student’s life that fills them with dread and anxiety. As a DO student, you may have just a bit more stress, knowing not only must you take your own exam, the COMLEX, but you also have the choice to take the MD one as well, the USMLE. You’ll hear the “yes you need to take both!” or the “don’t even bother!” arguments over and over while trying to figure what you should do. While both have valid points, I think the most fair thing is to let the student hear as many pros and cons as possible to make their own choice on what’s best for them. I’m going to attempt to do that.

First some quantifications;

USMLE: approx. 280 questions with seven 60-minute blocks, 28 to 40 questions a block. Each block may be followed by a break. You have 45 minutes (or 60 if you skip the tutorial) to disperse however you like over each break. Generally considered hard, but fair.

COMLEX: exactly 400 questions with 8, 60 minute blocks, 50 questions a block. There are only two 10-minute breaks between the 2nd and 3rd sections and the 6th and 7th sections, plus lunch. Generally considered random.

I made sure to ask as many of my classmates as possible to get a good idea of what they felt as a whole and to make sure I wasn’t being weirdly biased, since I only took the one (though I originally was going to take both). Basically, the USMLE is a better written and more organized test over all, doing a better job of testing the “high yield” topics often associated with boards. COMLEX, though still having some very consistent testing topics, will have many point-and-shoot questions, vague stems and answers and super random questions on things you’ve never seen in your life or will ever see again. Long story short, there’s a bit of a skew when it comes to the standardized testing.

That being said, as a DO student we don’t have a choice in taking the COMLEX. That’s our test.

Hopefully, this will help you find a clear direction you want to take in this whole crazy process.

Let’s start with some fun stuff.


  • ACGME programs don’t understand COMLEX scores.

This is probably the biggest argument to take both exams I’ve heard, and also one of the most poorly thought out ones. Think about it for a second. Yes, the program may have older doctors who don’t “get it”, but if you’re looking at an MD program many times you’ll check to see if it has any DO residents. Thus someone on staff knows what your score means, so if you tank your COMLEX and do well on the USMLE it actually does matter and you won’t be able to escape it. Plus, ACGME programs are now highly encouraged take the extra time to understand COMLEX scores past the poorly made algorithm to compare to USMLE scores. This isn’t to say there is no bias, because it does still exist, but you can’t assume they’re ignorant either.

  • AOA programs aren’t as good as ACGME ones.

Maybe once upon a time this was sort of true, but not really anymore (especially since the merger plans to weed out programs not up to par, both AOA and ACGME). There are amazing programs on both ends, and crap programs on both ends. Just do your research, check Frieda and AOA opportunities. Be smart about it.

  • Studying for the USMLE is studying for the COMLEX.

Eh. Kind of. There is some truth to this, the overall material you need to know is basically the same for both test. But as I mentioned earlier, the tests are not the same. The question styles are pretty different. You would probably be okay if you only studied for one, but you probably wouldn’t do as amazing on the one you didn’t do prep for. It’s easily remedied by just doing questions from multiple banks.

General considerations:

  • So much money.

These tests are expensive AF. And while an extra $600 may seem like another “drop in the bucket,” remember the tests after this one are even more outrageously expensive. Plus you might be moving and dealing with all the other life crap. It’s not a huge consideration, but for some it’s important.

  • You can sign up for the USMLE pretty late.

It turns out when you do the application to take the USMLE you don’t actually have to submit the payment until way later. I did not know this. And in some places, you can sign up as much as a month and half before the time you want to take it and still get what you want. Which means if you’re on the fence you don’t need to choose right away. You can wait and see how you feel as you get somewhat closer without blowing large sums of money.

  • You can take the USMLE whenever you want.

We have to take the COMLEX, but for DO students, the USMLE isn’t our test, which means it’s kind of a free-for-all. If you want to take a week from the time you take COMLEX to the time you take the USMLE, that’s fine. If you want to take it at the start of fourth year after finding out you really love a specific MD program, cool. It’s up to you.

  • You must report BOTH scores

In the past, you could take both tests and if you weren’t feeling your USMLE score you had no obligation to report it. Due to the changes occurring in the ACGME and AOA, this is no longer an option. You MUST report both scores and failing to do so can disqualify your applications in 4th year. No one wants that.

Reasons to take both exams:

  • You don’t know what you want to do

A general consensus (of my classmates mostly) says that the less you have an idea of what you want to do, the more sense it makes to have more options available to you. The way to do that is to take both COMLEX and USMLE. In the most ideal situation, this means you have no limitations in applying to any specialty or program.

  • You’ve done well in classes/previous examinations

If you’ve had a good test-taking record, chances are you’ll keep that general trend and the differences in the exams won’t be as strong a factor in what your score may be.

  • You’re confident in your ability to recover

While you can take the USMLE whenever you want, most people take it within a week or two of their COMLEX. These tests are awful to sit through just one time. It really can be torture to have to force yourself to immediately get right back to doing questions and keep preparing for whichever one you take second. If you can get yourself to get back on the horse and ride it out, then go for it.

  • You think you’ll want to apply ACGME

Some ACGME residency programs do accept COMLEX scores. Some. But there’s a big discrepancy in score conversion and the percentile of the scores certain programs want you to have. An example is that an ACGME program may say you need a USMLE score of at least 210 to apply but a COMLEX score of 540. There are not even close to same percentile. So if you think one of these programs is what you want, you’ll be giving them what they want to see by taking the UMSLE.

  • OMM is not your fave

You’ve had two years of manipulation and you find “hey, this isn’t really for me, I don’t particularly like it, I’m not too good at it” then you may have a better time with the USMLE since it obviously won’t incorporate any osteopathic principles AND it will open you to more programs where you won’t have to work with it.

Reasons not to take:

  • You don’t know what you want to do

For many people, it’s hard to set a goal for yourself when you really have no idea what you want to do. It’s even harder with the prospects of two exams looming over you. To really keep your options open to every specialty you may want to consider taking just the COMLEX so you can really focus your efforts on doing your best on one exam.

  • Taking both exams can cause discrepancy

So you took both exams. On one test you score in the 85th percentile. Awesome! But on the other you score in the 55th. Pretty good, but not outstanding. Now there’s a 30 percent discrepancy between your scores. Regardless of what type of program you apply to, that could be viewed as a red flag. And you can’t assume they’ll say the lower score was a fluke, because in reality they’ll probably say the higher score was a fluke. Don’t give them a reason to say anything was up to chance.

  • AOA programs are what you think you’d want

The best part of the ACGME and AOA coming together is that residency programs will be standardized and even-paced. Which means the training will become pretty similar, and there won’t be those ancient differences people like to harp about. Plus, if you find you’re cool with OMM and want to be able to continue using it as a tool, AOA is really the way to go.

  • You suffer from somewhat severe anxiety/depression

I’ll be completely honest here. Taking boards will be the most stressful thing you’ve done in medical school at this point. It’s terrifying. So if you don’t handle the stress in a constructive way and you let it eat you from the inside out, taking both tests in seriously a no-go. You don’t have to put yourself through the extra anxiety if you are already suffering from some. And you shouldn’t. You need have one focus and make sure you’re getting the appropriate help if needed.

  • You take an NBME and it doesn’t go so well

I mean, you’re your taking COMSAEs and those aren’t going well either, that’s a completely different situation. However, if you find you’re doing fine on COMLEX style questions and QBanks, but struggling with the USMLE material and question style, you don’t need to force yourself to take USMLE. DO schools tend to have a slightly different approach in teaching and if they do focus on testing, it would be for the COMLEX. This relates back to score discrepancy as well.

  • If you’re interested in certain specialties

Again, let’s be honest. Would you like to know how many DO students went on to ACGME orthopedic residencies in 2015? One. Just one. Why? There’s a ton of reasons why, but one of the biggest is that as competitive programs, they have many, many qualified MD students applying for the same positions that you may want. With such limited capacity, MD programs are likely to pick their own students because technically we’re still the only ones who get access to both ACGME and AOA residencies.


“I think I’m cool just taking COMLEX.”

Cool, you’re done. You can stop reading and go do other things.

“I want to take both!”

I hope you’re ready for the next questions of “which do I take first?”

Good question. For some reason, people are very passionate about this topic and you’ll hear varying opinions but really you have to do what will work best for you to get you the best scores.

Points to consider:

  • Do you tend to do better the first time you take the test or the second?

You only get one shot at these exams (granted you pass of course), but for some they tend to do better after feeling the real stress. Others come out of the gate running and slay it the first time. If you’re in a good place with practice test scores, then it’s really about what type of program you’re more interested in is whatever test you should take when you know you’ll perform the best. If you’re a little iffy, then you need to take the COMLEX in your stronger position. Remember, you must pass the COMLEX as a DO student. Anything else is bonus.

  • Are you unsure if you’ll be in the right condition to take another big test?

This is something you won’t really know right off the bat. If you tend to be knocked out after you’re regular, run of the mill med school exam, what could happen after 8 hours of non-stop questions? If this is something worrying to you, you may want to consider taking the USMLE second because that’s an exam you can move back without restriction or not take at all without repercussion if you change your mind at the last minute. You can only move the COMLEX to a certain date based on your school’s guidelines.

  • How are you with OMM?

Osteopathic principles are a big part of the COMLEX, sometimes up to 30% of the entire test. A lot of students opt to take the USMLE first and take the next chunk of time until their COMLEX (usually a week) studying OMM from QBanks or books like Saverese. If you find OMM is something you’re pretty proficient at, or you’re planning on doing good incorporation into your study schedule, this week probably isn’t needed. You can take the COMLEX first, then focus on busting out more questions for the USMLE later or whichever way you feel will be more beneficial to you.

These exams are scary. They’re hard. But that doesn’t mean you need to take them on blindly, or do exactly as someone says you should. A big part of medicine is learning from others, but an even bigger part if trusting to do what’s right by your own volition. Taking boards is no different.

Keeping Care of Those Medically Bound

Originally posted June 11th, 2014 here

Whether it be non-med to pre-med, pre-health to pre-health, med student to parent, or any variation of those, we all have to keep in the mind the care for everyone involved in our crazy health related journeys. We should keep each other level headed and be there. So here are some helpful ways we can help each other out, instead of bring each other down.

These are just some things I’ve learned as a student, as well as from others all over the spectrum. These might be different from yours, and that’s just fine, but maybe it can help us all see eye to eye a little bit better.

Talk nerdy to me

It’s doesn’t always have to happen, but every once in a while, let us go nuts. Let us talk about the things we learned. Let us spew science mumbo jumbo you aren’t interested in. Let us explain how your lungs work. Let us talk about nursing to you, even if you are optometry. Let us gripe about a class you haven’t taken yet. Let us be excited when we have a health epiphany. A lot of times we forget that not everyone can share in our enthusiasm or we can’t remember how normal people communicate. And remember, we should certainly return the favor (aka call us out on it).

Priorities, Priorities

At some point all medical whatever-you-are studying becomes numero uno on your list of what’s important. To many, that’s just a wee bit crazy. To us, it’s totally normal. But it’s okay to give a little nudge and say “You need to sleep.” Or “you haven’t seen the light of day in a week.”

Don’t you forget about me

As medical anythings, we play the busy card a lot. It’s justified, most of us do have a lot on our plate. And we do want to hang out, participate and have fun but the earth doesn’t always turn that way. We only have a measly 24 hours in our days and while we’d love to spend it with you it doesn’t always happen. So one thing that wears us down is when our busy schedules cause us to be left out, forgotten because we “never go”. Saying “no” means that we take responsibility for not going. Not being invited gives us pangs of hurt, even if it wasn’t on purpose.

Just because you show yours doesn’t mean they have to show theirs

Grades, obviously. You have every right to show people your grades good or bad. You even have the right to ask (though it isn’t really appreciated). But everyone has the right to say no and you can’t do anything about it. In the early stages of our education, most of us are neither here nor there about it and don’t have a problem sharing. But as classes get more competitive and more challenging, students can choose to not share anymore. It’s something personal after all. And on that note…

We are allowed to change our minds

And no one should get flak for it. So we might have started off with a goal of medical school and changed to pharmacy, drastically changed our target specialty, or starting over from a totally different major or job. That’s the great thing about schooling here. You can try things until something suits your fancy. A lot of times these choices are hard. As students in the health industry the last thing we need is for people saying things like “can’t hack it, couldn’t make it, and wasting talent”.

A little heart will help

Listen, we all do things and say things without thinking. Especially if we think we’re being funny. We don’t always realize when we do it, especially when we have 50 other things happening at once. Point it out when things like this happen, but please don’t run us into the ground, telling us how horrible we are. Trust me; we are sorry when we do things like that and we already feel bad. If you have a repeat offender, it might be different, but most of us are just trying to sort out if we are good enough already. We don’t need to be beat into the ground for it.

Patience is a virtue

We need to be kind to each other. We all have struggles inside and outside of the classroom. All of us fight battles no one else can see. It can be hard, especially when they are being short with everyone else. Maybe they back out of events or forget something important. Try not to let it get too far under your skin. But for most, these tidal changes eventually return to calm water. They will appreciate that you can see beyond their stints of insanity.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

Being there for your health hopeful is one of the best things you can do. But remember your own sanity. It’s true, this process does change people. Sometimes, it’s best for everyone to keep some distance for a while. If you try to push, even if you have the best intentions, it could end up worse than how it started. Don’t drop anyone like a hot tamale (unless they do something really awful) because of a few incidences. When things have cooled down, take a step back in.

We don’t say it enough

We’re thankful that you’re here! We’re sorry when we miss important things! We love you! Being a student in the medical world isn’t easy, and sometimes we just get so wrapped up in everything. We aren’t trying to be detached or demanding or snippy. It happens to the best of us. Hell it happens to everyone at some point. We really do care though.

It’s a tough ride, but somehow we can all get through. Remember, if you want to be taken care of, take care of those around you.

50 Things About Doing Research as a Pre-Med

Ah yes the eternal question for pre-meds “do I need to do research?”

Technically, no you do not need to do research. Most schools do not require research experience, though if you look at stats, most people who get accepted to medical schools have done it. It’s always looked upon favorably.

So what about research? Well, I’ve been doing research for 2+ years so I have a few helpful things to share. Remember, all experiences should be your own. Just take all advice with a grain of salt.


 Getting research

  • Figure out what kind of research you are interested in. Medical? Military? Education? This is a good place to help you start in your search.
  • Look at the options offered by your university or in the area.
  • A good reason to be on good terms with your professor is that you can ask if they are doing any research and if you can be involved.
  • Ask friends who are already involved in research if they know of any openings. I got two of my friends research positions.
  • Know your strengths. Are you good at writing? Do you work better with your hands?
  • What do you need for specific labs? Most places have certain requirements, like having taken an organic chemistry lab or proficiency in using statistical analysis software.
  • Some research is paid. Some are considered “volunteer”. Don’t discredit an opportunity because it isn’t paid.
  • Research comes in cycles and is based on projects. They can last anywhere between 4 months to years. Figure out how much time you will be able to dedicate.
  • Many medical schools love to see research. It DOES NOT have to be medically related. What they want to see if your involvement and dedication to see it through.
  • Don’t get into research just as an application booster! Do it because research is meant to help people or help discover new things!

In the lab

  • Make sure to always dress appropriately for the lab you’re in. In a chem lab? Always wear your protective gear. Work in an office? Dress like a professional.
  • Always be aware of what’s going on during your projects. You never know who might swoop in and fire questions at you.
  • Get to know your peers. Are they undergrads, grad students? Med student, doctors, PhDs? This is how you can gauge how your demeanor in the lab should be.
  • Be aware of who else works around you. A lot places have more than one project going on at any one time.
  • Doing research is generally more of commitment that just doing volunteering, even if you aren’t paid. Most of the time, you will have to sacrifice between 8 and 12 hours of your time a week. Maybe more, maybe less, it depends on the lab and the project.

People you might meet

  • There will be people you love in your lab. They will make your experience great and help you bond with what you are learning about.
  • Other people will drive you up the wall and make you want to tear your hair out of your head. “How did these people make it through college?!” You’ll wonder. But this is just practice for the real world.
  • Undergrads: probably the most like yourself (and in the same position). Most likely, they will have similar classes and interests. Mostly harmless.
  • Grad students: In some labs, you’ll be working directly under them. They are pretty stressed out since the project is likely part of their thesis. Try not to mess up and stay away when they are freaking out about something. “You won’t understand until grad school.” If you say so.
  • Full time employees: they get paid to do what you do for free. Most of them have indeed dedicated their life to working there though. Many of these people probably won’t work directly with you. Maybe just in the building.
  • PhDs: probably your bosses. You will either be on full interacting terms with them, consulting them for even the most meager of trifles or you will surprise that they even knew your name even though you’ve been there three months.
  • PhD candidates: these people actually know hell. Similar to grad students and have good advice.
  • Military officials: they think you’re funny because you’re really nervous that you’re going to insult the United States military and get fired. Most of them are pretty nice though, if not slightly confused by the research they are funding (if your military funded).
  • Actual scientists: You aren’t sure what their qualifications are, but they are really serious about this research. Like really serious. Somehow, it makes you afraid to touch anything.
  • Physicians: Research doctors to be more specific. If you were brought onto the project, they probably already like you. Don’t mess it up.
  • Med students: if you work with med students, they do most of the clinic type stuff. You’re just happy to help though.

Things you might do

  • More likely than not, you will be doing multiple things while in your research position. Make sure can multitask effectively.
  • You might be working with chemicals or microbes that would be, well, dangerous. It’s exciting but don’t rush anything in this setting unless you want acid burns (learned that from personal experience).
  • Someone might ask you if you can make meth, not matter what kind of lab you work in.
  • You might actually make something pretty close to meth.
  • The products you get in research actually mean something, so take your time to get it right.
  • Many labs have equipment you won’t see anywhere else. Not only will you have the privilege to see these objects inaction but you will probably know how to use them as well.
  • Certain labs require you to know how to work with the data yourself. Pay attention in those basic classes, now is when they come in handy.
  • You (probably) will have to complete an IRB and CITI training.
  • If you work on literature reviews, you will figure out how to crank them out like nobody’s business. This helps if you chose to do research later.
  • You will learn how to cite correctly. And quickly.
  • Depending on what kind of person/company/school you work for, you will have the chance to expose yourself to many different people. Many who can offer great connections or opportunities in the future.
  • You will meet important people regardless though. Always have your game face ready.
  • Interactions with participants will always be interesting. Some will be perfect. Other you will wonder how they get a car started (ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS CLICK A RED BARREL, IT’S NOT THAT HARD).
  • Color blindness tests are pretty standard when running participants. At some point, you may run into someone you have to tell to see an optometrist because they might be red-green color blind.
  • You will come to understand why research, especially the one you are participating in, is so important.
  • Maybe you will get to work on personal research. Some colleges have students do an undergrad thesis and where do you think you can do that in the sciences? A lab of course.

You give what you get 

  • You will find out if you like doing research.
  • Researchers move onto new projects constantly. If you do well, you may be invited on to continue doing research under someone.
  • Many research positions start off as unpaid. Many turn paid if you stay on for good work.
  • Depending on your quality of work and what you do, the people you do research under are excellent letter writers.
  • You will become somewhat of an expert in whatever you are doing research on.
  • You will have the experience. Researchers in the future are more likely to take on someone who already has worked in the environment.
  • The more instrumental you are in your lab, the more likely you are to be published.
  • Know that almost all research is done to benefit someone, somewhere. Be proud of that.