I’m sitting underneath the James Turrell Skyspace on campus at Rice. There are a lot of people here with their spouses, dates, friends, children, and even pets. It’s a unique experience for there to be so many people in one concentrated space with absolutely zero noises being made. Busy and peaceful are oxymoronic to say the least.
What am I still doing on campus? It’s the summer, and I should be back in L.A., right? Well, I’m taking two accelerated organic chemistry courses (both five weeks each). Additionally, I am working my same job part-time at the Baker Institute (new project on somatic cell nuclear transfer research, policy, and ethics—will update when that’s finished) as well as touring prospective Rice students and families.
I decided to write this post for all students who are considering the pre-med track in college and even those few straight-track BA/MD programs across the country. I’m also writing for those readers who want to gain some perspective on why I chose the path that I did. In any case, feel free to stop here or continue reading.
Why AT THIS MOMENT did I want to write this post? Because balancing organic chemistry in this fast-paced format, policy research, tour guiding, putting my half into a relationship and friendships, and ENJOYING SUMMER is actually one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in my 18 years. Because prospective BA/MD students need to know how much the sweat, tears, all-nighters, missed dates, and lost friendships in high school are worth the blissful yet elusive “one foot in the door” opportunity that is shaping my undergraduate experience.
- It’s not naïve, foolish, or competitive to be inspired to pursue a career at the age of 18. Maybe you’re like me and have wanted to be a physician ever since lower school, or maybe the idea evolved throughout high school. I agree with what everyone says that opportunities in college will shape your interests and goals, but exposure to these new opportunities shouldn’t dissuade you from conquering an adolescent dream (although they can if changing the dream really does feel right). In fact, everything I have done in college thus far has only strengthened my desire to become a physician and given me more experiences to draw from in my future professional life. I, somehow, can link rowing, tour guiding, policy research, student government, and more to managing the numerous facets of being a doctor. And for those odd ball things I have tried and will in the next three years, at the very least I will have a few far-out stories to tell my patients and colleagues.
- You can ACTUALLY major in (and do, for that matter) whatever you want. I’ve been told by many physicians that you should definitely major in a hard science (biology, chemistry, biochemistry, etc.) in order to be prepared for the MCAT. I assert that while you can study the same material that you would learn in these science courses on your own time, majoring in a hard science will definitely equip you with a work ethic like no other. Carry over this work ethic into medical school, and you’re golden. This is absolutely NOT saying that social science majors do not have the same diligent work ethic as natural science majors (case in point, one of my best friends at Duncan, a history major, can probably finish all her work for the week, clean her dorm room, do three loads of laundry, watch two episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, and work out at the rec center in a single day—I don’t know how she does it). The nature of the academic work that needs to be accomplished, however, is different for the natural and social sciences. A natural science major will be very, very accustomed to working long problem sets and cramming details about reactions or organ systems, and skills obtained from completing these types of assignments are highly coveted in medical school. All of this aside…I thought I was going to major in Biological Sciences…but now I’m not so sure. I want to double major in Policy Studies with a healthcare management focus, but I’m kind of leaning towards Anthropology for my primary major at the moment. I want to take 1-2 science courses per semester, but I applied to this program FOR the academic flexibility. My life after college will largely circulate around the natural and medical sciences, so I want to spend these four young adult years learning about the world and the people in it. I have discovered that I love to travel and speak different languages. I have discovered that I love writing and sharing stories with others in an easy to follow and relatable manner. I have discovered that I love so many other fields—policy, government, anthropology, and Spanish—that do connect to medicine but also possess sub-specialties of their own. I want to study abroad, to conduct a field study research project, to become fluent in Spanish, to write an academic thesis about SOMETHING, and to become a more worldly and interesting person who people love listening to and being around. So yes, I wanted to have the time to travel across Europe on my own budget, research healthcare policy in Chile, and write two drafts of my thesis in English and Spanish. That’s the goal, for now. Yes, longest bullet point ever is finally done.
- College is HARD, and you are going to feel dumb. But good news is, you’re not!!! Dumb people don’t dream as big as you are (I know you do, because you wouldn’t be reading this post if you weren’t). Right now, I feel as if organic chemistry might be the death of me (mind you, the averages on tests are about 50%). Reassuringly, I sleep all right at night knowing that a grade slip here and there (of course, no one can afford to continue letting grades slip) won’t completely prevent my dream from becoming reality.
- Missed a lot in high school? It’s OK because college is a heck of a lot better, AND there are more things to do! I wasn’t a total bookworm in high school, but I definitely didn’t party or be as socially active as I would have preferred. While it may not be as important for other BA/MD students, maintaining an active social and personal life (extracurriculars, parties, casual night-outs, even Netflix binges…) is a priority for me. I don’t have to “make up for lost time” because I really have no regrets from high school. But my first year at Rice—making extra efforts to strengthen relationships, taking the risk and going out to that party, trekking across campus to see my friends at different residential colleges—makes me realize how life isn’t all about what you are doing but also about with whom you are doing those things. People make things happen in the world, and I want to take the time to understand the true engineers of our existence.
- A BA/MD program isn’t always the best path for everyone. It can be a blessing for some and a cage for others. If going to medical school is something that you absolutely cannot give up, stick with it, and it will happen. Hard work always results in a victory, even if that victory might take a little bit longer than expected. But most importantly, do good for the world at every step on your journey because every one of us should strive to amplify the beauty all around us.