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Connect With College Professors Before Medical School



College professors are an incredible resource that undergraduate students – especially those in relatively large undergraduate science classes – often overlook. For prospective medical school students, it’s important to establish and sustain relationships with undergraduate professors since they can play a key role in helping you pursue your medical dreams.

Here are three ways college professors can play a critical role, plus some advice on developing lasting relationships with them.

Letters of Recommendation

Strong, personable letters of recommendation – especially from instructors who taught your challenging science classes – are an essential component of a successful medical school application. Many undergraduates mistakenly believe that excelling in a science class is sufficient for obtaining a strong recommendation from that course’s instructor. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

While a professor you don’t know well may be able to write you a factual letter describing the course he or she taught and noting your performance, the professor will not be able to include the type of interpersonal details that distinguish you from the multitudes of other prospective med students who have succeeded in challenging premed courses.

Are you naturally inquisitive? Do you ask thoughtful questions? Do you have a gift for explaining complicated concepts in an easily understandable way? These details will be lacking in letters from professors who don’t know you well – and those details won’t be lost on medical school admissions committees.

Avoid this pitfall by asking questions in class and, most importantly, by regularly attending a professor’s office hours. Office hours allow you to build a relationship and make an impression on faculty members in a setting that is more intimate than a large undergraduate science class.

It is important to attend these sessions well-prepared, with a familiarity of the material covered as well as several questions – especially about any material that you are struggling with.

Alternate Career Opportunities

Faculty members often have a wider and more informed perspective of the career opportunities that are available in many fields than do most career development offices at undergraduate institutions. Given that med school represents a substantial time and financial commitment, it is important for prospective medical students to explore all of their career opportunities to ensure that medicine is the best fit for them.

To that end, professors are often happy to impart the wisdom and observations they have acquired over the years. For example, my general chemistry professor taught undergraduates part time and worked full time for a pharmaceutical company. By sharing his professional journey – as well as the benefits and drawbacks to working in academia versus industry – he helped me make a more informed decision about whether to pursue medical school.

In the course of discussions with professors, ask for candid feedback regarding the pros and cons of particular medical fields. Even if you decide to continue pursuing med school, these interactions can provide you with a more comprehensive perspective of the varied career opportunities available to doctors.

For example, physicians with a particular focus on research, advocacy and public policy, and public health combine the skill sets developed in med school with other fields of study to advance patient care. Undergraduate professors in these fields are often keenly aware of those positions and are happy to help facilitate your exploration of those areas.

Lifelong Mentors

One of the intangible benefits of building strong relationships with undergrad professors is that they can serve as lifelong mentors for future career and life decisions. This is perhaps the most valuable and enduring benefit and requires a specific set of actions.

In addition to building a relationship with a given professor while taking his or her course, you need to periodically keep in contact after completing the course to develop the relationship into a long-term mentorship.

For example, establish a recurring coffee meeting with the faculty member every few weeks, or seek the professor’s advice about which courses you should take, which job or volunteer opportunities to pursue or what books to read. These individuals represent a particularly valuable resource because they can often provide you with advice that is more informed and objective than the advice you may receive from your parents and friends.

Advice from faculty mentors is especially valuable with regard to professors of liberal arts courses, since few things are more impressive and memorable to med school admissions officers as when applicants draw well-informed parallels from other disciplines during medical school interviews. Moreover, these interactions with professors represent a form of networking that is vital for success in medicine, whether you ultimately choose to pursue a career in academia, industry or private practice.

Strong networking skills are essential for success in each setting, and the relationships fostered with undergraduate professors are an excellent opportunity to begin learning how to network effectively. In fact, being chosen as a medical student to participate in competitive research projects, volunteer opportunities or even residency positions is partially based on your ability to foster and build connections with your peers and superiors.

Working on building professional relationships with undergraduate professors will put you in a strong position to achieve success as you begin to advance through your professional career. This is also a critical skill to develop as an undergraduate, since it will yield dividends both in the short and long term as you progress through your education and make key decisions regarding your future.

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