What NOT To Learn from Reddit Pre-Med

The decision of choosing pre-med as your college trajectory, and ultimately the decision of going to medical school, are both very big choices and can present many challenges and hurdles.

As a result, we’re always looking for resources, helpful hints, and tips and tricks to help us with the process – maybe to get some insight on the upcoming challenges and see if the choice is right for us.

While most of these resources can provide valuable information and showcase the genuine challenges of medical school or PA school, there are also sources that should be taken with a grain of salt.

One of these resources is Reddit pre-med. While many users offer genuine advice and information for pre-med students, there are some myths about being a pre-med student and medical school that are surviving in part because of Reddit.

We have compiled the top myths about being a pre-med student from Reddit and outlined the broader reasons why not every Reddit post should be taken at face value. Based on our years of experience advising students, we want to offer you some clarity as you navigate the complicated world of pre-med life and applying to med school.

The Reddit Myths

“MCAT Score” Myth

A common myth, and topic of many debates on Reddit, is the role of the MCAT score in the medical school application process. A large exam, and the frequent cause of many stress-induced headaches, the MCAT can play a large role in your profile for your medical school applications. The MCAT and your GPA – which ultimately test similar things about you, the applicant – are some of the most important parts of getting in.

There are myths floating around that an MCAT score of X is a good score on the exam, or a score of Y is essential, or a score of Z is all you need to get in and that it’s enough to weigh out other aspects of your profile. The truth of the matter is a little more complicated. Medical schools want applicants that have both “can do” and “will do.” The former is tested primarily through GPA and MCAT, and secondarily by the demonstration of certain personal competencies such as interpersonal skills, cultural awareness, etc. But the second part is essential as well; it’s shown through shadowing or clinical experiences, which demonstrate that an applicant knows what he/she is getting into, and is interested in it. No perfect MCAT score can make up for this.

 

“Low GPA” Myth

The next myth is the myth that only those with perfect 4.0 GPAs stand a chance of being accepted into medical school, and that pre-med students with anything below a 3.7 or so should either seek a new career or fixate on making their academic work so perfect that their overall GPA course-corrects before they have to start sending out transcripts.

The truth is not that clear-cut. While yes, good GPAs are very valuable when applying to medical school, they’re hardly the sole deciding factor. Your profile is weighted out in portions according to GPA, MCAT score, extracurriculars, and shadowing and clinical experience. Understanding why GPA cannot be the only factor is made easier if you understand the concept described in the section above of “can do” and “will do;” medical schools do not want candidates that are only good at the academic element (which is proven by GPA and MCAT) because they know that academics are a necessary but not sufficient part of being a good MD/DO student and a great doctor.

There is a world of opportunities available for pre-med students with GPAs in the mid 3’s, which still demonstrates tremendous academic potential. Don’t let the myth of perfection stop you from pursuing a career that makes a difference. We’re not saying don’t ignore GPA! Know the averages and make sure you have a path towards exceeding them. If you’re not on track, take fewer classes, focus, declutter your life, and quit social media if needed. Consider also the possibility of placing a lot of your extracurriculars in a concentrated way during your summer – for instance, by going on one of our Atlantis programs!

“School Caliber” Myth

The next myth is the myth is that medical schools really weigh the eliteness of your undergrad institution, e.g. if you went to an Ivy League or similar caliber institution. All too often, this myth results in driven, smart, and talented pre-med students from other colleges or universities reconsidering their choices on the belief that their institution’s name doesn’t have the power to compete with the Ivys.

This is simply not true. Countless students are accepted into medical school from institutions other than the Ivys. What should really be important is considering your own work and performance rather than the pedigree of your institution. Remember that achieving success, performing great extracurricular work, a high MCAT score, and a high GPA makes a much stronger application than someone with poor statistics who happened to go to an Ivy. Naturally, an Ivy means something: it means someone went through a tighter filter, and it means that the student was in a more competitive environment than average – and that’s real, and it does matter, but this is simply one factor, and probably not a huge one. To focus on it at length is a mistake. 

“Extracurricular” Myth

The next myth is that students should be tripping over themselves to complete as many extracurricular activities as possible, regardless of how involved they are or how much they contribute to the continuing education and learning process. The myth states that when medical schools look at an applicant, they like to see a mile-long laundry list of extracurricular activities vaguely related to medical school to show that the student is dedicated and driven.

The truth is that the opposite is true when it comes to conveying dedication and drive for a continuing medical education. Something more thoughtful and deeply involved with actual results (shameless plug: such as an international clinical shadowing program at Atlantis), would be much more impactful than several small medical projects that don’t connect to one another.

Bottom line, look for quality. For instance, in the realm of clinical experience and shadowing (which is what Atlantis focuses on), you should look for quantity of hours, quality of interaction with doctors, and breadth of exposure to different fields. And ideally, you should do this in a concentrated way. You certainly don’t have to do an Atlantis program, but just to give that as an example: compared with traditional shadowing, Atlantis (1) allows you to shadow a lot in one go and focus more on academics during the school year; (2) goes more in-depth, in that our students see more procedures, such as surgeries than typical shadowing (note: our shadowing is observation-only, which we truly believe in since we are talking about complicated medical situations); and (3) Atlantis has greater breadth, since our alumni almost always go through several departments, and in each department, they often see many professionals. So with Atlantis, you get to focus during your academic year, and then, while shadowing, you get greater depth and greater breadth than the average shadowing experience. And, as you will know already, both depth and breadth of shadowing are valued by admissions committees (which makes sense – if you were in their shoes you’d want your student body to have both).

“Personal Statement” Myth

The next myth has to do with the “Personal Statement” normally included in Med School applications. The personal statement is a valuable opportunity to articulate your personal mission to the medical school and to showcase your story, your strengths, and your drive for wanting to enter the world of medicine. They vary widely from person to person, and they should, for everyone has a substantially different reason for pursuing medicine to begin with.

However, there is a myth that there’s a “perfect” way to write a personal statement and that there’s a long list of topics that shouldn’t be mentioned. While it’s certainly true that there are proven strategies for constructing a narrative and including certain information to help medical schools understand you, the idea that there’s a “perfect” personal statement is ridiculous.

Do not be scared to illustrate the true reasons for your journey, and don’t let groupthink discourage you from expressing your true desire to help others. There’s a distinct difference between saying there’s a strategy for composing a personal statement and saying someone should avoid a long list of topics.

Disclaimer: Again, we’re not telling you that there aren’t better and worse ways to approach a statement. Remember medical (and PA) schools want “can do” and “will do” (as described in a section above). Your pre-med path, as well as your essay, should show that you have both. You should show you have the qualities (for those, reference the AAMC Core Competencies), as well as the desire and drive to be a great doctor or PA.

Desire and ability are the initial ingredients that are then mixed with medical or PA school studies, and then ultimately with real experience in the field. With that recipe of desire, ability, studies, and experience, you’ll end up with a doctor or PA who loves their job (we love jobs that we actively pursue and that we are good at), and you’ll end up with patients who love being cared for by that doctor or PA, precisely because their profession is their passion.

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The Reddit Resource Problems

In addition to there being many myths floating around the pre-med subreddit, there are also many problems with using Reddit as a resource in and of itself. Reddit can be a very valuable resource when it comes to sharing opinions, discovering new topics of interest, or even just finding out what the biggest news stories are, but using it for dedicated advice about medical school and application strategies can have some significant drawbacks.

Questionable Sources

First and foremost, treating advice as reliable that comes directly from anonymous users is very risky. Reddit makes it very accessible for users to join and post interesting content, which can be valuable, but it also means there’s little to no accountability when it comes to the truth of what users are posting. Many Reddit users very well may have good advice, and maybe it can help you advance your career, but it’s best to take all Reddit posts and comments with a grain of salt and do some research on your own into the truth of the claims.

Overly Generic or Basic Advice

Even when advice on Reddit is accurate and potentially valuable, you encounter the new problem of it not being tailored to your situation, needs, and ultimate goals. The pre-med track and ultimately the path to med school can take an infinite number of different twists and turns, from the type of specialty you might ultimately want, to your financial needs, to your reasons for wanting to join the field of medicine. There’s no “one-size-fits-all” advice when it comes to a field of study this diverse and intricate, but the issue with Reddit advice is that it attracts everyone, and so advice ultimately gets boiled down to the least common denominator of what will get attention.

The best solution here is to instead seek out advice from a dedicated career path counselor or from a specific physician whom you’re shadowing. This advice will always be much more valuable and applicable than advice found on a Reddit forum.

Always Comparing Yourself To Others

When you seek advice from an experienced physician whom you know, or from your mentor, you’re getting valuable insight into your strengths and how to be the best version of yourself. Reddit, on the other hand, tends only to lead to you comparing yourself with other users until you’re convinced your accomplishments aren’t good enough.

The mechanism of Reddit bringing med school students all together into one forum means that there’s a chance you’ll be mentally comparing yourself against people whom you aren’t actually competing against in the application arena. This fosters a sense of negativity and can make you question the worth and the effectiveness of your experience. The best approach is to focus only on bettering yourself, and not to be concerned with how others are going about the application process.

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Atlantis is the leader in clinical shadowing abroad for U.S. pre-health students, partnering with many hospitals, primarily in Europe, including top hospitals in Spain, Italy, Greece, and Portugal, among other countries. Students shadow 20+ hours per week, develop and highlight the AAMC Core Competencies, set themselves apart on their medical/PA school applications, and grow in their passion for medicine. If you found this article helpful and would like to explore shadowing opportunities with Atlantis, contact us today to learn more about how to get involved.