Confessions from ‘cutthroat brown-nosers’: Pre-med students talk stereotypes and their truth

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What does it mean to be a pre-med student?


Well, according to Urban Dictionary, pre-meds are:

1) Some of the worst people on earth.
2) Cutthroat brown-nosers who suck at life.
3) People who will screw each other over for no reason.
4) The most hated people in college.
5) Nosy people who always want to know what other people got on a test.
6) Bitchy losers who always complain about how hard school is.

As a pre-med student myself, I have always hated this stereotype. I felt constrained by it, painted into the image of an overly competitive, narcissistic individual. Having received such negative responses to statement “I am pre-med,” I have often taken to omitting my intended path when asked what I study. Yet the brown-nosing backstabber is an image that bears no resemblance to the pre-med community I have experienced at UC Berkeley. I have found my pre-med classes and the study groups through the Student Learning Center to be some of the most supportive communities on campus. There, students were not ripping pages out of textbooks or slyly trying to compare scores on the last chemistry exam, but they were collaborative and thoughtful, eager to share advice, study strategies and notes.

Curious if others shared my view, I sat down with multiple pre-med students to see what they thought of the pre-med stereotype.

Talia Wenger

I’ve definitely met people that were really cut-throat, refused to work with me or other students or share study materials because they always felt like pre-med was a competition. It certainly isn’t every pre-med student, but I’ve definitely felt that competition. Sometimes it comes out unconsciously, I think — I’ve been in situations where there was an “unspoken deal” that we just wouldn’t talk about pre-med stuff. Or I’ve had friends get defensive when we talk about our extracurriculars because they feel like everything is a competition. I wouldn’t say that’s been a majority of my experiences though. Most of the time, my friends that are also pre-med are really supportive. Pre-med classes and med school application preparation can be really stressful and hard, and most of the time my friends going through the same stuff are a good support system who share resources, opportunities, help in classes, etc.

Arjun Mahajan

The pre-med community, in my experience, has been incredibly supportive and has also pushed me to do things that I wouldn’t have otherwise done. You meet so many incredibly interesting people in the pre-med community — people who not only are willing to share their time and energy to teach you things you don’t understand, but they also expose you to different activities and different things that they’ve done and have found rewarding. As a product of that, you get involved in things that push you forward and challenge you in new and interesting ways. The stereotype is that pre-meds are involved in exclusive activities or clubs and that they don’t want you to get involved because it’s “their thing.” But I have found the opposite to be true. (I have found that with) activities or experiences that people have enjoyed, (other pre-meds) have really brought me into them.

Rick Chattopadhyay

I would say that the stereotype is pretty accurate. It is pretty cutthroat here. You can see people trying to get ahead through studying extra, and they’re not trying to help people actively. But I also think (there are other students within the pre-med community) that are really helpful. There is a good balance.

Catherine Wang

I think that there might be that type of student here, but I feel like I don’t do well studying with those types of people and learning with those types of people. I try to not surround myself with those types of people.

Riley Rose

I think the stereotype is definitely inaccurate. I didn’t come in as pre-med. I came in as just science, and for the first two years, I didn’t want to be pre-med because I saw everyone as cutthroat and intense. I thought there was no way I could survive that culture. But then some stuff happened in my personal life, and I (decided) that I wanted to be pre-med. Once I became a pre-med and became a part of that culture, I realized that of course there are some people that definitely (fit that stereotype).There are people who are really intense, but I don’t think everyone is like that.

Nora Galoustian

I have found a really supportive community within my classes and within pre-health organizations. … I’ve had friends sit down and explain concepts to me before big exams, and I’ve helped them in the same way. Or we’ve empowered one another by helping each other out to get research positions, edit each other’s CVs. I definitely think there is competition, but there are also really passionate pre-meds who actually want to pursue medicine because they want to help others. If you align yourself with the people who are genuinely passionate about what they want to do with their lives, then you should be OK.

Hannah Riedy

I see some competitiveness in comparing test scores, but I have never seen sabotage. … A lot of non-pre-med students will automatically jump to the stereotype. As soon as I meet them, they’ll say, ‘You guys are so competitive,’ or, ‘All you think about are grades.’

After talking with my peers, I felt bolstered by their shared disdain for the stereotype and their efforts to overturn it through their own supportive actions. Through our studious, anxious and maybe even neurotic tendencies that lie at the root of the public perception, we formed a community to aid one another through the rigorous courses and unnecessarily demanding requirements for medical school. To the next person who scoffs at our aspirations, I imagine we’ll smile back and say: “Yes, I am pre-med. It’s nice to meet you.”

Contact Arianna Moss at [email protected]

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