By Glenn N. Cummings, Ph.D., Director of Health Professions Advising
Winter break is coming . . . a chance to catch up on sleep, beat siblings at games of Wii and grandparents at gin rummy (or vice versa!), reconnect with friends from high school, and hopefully enjoy some home-cooked meals. At my house, I’ll be getting frustrated over tangled strings of holiday lights, getting the inexplicable need to watch football out of my system, and getting excited for Santa’s arrival with my seven-year-old son. My pre-health advisor hat will be hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that I’ll be suitably refreshed by the time I put it back on in 2014.
It did occur to me this morning, however, that the break might also be a good time to do some things you haven’t had time to do during the semester. Pre-health things. No, not more studying, not more time in the lab, not even more volunteering or shadowing—although breaks are a good time to do a little shadowing if you know a healthcare professional that’s willing. What about this coming summer? We’ve sent out some emails about a few special funds for F&M students to do research or pursue other health-related opportunities this summer, and you’ll be receiving one or two more in the next couple of weeks. We’ll also be co-hosting a session on summer research opportunities when you get back in January. But why not dream a little and do some online perusing of academic medical centers, free clinics, hospital HR job or volunteer listings, medical mission trips? Now is the optimal time to form a short “wish list” of experiences you’d like to have this summer. Same holds true if you want to take a course; investigate where, when, what’s available, and how much it might cost.
Another pastime might be to check in with your parents about your pre-health progress and goals. They would love that. I find that many parents of pre-health students have just as many questions about the requirements, preparation, and application process as their children, sometimes more. Why not chat with them about their concerns, and if you need to send me an email with those questions, I can help. The biggest worry parents tend to have is about timing—when you’re going to finish the requirements, when you’re going to apply, when you’re going. Are you and your parents on the same page when it comes to a timeline?
Finally, fire up the laptop or open that journal and spend some time reflecting on your pre-health experiences, writing down your impressions of the clinic or hospital where you’ve volunteered, the patients you’ve encountered, the healthcare team you’ve seen in action, the moments where you felt you helped a kid you tutored or even a time volunteering when you felt you didn’t help at all. Write about your experiences outside the classroom, especially the health-related ones. Eventually you’re going to need to produce an essay called the “personal statement” for your applications to med, dental, vet, PT, pharm, PA, etc school. Having some material to draw from when that day comes will be invaluable to you. Even the freshmen out there might draft a personal statement, returning to it many times in the years to come. It can be for your eyes only. It can be messy. For now. Believe me, writing the more polished version will be much easier if you’ve recorded along the way some of your experiences and your reasons for finding healthcare attractive.
The primary goal for winter break should be rest. Semi-hibernation. Don’t hibernate completely, since I’m sure your friends and family would appreciate the pleasure of your company at the dinner table (be prepared for, “oh, that’s what you look like,” from a sarcastic relative as he/she passes the mashed potatoes). But please make getting some rest a priority. Spend some time a’snooze in your bed, dreaming sweet dreams without care. At the last few info sessions I did this semester, the faces staring back at me were downright zombie-esque. I look forward to a New Year, and to your renewed vigor.