Updated: Jan 12
A recent article in the Washington Square News reported that a number of pre-med students at NYU felt that their pre-med advisors (advisers is another acceptable spelling) were giving poor advice, keeping them in college longer than necessary. Whether that allegation is true or not is unclear. What is true, however, is that I have spoken to pre-meds around the country who have complained that they received discouraging advice from their pre-med advisors.
I was about 18 or 19 years old. It was the end of my first semester in college and my chemistry class was killing me! In high school, I had graduated salutatorian of my class and had a bunch of other academic and sports accomplishments. So, failing was foreign to me.
Like a good pre-med, I met with my pre-med advisor at the end of the semester. I was a chemistry major and she was my chemistry professor. We had not met before this. Knowing that I wasn't doing well in her class, I expressed to her that I was feeling overwhelmed. My course work that first semester consisted of chemistry 1 (with lab), biology 1 (with lab), calculus 1, and English 1.
Until this day, I remember this conversation verbatim like a recurring nightmare. She asked, "What do you want to be?" I answered, "I want to be a doctor. I want to go to medical school." She paused and looked in the air for a few seconds. "Maybe you should go to dental school instead... No, but that's hard to get into, too," she said without even looking in my direction. Awkward silence. Then in 3, 2, 1, "Maybe you should go to graduate school and do something else, " she advised (and I use that word loosely).
I was speechless! With nothing more to say to me, she proceeded to sign off on my next semester's same overwhelming coursework: chemistry 2 (with lab), biology 2 (with lab), calculus 2, and English 2. I realized that my pre-med advisor did not have my best interest in mind.
I called my parents in tears. All they could do was encourage me to keep moving forward. But, my parents didn't know the process of getting into medical school, and even after meeting with my advisor, neither did I. After all, applying to medical school is not like going from high school to college. It's a much more competitive and specific process, something that I didn't know at the time.
Strategies for overcoming a discouraging pre-med advisor
Realize that not all pre-med advisors want to discourage you. Do your research on the options you have on campus by talking to students who have other advisors. You might consider switching advisors.
If you only have one advisor on campus, that can be more challenging. I do not recommend avoiding this person since med schools require a letter from the pre-med advisor/committee. Meet once a semester and let him/her know you still desire to go to medical school and have been reading up on how to get there. This will show that you are more serious than s/he originally thought.
Find a mentor. Either a physician or medical student who can help you navigate your challenges.
Use resources other than your pre-med advisor. There are organizations you can join that promote the success of pre-med students. I eventually joined the Student National Medical Association.
Be proactive and educate yourself. Don't just rely on the advice of someone who is discouraging you. If I had, where would l be today?
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