In the 10 years I’ve advised students, I’ve worked with students in high school, community colleges, 4 year universities, students aspiring to be teachers, and now for the last 6 years the premed students passionate about working with underserved populations. As a premed adviser, I struggle with selecting just one piece of advice to the students pursuing careers in medicine. But if I was to give one word of wisdom, it would be that you don’t need to memorize everything.
Memorization has probably been a very versatile skill for you to this point, but now it’s time to up the game. Let me introduce you to two new skills to add to your repertoire. Asking questions and being comfortable in asking for help. Every compassionate and successful professional in the healthcare industry must learn these two skills.
Learning the art of asking question goes back to my training in counseling psychology. I quickly learned that asking good questions will come naturally from careful and compassionate listening. Think of the future patients you’ll work with. How you ask questions is as important to the actual question itself. Now is the time to begin practicing and understanding the professional world and practicing asking good questions when you volunteer and work with patients or when you shadow a physician will be critical in your preparation. So keep a close eye and ear for the questions you hear and learning about non-verbal cues and practicing your listening skills will be of essence to mastering this skill.
In addition to knowing how to ask good questions, you must master asking yourself good questions too. Am I prepared for the MCAT? Why do I want to pursue medicine? Have I gained tangible experience in learning about the role of a physician and the world of medicine and healthcare?
Now that I’ve covered a little on the art of asking questions I want to wrap up with one last tool to help in the navigation of being a premed student: Being comfortable in asking for help. This skill will take you the farthest in a career in medicine. The journey in pursuing a career in medicine will be long and challenging and success will come with mastering working with a team of people, depending on others for information and their expertise, and being able to ask for help will be essential. From visiting professors during office hours to working with your premed adviser, being able to ask good question AND being comfortable asking for help will connect you to a world of resources you may have not thought existed.
Working with college students has placed me in a very unique position to see what medical schools expect in applicants while also seeing where premed students struggle in their preparation for a career in medicine. It is easy to always focus on GPA and MCAT scores. While academic success is important, medical schools will still be asking “Why do you want to be a physician?” and “Why do you want to be in the world of medicine?” They want to make sure you’ve asked yourself the right questions and that you’ve gotten comfortable with asking for help along the way.
A. Francisco Castelan is a Health Professions Adviser at Northwestern University. He holds a Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has been an advisor at NU for 5 years. Prior to NU, he was a Career Counselor and academic Adviser at the University of Wyoming. While living in Madison, he held positions at UW-Madison as a Recruiter in the undergraduate admissions office and was an Academic Advisor in the School of Education. He currently is on the Committee on Diversity Affairs for the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and also on the Minority Affairs Committee for the National Association of Advisors for the Health Professions (NAAHP).