Spotlight: Lena Chen

The SNMA-MAPS board members are a great resource here at UChicago. The spotlight blog posts are an opportunity for you guys to get to know the board better and receive great advice. Don’t hesitate to reach out to them for more information!

photo for rso

Lena Chen
Fundraising Chair
Class of 2017

(1) What career were you interested in before you came to UChicago?

Medicine! I’ve always been interested in the sciences and did better in those classes in high school. Before college, however, a part of my interest in medicine took influence from my parents. It’s bad, but I applied to be a biology major with the goal of becoming a physician because it was the career choice that I least detested. I didn’t particularly have a huge motivation at the time for any career, but I was that lazy, naive kid who always wanted to play video games in high school.

(2) How has your perspective on that career changed in your time here?

I’m still interested in medicine today – much more so than I was in high school. My vision has become more focused, and I realize now more than ever why I want to become a physician. I’ve been able to experience a lot more of the hospital and clinical setting through volunteering in the Emergency Department, shadowing various doctors, and conducting clinical research under the mentorship of a doctor. Every time I’ve stepped inside the hospital, I always come out with something new, be it patient interaction skills, a friend, research experience, or operating and emergency room techniques and procedures. My mind is always being blown away by how amazing medicine is, and I know I want to be a part of this ever-expanding and improving field.

(3) What do you think students should focus on in their first year and first summer?

First year, I had a really tough time adjusting to the academic workload, and, most importantly, the weather. Coming from a warm climate of sunny California, I was suddenly thrust into a harsh winter that reached down to the negative thirties. There was no to little sun for months on end, and I probably experienced some form of SAD (seasonal affective disorder), not to mention that I was constantly sick almost 3/4 of fall and winter quarter. It was tough trying to find a balance between work, sleep, and play, and it really did take me some time before I found out where my balance was. For me, the key was exercise and working out. In the winter, I stayed in all day because the cold made me miserable. Come spring I definitely made that effort to be more active, and saw the results. I felt better, had better time-management, and was all-around happier (and the sun helped too, of course). Admittedly, even now I sometimes lose that balance, but every time I find time to go to the gym, I always, always feel better.

So first years, I think your #1 priority is to find your balance. It’s rough being thrown into a tough school and being expected to keep up with all your classes, AND participate in clubs, AND plan ahead for your med school requirements. Go to your academic and UCIHP advisors, because they’ll help you get on track. Make friends with upperclassmen and take advantage of any RSO’s mentor-mentee programs, because those upperclassmen are willing to help steer you in the right direction. Don’t be afraid to be friends with them!

My advisors have told me that as a premed applying straight through to med school, it’s important to make use of your summers right off the bat. You have so many options, so as long as you don’t spend it doing nothing, you’re on the right track! You really can do anything, as long as you’re passionate about it. It doesn’t need to be research (though you should definitely do some of that in your undergrad) – you can teach kids music, work in an internship somewhere, tutor kids, or just work a part-time job somewhere. CCC has a lot of opportunities – take advantage of them.

(4) What do you think are the most valuable resources available here that student need to take advantage of?

Join all the RSO’s that you’re even remotely interested in! Especially programs with mentor-mentee programs, as I mentioned before. The upperclassmen are invaluable resources and are usually pretty chill too. They can give you advice on med school applications, which classes are easy/have good professors, study tips and old study guides, how to navigate your way around campus, living off-campus, and much more. I have met so many people from these programs, including current medical students, and they’ve given me the best advice and friendship. In order for these relationships to begin and grow, however, you need to be the one to reach out. Upperclassmen are extremely, extremely busy, and unless you reach out first, they won’t be able to make time to help you out!

Also make use of UCIHP advisors and CCC for career advice and opportunities!

(5) What are the biggest mistakes pre-med students tend to make and how can they avoid them?

Pre-meds tend to join a lot of organizations and participate in activities as a resume booster. This sometimes worked for college admissions applications, but medical school applications are on another level. My medical school mentors have told me that during the interview, it is so, so easy to tell when an applicant participated in an activity just to put it on the resume, and can just as easily tell if the applicant did it because they’re genuinely interested and passionate about it. Find things that you’re passionate about and stick with them – they don’t need to all be pre-med related. Medical schools tend to like those with a passion for something other than schoolwork because they’re not boring. That’s why, if you don’t already have something in mind, try out the RSO’s on campus until you find one you like! And if you don’t find one, it’s always easy to begin your own.

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