Meditations on Pre-Med

Thursday, August 28, 2014 - 14:45

When I was growing up, I always knew that I wanted to become a doctor. Now that I’m a college student, I’m one step closer to realizing that goal through UChicago’s pre-med program. The pre-med program at Chicago is different from other schools. UChicago students are not “pre-med” majors--”pre-med” just describes the set of math and science classes that students need to take to apply to medical school. Many “pre-med” students major in traditional sciences such a biology or chemistry, but really students are free to major in whatever they like (such as Classics or Visual Arts), while still also taking classes in math and science (the “pre-med” courses). The pre-med program is under the umbrella of The Dean of Students College Advisors and Career Advancement, the two University offices that work together to prepare students for employment, professional programs, or other opportunities after graduation. Even though being a  pre-med student can be challenging, the program here at UChicago provides plenty of resources and guidance to help ensure that pre-meds are successful. Pre-med students at UChicago have access to programs that help them learn about the medical field outside of the lecture hall through counseling and guidance, research, and a ton of Recognized Student Organizations (clubs, outside of “Chicago-speak”) that students can be involved with.

I knew I wanted to be a pre-med student from the time I first arrived on campus, so I became involved with UChicago Careers In Health Professions (UCIHP) right away. UCIHP is a pre-professional program--involving workshops, individual counseling, networking, and more--under Career Advancement that specifically works with students who are interested in working in the health professions. The primary counselor for UCIHP is the former Director of Admissions at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, so she is very familiar with what medical school admissions offices are looking for in applicants. Each of our career counselors has personal and professional experience in their respective field, so I’ve found that their advice is definitely worth following.  Counseling starts out in general terms when students are first exploring their career options and the medical field in general, but becomes more specialized as they progress through their time in the college and narrow their interests and focus. These guidance resources are open to all students at UChicago interested in the medical field, which keeps the process from becoming competitive among students looking for the same resources--in fact, UChicago writes endorsement letters for all undergraduates who are applying to med school, not just the top applicants.

In addition to meeting with UCIHP counselors, most pre-med students will conduct research during their time as undergraduates. This is particularly easy to do at UChicago because we have more undergraduate research positions available than students who want to fill them. Students can find these research positions by talking to their professors, looking on FROGS (a database of available research positions), talking to their friends who already work in labs, etc. I found my research position in the Genetics Institute by e-mailing ten professors asking for to work with them. Within a week, I had heard back from six of them who invited me to join their labs--I was actually able to be selective and choose the lab whose work interested me the most!

There’s more to the pre-med college experience than preparing a competitive med school application. There are student organizations of all types and sizes that help cultivate and support pre-meds here, as well as giving them productive ways to fulfill their desire to help others while still college students. These include RSOs like the Peer Health Exchange, Health Leads, and the Pre-Med Students Association. I volunteer with the UChicago chapter of Peer Health Exchange, a national organization that provides health education for high school students in cities around the country. This past year, I taught lessons on pregnancy prevention to local ninth graders and some of my friends taught topics like sexual decision-making, healthy relationships, and alcohol education. Another RSO, the Pre-Med Students Association, creates a space for students interested in the same field to share information and support each other in their endeavors, which can be very helpful in times of stress.

I hope I’ve been able to give you a glimpse of the overarching structure of the pre-med program here at UChicago. This program has really made my dream of becoming a doctor far more attainable than it was when I first entered college. The tools the University gives me, and the network of support in place, is something I hope every aspiring doctor has access to.