The journey to becoming a doctor is a long one. Many students make the mistake of thinking that the real work of being a pre-med student starts later in college when you start taking upper-level college science classes, working in a lab, or volunteering at a hospital or clinic.
The truth is that being a pre-med student starts well before then – it starts before you even enter college. You may be surprised to find that it begins in high school. There are three core aspects to pre-med success that all begin before you ever leave high school.
1. Developing Good Habits
Being a pre-med student isn’t about taking super tough science courses or spending endless hours squirreled away in some lab somewhere. Instead, the real key to being a successful pre-med is establishing the habits of hard work, focus, and determination as early as possible.
While getting strong grades in high school is important, as that can open up more opportunities in college, it’s more important to develop the habit of sticking to something important, and pushing through even when it gets tough. You can learn the most important skills it takes to be a successful med student or pre-med just as easily through activities like playing a sport or participating in the school play as by spending a trillion hours at the library studying and doing homework. Teamwork and dedication are essential aspects of the practice of medicine and developing those skills as early as possible will serve you well.
The most important academic skill associated with success in med school and in college is simply this: reading. Read a lot. Read the books assigned in English class. Read for fun. Read novels, the news, magazines, anything. And no, your Facebook feed and reddit don’t count!
It’s not about reading science – your pre-med classes and med school professors will teach you the facts you need to know. Instead, it’s about developing your ability to quickly take in new information from various sources. You’re better off spending time and effort reading that copy of Jane Eyre that your English teacher forced on you than trying to read science-y or technical information. Critical reading is one of the most important skills you can build for success as a pre-med, there’s an entire section of the MCAT essentially dedicated to it, and that starts in high school.
3. Learning to Listen
It’s a common complaint that doctors often don’t actually listen to their patients because they’re so focused on quickly making the diagnosis and moving on to the next patient. The same habit can often be seen in med schools and pre-med students.
Those science lectures can be boring. It’s so easy to just zone out and spend class time browsing ESPN.com or Instagram. But you’ve gotta be able to push yourself to stop zoning out and actually listen during classes. The skill of being a good attentive listener is one you can start developing right now, everywhere in life – not just in school. When a friend or family member is talking, don’t immediately jump in with your own thoughts or ideas. Don’t even focus on what you’re going to say. Instead, put all your effort and attention on listening to what the other person is saying. Listen. Just listen.
Ultimately, success as a pre-med revolves around a core of personal traits and habits that can be developed in high school (and earlier is better!). You should actively work to develop your reading skills, your active listening skills, your teamwork, and your determination. If you put in the effort early, you’ll find the transition into pre-med college life is easier than you might expect.