When I was an undergrad, I majored in Biomedical Sciences. Like other premed students, my goal was to go to medical school. So, I took the mandatory series of courses: Biology, Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Physics, etc. I graduated in 2004 and now 12 years later, I look back and wonder how I could have spentso much of my time taking courses that have minimal utility. I don't think it was entirely anyone's fault, but I remember very few facts which I find useful as a resident-physician. The last two weeks, I had the pleasure of entertaining four premed students from Cal were doing an "externship" with a couple of my attending radiologists. These students ranged from freshmen to juniors. We talked about classes and summer plans they had. At least half or more of the students were planning to take summer classes. I was not totally shocked, but did my best to encourage them to break out of the premed mold and do something different! In retrospect, the best things I did in college were activities outside of the required courses. To summarize what Steve Jobs said in his Stanford commencement speech, when he dropped out of Reed College, he was no longer forced to take classes he was required to take; instead, he "dropped in" to classes he wanted to take, and his life took a different turn. I think the same can be true for premed. I think taking the non-standard courses and activities are going to allow you to create the best memories and learn the most valuable skills. Here are a list of worthy things (some of which I did as an undergrad and other which I did later) which have made significant impact on me.
I think premed students have OCPD traits and have mastered multitasking, building their CVs, etc and forget about the rest of the world. I know few people who are lucky or bold enough to become exchange students for 6-12 months. Even fewer realize that we rarely get that opportunity again after life starts! When the Cal students said they were planning to take summer classes, I shivered. Summer is an outstanding opportunity to get a taste of the world. My first summer, I travelled to Seattle and did a summer program. It was my first time outside of California. I traveled locally, went boating, kayaking, and got a taste of how awesome University of Washington medical center was . It was that summer that I fell in love with surgery. I watched a hernia repair and a laparoscopic appendectomy and loved it. It was fantastic! Second summer, I went to Guadalajara, Mexico for a summer Spanish program. We traveled to Manzanilla, Mexico City, the pyramids of Theohuacan, etc. Mexico was beautiful. Because of that summer, I brought my family back 10 years later to visit Mexico. My friends did exchange program in Sweden and Argentina. Third summer, my friends went on a national park road trip and spend most of summer on the beach, boggie boarding. Some of my fondest memories and stories come from these experiences. Take advantage of summer to travel, learn something new, or meet new people. I think if you're creative and need to take summer classes, then an exchange program abroad may be an option.
Learn Computer Science
The second activity I would encourage is to learn more about computer science. Few will deny that our current generation of disruptive inventions will be technological. I think if one of your goals is to become part of the movers and shakers of our society, one of the best and easiest way to get there is to understand medicine and computer science. A lot of people understand one or the other but few understand both. The investors have shifted their focus on medical technology and are investing tons of money, so the soil is fertile. I think learning basic computer science skills can become an incredibly powerful asset. I'm not saying physicians should become programmers or data scientists because most of us would be terrible at it. Rather, learn enough to understand the power of computer science and how it can be applied. I think taking CS 101 is an excellent start. Fortunately, there are amazing online free resources like Coursera and UC Berkeley webcast (I love Dan Garcia's course on the joys of computing) to learn basic computer science on your spare time. For every hour I've spent learning about CS, I have gained 10x more. My work and research projects become higher quality and higher impact. If you are the type that wants to spend your time only on things that's worth your time and scale your productivity and impact, then equipping yourself with basic understanding of computer science will help you get there.
Volunteer or work at a hospice:
We are suppose to learn about empathy and compassion. But when we are going at 100 miles an hour, sometimes, we forget it's all about the journey. We totally lose perspective. When I quit Urology, it was the first real set back I had and I felt like a failure. I had no job, no residency and didn't know what I was going to do. It's not just me. After the 2008 financial meltdown, the richest man in Germany committed suicide because he lost his title. Seriously? But I realized that the best experiences and insights come out only after we've fallen. After I left urology, I started moonlighting at a hospice to help pay for the mortgage and bills. The experience at the hospice has been one of the most life changing experience of my life. For the first time, I had to help individuals face death and ease the transition. At that point when my patients were on their death beds, I could only imagine what went through their minds. I knew if that was me, I knew what would go through my mind... It wasn't going to be urology or the bad exam score or not getting the award I wanted. What will matter are my family, friends and people who I've touched or had impacted me. I got perspective...it sounds super cliché, but I think once when we face our own mortality, decisions and priorities become clearer. Having empathy and compassion for others became easier and more sincere. Now, it's easier not to rush to where I need to be or feel I need to secure the best of anything. When I realized this, life became easier and my interactions with others became deeper because I could focus and spend the time on what matter and making them better: people and our relationships with them.