“There is no such thing as the perfect score.” “But the average MCAT score at my dream school is a 38.”
“If you have more than one C in pre-med requirements…well…” “GPA is important, but it’s your volunteer hours that get you in.”
“I’ve heard you can’t go without research.” “I know a kid who killed the MCAT and didn’t even set foot in a lab.”
“These days med schools only want non-science majors.” “If you don’t have a science major, your schedule won’t look rigorous enough.”
That, in summary, accounts for about half of my thought process at any given time of day. Whether I’m studying for a physics midterm or trying to enjoy my usual mid-day comfort cupcake at ABP, some portion of my mind is fixated on the fear of what comes after Duke.
Will I cram fast enough to take the old MCAT? Or will I do poorly and find myself needing to take the new one anyway?
Will I find myself sitting in front of pre-health deans advising me to take the oh-so-ominous gap year—in other words, implying that I simply don’t have what it takes to get into a med school?
It didn’t seem like sophomore year was supposed to be much more than a transition to life off of East. But somewhere between Beyoncé’s secret album release and a second-semester snowpocalypse, I found myself entering into a constant state of panic.
If we’re studying for a bio test, the conversation veers back into average acceptance statistics. If we fail a quiz, suddenly it’s a sign that the gates to the heavenly medical school of our dreams are being slammed shut. If we’re deviating from the pre-med path, we’re deviating from the end goal. (So, in case you were wondering, take that English seminar because it fulfills a T-req and NOT because you might like something other than organic chemistry.)
When I explain this panic to most of my family and friends, it turns into a discussion of whether or not I actually want to be pre-med. Is all of the stress and concern actually going to get me where I want in life?
It wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago that I finally had an answer to their qualms. I was at volunteer training for Duke Hospice and Home Care, a volunteer program that is not only recommended by pre-health deans but also a great way to start logging all of those hours I need (I think it’s around 1,000?).
When I walked into training, I was caught off guard to see both Duke students and people who were non-pre-med, non-college kids just looking to lend a helping hand to someone in need.
I didn’t want to admit that I was caught off guard, because I didn’t want to ask myself if I would actually be giving up time to catch up on work and volunteer if it didn’t mean checking off another box on the list of the perfect pre-med candidate.
A few hours into the training, I found myself discussing issues of empathy, how to approach the holistic needs of patients at end-of-life care and all of the possible emotional and physical issues that arise with caring for patients in hospice. In a nutshell, it was the first time since I’ve become pre-med that I was reminded of the end goal of four years of constant self-doubt, panic and a rather unhealthy addiction to 5-Hour Energy. Hopefully, at the end of the day, I will be equipped with the comforting voice and knowledge of a doctor. The person who can administer the medication or advice that puts people at ease when they can’t turn to anyone else. The person who will be able to help the helpless. Idealistic, yes. Optimistic? Oh, for sure. But that end-goal is how I get myself through the series of things that seem unrelated to becoming a good doctor.
The pre-med path is inherently structured to force us into a cycle of testing ourselves, both academically and emotionally. Should I have picked a school I knew I would excel in? Should I have waited to take calculus? Is trying to study over the semester as opposed to the summer going to hurt my MCAT score?
But I can honestly say the reason I’m sticking this out is because I’m finally starting to appreciate my struggles. Yes, I did poorly on my first organic chemistry midterm. Very poorly. But it taught me to seek help when needed (thank you Tessia, you are an amazing tutor), understand that studying meant more than just half-heartedly reading my textbook and that ultimately I don’t hate the classes I’m taking…I just hate it when I don’t know what’s going on. I didn’t have to struggle to learn in high school, and now that I do, I am a harder worker and hopefully a more humble student. Working in a lab has taught me to appreciate how far I still have to go to become truly detail-oriented and patient. My peers have taught me to be supportive of each other and doubt myself a little less. My parents have taught me to never quit.
And so as to whether or not I actually want to be pre-med, the answer is no.
But if you ask me if I want to be a doctor, I’ll have a different answer.
Nandita Singh is a Trinity sophomore. Her column runs every other Tuesday.