Tufts Pre-Health

Anecdotes and advice about preparing for a career in health

Category: Pre-Med (page 1 of 9)

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

Why Be a Mentor?

I vividly remember the moment when I first took a look at the course listings required for a pre-medical track, biology major, CBS major, and everything else that was offered on SIS, and just feeling this overwhelming sense of being lost. But I also vividly remember sitting down with my mentor and fellow mentees for the first time during one of the first Pre-Medical Society events, and feeling that sense of overwhelming slowly dissipate. As I talked with my fellow freshmen and my sophomore mentor, I saw myself grasping an idea of the directions I would take in order to best handle the rigorous course loads ahead of me.

As the year went by and with each subsequent mentorship event with the society, I felt more and more comfortable with my work, my classes, my extracurricular activities, and just generally being more at ease with the inherent stress of being a pre-medical student. I had also decided to pursue a biology and CBS double major, so that did the exact opposite of helping the burden. However, never once did I feel that I did not know what I was doing, much thanks to the help of discussing my possibilities with my mentor and my mentor group, who were currently or had been in the same shoes as me.

The following year, as a sophomore, I wanted to channel the experience I had gained as a mentee toward becoming a mentor for the incoming freshmen. Through talking with my previous mentor, my own familiarity with several of the classes that the freshmen would be looking at, and my involvement with both biology and CBS, I knew that I could serve as a relatable and accessible source of information, as someone who was in their shoes not too long before. Where I felt an overwhelming sense of confusion the past year, now I had felt an overwhelming sense to give back and calm my mentees’ similar confusion.

The job of a mentor was just as fulfilling and rewarding as I expected it to be. Being on the other side, I felt that my job was essentially to be someone they could turn to at any time regarding any sort of doubts about their track, as both a friend and a mentor. During the events, I answered any questions that they might have, gave them advice about what classes they could take together or what clubs they could get involved in, and just general tips on how to manage the obstacles that may lie ahead of them. Getting to know my mentees as people and reciting the things that I already knew and had been through not only helped them, but was also a huge plus for myself, as I was able to solidify my knowledge as well as develop my ability to provide help to people who needed it. This stemmed from simply being able to talk to them and relate with their position in order to create an environment of comfort. And at the end of the day, that is one of the most crucial aspects of the interactions between a patient and a physician, so looking forward, the mentorship program has helped me come a long way in developing certain skills that are components which make up any great medical professional.

Vibhav Prakasam
Class of 2016
Biology Major

 

For similar articles regarding mentorship, please see the previously posted blog posts:
https://sites.tufts.edu/prehealth/2016/09/14/mentorship-program/
https://sites.tufts.edu/prehealth/2016/09/09/why-look-for-a-mentor/

Why Ask for a Mentor?

Entering college as one of the many students considering the Premed track, I was unsure about different aspects of that path and if it was truly right for me.  Since its not a major at Tufts, how would the premed requirements fit around the other classes I have to and want to take?  What order would be best to take the required classes?  Would there opportunities for me to study abroad?  Am I ready for the premed workload?  To begin down a road of seemingly endless years of schooling?

At last year’s GIM for the Premed Society, I immediately knew the mentorship program would be an avenue to have these questions answered, as well as to connect with other people with the same goals who were wondering the same things.  Indeed, throughout the year, I had access to peers with experience with the numerous premed-related decisions I needed face.  The resources that mentorship provides are invaluable; through leaning on older premeds I was eventually able to decide firmly that this was the path I want to take.  I was given advice on how to plan out my future semesters of classes with the right order and balance, and even where a Study Abroad program or a future gap year might factor into the equation.

These mentors are fellow students who want to help you on your premed journey and can offer guidance, support, and helpful tips on how to navigate the premed track at Tufts– I am certainly grateful that I took advantage of this program!

Matt Reppucci
Class of 2020
Biology Major

 

For similar articles regarding mentorship, please see the previously posted blog posts:
https://sites.tufts.edu/prehealth/2016/09/14/mentorship-program/
https://sites.tufts.edu/prehealth/2016/09/09/why-look-for-a-mentor/

The Journey of Medicine is Never “Done”

M.D. Those two highly sought-after initials that refer to the completion of medical school carry a special sort of weight. The title becomes part of one’s name, representing a shift from student to doctor – but even in all its glory, earning an M.D is just a speck in the timeline of one’s journey throughout medicine. The journey of medicine is never “done,” and this is sort of a grapple for pre-meds who spend every waking moment checking off things on a list, always fighting to get to the next step. This sort of miserable and unmindful existence is something that afflicted me, and I want to share my experience on how the light of passion and purpose shined into my  life.

Human health has always been a deep-rooted fascination of mine. Learning about human health helped me understand how my cousin, Reza, someone who never touched a cigarette in his life, could develop metastatic oral cancer and die at just 32 years of age. Even though I have genuinely always loved medicine, as I am sure you all do as well,  the constant anticipation and anxiety associated with jumping through the hoops leading to a career in medicine can act as a negative feedback loop where pre-meds may feel the need to compare themselves with one another. If you are looking exclusively at the next step, and only see the present as a stepping stone towards the next time you can check something off a list, you are going to miss out on exposing yourself to everyday pockets of beauty and new perspectives that can make you a stronger physician and a more fulfilled individual.

Paul Kalanithi, the late neurosurgeon and author of When Breath Becomes Air once said, “You can’t see [medicine] as a job, because if it’s a job, it’s one of the worst jobs there is.” I think that people often see medicine as a sort of guarantee of stability, prestige, and meaning. And the cloudy irony of all this is that the field of medicine and the paths that lead to it are chock-full of uncertainty. First off, the great majority of college freshmen who identify as pre-meds never go on to become physicians (for a multitude of reasons). In the day-to-day life, physicians are faced with a stream of challenging decisions that often have no “right” or “wrong” answers. Physicians are no strangers to the many grey areas associated with life and its preservation, perhaps explaining why they are often eloquent writers who can beautifully tackle the big questions of our time. I think Paul Kalanithi epitomizes that sort of excellence, but at the same time he represents the very uncertain reality that we all occupy. Being diagnosed with lung cancer at age 36, nearly at the end of his neurosurgical residency, Dr. Kalanithi’s decades of working towards that end goal of becoming a neurosurgeon withered away when he was given the news of his illness. Undoubtedly, the concept of delayed gratification helps to justify the stepping-stone-to- stepping-stone lifestyle, but the instability of reality and our place in the world has since dawned on me.

A highlight of my naiveté freshman year was coming in dead set on the double majors of biology and computer science along with an almost aggressive goal of going to medical school. I didn’t see it at the time, but this was a grave mistake for me; the unstable binary associated with this situation arose from the fact that it all looked terrific on paper.  I did have a deep fascination with life sciences and technology, but by scheming to take as few classes unrelated as possible, I was setting myself up for a rather narrow undergraduate education. The lingering pleasure of knowing I was going down a “safe” path was very quickly shattered by a lifestyle that was more about strategic campaigning to get to the next step rather than about living, learning, and the beautiful struggle for meaning that I now embrace.

I quickly began to realize that my relationship with computer science was more of a short-lived courtship. I saw tech as a medium through which I could make a global impact and secure my future. But the hours spent behind blinding screens, endlessly typing code in a language that is more understandable to machines than humans proved to be toxic for me. In addition to still being under the impression that the only road to medicine is through being a robot, I saw my cousin, Kaveh, pass away after a lifelong battle with addiction. My campus’ bubble was not impenetrable to the outside pressures of my family falling apart back home. Death has this remarkable ability to distill life; it vaporizes the insignificant, leaving behind what truly matters. And so, one day I sat behind my computer and looked at the Intro to Comp Sci class on my transcript and committed one of the greatest sins in the proverbial pre-med holy book: I withdrew from the class. Almost immediately after, several questions suddenly darted through my psyche. What were medical schools going to think of this? How will I explain this to my parents? How could someone who has published four applications on the Android app store not be able to complete an introductory coding course? Yet like a rubber band being stretched beyond the point of no return, I felt a snap of relief. This is the first time in my life the almost-chaotic reality of uncertainty and instability felt okay.

I really began to fly as I completely stopped treating school as a chore. I had l glimpses into the beauty of the enlightenment provided by a liberal arts education, such as when my anthropology class fascinated me with the indefinite nature of aspects of everyday life that humans like to put into categories.. After shadowing a physician soon after, I was exposed to the everyday uphill battles and frustrations that are inseparable from treating patients. There were patients who did not trust the doctor’s word. There were patients who refused to take their medicine. There were patients who would yell in the waiting room if they were not given their Percocet prescription. Oddly enough, practicing medicine is very similar to farming. Dusk till dawn is spent maintaining delicate balances needed for crops and animal inhabitants of the farm to thrive. Sometimes irrepressible catastrophes happen, whether a tornado or a disease that clears acres of hard-won crop families. But it’s the grit and deep connection for the farm that makes a farmer, and there is no finish line. In the same vein, medicine is a lifestyle, and it is unforgiving to those who seek consistency, security, and comfort. Now, I treat every day as a rewarding time to make meaning out of the significant and the insignificant, and hope to go to medical school to continue to answer the big questions. I have never been happier.

Nick Kamkari

Class of 2020

Reflecting on my drive to become a physician – An Alum Story

Since graduating Tufts in May of 2015 I have worked as a medical scribe for a primary care doctor, continued my personal fitness training practice (testimonials can be found at leahloveslife.weebly.com), and obtained my Certification in Sustainable Health & Nutrition. In this past year, I have continued expanding my role as a medical scribe, pursuing clinical research, working as a personal fitness trainer, and furthering my nutrition and botanical medicine education.

Since implementing a mindfulness based intervention (MBI) in children with and without emotional behavioral disorders during my senior year, I have conducted a MBI literature review and submitted my paper to the Advances in School Mental Health Promotion Journal. I have also directed Belmont Medical’s 1st clinical trials exploring the role of integrative medicine in primary care and will submit my formal write up to an alternative and complementary journal before August.
 
Throughout my work, I have applied to 26 medical schools (MD and DO), interviewed at 7 schools, been granted acceptance to 5, am waiting on 2, and have withdrawn the rest of my applications. While it has been a long and seemingly never ending process, applying to medical school while working directly with patients has been very rewarding. I have enjoyed reflecting on my drive to become a physician and the experiences that have shaped me as I continue to take part in the many intimate patient encounters so deeply ingrained in primary care.
 
My work as a medical scribe has sharpened my direction in the health care world and confirmed my dedication to helping people in a primary care setting. I have been very fortunate to work with a compassionate doctor who has involved me in every step of the process and encouraged the deep relationships I have formed with his patients. I am forever grateful for my experiences in his practice and am excited to attend medical school in the fall.
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