Mounika Ponakala graduated this past May on the pre-med track with a Bachelor of Arts in Biology, and a concentration in Neuroscience. She is currently in graduate school for biomedical sciences (which you can read about here), and plans to go on to medical school to become a neurologist. Here we interviewed her about her experience as a pre-med student.
What pre-med classes did you take your freshman year year, and how difficult were they?
My freshman year I took Chem 1, Physics 1, bio 1, and stats 1 for my pre-med classes. That combination was pretty hard, especially with the adjustment to college, and all this new freedom, taking these classes was tough. My senior year I took 6 AP classes, and I on 1 regular class, and I was able to maintain a high gpa without too much studying, whereas in college it became much harder.
What was your favorite class?
My last year of undergrad I took a lot of neuroscience classes, my favorite was neruo pathophysiology. It’s all about how neurological diseases affect the body.
How hard are the pre-med classes compared to other classes? Are they more competitive?
In college all your classes are difficult, but I would say that it just matters more that you do well in your pre-med classes [because med schools calculate a science gpa], and also that you really understand the material because it comes up again on the MCAT.
What medical related extra-curriculars did you participate in? Non-medical related?
I did 4 semesters of neuroscience and neurobiology research including experimentation involving fish, worms, and computer modeling of the brain. In terms of non-medical activities, I was on the of e-board for the association of Indian students, a sorority e-board for one year. During the summers, I shadowed doctors.
If you weren’t pre-med what would you be doing?
I would definitely still be in the health care field. I think I would be in health care administration/management, or I would be an art history museum curator.
Why did you decide you wanted to be a doctor?
I wanted to be lawyer for a while, but at the end of the day, I thought I would make a better doctor because I’ve always been able to study, and knew I was ready to make the long term commitment to medicine. Most importantly, I think I have the ability to distance myself from situations, while still being compassionate. People always say that they want to be a doctor to “help people”, but you can help someone by being a nurse or a mechanic. I think to be a physician, you have to understand and deeply care about your patients, but also be able to emotionally distance yourself, if need to be . For example, I strongly disagree with the anti-vaccination stance, but as a physician I would have to be able to deal with people who feel this way in a clinical setting. When people are at the hospital, they are in a very stressful situation, and I think it’s very important to take the time to really explain the benefits , and side effects of every vaccination, medicine, and procedure.
Advice for students applying to college who want to be pre-med?
Be really sure you want to do it, don’t just do it because your parents want you to do it, or because you don’t know what else to do, and it’s an easy path that’s mapped out. If you are forced into it, you’re going to be miserable or make a bad doctor. Either way, it’s a bad idea. Being a doctor isn’t a normal job. Doctors deal with life and death everyday. A lot of communities that stress being a doctor might not fully understand what a burden someone being pushed into medicine has, and at the end of the day no parents want that for their kids. So my biggest advice is be completely sure you’re doing it because you want to.
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