Many of you shared the familiar feeling in the pit of your stomach when you heard that OMSAS opened their application cycle. That looming, all-encompassing tsunami of a task that stands between you and your dream: the OMSAS application. This singular, daunting, seemingly impossible-to-accomplish feat has actually caused a great deal of mental health strain among premedical students.
A study done by Dr. Fang et al in the Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry talks about how prevalent depression is among premedical undergraduates. They demonstrated that premedical students have a higher degree of depressive symptoms when compared to medical students with their cross-sectional survey given at the University of California, San Diego. Clearly, there is a great deal of strain on premedical students, and I can’t imagine the very application that will decide if they accomplish their dream would take away from this stress. In fact, I would imagine that this may feel like the cataclysmic culmination of all the efforts thus far to achieve the MD dream.
With such a stressful time among premedical students compounded by other factors such as COVID, potentially working or doing research from home, and maybe even studying for the MCAT, this application might feel exactly as described above: like an impending doom or unavoidable, unconquerable tsunami. That’s why it’s important to do the little things that relax and calm your mind to maintain focus, happiness and put your best foot forward on the application itself.
One way to combat feelings of stress that may arise as OMSAS opens would be to take a page out of a different discipline’s book: project management and business. In business, companies are tackling seemingly daunting, large projects all the time. Projects such as “complete the iPhone” or “build a house”. They don’t just start hacking away at it, they formed a whole discipline around accomplishing big projects. Intuitively called Project Management, it is mainly comprised of practical strategies and methods which break projects into incremental, manageable, and tightly scheduled tasks that amount to the whole result in the end.
For example, the project of building a house might be split up into tasks as small as simply putting the knobs on all of the doors. But, if you do a small task like that on schedule, and then the next one, and then the next one, you eventually have a built house. Because your mind wasn’t just focused on the grander task, it lowered your stress because you were dealing with one manageable bit at a time. Believe it or not, that’s how most companies schedule out difficult projects! While there’s much more to the discipline, this is its philosophy in a nutshell.
The question is posed, then, why not treat your daunting application the same way? Take a deep breath and split it up. Split it up as small as you want, small enough that when you look at the task, you won’t get that familiar pound of your heart stressing out in your chest. With the due date in October, you could plan a day as simple as “make 5 entries in my ABS” or “contact one verifier”. Then, by September, you have a polished application of which you’ve carefully completed every detail because you focused on such a little part of it at a time. And hopefully, you were less stressed doing it because you didn’t try to do the whole thing in one sitting, push it until the last minute, or get burnt out.
Moreover, doing little things like exercising, eating your greens, getting enough food in, balancing your diet, and mindfulness can help your brain chemically be in a better mood. Don’t believe me? Check this (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0197458005002721) out. If you’re facing something stressful, controlling your mood and alleviating the feeling of “bad”, even if it’s only a little bit, can help set the tone to chip away at the application little by little. If you take these steps to feel good and refresh your mind, the chances of you burning out and cramming the application in go down. So yeah- waking up and doing that 6 am run before having spinach for breakfast like that one psychopath health-freak friend you have actually has some merit.
All in all, the application itself is the first test to see if you can handle the rigour of medicine. It’s meant to be stressful. But, it’s not meant to be unhealthy. No matter who you are, you bring some expertise and unique experience to the equation. Above, we used a whole different field of study, business, to build a strategy for the application cycle. There are many fields that one can leverage from their backgrounds to colour their application journey and make it easier on themselves. A business student might look at it like we did above, but a music student might look at the application process from a whole new perspective. The point being that if you didn’t study the same thing as the average pre-med, you have an ADVANTAGE, not another hurdle to get over. You know something they don’t know, and it’s up to you to leverage that- on the application, in the interview, or maybe while you’re in medical school. So be proud of all you’ve accomplished thus far, and be confident in the fact that you’ll continue to achieve great things on whichever path you take.