Every year a handful of students are accepted to the George Washington University’s Seven-Year B.A./M.D. Program. What that means is that seniors in high school who know that they want to attend medical school after earning their undergraduate degrees apply to this highly selective program and earn both degrees in a shortened period of time. We know, it’s pretty crazy-impressive. We had the opportunity to sit down with Chris Payette, a member of this program, recent GWU undergrad alum, and current first year GWU Medical School student. He gave us the low-down on what it takes to get academic work done while balancing work responsibilities and personal time. While it’s no easy feat, Chris somehow manages it all and does it with a genuine smile on his face. From sharing his successful-study-secrets to details about his semester abroad in South Africa, Chris is without a doubt seizing his youth and making the most of every opportunity.
Name: Chris Payette
Education: B.S. from the George Washington University Columbian College of Arts and Sciences | The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences
Carpe Juvenis: How would you define “Seizing Your Youth”?
Chris Payette: Doing whatever you need to do right now that will set you up to be doing what you want to be doing later, whether it’s in the immediate now or in the future. So for me I think it’s much more for the future. Obviously right now I don’t necessarily want to be spending all of my time in the library studying, but – and I know this might sound slightly morbid – it’s a means to an end.
And also to make time for yourself and your friends and family. When you’re trying to make things the best for you, sometimes you don’t necessarily think about the whole picture, and other people’s happiness. But I think that it’s important to make time for the people you care about.
CJ: You knew from a young age that you wanted to study medicine, but what would you say to someone who doesn’t know what his or her passion is yet?
CP: Do everything. I do everything and it’s interesting because even though I’m in medical school I feel like there are so many other things I could do and be totally happy with. And it’s nice to know that even though I have a set path, there are so many other things I would be super happy to do. I’ve worked at restaurants for a while now, and I know that if anything ever happened with the medical stuff I would be happy waiting tables. I think that not having a diverse experience limits you. By trying a little bit of everything you can find what you like, and if you don’t know yet then you should keep trying everything.
CJ: What tools do you use to keep yourself organized and on track?
CP: Notability. iCalendar. Honestly so many. I try to reevaluate where I’m at and where I need to be at the end of every day, just so I can know where I am for the week, where I am for the month, where I am for my next exam, where I am for the next social event I want to go to. For example if I have a lot of friends in town and I know that I’ll want to set aside Saturday and Sunday to just see people, I’ll do extra schoolwork during the week based on how my overall schedule looks.
CJ: How do you prepare for medical school exams?
CP: First I go through all of my lecture notes individually. I compile all of the “learning objectives” from each lecture and sort them into files based on what I think would be best to study together. Then I go through each learning objective and I add in everything pertinent from the lecture into one lengthy document. I include images as well. I go back to that document about two weeks before an exam and transcribe that onto one hand-written page. That page is what I use up until the exam to study – I really condense the information.
I use so many tools for this process – my suite of Microsoft tools, my Apple tools, my favorite Sharpie fine point pens and white printer paper. I just started using this system in med school and it’s been going really well. It’s good because it makes me first synthesize the data, and then condense it and get the most important pieces from it. That study sheet is when I really have to master the material, because one sheet can take one to two hours to make. A lot of it is just planning.
CJ: You went into college knowing that you would also be going to medical school – did you ever have moments of panic/anxiety about that decision? How did you overcome that?
CP: I get really excited about things. So there will be times when I get excited about one thing and think “I want to pursue that! That should be my job!” And knowing that it wouldn’t be, since I was already accepted into medical school, was weird sometimes. I went into high school in a magnet science program, so basically by eighth grade I was already committing to medicine. Which is good because I’ve always known that this would be my path, but it’s also challenging to think that in undergrad had I not already been accepted to medical school, might my path have totally changed?
I think for me personally it’s good that I have that structure, and I think that at the same time it gave me the freedom to have those moments of exploring other things because I knew that once I was in medical school I would have required responsibilities. So for example my research in undergrad was totally unrelated to medicine, my jobs were unrelated to medicine, volunteering was not clinical at all. I didn’t do one clinical thing at all in undergrad. So I had that time and ability to purposefully explore while I had the opportunity.
CJ: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
CP: Wow, I don’t know. That’s tough. One big thing that has always stuck with me is that my dad always tells me that regardless of being on the medical track, I can still do whatever I want. I think that a lot of people are pushed in one way by their parents, but my parents’ professions are not medically related at all. So it’s nice knowing that if at any time I don’t want to do what I’m doing anymore, hearing that out loud from my parents has helped me feel a little bit freer. Just knowing that I can pursue whatever I want in my career has been very comforting.
CJ: What advice would you give to a freshman starting the same 7-year program you are part of?
CP: Do everything that you want to do. You’re already accepted to medical school, you have your future laid out, so right now is your time to travel and see your friends and family. It’s your time to make art, go outside, be able to do stupid things and ask for guidance. That’s another thing – not that there’s no guidance when you graduate, but when you’re in undergrad there are built-in systems of support to hold your hand and help you get through college. So seek help, get mentors. There are no office hours when you graduate. The only office you’ll get to go to once you graduate is your boss’.
CJ: How did you get involved with Street Sense as in intern?
CP: I took a lot of service learning course at GWU because one of the things that’s expected of you going into the medical field is to always have volunteer experience. I like doing service learning because it’s was a really easy way to integrate that into my life and schedule. During my last year of undergrad I took an urban sociology class and that’s how I got connected with Street Sense. From there we created a role where I was in charge of social media. So I worked not only with the people who sell the newspaper, but also with the administrative back end. I really liked it so I stayed a little bit longer after the semester ended and worked with them in a larger capacity. It was an amazing experience – you get to meet a lot of really interesting people when you’re working with the homeless community.
CJ: What is your favorite book?
CJ: Despite being in a shortened 3 year undergraduate program, you still made the time to study abroad in South Africa – what compelled you to make the choice and how has it influenced you?
CP: I went to South Africa the summer after I did a GWU orientation program. The summer had been a lot of DC and a lot of GWU. It just felt like too much. I needed to spend the semester away, so I applied to go abroad. And I decided very last minute – my parents mailed me my passport the week before applications were due. I really just needed a semester away to experience somewhere different and travel without doing it during the summer. I followed my instinct to go somewhere. I would go back in a heartbeat – I’m already trying. Certain programs at my school require you to travel and work abroad, so I definitely think ill go back at some point.
CJ: What does a day in your life look like?
CP: It depends. My schedule varies day to day because of classes. Some days I’ll go to class at 8AM and end around 6PM, even 8PM. Other days I have independent study so I’ll wake up, make a cup of coffee, sit in my living rom and study. I’ll usually stay after class in the library most days just to do a little extra. I also work at Cove because I can get work done, and at a restaurant some nights. I try to have most of what I’m doing planned out a few weeks in advanced.
CJ: What advice would you give your 17-year-old self?
CP: Start exercising now, because when you’re 21 your metabolism will stop. And also do whatever you want. But seriously, exercise. I took a health class freshman year and one of our assignments was to make a behavior change. Mine was to start running, and I’ve been running ever since.