Navigating Pre-Med as a First-generation College Student

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This post was written by Irasema, MS1.

I have just completed my first semester of medical school and I have taken some time to reflect on my journey thus far. As a premedical student, it felt like an unattainable goal, especially when I was the first in my family to attend college and pursue medicine. This post will be for the first-generation college students that feel overwhelmed and alone throughout this process. 

Make sure your finances are taken care of first.

There is no way for you to focus on your classes, extracurricular activities and studying for the MCAT if you are scrambling to make ends meet. It may help to work more in the summers to save up for the school year when you are taking classes. Conversely, you can take a lighter course load throughout the year and take summer classes. Whatever option allows you to balance work and school is the best choice for you. Additionally, you should reach out to a financial advisor to budget your educational and living expenses. This will become super important as you are preparing for the MCAT, submitting applications and traveling for interviews. 

Seek mentors and friendships that will support you on your journey.

Try seeking out mentors through pre-med clubs or organizations that are geared towards helping first generation college students succeed. These clubs will also help connect you with volunteer and research opportunities throughout your undergraduate career. Additionally, make sure you surround yourself with people that encourage you along the way. If your premed advisor tells you that you should consider another career option, find a new premed advisor. If your friends make you feel bad for pursuing medicine, find a new friend group. If you know this is your dream, do not give up. Do not let anyone discourage you. I highly recommend Dr. Gray’s podcast: The Premed Years. He serves as a great mentor and advisor for many students on their journey to medical school. 

Don’t overwhelm yourself with extracurricular activities. 

As a first generation college student, you may have to work more than your peers. On top of your educational expenses, you may have a large medical expense or your car may break down. This will require you to work more and take time away from extracurricular activities. It’s important to recognize that medical schools appreciate quality or quantity. Don’t feel the need to drown yourself in responsibilities outside of school. Find a volunteer opportunity (clinical if possible!) that doesn’t require a huge time commitment and still allows you to explore your passions. 

See a therapist.

The premed journey is stressful. Depending on the environment at your university it may feel cut-throat and very competitive. You should seek guidance from a therapist even if you feel things are going fine! Therapists can help you plan your goals, address past trauma and guide you through difficult decisions. Additionally, they can help you work through the difficulties of being away from family and being the first in your family to pursue higher education. 

Make use of paid positions

If you have to work to support yourself and/or your family try to find a paid research position or a paid internship in a clinical setting.  Some examples of this include working as a patient advocate, research assistant or clinical interpreter. Additionally, some undergraduate students work as scribes to get both the clinical experience and financial compensation they need. There are so many opportunities to choose from, you just have to ask. A great way to do this is to start emailing local physicians in your area or reach out to the medical department at your university. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there, it shows initiative and the worst thing they can say is no! 

Do not compare yourselves to others.

We are all guilty of this but it serves no purpose. You may feel imposter syndrome at times, especially when you hear your classmates talking about their research experiences or shadowing experiences. You are just as worthy of getting into medical school. You may have less time outside of school to dedicate to research/shadowing/volunteering and that’s OK. You are on your own journey and you have your own life experiences. You should prioritize good grades and taking care of yourself first and foremost. You can always add on to your resume after graduation but it is much harder to recover from a low GPA. If you are in a position where you have a low GPA, try to lighten up your course load or extracurriculars so you focus on getting good grades moving forward. Just remember that medical school will always be there and if you stick to your unique plan, you will get in!

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