Enjoy the journey, one day at a time

Picture of Matthew Chaung at the 2018 White Coat Ceremony
Matthew Chaung at the University of Arizona College of Medicine’s 2018 White Coat Ceremony

Hi there! My name is Matthew Chaung and I am going to be a second-year medical student (MS2) at the UA College of Medicine-Tucson this coming fall. For me, the Undergraduate Biology Research Program (UBRP) was one of the most transformative experiences for me during college. Continuing research throughout the academic school year prepared me well because I learned work-life balance and to nurture that sense of innate curiosity to learn more from the patients I meet.

Medical school is not impossible, but it is quite intense. I believe we covered most of what I learned as an undergrad in our first week but in greater depth and detail. Medical school is truly like drinking water from a firehose. The sheer amount of knowledge that exists is quite astounding. What I found this past year was I learned even more when I was in the hospital seeing patients than when I was in the classroom learning from lectures. A lot of medicine is learned from experience and through mentorship. Yes, without a doubt, medical school takes dedication and perseverance to put in effort every day to learn the material, but if medicine is your true passion, it makes studying a bit easier. What I was grateful for, was the clinical immersion our class experienced outside of the classroom. We always learn from the patients we interview in the hospital and discuss cases afterwards. For example, working with patients who happened to have Parkinson disease made all the clinical signs and symptoms I was learning much more real and tangible.

I hope that every single student who aspires to go to medical school achieves their hopes and dreams. I would like to share some advice that I found helpful throughout the process. First and foremost, be your own advocate and champion. Seek out the opportunities or create your own opportunities to follow your passions in college whatever they may be and critically evaluate if medicine is right for you. The years of training are quite extensive but if medicine is your true passion, it will all be worth it in the end. For extracurriculars, choose a few and pursue them with all your heart. It speaks more to be involved in 2-3 clubs and be a leader rather than be a member in 10 various clubs. Keep in mind, that there is no set formula on how many shadowing hours or research hours you need in order to be accepted into medical school. Find what drives your passions first. If you are interested in working with a professor or have ideas, reach out to them. I could not have applied and successfully matriculated without the guidance of several mentors who saw potential within me that I did not realize myself. Next, I would recommend keeping a journal to reflect on what brings you back to medicine as your choice of career. Over time, your interests may change, and your passions may transform. For those who are applying this cycle, write a personal statement and secondaries that only could have come from you. Nearly anyone can write about how they have been wanting to be a doctor since they were a kid, but no one has the same stories or life experiences as you. Speak to those experiences and how they have shown you that medicine was your true calling in life. Not every draft will be perfect so embrace the process by writing and continuously rewriting with the help of others such as mentors, friends and pre-health advisers.

Finally, one of the biggest messages that I want to share to every pre-health student is to enjoy the journey. Please do not make your happiness conditional on attaining certain milestones. Yes, getting into medical school is ultimately important, but college is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Take classes that you are interested in. You can apply to medical school with a non-science major, speak with a pre-health adviser to see what pre-requisite courses are required. Go to concerts, study abroad, watch Netflix, play intramural club sports, do what interests you and what is fun to you. Do not let the final goal of medical school transform college into a stressful, nerve wracking experience. Lastly, apply when you are ready and at your best and always remember to take care of yourself. You cannot be at your best if you do not take the time to rest and recharge.

Before I conclude, I wanted to thank Jennifer Cubeta for allowing me the opportunity to write this piece and to the UBRP community for nurturing my interest in science. I would like to wish everyone who is interested in pursuing medicine the very best. Know that this whole process is not a matter of if you will get in but when you will be accepted, and everyone’s exact time is a little bit different. Having gone through the process myself, medical school is possible and incredibly rewarding.