More Than Metrics: Using experiences to power your biomedical journey
Updated: Mar 13, 2020
By David Rivetti
If you’re a premedical student, there are two acronyms that you probably hear mentioned more often than you would like: GPA and MCAT. Whether it is your peers, your instructors, your advisors, or even your parents, it is often unavoidable to have a conversation about your medical future without one of these slipping into the dialogue without invitation. I want to make one thing very clear: metrics do matter, and your performance in the classroom and on exams is vital at every stage of your biomedical journey. However, and more importantly, I want to emphasize that investing all of your time, mental energy, and emotional well-being into these areas might be the single biggest mistake that many pre-health students make.
I would venture to guess that you have your own motivations for why you are pursuing a career in the health sciences. Whether it is an interest in helping people, an unquenchable thirst for scientific knowledge gained through research, or because your family members and friends urged you along this path, your inspiration and drive is unique to you.
Here lies the first flaw in placing all of your energy into attaining that 4.0 GPA and 528 MCAT score: alone, these values cannot give anyone a sense of who you are. So much of medicine and research is relational, and the best clinicians and scientists not only have the requisite scientific knowledge for success, but also have a knack for forming relationships and chasing down the right collaborations or projects. One of the best uses of your time as an aspiring health professional is to engage in experiences that you find meaningful and valuable.
You might be asking, “How will I know which experiences someone else will find valuable? I know I can shadow, do research, volunteer in hospitals, or do community service, but what will an admissions committee care about?” This is a question that I thought about every single day as an undergraduate student. I was a biology major and had a psychology minor, was interested in medicine, and knew that I had to find a way to differentiate myself from the crowd.
The greatest lesson I learned along my own personal journey is that, often times, it is not the experience itself that people care most about hearing, but rather your interpretation of the experience. Admissions committees and interviewers hear thousands of narratives about research, service, patient interactions, and experiences that an applicant considers “meaningful.” Your job, for better or worse, is to demonstrate that the experiences that you have had prepared you for what is to come and have shaped you into someone that they could see at their institution.
As you progress on your biomedical career path, you might consider yourself an underdog for a variety of reasons. Maybe you feel as though you do not have the metrics to be competitive, or perhaps you feel at a disadvantage because you are the first member of your family to embark on such a journey. Here’s the thing – an underdog story isn’t just synonymous with catching a break, it is taking advantage of the experiences along your path and the relationships formed throughout the journey.
Below I have listed some aspects of experiences that you can consider when trying to decide how to put the “MEANING” in your experiences:
M-Memorable/Measurable- Memorable both for you and the person reading about it/hearing about it
E-Excitability – Can people tell you are excited about it? Are other people excited to hear what you have to share about it?
A-Actionable – When you talk about your experience, people should see where you thought critically, took a leadership role, etc.
N-Nuances – What about this experience is unique? Can people tell you know the “ins and outs” of what it is you are talking about?
I-Invested – Were you truly committed to whatever it is you set your mind to do? Did you persist when things did not go as planned?
N-Numerical – Attach a duration/temporal component to the work you have completed, whether that is a number of hours, number of publications or presentations, etc.
G-Gratitude – Are you grateful for the opportunity or were you just checking the boxes? Are you grateful for the people that mentored you along the way?
If you keep these attributes in mind, I have no doubt that you will be able to tackle your applications and the interview process with a high level of confidence. Your metrics can get you a seat at the table, but it will be your experiences that truly leave an impact on those who want to learn more about your journey.