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Pre-med tips for high school students

Powell Library at UCLA

The path to a career in medicine is long and rigorous, and starts years before the first medical school application is submitted. If you are a high school student interested in pursuing a career in medicine, Capstone has a few tips that we hope will make your path a bit smarter and smoother.

Make sure this is what you want

As soon as you think you are interested in a career in medicine, begin learning more about the medical field by volunteering in a hospital, clinic, blood donation center, skilled nursing facility, or other location where people receive healthcare. While carrying out your tasks, carefully observe the work of the healthcare professionals. Also, look for opportunities to talk with them or others you know about their careers, career pathways, and their day-to-day work.

Think about why you want to be a physician

What is your motivation? What inspired your interest? Most people going into healthcare say they want to help people, but the job is much more than that. Physicians work hard, keeping up with their field and prioritizing the welfare of their patients, while also navigating a complex healthcare reimbursement system (how healthcare is paid for). They need great communication skills, a well developed sense of empathy and ethics, an understanding of the complex US healthcare system and how it is changing, and an ability to gain their patients’ trust to discuss the most personal and intimate details of their lives and bodies.

Educate yourself about what it takes to get there

Learn what it takes to gain admission to medical school by becoming very familiar with the Resources & Services page on the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) website, which has links to a lot of essential resources for pre-meds. For instance, you can learn about the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS), and the financial aspects of attending medical school. You can also purchase access to detailed admissions information about every allopathic (MD) medical school in the US.

Work on your test-taking skills

To successfully apply to medical school and thrive in medical school, you need strong test-taking skills. Take the SAT, ACT and AP exams seriously because the skills you learn to succeed on those tests, which include test-taking strategies and managing test anxiety, will be essential for your future success. You will need to earn a strong score on the MCAT to earn a spot in medical school, and you must earn passing scores on each step of the US Medical Licensing Exams (USMLE) to be licensed to practice medicine in the US.

Prioritize your long-term goals when building your college list

Pre-med students tend to be high achievers who set high standards for themselves, which are important qualities for future physicians. Students with those qualities also tend to aim for the most selective colleges they can get into, often assuming that a prestigious undergraduate institution will give them an edge in the medical school admissions process.

However, matriculating to the most selective college you can get into may not support your long-term goal of getting into medical school. If you are shooting for colleges in which you would be in the bottom 50% of admitted students, you may find it difficult to earn the strong grades you will need to be a competitive medical school applicant. What’s actually most important is how you do wherever you end up going. Medical school admissions committees will view a B as a B and an A as an A.

That said, the MCAT is really hard, and medical school is really hard. You will be best served by attending a college that will give you an excellent academic foundation, while pushing you to do your very best without breaking you down.

Applying to medical school requires a level of commitment seen in few other fields. At Capstone, we work with a lot of high school and college students who want to pursue a career in medicine. Please reach out if you have questions about the process or would like support through the process.

Featured image: Powell Library at UCLA

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