Journal Your Way to Success
The benefits of journaling are often touted for personal growth, developing meaning from experiences, and even serving as a stress relieving practice. Pre-health students can customize their journaling to allow for reflection on experiences, maintaining a record of activities, and planning for the professional school application all in one place. The best thing about journaling is that it only has to make sense to you. By establishing this practice, you can pursue your goals more deliberatively as you will be better equipped to reflect, plan, and track trends in your experiences and preparation.
Reflecting on activities will help you synthesize what you encountered during your shadowing/volunteering/ work experiences. Think about how these activities relate to each other and enhance your desire to pursue a healthcare profession. Ask these questions at the end of each activity for a week:
- What strengths did you use?
- Where can you improve?
- How are these experiences supporting your goals?
- What insights did you learn about your desired profession?
Freewriting can help you find meaning from your experiences by jotting down your thoughts as they occur to you. Perhaps you shadowed a doctor that reminded you of a relative and you paid closer attention to their interpersonal skills. Do you have those skills? Did they make this physician a more effective caregiver?
Maybe you thought, “I wish I knew Spanish well enough to talk to patients as well as that nurse did.” How can you improve your language skills for healthcare? These thoughts spark several points that you can act on to make you a more competitive applicant when the time comes.
KEEP TRACK OF THINGS
Your journal can also serve as a log for helping you keep track of hours volunteered, shadowed, and/ or worked on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. The rise of Bullet Journaling gives us plenty of examples of how you can arrange your planner and customize it for your experience. As a pre-health student, you’ll want to use it to look forward to activities and events as well as a tool for tracking these experiences.
WHAT IS A BULLET JOURNAL?
Bullet Journaling is a journaling method that allows users to “track the past, organize the present, and plan for the future.” Developed by digital product designer Ryder Carroll as a tool that can promote the “art of intentional living”, fundamental aspects of a Bullet Journal include:
- an index for all items in your journal
- a “Future Log” that tracks several months at a time
- a Monthly Log and Task List
- a bulleted list of entries such as events, tasks, and notes
You can also incorporate lists (such as a workout log or MCAT content tracker), weekly logs and task lists, or anything else you’d like. You can customize the scope of your journal however you see fit. Plot out your time and notice where you have opportunities to maximize your efforts. Give it a try for a week – notice those 6 hours watching The Office again? This time can be reallocated to tackle test prep or take on extra duties where you’re shadowing. Don’t forget to allow for some leisure time though!
During the application cycle, it will be paramount that you optimize your schedule and be prepared to travel for interviews. Keeping your plans up to date in your journal will drastically reduce the stress of managing your schedule and allow you to shift your focus to the interviews.
PREPARE FOR THE APPLICATION
It’s never too early to start thinking about the application process! Check out the essay prompts on the TMDSAS website and start brainstorming your responses. Look back through your thoughts from your activities and the connections you made. Emphasize the strengths you identified and integrate them with your experiences to form a powerful example of what you bring to the table.
As you visit schools during your interviews, write about your reactions, responses to questions, and aspects of the school that stand out to you. What did the current students say about the school? What was your reaction to seeing the campus? Take a first attempt at ranking the schools. If you’re a Texas resident medical applicant, these notes will come in handy as you rank and select your School Preferences leading up to the TMDSAS Match.
Getting into this reflective mindset will let you step out of your experiences and start to notice patterns in your behavior and beliefs. This insight is invaluable as you plan your application for scrutiny along the Core Competencies and schools’ values and missions.
Journaling aligns your experiences, preparation, and goals, but the benefit is dependent on what you put into it. Developing the habit of keeping a journal will provide you with powerful insights through personal reflection, planning and logging your activities, and preparing for the application and beyond. Research how others use journals and find out what works best for you. The most important step is to get started – happy journaling!
- Save some space in your journal to jot down resources you’ve found… like a book, podcast, video series, or group. May I suggest the TMDSAS Podcast Roadmap episodes to keep you get on track?
- Keep a few pages for things that inspire and motivate you. Write down that compliment you received from a patient while shadowing, or the inspirational quote you found, or a screenshot of that time you aced your O-Chem test. Check back on these pages when you feel disheartened and reignite the spark that shows you that you’re on the right track!
Mr. Jasso is Coordinator of Research, Advising Services and Digital Media at the Texas Health Education Service. He is also the host of TMDSAS Podcast.