By Glenn N. Cummings, Ph.D., Director of Health Professions Advising
This week has been rough. Last week, too. Next week too, probably. This whole time around the middle of the semester is always this way. Pre-health students become frequent, harried visitors at my drop-in hours, each with a unique situation, each with a cause for frustration, anxiety, and disappointment, sometimes to the point of tears. The first-years who so excitedly left their parents two months ago are in the throes of culture shock, adapting to new styles of teaching, new ways of studying, and new demands on their time and their own ability to structure the hours in the day. There’s also a good bit of homesickness going on. The sophomores are loaded down with double lab courses, deeper involvement in the orchestra or the football team, and doubts about whether to continue along the pre-health track. As for juniors and seniors, the MCAT (or DAT or GRE) is the big stressor for most—as well as figuring out when to apply to health professional school and whether or not one’s application will be competitive.
Today I think it’s important to remember a few basic tenets of pre-health existence. Hopefully these will cheer up those of you who are stressing out. They may be helpful points to return to in the coming months and years as the pre-health workload piles high. They’re especially crucial to recall during rough patches.
· One bad grade is just that, one bad grade. Not only is a poor grade on one test a mere part of your overall performance for the semester, but one grade for an entire course is but one item on a transcript that will ultimately reflect four years of hard work. Health professional schools look at the big picture. They look for trends on the transcript (usually upward!). They admit people every year with a poor grade in one of their prerequisite courses.
· The faculty are here to help you. They’re opinionated and they’re quite busy, but they have your best interest at heart. If your first attempt to talk to a professor about your performance in a class fails (at least from your point of view), try again. Keep trying. They want you to succeed. The responsibility lies with you, however, to take the initiative, exercising both persistence and patience.
· To each his/her own. What works for your pre-med roommate may not work for you when it comes to the timing of coursework. The required courses for admission to health professional school need to be completed by the time you apply. When you apply—and when/how you finish the courses successfully—is an individualized thing.
· Refresh your memory. Talk to a physician, such as one the alums we had come to the breakfast reception last Saturday during Homecoming. Talk to a nurse practitioner, a P.A., or an optometrist. Go to the hospital and volunteer. Make the most of your sophomore preceptorship. In these “clinical” settings you’ll see examples of your future, people using their scientific and humanistic talents to care for others. This will motivate you.
· Play Bach, play soccer. What hobbies or passions did you have in high school? Do you still participate in them? When you’re feeling overwhelmed, do you locate one of the pianos on campus and express your musical talent like Kelsey Kreyche ’15 did so beautifully in the lobby of New College House at the Homecoming reception? (Thank you for creating such a great atmosphere, Kelsey!). Do you belong to a club sports team or kick a ball around with your friends to let off steam? Everything you do outside the classroom doesn’t have to be a formal extracurricular activity or resume item. Everything you do doesn’t have to have a larger goal. Sometimes your mental health depends on doing what you love when no grade is awarded, maybe even when no one else is watching.
· FaceTime with your dog. What? That’s right, you heard me. I said, FaceTime with your dog. Homesick? Need a friend? Need something familiar? Maybe a completely non-judgmental someone who doesn’t ask questions? What, your pooch (or cat, or guinea pig) back home isn’t qualified? I beg to differ. My dog Freddie (pictured above) doesn’t tend to stay in one place long enough to make FaceTiming or Skyping practical, truth be told, but I still laugh when he runs by the camera chasing squirrels in the background as I use my iPhone to touch base with the human members of my family. You get my drift. Reach out to something or someone familiar, an individual or situation totally ignorant of college. And make it a little ridiculous. Freddie stressed out about not catching chipmunks—that is something that relaxes me when I’m worried about my own day-to-day problems.
Ultimately, it’s about maintaining perspective. Being pre-health can feel like a true burden piled on top of the other things you want to do in college. Quite often it can seem as if it’s all about your future plans and not at all about enjoying your time at F&M. If nothing else, I hope you take the same number of minutes that it just took to read this little essay and, once a day (if not more), live in the present moment. The future will be here before you know it—there’s not much you can do about that. But one regret you may have, when you’re living in that future, is that you didn’t make the most of these months, weeks, days, and minutes as a college student. Don’t let that be your regret.