Journeys with Joshua: Joshua Wienczkowski walks us through med school at East Tennessee’s College of Medicine with his monthly blog updates. Get an inside look into med school down South and life as a student adcom member through the eyes of a former professional songwriter with a whole lot of clinical experience — thanks Joshua for sharing this journey with us!
So, just how important is research as a pre-med? How does one secure a spot in a lab with a great mentor? Can research help an applicant get into medical school? I’ll walk through the steps of why doing scientific research during your undergrad is important, how it can help you, and why it helps make you a well-rounded pre-medical student.
A little bit of my research background will help you understand my perspective, and how I feel it’s helped me through my first year of medical school as well as continued to stay in a lab and clinic while in medical school. During my Genetics course, I was also shadowing in Pediatric Oncology; the two went hand in hand, leaving me with tons of questions for my professor after class. We built a great relationship by the end of the semester and when I asked him if he needed anyone in his lab, I was thrilled when he chose me. After working together for two years on molecular evolution and mitogenomics, he not only served as an amazing teacher, but an incredible mentor and close friend that helped in the process of me applying and getting accepted to medical school. He even taught me to brew beer! During the last year of my undergrad, I also began working on a pediatric tumor with the physician I shadowed during Genetics and all through undergrad. This physician also became an amazing mentor that helped me in ways I can’t even begin to express. It takes a village to get someone to medical school, and mine was in my corner, rooting and supporting the whole way. Now that I’m a second year medical student, I also have a year of countless hours under my belt spent with critically ill patients because of my research in sepsis as a co-investigator on a clinical study. Yet again, I’ve gained wonderful mentors who have partnered next to me to aid in the process of helping me become a physician.
Doing research as a pre-med is incredibly important as a pre-med because of the following reasons:
1. You need a mentor. Regardless of what you want to do in life, there are two things that influence you more than anything else in the world: the books you read, and the people that surround you. Having a mentor who has helped other students achieve their own professional and personal dreams is a great way to make sure you have someone that can support and encourage you in ways your friends and family can’t. It’s also really nice to have a professor on hand to help explain and physically draw out things that just aren’t clicking in heavier science courses. I would strongly recommend approaching professors who you’ve enjoyed having, and your performance was strong in their course.
2. Medicine is a lot of science. Yeah, pre-med is filled with a lot of sciences, and many of those have labs associated with them. But how much do you really learn from those labs? Did you do PCR and know the molecular biology that was going on? Or did you just pipette the buffer, primers, DNA, nucleotides, water, and polymerase into the tube, press play, and then ran a gel? Research forces you to apply the knowledge and concepts you’ve learned, and apply them in real-time, especially when trouble-shooting experiments gone wrong. Trust me, they go wrong… Doing research teaches you to walk through what your hands are doing macroscopically through the biology and chemistry of what you’re doing microscopically.
3. Showing dedication is a powerful attribute. Doing research does take up additional hours, and yes, it can be frustrating to juggle everything while trying to get into medical school. However, proving to medical schools that you are capable of handling a tough course load while doing research, shadowing, and maintaining a leadership position within your community lets admissions know that you have dedication, will-power and self-motivation. These three characteristics on a proven track record say, “hey, this person can do it, they will do it, now let’s interview them and find out if they should do it.”
I’m not here to tell you that doing research will get you into medical school, but I am saying from personal experience that it has only brought good into my life, both professionally and personally. Through all of this, I’ve also learned that becoming a physician-scientist is a strong interest of mine, and clinical research is exciting and incredibly rewarding. Without having been trained during my own pre-med years by great mentors, I wouldn’t have had the skills or wherewithal coming into medical school to begin research, which has provided me a unique opportunity to contribute to medicine, science, and most importantly, my current and future patients. Who knows, maybe your research in undergrad will prepare you to work next to me in the fight to stop sepsis dead in its tracks before another 100,000 people in the US die from it in the next year.
Cheers, and good luck,