Before he was Joshua Wienczkowski, MD, a prevention and addiction medicine specialist, he was a premed juggling coursework and extracurriculars and trying to make the right choices for his best shot at medical school. During his first year at James H. Quillen College of Medicine of East Tennessee State University, he looked back on these choices with a critical eye. “When you burn through an entire semester of embryology in a week that’s taught by the guy who wrote the book, your strengths and weaknesses become pretty apparent…pretty quickly.” Here, he shares, with 20/20 hindsight, four things he’s glad he did (or wishes he’d done) before beginning medical school.
Take a lot of upper-division sciences.
“If I can recommend one thing,” says Joshua, “it is to take upper-division science courses that deal with the human body and physiology. Taking physiology as well as histology and neurobiology taught me the language of how to talk about and navigate the human body: ‘No, the thoracoacromial artery should branch off close to the subclavian; go more superior.’ I also couldn’t even imagine having to figure out the peripheral and autonomic nervous system for the first time with my current courseload. People do it, but they sure seem a lot more stressed having to learn an already complicated system. biochemistry and cell and molecular biology are also extremely important courses that could help make your first year a lot easier.”
Accepted consultant Cydney Foote adds that advanced classes also tend to be smaller than lower-level science classes, so it can be easier to get to know your professors – and to get them to write you a killer recommendation when it’s time to apply for medical school!
Spend a lot of time in the clinic, and soak up as much as you can.
“We’ve only been working on our cadavers for a week,” says Joshua, “but my team has already discovered an incredible amount about our patient. Because of the 2.5 years I spent with pediatric oncology at Vanderbilt, I’ve been able to successfully identify the type of spinal cancer our patient has and the metastatic path it has followed. Tomorrow, we open the thorax, and I’ll hopefully be able to find a primary source for the cancer. This previous knowledge makes me excited to learn the anatomy and is also a teaching opportunity for me to share with my classmates the knowledge that was passed along to me by my mentors. Those clinical experiences are a part of what is fueling me to do well in anatomy.”
Cydney agrees, noting that the most common application mistake she sees is applying without significant clinical hours. “It’s hard to convince an admissions committee that you want to be a doctor if you haven’t spent time in that environment. But these experiences won’t just help you look good on your application – they will genuinely help you prepare for your future career in medicine.”
Get really good at integrating technology into your studies.
Joshua says, “Instead of books and printed notes, I use an iPad with all of my e-books, applications, classes, and notes. All of my lectures are downloaded to Notability, and I write, type, and draw on them just like normal printed-out notes, but without all the weight and clutter. This allows me to quickly, efficiently, and effectively dig through mounds of information to find what I’m looking for.
“Imagine learning an entire semester of embryology in a week with a book and printed notes; that would be horribly tedious and cumbersome. Start early with integrating technology and your learning so medical school is a seamless transition.”
Khan Academy, online flashcards, YouTube videos – there’s a wealth of resources available to help students not just survive medical school but also be ready for the biomedical advancements that would’ve been unimaginable even 30 years ago.
Have hobbies and KEEP UP WITH THEM.
“Yeah, med school is busy,” Joshua admits. “Yeah, there is a lot of studying to do. But if I didn’t have hobbies like running, brewing beer, and playing guitar, I’d go insane. Literally. There is only so much studying one can do, and med school is all about the marathon and pacing yourself mentally and physically. Without those hobbies, I’d have no pressure release valve to help alleviate the stresses that are innately associated with medical education. I’d also have no way to decompress and work through the influx of emotions that come as a result of cutting into another human being for the first time. Recognizing and working through those emotions is incredibly important to a medical student’s mental and physical well-being, and I’m a firm believer that hobbies like mine are intimately involved in that cathartic process.”
Cydney agrees, adding that “I cannot overstate the importance of balance for a medical provider. Every physician I’ve ever known has a passion completely unrelated to medicine, whether it’s fly-fishing, gourmet cooking, or wood turning, something that allows each one to clear their mind. Admissions committees look for these interests and hobbies to ensure that applicants have this outlet – and that they’re not robots!”
Is it all worth it in the end? It’s no surprise that medical school demands a lot from students. “I’m busy,” Joshua admitted, “but have never been happier.” Laying the groundwork as a premed – by taking upper-level science courses, familiarizing yourself with technology, engaging in clinical activities, and maintaining a passion for your hobbies – will make all the difference when you make it to the finish line!
Do you need help keeping your eye on the finish line when it comes to medical school admissions? If so, it sounds like you could use an admissions pro on your side. Explore our services and work one-on-one with your personal advisor who will help you get ACCEPTED.