Many students at Barnard and Columbia start off their college experiences as pre-med students, but wonder, “Is pre-med what I actually want to do?” While Gen Chem, the required introductory class for all students on the pre-med track, is often overflowing with people desperate to get off the waitlist, courses of higher levels, like Gen Chem IV, often have way fewer students enrolled. However, others don’t find out until much later on in their college careers, and, by that time, even though they are normally able to easily change majors or tracks, they feel as if they have wasted time doing something they don’t love. To help everyone out there still trying to figure out if they really want to be pre-med, here is a list of tips and tricks that will hopefully provide some guidance in whether you should pursue the pre-med track.
1. Understand what being pre-med really means: Being pre-med is very time-consuming and will require you to make some sacrifices. The pre-med requirements are extensive, difficult, and mainly hardcore science-based. To be honest, you won’t have much time for other courses outside of your general education requirements, major courses, and minor courses. There are so many requirements that some people actually decided not to declare a minor at all to make time to try different courses and/or find a major they are passionate about.
Because being pre-med is a big commitment, you may have to sacrifice other obligations for your studies more often than you think. This might mean you spend fewer nights out at Mel’s. You also may have that early Friday morning biology class that you shouldn’t miss (at least not too often). All being said, though, pre-med is definitely doable. You’re even likely to make friends in your pre-med classes that understand your FOMO.
2. Understand why you really want to become a doctor: Some students come to college wanting to be a doctor because their parents are doctors. Some students go through the lists of potential careers or majors, and they eliminate things until what’s left is pre-med. Neither of these are good enough reasons to become a doctor because, to be quite frank, pre-med and medical school together are too exhausting and too long to do if you don’t have the motivation. So, take some time as early on as possible, and figure out what truly has led you to decide on pre-med. Do you like puzzles? Do you like science? Do you like working with people? If you have a reason that truly drives you, then go for it! But also realize that it’s okay to admit that pre-med and medical school is just not something YOU really want to do.
3. Meet with a career adviser or a pre-med adviser: Meeting with advisers to plan out your academic career can be super helpful. As a pre-med student, you have to meticulously plan your courses, and you’ll definitely want to be planning ahead to make sure you’re as strong an applicant for medical school as you can be. Not only can they help you efficiently plan out your entire college career, but they can also help you discover the answers to the first two tips if you’re having a bit of trouble doing it by yourself. Here are the advising resources at both Columbia and Barnard.
4. Shadow a doctor, or volunteer at a hospital: Even if you have a reason and are 100 percent willing to commit, in the end, the pre-med track may still not be for you if you aren’t a fan of working in a hospital. Maybe it’s too fast-paced for you. Maybe you’re too squeamish. Maybe the hours are too long for you. Shadowing a doctor or volunteering at a hospital will definitely help you determine if you like the hospital environment, or if you’d prefer a different one.
In addition, volunteering at a hospital is a great addition to a good medical school application, and, if you choose to volunteer somewhere that interests you, you can find that you’ve become even more passionate about pre-med and becoming a doctor than before. You can find shadowing or volunteer opportunities at the New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center or even at St. Luke’s.
5. Try doing interesting research: Summer research internships or even helping out in a lab at the New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center not only looks great on your medical school application, but it also helps you distinguish between research and medicine. Is it really medicine you want to go into, or is it biomedical research? The two are VERY different.
Different people might go into the same research program and leave with completely different opinions about their experience, but regardless, it’s a great opportunity to learn what you truly want to do. You can find some great summer research opportunities through Columbia and Barnard’s website.
6. Join a club: One more thing you can do to help yourself learn more about pre-med and the medical field in general is to join a special interest club. Doing so is a great opportunity to talk to and learn from other pre-med students who are going through or have already gone through the same struggles you’re currently experiencing. In addition, your club may turn out to be a great resource for getting summer internships, applying to medical school, finding volunteer positions, etc. Columbia and Barnard have some great clubs such as the Charles Drew Pre-Medical Society, GlobeMed, Peer Health Exchange, and more.