When you’ve been working with so many students for as long as I have, there are some irrefutable trends that are easy to notice.
This article will briefly outline the three most common and game-changing factors that any medical school candidate should be aware of. Ignore this advice at your own risk!
✋ This article does not cover some incredibly important factors of success such as socioeconomic position, peer/family/whānau support, or non-modifiable factors (learning disability, ethnicity or criteria for special entry schemes, etc.)
There are three broad factors that determine a student’s success in medical entry. In order of importance, these are…
#1 – Stress Management
This is ignored by many students but hundreds of students every year will drop out or struggle due to managing stress.
Stress is a rate-limiter that undermines any hard work you do, which is why it is the most important factor.
Five years ago (at the time of writing this), I worked with a student who graduated the dux of their school. They were nationally in the top 1% of achievers and was heavily involved in leadership and extra-curricular activities. They had prepared in advance and managed to cover most of the first month of University material before the semester had even started.
It is undeniable that this student had an enormous advantage – on paper at least. I am confident that they would have done excellently on the interview, but they never got the chance. Two weeks before their final exams, their study efficiency and concentration were so impeded by anxiety, stress and the high level of competition that they had to drop out of the cohort for mental health safety.
I wish stories like this were rare, but it is far from it.
I have seen this story play out with the most capable and confident students more times than I can count. Not just every year, but every month of every year, with multiple students.
I have taken my students to the hospital, been their support person in GP appointments, referred them to counselling, talked to them over the phone as they contemplated suicide, as well as everything before and in-between.
Please do not underestimate the impact that stress can have on you. Some sacrifices are not worth it.
I view a thorough appreciation of mental health as a sign of maturity, and investing time and effort into increasing your resilience can be life-saving.
#2 – Study Skills and Time Management
The workload in pre-med is 4 to 10 times that of your final high school year. In a single week, you can learn more than 2 months of high school curriculum.
The majority of students who fail to enter medical school are limited by their study skills and time management. And remember, these are all top students in high school!
At the beginning of 2018, I was approached by a student and their parents for an academic evaluation. At the end of this evaluation, it was clear that the student had major deficiencies in their studying technique that would post major challenges to them during their upcoming pre-med year.
Unfortunately, this student had graduated in the top 10% of achievement at their school and felt confident with their ability, despite the findings from my evaluation. They prepared their academic content during the summer holidays and proceeded through the year. Four months later, I was called by the parents who were concerned at their child’s low test scores. A brief phone evaluation identified the same limitations as before and I gave them advice which was appropriate at the time.
Three months after that, at the beginning of the second semester, I was approached again as the student had decided not to apply for medicine in first year as their first semester grades were unrecoverably low. We began private coaching a month later and continued for 4 months.
They are currently doing a Bachelors of Health Science with a perfect A+ average so far.
This story may be even more common than my previous one. Despite plenty of time, warning and resources to prepare, many students put off the right type of preparation for too long. They instead opt to only learn their academic material in advance, choosing to ignore the reality that study systems and techniques are vastly more important.
Ask a previous pre-med student if this story sounds familiar. I can guarantee that it will.
#3 – Academic Preparation
While learning the course material in advance is the most common form of preparation, due to its obvious benefits, it is actually the least important of these three factors.
This is because high levels of academic preparation are not enough to offset any disadvantages from poor stress, study, or time management (as you saw from my last story).
This is a mistake many students fall into. They do lots of study but inevitably still fall behind!
On the other hand, students with good stress, study and time management do not need prior academic preparation to excel.