Lauen Kus, COL ’15, interviewed by Todd Rothman, Senior Associate Director
This is an interesting time of year for many pre-med students – some are well-entrenched in the interview (and “waiting game”) point of the admissions cycle, while others are gearing up to begin the application process for the upcoming admissions cycle this Spring. With that in mind, I thought I would share some insights about the medical school application process – as well as the firsthand experience of the first semester of medical school – from a Penn alumna and my former advisee, Lauren Kus ’15. As an undergraduate student, Lauren majored in Health & Societies (Concentration: Bioethics & Society) and minored in Biology. She is currently in her first year at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Q: What aspect of medical school and/or your medical school training have you enjoyed the most so far?
A: The most enjoyable part about medical school so far for me has been studying subjects that have clear relevance to what I will be doing in my future career. As a pre-med, I felt like a lot of the classes we had to take seemed relatively disconnected from medicine and healthcare. Medical school is very different. Anatomy is notoriously the most daunting class for MS1s, but there was such a clear connection to clinical care that I always felt motivated to study it. You might be able to get through Orgo without fully understanding NMR, but you if you don’t understand the anatomy of the heart, you’ll be in trouble as a future physician.
Q: In what ways is medical school similar to being pre-med at Penn? What has surprised you the most about being a medical student so far?
A: Being pre-med at Penn prepares you well for time management in medical school. You’ll most likely be taking around 5 different classes or subjects. For example, my first semester I took Anatomy, Biochemistry, Cell & Molecular Biology, Genetics, and Intro to Clinical Medicine. It would have been very difficult to manage that course load without the preparation I had from being pre-med at Penn. So, one similarity is time spent studying. You will absolutely spend A LOT of time studying in medical school. For me, it was significantly more than I had even spent at Penn. That was what surprised me the most about being a med student. Just like all Penn pre-meds, I turned down lots of social activities or study breaks in order to get everything done that I needed to for my pre-med classes. I expected to spend about the same amount of time studying in medical school. This was not the case. However, unlike Penn, everyone in your class will be in the same boat. All your friends and classmates will have the same workload, and be forced to spend a significant amount of time studying. So I didn’t feel like I was missing out on other things the way I sometimes did at Penn.
Q: What undergraduate course(s) and/or out-of-the-classroom experiences have proven to be the most useful to you in your first semester of medical school?
A: Any class you can take as an undergraduate that you might have in medical school will be helpful. As an HSOC major, I didn’t take a lot of extra science classes. However, my friends in med school who were, for example, Biochemistry majors found some of our intro courses to be more familiar than they were for me. That being said, you absolutely don’t need to take classes ahead of time (I didn’t and it worked out!). Extracurricularly, the most useful experiences I had were those clinical volunteering and research experiences that required patient interaction. In my Intro to Clinical Medicine class, we are tested on patient interviewing skills. I found it much less stressful than some of my classmates who had less past interaction with patients. Getting comfortable with talking to patients, in any capacity, will absolutely prepare you well for your clinical encounters in med school.
Q: What has impressed you and/or surprised you most about your medical school classmates?
A: I am both impressed and surprised by the wide range of backgrounds that my classmates come from. As an HSOC major at Penn, I was exposed to a certain “type” of medical student. However, there is no one mold that all med students fit. Everyone comes from such unique backgrounds and my classmates have many different interests. This makes sense, I’ve realized, since all of us will end up going into different specialties!
Q: Looking back on your own pre-med preparation and the application process itself, what advice would you give to current applicants in the process?
A: I would say – don’t rush! I applied without a gap year, and found it to be a pretty stressful process. Studying for the MCAT was rushed, and I missed out on a lot my junior year because of it. Senior fall was also a stressful time with applications and interviews. It worked out for me in the end, but I think if I did it over again I might take a gap year. Everyone is different, though, so you should do what works for you and aligns with your priorities. Additionally, I’d say if you’re not entirely sure about medicine, wait to apply. There’s not need to push it if you’re not sure that medicine is for you. I think it would be incredibly difficult to be motivated and successful if I wasn’t 110% sure that medicine was the career for me. Finally, and most importantly, enjoy Penn! My 4 years at Penn were some of the best. However, I think I spent a lot of it worrying about the next step instead of enjoying undergrad. Getting into medical school is a hard road, and being a medical student if tough. You’ll be a happier, healthier, and more successful medical student if you make sure not to burn out before you even make it there.