Updated: Apr 29
Credits: Medscape Medical News 2022
While preparing for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), I often felt lost about how to study, and I felt overwhelmed by the vast amount of material I needed to absorb. Although I had support from premed advisors and prep course tutors, the most helpful support came from peers who had already traversed a similar path.
Once I connected with those peers, studying for the MCAT felt doable, and I gained confidence each day as I discussed problems with my peers. In August 2020, after taking my MCAT, I started Premed Peers to tutor and mentor students who feel overwhelmed by a test that will determine much of their future.
During my public health classes at the University of Virginia, I learned that barriers to healthcare included location, geography, and insurance. The same is true for education: Academic resources, quality, and support differ for each student and contribute to numerous inequities in the medical school application process.
However, barriers such as the cost of a test prep course or lack of application mentorship should not prevent people from pursuing a medical education. As an online and accessible platform, Premed Peers surmounts those barriers, allowing students to gain information and knowledge that can help them perform better on the MCAT and become physicians.
Not only is registering for the MCAT expensive, preparation can cost thousands of dollars. And taking a pricey prep course doesn't guarantee a great score, in part because many prep company tutors have not taken the MCAT. These tutors often emphasize content review and memorizing facts, although most MCAT questions focus on critical thinking, analysis, and application.
Premed Peers aims to fill a gap in the MCAT preparatory space by providing a nonprofit platform of tutors who have taken the MCAT and can provide medical school hopefuls with substantial information, confidence, and mentorship.
Before starting to study for the MCAT, most students have numerous questions: Which resources best fit their studying preferences? Do they need a study schedule? How many months should they study? How can they balance studying with jobs and/or school? Answering these questions can be daunting, especially for those without the support needed to navigate this journey.
One of our students, whom I'll call Michelle, sent us an email at the beginning of her MCAT prep saying she felt lost. Michelle wrote that she was starting to feel it was "too late" for her to pursue her dream of becoming a physician, as she was 10 years beyond college and had not yet taken the MCAT.
Because Michelle was working full time and taking care of her family, she said an expensive prep course was out of the question. The AAMC Fee Assistance Program was not available to her because of immigration issues. One of our tutors was able to meet with Michelle, help her make a day-by-day study plan, and provide her with resources and support if she decides to apply to medical school.
The trek toward becoming a physician can be especially difficult for nontraditional students like Michelle. I have met with similar students throughout the nation and know that our services are helping them no matter where they are, who they are, and what they can afford. Because I saw a gap between students and the many educational barriers standing in their way, I recognized a need to do much more than help with MCAT prep.
As a result, Premed Peers also provides workshops on the medical school application and the interview process. It is important for students to know that the MCAT is not the only step toward medical school. Engaging in extracurricular activities, crafting a personal statement, and taking other exams, such as CASPer, are also important components of the application.
Premed Peers helps students from the day they start their premed journey to the day they enter medical school. Members of the Premed Peers team share information that helped them in their path toward med school. In addition to study and application strategies, our tutors provide management tips so that this stressful process doesn't cause burnout.
Our tutors have followed different MCAT and medical school paths. This helps us connect to our students, since not everyone has the same journey, though the destination might be the same. Our tutors and volunteers were able to navigate this process and want to help others do the same.
Our mission is to be a platform that provides an accessible course for premed students, whether it be through mentorship or MCAT tutoring. It is important to me that all premed students, regardless of where they are in their journey, can prepare for the MCAT and move toward a medical career.
I started Premed Peers because of my frustration at the lack of guidance while studying for the MCAT. Over 2000 students have accessed our MCAT resources, attended our free sessions, and interacted with our tutors. I am proud that this service will help thousands of students do well on the MCAT and go on to become physicians who save lives.
Simrat Jassal, a University of Virginia alum, will begin medical school this summer. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, reading, and volunteering. To support the nonprofit and join the Premed Peers listserv, sign up here. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Instagram.