How do I prepare for medical school?

You're hoping one day to hear the words, "The doctor will see you now," and the doctor is you! In between now and then lie rigorous classes, the MCAT and medical school application process—and hopefully acceptance! You may be wondering what will make you an exceptional medical school applicant besides a high GPA and MCAT score. What types of internships should you participate in? How do you prepare for the interview?

An informal survey of current UC Davis medical students provided some insights gained from direct experience.

Is medicine for you?

"Try to volunteer at a clinic or shadow a physician and get to know what a typical day is like to make sure it's the career you want," says Sandy Lee.

Dandan Liu corroborates Lee's statement. "Be sure you know why you want to be a doctor. It's an application essay question and most interviewers will ask you," she says. "In truth, getting through med school has been very tough, and almost everyone at some point has asked themselves why am I suffering through this while my friends already have a 401k?"

Another survey respondent, Darren Salmi, says a large number of physicians who have been in practice for five or more years are unhappy with their career choice. "Make sure you are clear about why you want to go into medicine," he says. "Make an effort to experience medicine and don't be afraid to change your mind."

Dive into an internship or research!

All the respondents recommended volunteering at a clinic or hospital, or participating in an internship, and emphasized that depth of experience is as important as breadth. "Devote your activities and time to a few organizations and try to get leadership positions, but don't spread yourself too thin," advises Naomi Raymundo. "Medical schools like seeing passion and quality, not necessarily quantity. They definitely want clinical experience to know you understand the journey and the field," she says.

Numerous respondents recommended consulting the Internship and Career Center for relevant internships as well as applying to intern at the UC Davis-run clinics.

"At least do some research," comments third-year med student Stephanie Voyles. "Schools want to see that you have an inquisitive mind and experience with the process we go through as scientists to learn new information. I interviewed about a dozen med school applicants last year, and this is one of the things we were asked to evaluate," she says.

Liu participated in a public health internship and says common activities include volunteering with a free clinic, research and shadowing. "I have personally seen some degree of each in the applicants I have interviewed," she says.

Med student Laura Nally advises those looking ahead to medical school not to feel pressured to go into medical school directly after graduation. "I took a year off from school and did social work for Hurricane Katrina evacuees," she says. "I was able to meet a diverse group of people who taught me a great deal about the obstacles facing those who had suffered through tragedy. During the year-long experience I learned how our medical system works, the ins and outs of Medicare and Medicaid, and the local and nationwide programs available to those in financial need. It turned out to be a wonderful experience."

The Interview

"Be yourself" was the advice proffered most often in regards to how to handle medical school interviews.

Salmi says, "Don't try to guess what the interviewer wants to hear, it comes across phonier than you'd think."

It may be obvious, but many survey respondents mentioned the need to dress professionally.

Preparation is also key. Raj Kullar says the interview will go more smoothly if applicants have prepared answers to standard questions such as: Why med school? Why this school? What are your strengths and weaknesses? In addition, applicants should have questions for the interview panel.

It's also wise to be prepared for a negative experience. Says Laura Nally, "I had one interviewer show no respect for my accomplishments. He told me that he didn't have time to read my personal statement either. Rather than get upset, I maintained a confident tone and explained why my accomplishments were meaningful, and what they taught me." Despite her impression that the interview went badly, Nally was accepted to the school, although she chose UC Davis instead.

Stay in Balance

While the competitive admissions for med school mean that studying diligently is of primary importance, second-year med student Belma Sadikovic mentions that undergraduates should take time to have fun. "Give yourself some fun time before entering med school. Travel, visit friends and family."

Resources

If you do only one thing, do this! Sign up for Advising Services' prehealth-events listserv, and you'll receive e-mail notification about med school representative visits, career-preparation events and workshops. You'll get more information than you can shake a lab coat at!