For bright and driven high school students set on a career in medicine, it's never too early to start planning. High school is a great time to prepare so that you can position yourself as a strong pre-med applicant.
Your strategy may be different depending on whether you are planning to apply to an undergraduate program with a pre-med track, or a direct medical program (BS/MD).
In either case, there are several things you can do in high school to prepare you for a career in medicine. Let's break them down into academic, personal, and professional strategies.
First things first, plan out your remaining high school schedule. Whether you decide on a career in medicine as a freshman or senior, there's always time to adjust your schedule to include more AP, science, and math courses.
Some tips for planning your high school courses:
Take 6-8 AP classes to be a competitive applicant. But remember quality over quantity. Make sure you can manage the workload and maintain a 3.5 GPA (higher if you're planning to apply to a direct medical program.
Take all three sciences: Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. Not all three have to be AP, but medicine requires knowledge of all the sciences, so gaining exposure in high school gives you a leg up.
Combine AP classes strategically. Avoid combining reading and theory-heavy courses (biology, history, language, and comp) in the same semester. Be strategic and include a more applied AP course, like calculus, to give your brain a break.
A smart move is to get standardized tests out of the way as soon as possible. Standardized tests are usually taken in junior year, but there's no real logic behind that. There is no single class that will suddenly prepare you to master the SAT/ACT between your sophomore and junior years.
It is simply a matter of learning the strategies and practicing them over and over again to master these standardized tests. Take the tests as soon as you're prepared to free up more time to focus on grades, extracurriculars, and subject SAT tests.
Now let's take a look at some personal strategies that will help set you up for a career in medicine.
Building good study and time management habits start in high school. A lot of college freshmen are surprised at how much free time they have during the day because college is so unstructured compared to high school. Your parents aren't making sure you go to class and study, which is why you should learn how to manage your time and create good study habits while you're in high school.
A key aspect of preparing for medical school is identifying how you can become a mature, compassionate physician in the future. Creating a strong character is more important than building your resume, even as a high school student. Gain social skills and compassion by volunteering, learning to work with others, developing social skills, and becoming a mature young adult.
You'll benefit from mentorship at many stages of your life. As you prepare for a career in medicine, a mentor can help you make decisions, guide your interests and passions, and find valuable opportunities to help you grow personally and professionally.
Ideally, a mentor is a physician or medical student who has already been in your shoes and understands what it takes to get into medical school. It may also be a trusted family member, a connected family friend, or you can search for mentors through a mentorship program or medical school admission consulting service.
Finally, let's take a look at some professional strategies that will help you become a stronger applicant for medical school.
Finding clinical research opportunities can be a challenge for underaged high school students, but it's not impossible. The best place to start is at a university lab. If you have any connections, start with them. If not, you'll have to do some good old-fashioned research and reach out via phone and email to try to secure research opportunities.
Before you determine who you should email, you should first identify your own interests. A generic claim that you're interested in biology, for example, won't get you far. Do some research on professors who study a subtopic of biology that interests you, like neuroscience, and use that connection instead.
Next, read through a professor's publications. See if their subject matter interests you. What are they studying, why is it important, and how do your experience and interests align with theirs?
Then when you do sit down to craft your introductory email and ask to be included in research opportunities, it will be clear that you took the time to research the professor's work and are genuinely interested.
One of the easiest ways to show your interest in medicine is by volunteering. Look for opportunities at a private practice, hospital, hospice, assisted living facility, or anywhere you can gain some health-related volunteer experience. In addition to providing you with a glimpse into your future, these activities will also help you decide if you really want to pursue a career in medicine.
All of the work and planning you put in during your high school years is ultimately to prepare you to get into a pre-med school or direct medical program.
Obvious considerations are proximity to home if you need your parents' support system (or if you will thrive with distance!), private versus public and the support each provides, and of course, cost.
What else should you look for in a strong pre-med school?
A solid medical school admissions track record - How many of their students are accepted into medical school?
Specialized onsite resources - Opportunities for research, clinical, publishing, and service work are rewarding and look great on your resume.
Demanding pre-med curriculum - A more rigorous curriculum prepares you for the MCAT and eventually medical school.
Expert pre-med advisors - Support and guidance from pre-med advisors help plan your courses to reduce the risk of transfers/gap years.
Students should use their time in high school to consider what career path they would like to take. Bright high school students who are passionate about becoming a physician can use these academic, personal, and professional strategies to prepare themselves for a rewarding career in medicine.
Since 2002, NSHSS has supported young academics on their journey to college and beyond as they prepare to become the leaders of tomorrow. The mission behind NSHSS is to recognize academic excellence and honor high-achieving students, providing them with the resources and network to excel in college, career, and community. In doing so, NSHSS connects members with global events, scholarships, college fairs, internships, career and leadership programs, partner discounts, and more. Discover what makes NSHSS worth it to student members and how you can get involved.
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