Going into college, I had heard horror stories about toxic premedical communities, and I was terrified that I would be walking into a battlefield for the next four years. Fortunately, I had nothing to worry about because the stereotype of cutthroat premedical students is not a reality at Harvard. In fact, my experience has been almost the complete opposite because professors, staff, and students help foster a collaborative premed environment where all students can be successful if they put in the work!
At Harvard, there is no premedical concentration (major). Instead, premed students take medical school prerequisite classes as a track in addition to our classes for our concentration. This means that we take all our concentration requirements in addition to any courses required for medical school applications. Luckily, many life science concentrations (Integrative Biology, Neuroscience, etc.) have a substantial number of courses that overlap with the premed requirements.
As a Neurobiology concentrator, I have found completing both sets of requirements to be quite easy due to this overlap! I have almost completed both sets of requirements and I have still had ample time to explore other areas of study like languages and Latino Studies classes. While having this overlap between concentration and premed track requirements is convenient, there are also many students who choose to study areas outside the sciences such as Comparative Literature, Economics, and more. Both paths are feasible and concentration and premedical advisors are happy to help students plan their specific paths to medical school.
As a junior, I have completed most of my premed requirements and as I reflect on my classes there is one common emphasis: You are not alone in your work or learning! In almost every science class that I have taken collaboration is strongly encouraged by the staff!
For example, in one of the classes that I am currently taking, LS2: Anatomy and Physiology, there are weekly lab office hours with a Teaching Fellow (TF) that is there to assist with any concepts that we might need clarification on. Additionally, during these office hours, you often find students helping each other memorize bones, identify structures for dissections, and review general content. I cannot count the number of times I walked into office hours planning to study alone, but instead ended up discussing, assisting, and getting help from my peers. I have learned just as much, if not more, from my peers during these times than I have studying alone in the library.
I have also had similar experiences in my other classes which have problem sets (Psets: weekly homework problems)! While Psets are individual homework submissions, we are encouraged to discuss and work through problems with your peers. During my first semester, I met a wonderful group of my peers and we have done Psets together for different classes for the past three years. We have spent hours together on Zoom and in libraries talking through problems, concepts, and exam prep. Over time, we have become good friends, and we are now mutually invested in each other's success and learning. This support has been invaluable, and I cannot imagine doing all this alone.
Pset groups are just the start of a community for premed students. There are also a plethora of student organizations that serve premed students' needs and ensure that the premed community on campus is thriving. The Harvard Premedical Society (HPS) serves the entire premedical community, but there are also organizations that cater to specific communities like Latinos in Health Careers (LiHC), Harvard Black Premedical Society (HBPS), and more!
I have found my home in the premedical community through HPS and LiHC where I serve as an officer for both organizations. Both organizations aim to foster a healthy premed community on campus by also providing resources and opportunities. Everyone is welcome to join these organizations thus ensuring that all have the support that they need. Coming into Harvard I did not know anything about what I needed to do to get to medical school, but these organizations provided me with the information I needed to thrive as a premed student at Harvard. One of the biggest ways these organizations has helped me is with mentorship. HPS and LiHC both have peer mentorship programs where I was able to connect with older students that helped advise me on what classes I should take, how I can help create a healthy balance in my schedule and provided support while I was getting accustomed to Harvard. I have also had the opportunity to connect with professionals through the HPS physician mentoring program (PMP). Through PMP I have gained invaluable mentors that are eager to help me in my journey with advice, shadowing opportunities, and connections!
Although being premed requires immense dedication and hard work, the Harvard premedical community makes it an exciting journey by ensuring that each student has the support they need to thrive.