Photo by jesse orrico on Unsplash

Welcome to our special section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus). We welcome faculty, clinicians, and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.

The premed life is notoriously hard. Anecdotal tales about the difficulty of “weed out” classes like organic chemistry inextricably intertwine with research findings of significantly higher prevalence and severity of emotional exhaustion and depression in premed students compared to their non-premed counterparts.

I can discern this culture of intense pressure, severe burnout, and extreme fatigue as a premed student myself. Having said that, I do notice there being one very powerful force when it comes to fostering a wellness-based culture among premed students: mentorship from premed upperclassmen or current medical students.

Research illustrates the helpfulness of near-peer mentoring in medical schools, indicating improvements in communication skills, professional development, and even personal development for both mentees and mentors. One Swedish study found 81% of medical students in a two-year mentorship program felt they received emotional support from their mentors, 91% felt they received perspective from their mentors, and 87% felt they received guidance.

Mentorship programs clearly help. Unfortunately, though, premed programs at undergraduate institutions do not place the same emphasis on formal mentorship programs as medical schools. That’s why I asked a bunch of med students to tell me everything premeds ought to know.

Explore subjects outside of science and medicine

“One thing I highly recommend premeds to do in undergrad is to pursue interests outside of science and medicine, whether that be through extracurricular experiences or classes. The medical school curriculum is already chock full of biology/biochemistry/physics-heavy topics, which makes undergrad a great time to explore topics that are not explicitly covered during those four years.  It’s a great opportunity to learn more about the world and yourself, as well as develop into a more well-rounded individual who can capably function and interact both inside and outside of a medical context. Ultimately, we are all entering this profession for the betterment of humanity, and being able to develop and preserve our own humanity is just as important.”

—Julian Mak, MS1, Albany Medical College

Figure out which organizational and scheduling method is best for you

“The biggest difference between medical school and college is mainly the volume of work, not necessarily the difficulty of material. I found that I was much more successful once I figured out the best way to digest the material in chunks rather than getting overwhelmed by how much there was. It’s helpful to set both daily and weekly goals for what you want to get done, and also scheduling into your day normal life things like laundry, groceries, and cooking.”

—Allie Mignucci, MS1, Albany Medical College

Learn how to learn

“Everyone digests information differently so figure out what works best for you in terms of learning new material, whether it’s listening to a lecture, reading a textbook, making an outline, or a little bit of everything. Medical school is fast-paced, so making sure you know how to study effectively and efficiently is key.”

—Talitha Kumaresan, MS1, Albany Medical College

Take your time crafting a holistic med school application

“My advice to premed students is to maintain a good GPA and study for the MCAT (take it twice if you need to), but largely make sure you have continuous hobbies, volunteer work, and research that you’re passionate about. This needs to really show throughout your application. The statistics will get you through the door but they aren’t enough to get you an interview or for admission. Taking your time to make sure your application is complete with good clinical and volunteer and work experiences is important even if it takes a few extra years.”

—Shreya Bellampalli, MS1, Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine

Get research experience in something you actually care about

“It doesn’t necessarily have to be medical-related, but make sure you learn the basics of conducting scientific research (question, hypothesis, study design, analysis, presentation, etc).”

—Talitha Kumaresan, MS1, Albany Medical College

Understand the social determinants of health that cause inequitable access to and quality of medical care

“I would also encourage students to take the time to learn more about different populations, whether they vary socioeconomically, culturally, racially, etc. Understanding the history of how disparities among different groups of people have developed over time into the present day can shed a great understanding about how we as future medical professionals can most effectively understand, empathize, and interface with patients of all different belief and value systems. At times, it can feel like medical school is a sort of bubble where we are shielded from what is going on in the world around us. However, it is important to always remember that the patient should be a medical professional’s highest priority, and spending some time to learn more about these individuals and look at them as people with a story can go a long way in enriching the way in which we care for them.”

—Julian Mak, MS1, Albany Medical College

Prioritize your wellness, maturity, and individuality as you persevere

“The main thing I wish I knew as premed student working tirelessly to get into medical school is that your wellness, maturity, and individuality is equally as important as all of the accolades you can stack through academia. I realized going through medical school that all of my classmates are vastly different people with various experiences and that the key to us being such a cohesive class was our desire for work-life balance. Don’t ever forget to be a person and enjoy time with friends and family. If it was between that extra hour studying for an exam that you have spent already too much time on versus catching up with friends over dinner or drinks, realize that the latter will keep you sane and personable. As for maturity and individuality, just realize that the student body that makes up any medical school is not often the 22-year-old superstar that was 4.0 and top of their class. Many of the students, including myself, are individuals who took time off to gain experience in life on top of strengthening our applications. I worked at Starbucks for half a year and I can tell you that I have talked to more physicians during my residency interviews about my time there compared to all of my research and medical experience combined. Not everyone needs to work a service job, but there a lessons learned in the workforce that are invaluable for every type of a job including that of a physician. Not everyone has the same track to get to medical school, but if you want it bad enough and are willing to be honest with yourself, no matter how many years you may need, you can get there.”

—Mario Jaramillo, MS4, Albany Medical College

Do something for yourself everyday

“Med school can be all consuming, so make sure you have some healthy self care habits. I try to take an hour a day for myself whether I exercise, read, cook, or watch TV. Developing those habits and taking care of your mental health will keep you sane and happy in med school.”

—Talitha Kumaresan, MS1, Albany Medical College

De-stress regularly to prevent burnout

“Take time to relax and have fun however way you do that with the time you have during undergrad. The workload in medical school definitely ramps up with the combination of classes, dissections, research, and other commitments. Burnout is already a huge problem in the medical profession, and that issue doesn’t need to trickle down even further if we can manage it. Sometimes it may be tempting to look towards the next step (as I did with medical school in my senior year), but remember that the process of training to become a physician is a many years-long marathon, and the last thing you want to do in a marathon is to expend all your energy in the first portion of the race. Preserve and maintain your physical and mental health.”

—Julian Mak, MS1, Albany Medical College

Enjoy where you are

“Don’t be so focused on medical school that you forget to enjoy college and all the experiences you can have. Get involved as much as you can, make friends, enjoy your free time.” 

—Talitha Kumaresan, MS1, Albany Medical College

Live your best life 

“You’re a premed. Don’t worry, that’s not all you have to be. This is a tough field and it’s a tough journey to get into medical school. But that doesn’t mean life needs to be on hold while you reach that next milestone in your career. While you make your way there, life will keep happening. Don’t ask it to stop for you. Soon you’ll be in medical school and you’ll continue to make yourself empty promises of getting back to life before and after each of the many challenges that you will face throughout your career. So be premed, but don’t let that stop you from being an artist, musician, dancer, or movie buff. Don’t let it stop you from being a daughter, sister, or friend. Don’t let it stop you from living life. Medicine is a part of your life — don’t isolate it from the rest of what makes you you.”

—Vinita Kusupati, MS4, Albany Medical College

Don’t forget why you are doing this in the first place

“In the difficulty of premed courses, it’s easy to question if this path is worth it or if the countless hours of studying organic chemistry will even matter when you actually take care of your patients. But in those moments, remind yourself of the future patients you are doing this for because they will give you the strength to persevere and keep going.”

—Brian Lee, MS1, Albany Medical College

Subscribe here for all the latest news on how you can keep Thriving.

More on Mental Health on Campus:

What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need

If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help

The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis