Tufts Pre-Health

Anecdotes and advice about preparing for a career in health

Category: Pre-Vet (page 1 of 4)

Take a Deep Breath! It Will Be Alright

As I sit here on my last first day of my undergraduate career, I’m reflecting on all that I’ve learned as a pre-med student at Tufts. I realize how far I’ve come from that very first month of school when I was a walking bundle of stress, wondering how I’d survive such strenuous academic demands for four years, especially as a student with learning differences. Spoiler alert: it gets easier! Now, I don’t mean that your course load magically becomes a breeze and that you’ll be sipping mojitos by Mystic Lake. You will, however, figure out how to manage your classes by studying more effectively, carving out important time to socialize, and delving into exciting extracurricular activities. I’ve collected my thoughts and put together a list of the top pieces of advice that I wish I’d had as an incoming First Year student.

1. Breathe and Take a Step Back
If I could give you one piece of advice, it would be to breathe. It sounds intuitive, but that only makes it easier to forget. A little bit of stress can be a healthy motivator, but too much is detrimental to not only your psychological health, but also your physical health. When you are under extreme stress, you aren’t able to study as effectively. Simple problem solving and essay writing become insurmountable tasks. Take a five-minute break to get away from your desk and take a few deep breaths to calm down. Whenever I get extremely overwhelmed I step away from my work and tell myself: This is just one test in one college course in one semester of your life. In the grand scheme of things, it is very insignificant. I bet you won’t even remember it 30 years from now if you happen to do poorly on this test. You’ll be doing what you truly care about, taking care of sick people, and spending time with your family. I know it seems like a ridiculous internal dialogue to have, but it really helps me put things in perspective.

2. Focus on Yourself, and Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
One of the qualities that most attracted me to Tufts was the vibe I got from students when I visited. Tufts seemed to foster a sense of genuine comraderie and collaboration in the classroom instead of pitting students against one another. That being said, even at Tufts it is easy to get sucked into comparing yourself to your peers, especially as a pre-med student. A word of advice, don’t. It is a deadly dance that creates unnecessary, unproductive stress and it promotes a toxic learning environment where instead of supporting your peers and benefitting from collaborative studying, you tear each other down with constant academic competitiveness.

I remember feeling overwhelmed the first week of Chem I, as my peers chattered about having taken two years of chemistry in high school, including an AP class. I was utterly intimidated. My progressive high school didn’t offer APs, and I had found chemistry challenging when I took it my junior year of high school. At first the pressure was paralyzing, and I let my own stress and worries of unpreparedness hinder my learning. It wasn’t until I did well on the first midterm that I realized all of these comparisons were meaningless. From that day forward I ignored boastful classmates and highly qualified peers, and focused on myself and on my own growth.

One tool that can help promote a healthy learning environment is to not share your grades. I never share my grades with my peers, especially if I’ve done really well. What’s the point? When prompted to partake in grade comparisons, I’ll simply say, “I don’t really share my grades, but I did better than I expected,” or “that test was harder than I thought it would be.”

3. Exercise
You’ve probably heard this a million times: get exercise! If you’re not especially inclined to go work out at the gym for an hour every day, there are other ways to incorporate exercise into your week. The Hamilton pool is a great alternative to the treadmill. Carving out an hour once a week is better than nothing. Even 15 minutes a day will do the trick. Take a study break, blast your favorite pump up songs, and do a few sit-ups and pushups on your floor. There are also plenty of short YouTube exercise videos you could use. If you’re stuck cramming at the library, where dropping down and doing 20 pushups might get you some puzzled looks, get up and go on a 15-minute walk instead to break up long study sessions. Although, if you are courageous enough to crank out some sit-ups in the stacks, all the power to you! You’ll come back feeling refreshed and reinvigorated, which will actually lead to more productive studying. Not only does exercise help alleviate stress, but it also helps you sleep better at night, improves your mood, and enhances your ability to learn.

4. Get Sleep!
This lesson took me way too long to learn, and I wish that I’d taken my parents more seriously when they told me how important sleep is. I didn’t consciously change my sleep schedule until my junior spring of college, when I took Joe Debold’s Brain and Behavior class. I learned all about the benefits of sleep and the very real consequences of sleep deprivation. I started prioritizing sleep over cramming until the wee hours of the morning, and the effects were obvious. I felt more alert all day long, absorbed more information in my classes, and was able to complete my homework more efficiently, which was crucial for me since I read really slowly.

5. Go Abroad
If you are dying to go abroad, but feel like you have to stay back because of pre-med courses, don’t let that stop you. You may have to rearrange your future academic scheduling or go overseas through a summer program, but try your best to get abroad. I promise it will be worth it. Going to Chile was hands down one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I had to take organic chemistry over the summer, and switched my major from biopsychology to general psychology, but I do not regret those sacrifices one bit.

I had wanted to become fluent in Spanish for a long time, and in college I became interested in practicing medicine with Spanish-speaking immigrant populations in the U.S., so the language skills and cultural insight I gained from my time in Chile were invaluable in helping me reach those goals. More importantly, my experiences abroad completely changed how I led my life once I returned to the U.S. I gained more through 6 months of experiential learning than I had in two years of traditional classes at Tufts. As someone who has always had my nose to the grindstone, as I imagine many of you do, I let incredible experiences pass by me as I relentlessly prioritized studying. Don’t get me wrong, studying is important, and I still study longer than many of my peers, but I am now committed to not let the little pleasures and moments in life fly by me. I try to take on new opportunities and engage in exciting experiences that the old me would have given up for one more hour in the library. Take a few hours and go to a museum, get coffee with a new friend, or join a club that you’re scared to join. These things all pay off and are incredibly enriching! I firmly believe that this experiential learning has helped me get to know myself and the people I want to work with better, and will make me a more qualified and compassionate provider one day.

6. Choose a Major That Excites You
Pre-med students often feel pressured to choose a science major such as biochemistry or biology. It is true that these majors’ requirements overlap with many of the pre-med requirements; however if you are not passionate about these traditional science majors, don’t put yourself through four years of apathy or misery unnecessarily. In fact, I would encourage you to choose a major that excites you outside of the core pre-med sciences. Doing so is a great way to add breadth to your studies, explore your passions beyond medicine, and mix up your schedule. After considering Spanish, Peace & Justice Studies, and biopsychology, I finally stuck with general psychology as my major. I love being able to nerd out about psychology with my friends, and the knowledge I’ve acquired has opened many medicine-related doors that I would not have been eligible for had I stuck with chemistry or biology. Just remember, medical schools want well-rounded individuals, so don’t shy away from your passions!

7. Don’t be Afraid to Drop Pre-med
It can be very comforting to have a plan coming into college. The pre-med curriculum lays out a strict set of classes, and provides a sense of structure, which can be helpful in a time of transition. However, once you settle in at Tufts, realize that it is okay to change your plans. No one will think lesser of you for doing so. In fact, I think it shows maturity and courage to branch out and take new classes. Doing so means that you are truly making the most of the incredible liberal arts education that Tufts offers. I have many friends who dropped pre-med after a semester to pursue other interests. They are thriving in these other disciplines, and couldn’t be happier with their decision.

8. If You Are Truly Passionate About Becoming a Doctor, Make it Happen, and Don’t Stress so Much About the Path You Take to Get There.
It may be cliché to say, but life happens. Classes you thought would be easy turn out to be challenging, you prioritize going abroad over completing your pre-med requirements by a certain semester, or maybe you don’t discover your passion for medicine until your senior year of college. Regardless of what causes you to deviate from the traditional pre-med track, it does not mean that you cannot pursue a future in medicine. If you’re truly passionate about becoming a doctor, don’t let the perceived nuisances of post-baccalaureate classes or four years of medical school dissuade you. Once you’re a doctor, you’ll get to do meaningful work that you love for the rest of your professional life!

As a First Year at Tufts, I was determined to take no more than one year after graduation before going to medical school. However, after living in Chile for 6 months, I realized how essential experiential learning is, and I am now thrilled to be devoting at least two years to live abroad and gain work experience.

Final Thoughts

I’d like to end with a few personal reflections, for everyone, but especially for those with learning differences who may feel overwhelmed as they start their journey at Tufts. I’ve always read really slowly and take longer than most to complete tests. I attended a very progressive high school that had no timed tests, and my teachers always encouraged me to come back and finish my tests at lunch if I didn’t have enough time to finish during the class period. I just thought I was extremely thorough, and never suspected that any learning differences were to blame. It took me getting through only about 75% of the PSATs in the given time limit to finally pursue formal educational testing, which confirmed the gap between my processing speed and cognitive abilities. When I was first diagnosed with ADD and some reading disabilities I felt really resentful. I saw myself as a fraud that had only been doing so well in school thanks to the generosity of my teachers. My confidence dropped and I felt like my identity had become these diagnostic labels that followed me everywhere and overshadowed my true personality.

Leading up to my first semester at Tufts, I worried that the increased rigor of college would prevent me from keeping up with my peers. I won’t lie, it hasn’t been a piece of cake, but it is very doable. Yes, I do have to study for more hours than many of my peers to cover the same material. But, once I accepted and embraced my learning style as integral to who I am, and stopped comparing the number of hours I was spending on assignments with my peers, doing my work became a lot less stressful. Yes, my ADD can be a real pain sometimes, but it also adds to the bubbly person that I am today, and I wouldn’t trade that for the world. Also, keep in mind that there are more people in your classes who struggle with their own academic obstacles than you realize. Physical and cognitive differences are often invisible, so you are not alone, even if it may feel like it at times.

Finally, don’t be afraid to use Tufts resources such as the ARC for free tutoring, or going to office hours with your professors. Being proactive is a big part of growing up and taking on more personal responsibility, and it will help you succeed academically at Tufts.

I hope these tips have been helpful! When things get stressful, remember, take a step back, breathe, and don’t forget to enjoy the journey along the way!

Feel free to reach out to me with any questions by emailing carol.baffi-dugan@tufts.edu, who will put us in contact.

 

The author of this blog prefers to keep their disability private

More Than a Pre-Med

As a pre-health student it is quite easy to fall into the trappings of the “pre-health only” mentality. Such a mentality places emphasis on activities that are medical in nature or only serve the purpose of strengthening your resume. While such activities are important, a sense of fulfillment is an often forgotten but important aspect of any activity we dedicate our valuable time and energy to as pre-health students. That is not to say medical activities are always boring or unfulfilling, but rather, that any activity has the potential to be so if you’re not enjoying yourself. As a freshman, I had known that I was pre-med and was already well-aware of the importance of “building up your pre-health resume”.

Personally, football was an activity that brought me a great sense of fulfillment even though it was not health-related.  I learned that through perseverance and resiliencSkellye a team or an individual can accomplish anything. However, fulfillment can be achieved off the field as well and as a community health major I was required to complete an internship in the greater Boston area. When choosing the internship I was presented with a choice between positions that were clinical versus those that were behavioral. I ultimately chose the position focused on behavioral public health research and as a result was able to have one of my most rewarding research experiences. I spent part of that summer working on the Tufts Responds to the Epidemics of Addiction and Hepatitis C Together (Tufts REACTs) project. The goals of the study were to identify factors related to Hepatitis C (HCV) transmission among young people who inject drugs (PWID), and interest in, acceptance of, and potential adherence to HCV treatment. Through recruitment and interviews with participants, I learned about stigma around substance use disorder and how pervasive this stigma is, even in medical practice. I also learned that cultural competence and a commitment to doing justice are important characteristics of a health professional.

Although my internship experience was devoid of “medical experience” per se, I certainly learned a lot about myself, why medicine is my chosen career path, and what it takes to be a health professional. I can certainly say this experience made me better as both pre-health student and as a person. Being a pre-health student at Tufts can be as rewarding an experience as you make it, so don’t be afraid to do what you enjoy because it can teach you more about yourself and help you become a well-rounded person and future health professional. Finally, remember that undergrad is a time to grow as a person, not just a pre-health student, so don’t be afraid to do activities that you enjoy and leave you with a sense of fulfillment because you are more than just a pre-med.

Osemwengie Skelly Enabulele Jr.
Tufts University – Class of 2017
Community Health Major

What Do You Want to be When You Grow Up?

Ah, the quintessential question of childhood: what do you want to be when you grow up? What do you aspire to be. Well, according to my family, I counted as a grown up when I entered college. But the thing is, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be.kids

When I started college, I wanted to be a marine biologist. Then at the end of my sophomore year, I decided I wanted to combine my interest in health with my love for animals, declared that I was going to be a veterinarian, and joined the Pre-Veterinarian Society. Yet, here I am, in the fall of my senior year, hoping to go to medical school.

At first this uncertainty was very stressful, especially as I watched my peers commit to veterinary or medical school through the early assurance programs. But as I started to explore other non-health related interests, I realized why I wanted to switch to being pre-med. Over the summer, I interned as an instructor at Axiom Learning, where I help students work through various learning challenges. I found that I loved the human problem solving aspect of the job the most: I loved working with the students, with their parents, and with their schools to develop a plan to treat and manage symptoms of a learning challenge. It is that desire to work with people to develop a plan to solve a problem that prompted me to switch to pre-med.

So if you’re unsure of what you want to be when you grow up, don’t worry. Go to a pre-med society meeting or a pre-vet meeting or a pre-dent meeting, or all three! Take your time to figure out where your interests lie, and don’t be afraid to look for those interests outside of health related activities. They will help you feel ready to answer the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?”

Join a “You” Club

I believe that one of the most worthwhile decisions I have made was to join the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) club here at Tufts. When I was a sophomore, my BIO13 professor presented a quick slide about ASBMB, saying that some students were hosting an organizational meeting in order to form the club. At the time, I was looking for a group of people that I could “celebrate my nerdy side” with and talk about breakthroughs in science. After going to a few meetings, I found a friendly group of students that loved research, were always excited about science, and were eager to mentor other students. Whether it was giving tips about how to study for a certain class, how to shape a path in a certain major, or what internship opportunities there were available, the upperclassmen always had invaluable experiences. I found an endless wealth of resources just by going to the meetings and talking to them. There were also fun events such as lecture series, where I was exposed to the groundbreaking research done here at Tufts. Because I could identify with everyone there, I felt comfortable opening up and reaffirming my joy of science, which ultimately helped me choose a career path that involved research.

When I joined the club, there was no ulterior motive. I did not join ASBMB because I was pre-med and by joining this club it was going to help me get into medical school. In fact, there were virtually no pre-med students in the club. I joined the club because I knew I enjoyed talking about science and research, and I wanted to seek out other people who were the same. I encourage students to have the same goal in mind. Everything you do should not be medical school oriented, but “you” oriented. You may find that clubs you join or activities you do may help with medical school, but that should simply be a byproduct. You will find that joining a club that aligns with your passions will serve as an outlet for any pre-med stress.

Jasper Du, Biochemistry ’17

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Mentorship Program

The confusion. The stress. The overwhelming feelings. These emotions are all too familiar for your average pre-med student as they begin their freshman year, and if we are being honest, they never go away. My experience with these feelings is one of the reasons why I was driven to become a mentor for the Pre-Medical Mentorship program. As a pre-med BME, I felt that I had a semi-unique pre-med experience that could be helpful to incoming freshmen planning on a similar college path to me, so I applied at the encouragement of a friend.

The summer before I applied to be a mentor in the Mentorship program I read a book all about the process of becoming a doctor starting from being an undergrad. In conjunction with my experience as a freshman BME, I felt that I could help incoming students with the same major interests. I was very excited to meet with them because I remember how I felt as an incoming freshman, and I was happy to help share my experiences.PreHealthMentorshipImage2

I met my mentees for the first time at the Mentorship Social last year. I spent a good part of an hour just fielding questions from them and helping calm their nerves. We talked about their fears and hopes for their undergraduate career, while trying to get to know each other. The social allowed my mentees to get comfortable with me and asking me questions. The following events covered many things from course selection for the spring and following fall to extracurricular and summer opportunities. My role as a mentor was to answer or help answer the many questions my mentees had related to the meeting’s subject. My mentees emailed me any worries they had about the unfolding semester, which I did my best to answer. The most important role I had as a mentor was being a reliable source of information (and comfort) for my mentees, which in itself made me feel good.

Why did I enjoy being a mentor? Why should someone want to be a mentor? Besides the obvious aspects such as developing leadership qualities and getting more involved on campus, the perks of being a mentor come down to the satisfaction of helping others with what you know, and isn’t that why you want to be a doctor in the first place?

 

Léon Taquet
BME Class of 2018
Co-coordinator, Premed Society Mentorship Program

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