Upon their arrival at the University, most first years have no idea what they want to do after graduation, and those who claim to know often change their minds five times by the end of their four years here.
And then there are the pre-meds.
The University’s top-notch science program attracts a variety of people wanting to pursue science majors, such as biology, chemistry, neuroscience and behavior, and biochemistry. Some of these students choose the pre-medical track, which has a curriculum more or less in alignment with medical schools’ pre-requisites. The many requirements, while not impossible, can be somewhat overwhelming at first, at least according to pre-med Christina Arlia ’19.
“I feel as though as long as you stay focused and determined to fulfill the requirements, it doesn’t seem to be too daunting,” Arlia wrote in an email to The Argus. “However, looking at the overall situation, it does seem to be a little stressful at first. There are many things you need to do for the pre-med track.”
Some freshmen, such as Vanessa Tostado ’19, face the difficulty of wanting to major in something other than a hard science, which can be difficult to do while fulfilling the medical school pre-requisites.
“There are some pretty heavy requirements,” Tostado said. “Right now, I am stuck because I want to study abroad, I have to do pre-med, and I have to do all of the gen ed requirements. I don’t just want to fall in the bio major, so I want to try other things and major in something other than a hard science. With the right time management, it is doable, but it takes a lot of work.”
On the other hand, Tostado believes that choosing a less-expected major will help her chances of admission to graduate school.
“I think it brings a different perspective to medical school when they get someone who wasn’t a straight bio major,” she said.
In fact, Tostado chose to study at the University because it, unlike other schools, gives pre-med students the ability to pursue their other interests.
“I was debating between UC Davis and Wesleyan,” Tostado said. “I have other interests, but I also know that I want to do pre-med. Wesleyan provides such a well-rounded education that if I decide to do something else and pursue my other interests, I would be able to do that. At Wesleyan, you’re encouraged to be more than just pre-med, unlike at UC Davis, where the pre-med curriculum is very structured.”
Serena Shimshak ’17 is a double-major in biology and neuroscience. She’s also the president of the University’s chapter of the American Medical Students Association (AMSA). Shimshack explained that double majors not only often have trouble completing the requirements for two majors and pre-med, but also do not get as much of an opportunity to take electives.
“My curriculum is very set, which is kind of a hindrance,” Shimshak said. “I wish I could take more classes for fun, but hopefully I will be able to take some senior year once I get all of the requirements out of the way.”
Studying for the MCAT is a fact of life for everyone who wants to attend medical school. It is a rigorous process, and most students agree that it is best to start preparing early. Some students, however, such as Shimshak, plan to attend another graduate school before medical school. This gives them more time to study.
“It is [a] lengthy [process],” Shimshak said. “It depends when you want to take it. I was planning on trying to take it next summer to go to med school afterwards, but I ended up rethinking that. I think that it is helpful to take a class to help prepare, and it is always helpful to plan ahead and not wait until the month or two before.”
First-years such as Arlia and Tostado are unsure of what the process will be like, but they expect it to be a rigorous one.
“I’m only speculating, as I am a freshman, but I believe it is going to be very demanding and time-consuming,” Arlia said. “I know that I’ll probably have to start studying months in advance so that I feel fully prepared.”
Tostado, on the other hand, expects that most of her preparation for the MCAT will lie in her school curriculum.
“I assume it’s like the SAT, but I don’t know,” Tostado said. “I feel like the pre-med requirements are things that will show up on the MCAT.”
On the other hand, she worries that, because she is taking her pre-med courses spread out over four years, it will be hard to retain all that knowledge when it comes time to take the exam.
“You don’t take all the requirements in one year, so they aren’t always fresh in your mind,” she said. “This means that it requires a lot of studying. I know that some people take a gap year to study.”
Most University pre-med students, however, agree that the community is tight-knit and supportive. Shimshak spoke to this strength.
“I am the president of AMSA, so that’s the community of pre-med students that I am most familiar with,” Shimshak said. “Everyone is kind of in the same boat, which makes it easy to connect with people. It is a good resource and very helpful.”
Even though many students might feel pressure from their parents to pursue a career in the medical field, some experience doubt—either their own or their families’. Even after Tostado’s father tried to convince her otherwise, for example, she still knew that the medical field was for her.
“It’s been a very big dream of mine since I was little,” said Tostado. “There’s never been any pressure from my family. Even now, my dad still asks me if I’m sure if this is what I want to do. He worries that this is a very morbid career.”
Despite her current level of certainty, Tostado admits to having questioned wanting to become a doctor. All it took, however, was speaking to a practicing physician.
“There was definitely a time where I wasn’t sure, but I had an information interview with a doctor, and her story and her past really resonated with me,” she said. “It re-instilled that passion within me, and I realized that even though it is a lot of work, I really wanted to do this. I think through getting more experience through volunteering, I will be able to understand more about why I want to do this for myself.”