What is a pre-medical diary?
Preparation for a career in medicine is the responsibility of the applicant. The activities of this preparation are self-driven and determined by the future applicant. The process usually spans six or seven undergraduate semesters. Think of your own strategies for preparing for some big event. For example, to prepare for an examination in a course, you take notes, study, and review them before the examination. How does one prepare for presenting oneself to a medical school admission committee?
The pre-medical career journal/diary represents your notes and activities of preparation for medical school admission. Just as students might find themselves unprepared for an examination in an organized course without their notes, you may also find yourself unprepared for the admission process to medical school without your premedical career journal/diary. Don't be fooled into thinking you will remember what you need to remember when the time comes.
In this discussion we will refer to your pre-medical career journal/diary simply as a "pre-medical diary." In practice, what is described should serve the purposes of being both a "journal" and a "diary." The pre-medical diary will become your written record of your preparation and development to becoming a physician. Optimally, your pre-medical diary should document the "specifics" of your transitions into being a physician, from the decision phase to the time you matriculate into medical school or later. Therefore, your diary will include both journal-type records and the diary-type entries. Journal-type records include tangible items, such as books read, interviews, shadowing experiences, names, events, places, and dates. Diary-type entries include less tangible items, such as thoughts, impressions, perceptions, feelings, considerations, evaluations, comments, questions, and comparisons. Recording these in a bound notebook is recommended, but any organized method of recording will suffice. It is likely that no one will ever see your diary, but this will not detract from its value in the process of enabling you to be the strongest applicant you can be.
What kinds of items should be entered in my pre-medical diary?
The answer to this question is best expressed by three examples:
Example 1: You were successful in arranging for a 30-minute appointment to talk with a physician whom you have never met. The purpose of the meeting is to explore medicine as a career and you are prepared with a set of questions to ask. Your journal-type entries would include the date and time, the physician's name, address, and phone number. The first ten minutes of your appointment begins with introductions and a tour of the office facilities. You then sit down and clarify where you are in your decision to seek a career in medicine. In the remaining time, you don't quite get through all of your questions, but most of them were answered, directly or indirectly. The diary-type entries might include:
- What was your overall impression of your visit?
- Was the physician enthusiastic about medicine and his practice?
- What positives about medicine were brought out?
- What negatives were mentioned?
- What were the day-to-day challenges that the physician faced?
- What were the physician's disappointments?
- What advice was given to you?
- Is this advice relate to being a physician or is it related to the process of gaining admission into medical school? If the latter, is that advice still relevant?
- What would the physician do differently in a career choice, if free to change?
- How did the physician feel about being an employee and working within the constraints of managed care?
Example 2: You job-shadow for an afternoon in a physician's office. Journal-type entries would include the date and time, the physician's name, the address, phone number, and type of physician. What procedures were observed? This may include office procedures, physician-staff interactions, physician-patient interactions, and patient issues such as insurance types used, appointments, duration in the waiting room, etc. The diary-type entry would include your reactions to what you observed.
- How did you feel about your experience?
- What aspects were pleasant and what aspects were unpleasant?
- Did anything bother you?
- What was interesting and what was not?
- What did you learn from the experience?
- What did you learn about yourself from the experience?
- Do you envision yourself doing the same things that you observed day after day for the rest of your life? If so, would you be happy at least 90% of the time doing the same things? If not, would you have the power to change those aspects that were not positive?
Example 3: You have just finished reading one of the books suggested on the handout: Suggested Readings For Pre-medical Students. Journal-type entries in your pre-medical diary would include the basic bibliographic information of the book and how you might recover this book in the future. Perhaps your notes might include some reminders on parts that you might want to read again in the future. Diary-type entries would cover the things you learned about medicine and being a physician by reading the book.
- What aspects of the practice of medicine impressed you?
- What attributes of the physicians portrayed appealed to you?
- Do you picture yourself in similar situations?
- What would be the rewards?
- What would be the disadvantages or dangers?
When should a pre-medical diary be started?
Your pre-medical career diary should be initiated when you first begin to consider medicine as your career choice. If your career decision precedes your entry into college, begin immediately as a freshman student by recording past journal-type entries from your memory. Don't worry about the diary-type entries at this point. You should not consider your decision to enter medicine final until that decision is obvious from the materials you have entered into your diary. Even then, outside forces may prevent you from reaching your goal. Discontinue entries into your diary whenever you definitely decide on another career. Do not quit after being disappointed by a particular experience that may not have been typical.
What is the purpose and value of a pre-medical diary?
The purpose and value of a pre-medical diary is immediately obvious to students who have maintained the pre-medical diary faithfully over a period of time. Above all, the diary helps give personal assurances that your career decision was not trivial, but well-thought-out and explored. Second, the diary preserves details of the memory of past events that tend to be forgotten with time. Third, the diary displays your own maturity and development in a way that will often go unnoticed by you, but will be observed by others (such as your premedical advisor). Fourth, the diary will contain the information that is useful in providing material when writing your personal statement. Also, the entries found in your diary provide the specific information that is often asked for in the medical school interview. When the information you provide for journal-type items is definite and direct, you present the image of organization and efficiency. Too many indefinite facts, lost names, and other details will detract from the impact you make when responding to specific questions in the interview. Finally, the pre-medical diary is a reminder that you need to be making timely progress to fulfill the extracurricular requirements of medical school entry.
Primary web sites for pre-medical students:
- Information on the 126 allopathic medical schools in the US.
- American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) for applications to allopathic medical schools.
- Information on the 20 osteopathic medical schools in the United States.
- American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Services for applications to osteopathic medical schools