Pre-Med at Dartmouth: Friendly Competition

by Jacob Maguire | 4/11/18 2:25am

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Michael Lin

by Michael Lin / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

Preparing for and applying to medical school is a challenging process. This is certainly true at Dartmouth College, where students must complete each of their pre-health requirements during 10-week academic terms.

For Nicole Knape ’19, a native of Raleigh, North Carolina who recently finished her coursework for medical school, completing pre-health requirements has been a time-consuming and challenging task. Knape, who took the Medical College Admissions Test on March 24, intends to proceed directly to medical school following her graduation from Dartmouth. Knape started her pre-health requirements “right off the bat” during her freshman fall, and has completed at least one, if not two, required courses during each of her terms at Dartmouth.

“It’s definitely been a busy experience,” Knape said. “I don’t think [I had] recognized that until I finished my pre-med requirements. I can finally go on walks and take time for myself.”

Despite the challenges associated with preparing for medical school, Knape, a neuroscience major and global health minor, has enjoyed her pre-med preparation and is thankful for the opportunities that Dartmouth has provided.

“I’ve been very impressed with the pre-med curriculum at Dartmouth,” Knape said. “Dartmouth College prepares us well material-wise and challenge-wise, and they also have a significant amount of extra resources for pre-med students.”

Emily Yang ’18, a biology modified with anthropology major from San Diego, California, has likewise enjoyed her pre-health preparation at Dartmouth and looks forward to medical school. She intends to take a gap year before matriculating, which has become increasingly common nationwide among pre-health students.

“I love thinking about what I’ve been working towards for so long,” Yang said. “In high school, I shadowed people and I’ve been a pre-med student since my freshman year, and the fact that I’m finally applying to med school is exciting.”

Similarly to Knape, Yang acknowledges that the pre-health curriculum is challenging, but said that pre-med students have bonded over their coursework.

“It’s been pretty tough to be pre-health and have so many different requirements,” Yang said. “But everyone knows each other and we have many shared experiences, such as that we all survived Chem 5.”

Knape agrees that the pre-med community is tight-knit and said that students are willing to work together.

“The pre-med program at Dartmouth is collaborative and not competitive between students,” Knape said. “Friends are more than willing to form study groups, which I’ve heard is not always the case at other schools.”

One nostalgic and somewhat disappointing aspect of the pre-health path is that many students decide to leave the pre-med or pre-health track along the way and pursue other interests, Yang added.

“The pre-med track is a long process, and it can discourage people,” Yang said. “I’ve made many friends who have dropped pre-med along the way and decided not to become a doctor, including someone who completed the requirements, took the MCAT, but second-guessed going to medical school and took a job in consulting instead.”

After she earns her medical degree, Yang hopes to become a primary care doctor with a focus on pediatrics or geriatrics, because she recognizes that the need for primary care physicians is high. According to a 2017 report by the American Association of Medical Colleges, there will be a lack of 7,300 to 43,100 primary care doctors by 2030 as America’s population continues to grow and increase in age.

“I’ve always wanted to be a kindergarten teacher or a doctor, and I love working with people and helping them,” Yang said. “Primary care isn’t glamorous, but it’s the most needed, and you can have the greatest impact on people’s lives.”

An internship at a primary health and homeless clinic for underinsured patients in San Francisco solidified Yang’s interest in primary care. She runs a sub-club within Dartmouth’s Nathan Smith Society, a student organization that provides resources and programming related to the health professions, that focuses on giving primary care to patients at the Good Neighbor Health Clinic in White River Junction. In addition, Yang has performed other volunteer work and conducted research on topics such as tumor suppressor genes and the purported link between circumcision and breastfeeding at Geisel School of Medicine.

She encourages students who are interested in medicine or other health professions, such as veterinary medicine or dentistry, to determine what makes them passionate about those fields and then to focus on those interests.

“Make sure that you know why you’re doing it,” Yang said. “No one wants to be pre-med and loves being pre-med week five during [Organic Chemistry], so make sure to keep in mind your motivation for becoming a doctor. [Medicine] is not the only way to help people.”

Knape loves volunteering at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and feels that her time spent in the hospital has motivated her to continue pursuing her medical aspirations.

Yang has found one of the most stressful aspects of applying to medical school, which is a year-long, highly competitive process, to be the realization that it is the culmination of her time at Dartmouth.

“Experiences that I’ve poured over for four years become a paragraph on my application,” she said.

Knape has struggled at times to grapple with her own high standards.

“Setting high expectations for myself has been challenging, and it can also be incredibly stressful to think about how every grade on a test impacts my [potential admission to] med school,” she said.

However Knape’s friends, including those in both the pre-health program and in other academic realms at Dartmouth, have been “incredibly supportive.”

“My friends have kept me going,” Knape said. “People sent me heartbreaking letters while I was studying for the MCAT over spring break, in a good way, and I am very much grateful.”

Erin Kawakami ’21, a first-year student from Palos Verdes Estates, California, intends to complete the pre-med track during her time at Dartmouth. Kawakami does not know what major she intends to pursue because it will be distinct from her pre-health requirements, but she is interested in several academic disciplines, including engineering, psychology, anthropology and human-centered design.

Kawakami said that her long interest in medicines stems from her “passion” for sports. She enjoys learning about medical problems and their causes and is fascinated by anatomy. She also enjoys helping others.

The emphasis on GPA in the medical school application process concerns Kawakami because pre-health courses are notoriously rigorous.

“As a first-year student, I’m interested in medicine but worried about the potential impact of pre-med courses on my GPA,” Kawakami said. “I definitely don’t want that to detract me from what I’m interested in, and I also don’t want to take the ‘easy route.’”

Kawakami is also concerned about the possibility of not making the best use of her time at the College if her interest in medicine changes, but she finds the possibility of becoming a doctor to be appealing after many years of schooling. She has found the pre-health advisers to be really helpful.

“They’ve helped me with possible plans and shown me different ways to take the required courses,” Kawakami said. “They work to accommodate student for their majors and help ensure that everyone is on track, and they also help you to dip your toes in and test it out.”

Kawakami has to juggle her pre-health requirements with her commitments as a member of the women’s varsity soccer team, but she said that doing so has been “manageable” so far.

Yang and Knape do not participate in varsity sports at Dartmouth, but they are both undergraduate advisers.

“The relationships that I’ve built as a UGA have been highly valuable to me,” Knape said. “Balancing my pre-health coursework with my other activities and obligations, from being a UGA to volunteerism to mentoring, has mainly required balance.”

Knape believes that, even though pre-med has been rigorous and challenging, all of her efforts have been worth it. She looks forward to attending medical school and becoming a doctor, but hopes to enjoy her upcoming senior year at Dartmouth College in the meantime.

“Regardless of it being so much work, it’s totally worth it if you know what you want to do,” Knape said. “Keeping your dreams and goals in mind works wonders.”