The 10 Biggest Myths About Getting into Medical School (Part 2)

By: Ryan Kelly

In our first installment, we broke down myths #1-5 in an attempt to decode the cryptic and overwhelming medical school admissions process.

Now we’re back to complete the top ten and put an end to the rumors once and for all.


Medical School Myth #6

Volunteering is all about the hours - the more you do, the better off you are.


What you might think:

That all you need is a few hundred hours of volunteering to get into medical school.  That you can do that volunteering over a summer or two.  That you’re too busy to volunteer during the school year.

The truth:

Volunteering reflects who you are as a person: do you only care about serving others when it’s convenient, or does your commitment to service run so deep that you consistently make time for it over the course of several years?  Doctors serve their patients and serve the profession for the rest of their lives.  There’s no better way to show your commitment to doing the same than by volunteering consistently over a long period of time.

You want volunteering that goes beyond just watching from the sidelines. You want to be right in the middle of the action, getting down-and-dirty. You want the tasks and challenges that sound gruesome, frustrating, or depressing. Real medicine isn’t about the glamor of being a doctor. Medical schools like you to suffer, and find a silver lining in that suffering.

You should work at free clinics with patients who don’t have insurance. You should travel for outreach to Third World countries and give immunizations to children. You should visit inner city schools and instruct teens on unwanted pregnancy and STDs. Even these things are common for pre-meds, so the grittier the better.


Medical School Myth #7

You can worry about the application essays and interview process when the time comes.


What you might think:

That you can learn to write well and to interview when the time comes.  After all, you’re pre-med; you don’t have time for speech classes or the debate team! You need to spend all your time working in the lab or observing physicians. Why take extra classes to learn how to write when your course list is completely crammed?

The truth:

If you wait to learn to write until you start the application process, the best you can hope for is mediocrity in your application essays.  Communication requires practice, and college is a perfect opportunity to hone this ability. Unfortunately, the typical pre-med’s academic and extracurricular choices tend to inhibit rather than improve communication.                    

You should actively seek to grow as a communicator, rather than hiding out in the library or lab. You should take classes that require you to write and join projects that involve collaboration with other students. You should put yourself in uncomfortable situations, such as leading a final exam review for a room of 250 students or even practicing small talk with patients. If you embrace these moments in life and in school, then you’ll be more at ease during your interviews and give thoughtful responses in your essays.

Medical School Myth #8

Studying takes precedence over everything else.


What you might think:

You can’t be pre-med and have a life.  You have to spend all your time hitting the books and not allow yourself to be distracted by parties or other social engagements.

The truth:

Solitary people make good researchers in the lab, but they usually don’t make good doctors. If for no other reason, think of socializing as a necessary skill for becoming a better physician.

Becoming a physician is stressful, and you’re going to need a solid support network to get through it.  Even surviving the MCAT requires keeping a sense of balance in your life: continuing to exercise regularly and spend at least one night each week with non-pre-meds.  Sustaining friendships is fuel for the soul, the perfect antidote to burnout.

If you think you’re too busy, find friends through activities that will help your medical school application.  Go ahead and volunteer for your school’s orientation program for new students. Go ahead and teach CPR classes to residents in the dorms. Run for president of your fraternity or the student government. Serve as captain of the club hockey team. You can make friends and contribute to your campus at the same time.


Medical School Myth #9

Activities unrelated to medical school aren’t worthy of your time.


What you might think:

You should join a pre-med club or honor society since those will “look good” on your resume.

The truth:

You will stand out more for your willingness to do things that are unrelated to your medical school acceptance.  Med schools have more typical pre-meds than they could ever want to accept in an incoming class.  Instead, medical schools seek students with diverse talents to fill their incoming class.  Consider this class profile for Ohio State University: it’s not bragging about how much research their students have done or who has been a part of the pre-med club.  No, it brags about students who have been:

  • Carpenter’s apprentice

  • Classical pianist

  • Glassblowing teaching assistant

  • Starbucks barista

  • And more.

If you like to write, play the drums, kayak, or crochet sweaters, you should do those things. Don’t assume your activities aren’t valuable just because they don’t relate to medicine. Medical schools want interesting people that other students will like being around. You might be surprised in an interview one day when you hear, “So, tell us about your experiences on the diving team...”


Medical School Myth #10

As long as you do what other pre-meds are doing, you will be fine.


What you might think:

Your classmate did this.  Your roommate did that.  You need to do what everyone else is doing so that you’re not left behind. If other pre-meds got in, then you should do whatever they did so that you too will get in.

The truth:

If I told you that someone got into medical school because they were captain of the swim team, should you then go try out for whatever sport at your college will take walk-ons?  Unless you’re already a brilliant athlete, this strategy is unlikely to work for you.  Just because it worked for someone else doesn’t mean that you should do it.

The best case scenario for copy-cats is that they end up looking just like other pre-meds.  And medical schools don’t want premed clones who spent four years of college following the path of the other typical premeds. That’s why it’s important for you to be an individual. If you think that schools won’t be interested in your penchant for punk rock, your summer in the circus, or your hobby of making gingerbread houses, you’re wrong. Don’t suppress the things that make you different. Celebrate them!