Opinion | Op-eds

Finding the ‘why’ in med school applications

The Premedical Advisory Committee application is what I, as a pre-med, send to the Office of Preprofessional Advising to declare that I would like to apply to medical school in the upcoming summer. It’s long, with three multi-page essays and about 20 150-word short answer questions, and there’s a little table to fill out with all of your activities.

After I send in the PAC application, the committee can say yes or no to me after an interview. The PAC application then supplements the letter Advising sends to all the medical schools I’m applying to—this is called the committee letter. It’s extensive, incorporating information from all over the PAC application. But that’s not why I’m spending time staring at my laptop and trying to come up with good answers. The PAC application forces anyone who completes it to dig deep and come up with substantive answers to simple questions—“Who are you?” and “Why do you want to be a doctor?” These are the things that we, as pre-meds, need to know if we’re going to make it through the long days of medical school and residency.

I felt really silly telling my parents that my work over break was to apply to medical school, but that’s what the PAC application is. But, instead of doing that, I stared at my computer screen. I couldn’t write. I can’t write—I’m writing this instead. I’ve wanted to be a doctor since I was five and I can’t figure out how to express to the committee why I want to go to medical school. I’m still staring at it—the pages and pages of questions, asking me to explain why I want to be a doctor.

In the PAC application, I have to write about what extracurriculars have been significant to me during my time at college and how my clinical experiences have affected me. It’s not an easy application or even a sure path to applying next year, but it’s important, because we as pre-meds need to be able to articulate why we deal with 8:40 Orgo and sit in labs for hours on end. We need to know why we want to go to medical school, and we need to be able to express that answer.

I mean, think about it—getting in to medical school right now is insane, let alone actually going. In my previous op-ed about the pre-med community, I talked about how we’re competitive and how that’s a bad thing, because the checklist—the things we actually need to get into medical school—is a lot shorter than most of us think. However, despite my desire for a nicer, more cohesive (and less competitive) pre-med community on campus, I don’t think having that is going to make it any easier to make it past a 5 percent admission rate.

But we try anyway, because we want to be doctors. We all have different reasons, and we rarely talk about them, but we want to be doctors. Figuring out my personal reason took a good week of staring at my laptop, opening up Word, and quitting it again, because I couldn’t fully express my “why.” I’m still not really happy with my answer. When I was little and people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said, “A doctor!” I never had to say why. Now that I do, it’s hard to articulate.

That “why” is important, and that process of self-discovery is why we have to complete the PAC application. I’m not done yet—I’m not sure I will be until Feb. 17 at 4:59 p.m.—but I hope that once I’m finished, I will have a better idea of why I want to be a student for another 10 years, work 12-hour days, and come out of it a doctor. We all know, more or less, what we’re getting ourselves into, and we’re not going to come out of it alive unless we know why we’re there.

The author is a Columbia College junior majoring in art history.

To respond to this op-ed, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.


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