The Stress of the Premed Process and How to Overcome

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PMY 503: The Stress of the Premed Process and How to Overcome

Session 503

Varinia Grannum, one of our expert premed advisors at MSHQ joins us to talk about the stress and fear of failure that premeds have and how to overcome them.

If you want more of Varinia, come to our live Wednesdays where we do Ask Mappd on our YouTube channel For more podcast resources to help you with your medical school journey and beyond, check out Meded Media.

Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

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[01:36] More About Varinia Grannum

Varinia is one of our amazing MSHQ advisors. She’s a former Assistant Dean of Pre-Health and STEM Advising at Hofstra University. She has helped thousands of students gain admission to medical school, including helping our own students here now through Medical School HQ.

Varinia shares her interesting take on being a former undergraduate advisor, and now working with students strictly through MSHQ Advising helping them get into medical school. We talk about the mistakes she sees inside and out, and what drives her to do this.

[03:09] Her Intro to Education and the Pre-Health World

Education was a huge part of Varinia’s childhood. Born to immigrant parents that made sure their kids were educated, Varinia had lots of books growing up. A voracious reader, her passion for education and learning just grew. She went to college and somehow she never left, becoming a writing tutor, working with students, and helping them with their assignments.

Varinia eventually worked for the foreign Fulbright Program, which was a student exchange program. She was involved in managing the program, working with international students coming to the U.S. to pursue graduate degrees. She realized that the part she loved the most about her job was helping them figure out their academic plans.

From there, she pursued a Master’s Degree in Education with a Counseling focus. As part of that program, Varinia had to do an internship in an advising office on campus. She pursued this at Hofstra University and got hired, being her first official role as an advisor in higher education.

[08:09] How to Deal with Failure

What Varinia has observed among premeds is that pressure on the students to perform well. They think the only way to get into medical school is to get high grades and not make any mistakes.

And so, a lot of her conversations with them revolved around how to deal with failure. These were students who performed very well all throughout high school and it was their first time encountering a failure, feeling like everything was falling apart.

'It's just a perception that you have to be perfect.'Click To Tweet

In fact, showing your struggles in the past that you were able to overcome is somehow a piece of evidence that you’ve handled them in the past. And the admissions committees now have that context of who you are.

If you’re able to overcome challenges, you become stronger. And it helps you connect more with patients who are going through similar struggles and understand them better. And if you have never failed, you can’t really understand what it’s like to be in that person’s shoes.

This is not to say that you should fail your classes. It’s about letting go of the idea that you have to be the perfect candidate for medical school.

[12:39] The Most Common Pain Points Going Through The Process

Varinia recalls having conversations with students who aren’t aware enough of what goes into this process. They’re just going through the motions and getting through their classes. But they’re not well-versed in the process itself, and how much work goes into it.

And so, they have a lot of questions about how to prepare and what they need to do as first-year students.

'Being aware of how many pieces there are to this process is the most important thing for any premed starting out now to consider.'Click To Tweet

[14:10] What First-Year Students Should Focus On

Varinia explains that you don’t have to be perfect but you do want to be able to take your classes seriously. Get your study skills in order and go talk to your advisor and your professor.

Focus on learning and understanding how you learn the material because you still need to know this stuff.

“Make sure that you're learning the material to learn it, not just to pass the test because this is building the foundation for the future.” Click To Tweet

Be aware of where the advising campus office is on-campus and seek out those resources. As a student, you can’t really rely on others to come to you and give you the information. Be proactive, connect with them, and talk to them.

Become familiar with the student organizations on campus, the student clubs, and volunteering opportunities. At least know who your resources are on campus academically, and socially, and figure out ways to get involved.

That being said, be intentional about what you’re trying to get involved with. Don’t just sign up for stuff because you think it looks good. Be intentional, and have an interest in the club and in what they’re doing. It’s better to have just one or two, maybe three meaningful activities where you’re really devoted to that, ​​rather than having 10 different things that you’re barely going to their meetings. Make sure, too, that you don’t ignore your academics.

[17:34] What It’s Like Working With Students Through The App Process

Varinia illustrates that at the beginning of the process, students usually have no idea where to start. Or maybe have some idea but can’t articulate their passion and why they want to do this.

She likes being able to work with them and helping them figure out how to put their passion and stories into words. She loves seeing the progression from that nervous pre-applicant to someone preparing for an interview or getting that acceptance.

Finally, they’re now seeing the results of their hard work. And Varinia enjoys being able to guide them, support them, and help them feel more confident.

[19:17] The Importance of Being Natural During The Interview

Many students are anxious about impressing their interviewers. But once you already have an interview, it means you have been called in and you’ve already impressed them with your application.

Now, they just want to see if you can talk to someone and articulate things. They want to see if you’re able to communicate with patients in the future. 

And so, try to just be natural as much as possible. At the end of the day, you just have to be able to connect with your interviewer and show that you can also listen. Treating this like a coffee shop conversation helps a lot.

[22:47] It’s Not The End of the World

It’s tough if you don’t get in because you’ve worked so hard, and psychologically, the thought of having to do this again next cycle is very, very daunting. It is important, but it is not the end of the world. Be positive and think that this is going to go well. But also understand that if it doesn’t, you have options.

This might take longer and it can be very difficult financially, but if this is what you want to do, you won’t let go. You will hold on to that dream and that passion. Stay positive about it as much as you can to carry you through if things don’t work out this cycle.

'This process doesn't define who you are.'Click To Tweet

[27:08] Her Passion for Helping All Students

Varinia admits she has a soft spot for first-year students because they like the deer in the headlights and they’re all excited. She also has a soft spot for the working parents that are going back to school because they’ve now realized this is what they want to do. So it’s just two very different approaches to advising those two age groups or learner groups at that point.

Regardless of how they ended up on this path, Varinia encourages students to remember why they’re on this path. And it can’t be because their parents pushed them to do it.

“Reflecting and soul-searching are important because that's what's going to keep you motivated to stay on this path when things get tough.”Click To Tweet

[31:47] Final Words of Wisdom

Time is going to go by. So you can either become a doctor, or you can sit there and doubt yourself during that same period of time. Surround yourself with positive people. Surround yourself with supportive people, friends, and family members, and stay away from those competitors. Collaboration, not competition.

Check-in with your own mental health, very frequently. Remind yourself why you’re doing this. Keep that in mind as you’re going through each step – through your very first science courses, through your most advanced courses, and through getting shadowing opportunities and volunteering opportunities.

Hopefully, you get yourself some patient care experiences along the way and continue to remind yourself about why you’re doing this so it keeps you motivated to stay on this process.

Links: (Use the referral code: VARINIA and get three months free of Mappd App Pro)

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