By Anne Guo, HBSc, MD

Anne graduated from the Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology program at the University of Toronto in 2010 with the highest GPA in her college. She subsequently completed her MD from Queen’s University in Kingston in 2014 and is now pursuing residency training in Anaesthesia in Germany (Class of 2020).

In this piece, Anne discusses the tools required for academic excellence.

I once came across an article on maintaining a successful relationship. It was filled with elegantly thought out pieces of advice, backed by years of research from psychologists and sociologists. It reminded me of the trials and tribulations of a pre-med student. Over the years, I have gotten to know many medical students and I can share a few lessons that we have learned through our collective personal experiences.

1. Success does not fall from the sky — find out in advance how you will be evaluated
Do you want to impress a total stranger? Then you have to go the extra mile and do your
homework. It is up to you to search for the exact criteria that will be used to evaluate you, either for courses during your undergraduate studies, or throughout the admissions process. What would score more points? Acquaint yourself with what is expected early on, so that there are no unpleasant surprises. When you want something that is not readily available, you need to be bold, creative, and take the initiative. The importance of each criterion may differ from school to school, but being prepared and knowledgeable on the details will help set you up for success.

2. Medical schools like to play hard-to-get — do not give up without a fight
Not everything needs to happen the way you had wished on your first try. Love at first sight certainly sounds romantic, but in many cases, we have friends who thought the world was ending after a breakup and are now living a happy life. The same applies to the admissions process. It’s painful when we are rejected after having sacrificed so much of our youth to pursue the dream of becoming a doctor; hours of lost sleep to study in the library or trade the summer sun for the the fluorescent light of the lab bench. It is heartbreaking to be rejected, but your hard work is not in vain. Try again and do not give up. A significant number of medical students enter through non-traditional paths, many of whom only succeed due to persistence. Be prepared to be persistent; applying to medical school is a great time investment, but remember that perseverance pays off.

3. Do not take advice from others for granted — learn to filter and decide for yourself
In light of a good GPA, no standard formula guarantees success. Somebody may tell you astronomy is a “bird” course to take, but you may have very little interest in extraterrestrial bodies that the course may become the bane of your existence! I truly admire the “super-humans” who volunteer overseas while publishing many papers, but rest assured that the majority of people get into medical school without having to set foot outside of their home countries to volunteer. Perhaps you may not be a good match for one particular university, but the reality is that you cannot please everybody. Find the right school that values you. At times, people share their success stories, but the important part is not to merely mimic it, but to find the right pieces of advice to create your own personal success story. Your story should highlight your strengths, accomplishments, and your personal roadmap forward.

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