Photo courtesy of Rocio Zaragoza

In the medical field, donning the white coat is a lifelong dream and symbolic of a great deal of respect and knowledge. However, it is no secret that achieving this dream requires years of dedicated study, hard work and intense focus, and one might wonder why someone would choose such a difficult path, one that is especially so at Tech. For almost everyone, it is the chance to make someone’s life better.

Able to offer unique insight into this are Pre-Health Peer Advisors Sirwoo Kim and Rocio Zaragoza. Both are fourth-year BME majors on the pre-health track, and these two know what it is like to balance the rigors of Tech’s curriculum with the requirements of applying to medical school. In their roles, they regularly work with students who are interested in the pre-health program or who are already on the track. Students from majors across campus, from liberal arts to chemistry, choose to pursue a career in the medical field. Kim and Zaragoza have a unique understanding of why people choose to pursue pre-health at Tech.

“I think students are drawn to healthcare fields because they want to help people and change someone’s life. Everyone has their personal path and reasoning, but it still comes down to their passion to building patient relationships and bring them back to optimal health,” Zaragoza said.

For third-year BME Omar Ahmed, this statement rings true. Ahmed, who hopes to become a cardiothoracic surgeon, has dreamed of becoming a doctor since he was young and is now making strides toward this goal along the pre-health track here at Tech.

“While there are many noble professions, I’ve always felt a particularly strong calling toward the field of medicine and I cannot imagine doing anything else. For me, the idea that I can directly improve the lives of those who are suffering sounds extremely fulfilling and is what continues to drive me to pursue this path,” Ahmed said.

While this motivation is powerful for those who wish to pursue fields in health, it is but one piece of the puzzle. Motivation, along with perseverance, leadership, humility and time management are required in order to reach the end goal. Without these, balancing the many late nights, tests and extracurriculars, along with professional development and the many other parts that make up a successful application to medical school, is simply not possible. At least in the opinions of the pre-health advisors.

“Perseverance and humility are the top two characteristics that help people succeed in pre-health. They should persevere in that they shouldn’t be afraid of failure, and they shouldn’t be afraid to keep going. And I think a dash of humility usually fuels this as students are less likely to overestimate their success and, consequently, become discouraged from continuing to try,” Kim explained.

Furthermore, one must be wary of the common struggles that can knock one off track and cause a loss of focus. As Zaragoza explains, a narrow focus on grades simply will not suffice.

“It sometimes takes getting a B or C to realize that everything will be fine and to keep pushing forward. Pre-health students overcome failure by learning from their mistakes, and doing better the next semester,” Zaragoza said.

However, this narrow focus is not just limited to grades. Having a narrow focus in life can lead to mismanaging time and losing the balance that is key to finding success and enjoyment along the way.

“Students initially struggle with time management, since they have a newfound freedom due to being away from home. Trying to balance a life by getting the appropriate amount of sleep, feeding and caring for yourself and also having enough time to study and socialize with friends poses a struggle for some,” Kim said.

Given all the traits and skills that one must have to pursue pre-health, why would someone choose to further challenge themselves by attending Tech? For many, it is this very challenge that draws them.

“I knew that coming to Tech would provide me with an education that would go beyond the regular pre-medical education that I would have received elsewhere. Tech teaches you how to think about and solve complex medical problems in applied situations, which goes to enhance the versatility and effectiveness of future medical professionals,” Ahmed explained.

Furthermore, opportunities for research, proximity to hospitals and the rigorous curriculum motivate people to study at Tech.

“Tech is home to a variety of research, shadowing and volunteering opportunities. We’re close to many hospitals for students to get hands on clinical experience. We also have a rigorous science program that helps prepare our students very well for standardized tests and their transition to professional school,” Ahmed said.

Despite all this, some students might still wonder if it is the path for them. For Kim, it boils down to the “why?”

“If someone were to come to me unsure of what to do, I would give them all the information that I know of. I would tell them the struggles that I’ve faced, but also the positive aspects of being pre-health and let them decide for themselves. I’d ask why they’re pre-health ­- is it for them? Is it for their parents? Is it for their pride? Who is it really for?” she said.

Once the answer to this question is set, the rest can fall in place even if there is some wavering. Struggling is not uncommon for those on the pre-health track, but for one who might be struggling, Zaragoza offers the following advice: “Keep your head up and stay focused on the end goal. So many times I would start to lose track of why I was doing so much. All it takes is to take a step back from academia and go volunteer or shadow at a clinic. Interacting with patients reminded me of why I want to become a dentist and why I’m striving to be the best that I can be,” she shared.

For students interested in the pre-health track, visit prehealth.gatech.edu for more information, or to schedule an appointment with an advisor.