Last week, I received my last medical school decision. For us applicants, it’s been almost a year of crafting personal statements, skipping class for interviews and agonizing waiting — not to mention years of science classes and MCAT anticipation. It’s finally over.
In retrospect, I will miss the knot building in my stomach every time I waited for a practice MCAT score to appear on my computer screen. While it may sound odd to view the cutthroat med-school admissions process positively, competition can be a good thing.
The cutthroat part of the process is a given. I’ve never heard of Penn’s pre-meds resorting to sabotage — though I would have loved to blame my awful organic chemistry lab results on anyone but myself — but competitiveness naturally arises in classes like Biology 101 and Physics 101. These classes are designed to gather as many anxious pre-meds in one room as possible, and when there are only so many A’s to go around, the situation can get ugly.
Competitveness gets a bad rap when applying, too. The Yale University School of Medicine Viewbook emphasizes that at Yale, you will “find friendship instead of competition.” And despite the cutthroat nature of being pre-med, mentioning competition in interviews is taboo. During one interview, I casually said that when I exercise, I am motivated to run faster by the people around me. My interviewer disapprovingly replied, “You seem to be pretty competitive.”
Of course, there is a reason why medical schools need to emphasize collaboration rather than competition. In his article in The New Yorker, “The Cost Conundrum,” Atul Gawande pinpoints collaboration as the main reason why the Mayo Clinic manages to be one of the lowest-cost yet highest-quality healthcare systems in the country. At the Mayo Clinic, physicians have a team-based attitude, pooling together all the money earned by the hospital system and accepting pay in the form of salaries. More importantly, physicians at the Mayo Clinic take weekly meetings seriously, using them as forums for discussing how to improve care. According to the article, the results of these meetings are “more thinking and less testing,” driving down healthcare costs.
So collaboration becomes more important than competition as a doctor. But is this reason to bemoan how competitive the application process forces pre-meds to be? I don’t think so. In fact, a competitive atmosphere unifies us.
Matthew Canver, a Harvard Medical School-bound Engineering senior, said, “Even though each student may be directly competing [with his peers], I feel that a sense of camaraderie is created, whether spoken or unspoken, because all pre-med students have overlapping experiences.”
Any system that has many times more applicants than spots is going to create competition. But rather than feeling alienated from other pre-meds, we find solidarity in each other. The pre-med culture may be competitive, but it is also supportive — there was never a time when I did not have a friend with whom I could complain about application essays or stoic interviewers. Without other pre-meds going through the same torturous process that I was, I would not have been able to survive the application process in one piece.
Cyndi Chung is a College senior from Toms River, N.J. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Slip of the Chung appears on alternate Mondays.Comments powered by Disqus
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