The Life of A Pre-Med Student: A Series of Unfortunate Events
Step right up. Calling all students with interests in biology, chemistry, biochemistry, and neuroscience: by the time you finish your four years in undergrad, you will have heard of mitosis, Okazaki fragments, and the Calvin Cycle ad nauseam.
We come into this pre-medical journey fresh out of high school, with absolutely no understanding of just how hard it is going to be. Once you get into the routine of 4 am nights and endless studying, the days begin to blur together. Each of us are working toward a goal that seems like a distant dream -- where we are 300 feet underwater and just trying to make it to the surface. Many days we feel that we are drowning under the immense amount of pressure: from our parents, professors, peers, but most of all, ourselves.
So this is for all my pre-medical peers out there who are beyond stressed -- you’re not alone. Pre-meds, let’s get in formation for these 8 life struggles that unite us all.
1. No, I don’t watch anything other than medical TV shows - please leave me be with this little happiness that I enjoy.
Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, Scrubs, House -- we’ve seen them all. Quiz me: I dare you. There’s no way that I know Derek Shepherd’s life span at the top of my head (winks slyly). The typical response of our non pre-med friends is “Do you watch anything other than medical drama TV shows?” I usually respond with a, “Why yes, I do. I occasionally watch Untold Stories of the ER or NY Med which are real-life TV shows... that’s not a drama, right? You’re always welcome to watch it with me with the little free time that I have -- oh, and don’t forget the tissues.” (Still trying to get over the plane crash in Grey’s Anatomy where my heart was physically torn in two and I experienced massive anxiety while boarding a plane. RIP.)
2. Wow, that is such a cute serotonin necklace.
We regularly go on Pinterest trying to find that perfect piece of medical jewelry. People come up to us and say, “That’s a cool necklace, but what is that thing?” (We stand there… shocked.) “Um, it’s oxytocin. You know, arguably the most important hormone of all time. The hormone that makes a mother bond with her baby in the womb? Yeah, my mom’s awesome.”
3. We are forced into life-changing decisions: Sleep vs. Going Out
Wow, bae and I are so cute (by bae I mean the skeleton model). Having a life beyond school is so difficult. The 17 hours and four organization commitments we have take no time at all (rolls eyes dramatically). We make important decisions: like deciding whether we should be going out on a Friday night, except we just got 2 hours of sleep the night before because we had genetics and organic chemistry exams on the same day. Oh and did I mention that there are three other exams next week? I’m personally recovering from 5 exams in one week. Major props to you pre-meds who go out on a Saturday night before a huge exam and sacrifice sleep -- make good choices. Treat yourself (which means going to sleep at 2 am instead of 4 am of course).
4. Labs Reports A.K.A. The Bane of my Existence
“You see that patch of skin showing on your ankle? Well you’re going to need to cover that,” my chemistry lab TA stated. I looked down at the 0.01254 cm slit that was in between by sock and end of my pant leg. I said nothing and had to buy pants to put over my pants. I guess the syllabus was not kidding when it said no skin can be showing in lab -- we might as well just bring bunny suits. Up next: the lab report. 12 hours a weekend of putting together meaningless information that we will never use again. The actual thought of lab reports give me anxiety: minus ten for not including an explanation on solubility rules of a random cation that we were never explicitly told to explain. Oh, and minus 10 for breathing.
5. Do non-science courses exist?
After 17 hours of science and math courses a semester, you begin to forget that there’s life outside of science. Walking into Theatre and Dance for the first time was so strange. Watching a video as a homework assignment? What is this strange world? Not studying until the night before the test and pulling off an A? If only genetics were like this. You begin to wonder what it’s like to be free. You see a bird flying away -- so majestic, free, and happy -- and wish that could be you running away from your huge stack of work (just FYI I got three hours of sleep last night). You come up with scenarios about the bird’s life. It can go drink from any pond it wants, it gets to eat seeds, and here I am learning about (at least attempting to learn about) the tryptophan biosynthesis pathway while being an under-fed, almost-dead pre-med.
6. You feel the need to explain everyday scientific phenomena to your best friends, family, and well… just about everyone.
Just the other day my boyfriend rhetorically asked why the water in a straw stays in place when you put your finger over it. He should have known not to rhetorically ask that question in front of me; so while eating his Kerbey Lane pumpkin swirl pancakes, I casually went off on a tangent about air pressure. I’m pretty sure that I also started talking about water’s cohesive properties and polarity, and by the end of it, he had finished his pancakes. “So do you get it now?” I asked confidently. He looked at me, and looked down at his water and simply said, “Nope, please don’t talk about water’s adhesion again.” As Bill Nye once told us in 3rd grade, “Science rules.”
7. “Mom, I’m not in medical school yet, and I don’t know what’s wrong with your throat.”
My mom has me check out her sickness symptoms when I’m back at home, and after shadowing a neurosurgeon for two months, my sister thought that I could diagnose her spine pain. But there’s one thing: I haven’t even gone to medical school yet. Our families ask us about diagnoses, but honestly, we can barely remember what the largest organ in the body is (it’s skin by the way). My treatment should probably just be, “Maybe you should just lay down,” but I kid you not, I have performed a neurological exam on my sister. I only remembered five steps of it, but let me tell you -- they were the most empowering five steps of my life. I told her that she was “Displaying strength in CN 4 and was 5/6 in all extremities” (it goes something like that).
8. Achieving your goals seem like it’s 15 years away… Oh wait, it is.
The fact that we are working toward something that is so far away is quite incredible. Working for a dream that is up to 15 years away is not something everyone can do. College, medical school, residency, fellowships, and board exams -- the end seems unattainable. To all my pre-med buddies out there: we can do this. Although we may all be 300 feet underwater and drowning, let’s make the choice to swim. Although we may sink sometimes, keep your eye on the prize. Keep your eyes on the sun, even though we can’t always see it. If you don’t know how to swim… well I don’t know what to tell you.
Like I said, we are all on this sleep deprived and stressful journey together. See if you can relate to any of these quotes by pre-med students here at UT Austin:
“Being pre-med is like dropping your cheese toast in the dirt, and neurotically trying to scrape off the dirt… but then you just learn to deal with the dirt, and eat the dirty cheese toast anyway.” -Isabella Stork
“Being pre-med is like playing Mario Kart with a split screen. You think you’re doing great and then you realize you’ve been looking at the wrong screen and are just ramming a wall.” -Jimmy Yoder
“I may be up at 4 am every night, but at least I’ll never forget that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell.” - Leo Angulo
“This might be the week I die.” -Morgan Besmer
“Pre-meds = Savages.” -Sara Ashai
“Giving up my life in college to someday save yours.” -Sandra Zhi
“I know nothing about medicine, but if you need someone to draw every constitutional isomer for hexane, I’m your guy.” -Michael Owolabi
(Sees roommate sleeping at 11:30 pm) “I don’t remember the last time I slept before midnight.” -Sheeva Shahinfar
Mom: “Are you getting enough sleep?”
Me: “Sometimes my eyes close when I sneeze.” -Joanna Ma
“When you’re a fifth year and wondering if it’s too late to change your major.” -Hannah Parker
“Wondering which of activity X or activity Y, neither of which you care about, will look better for med school.” -AK Kharbat
“How to succeed on the MCAT and die afterwards anyway.” -Jennifer Deger
College week 4: “It’s no longer fun. Everyone is sick. I am sick. I miss my dog. I’m failing 8 classes even though I’m only in 5. SOS.” -Connie Li