Premed Q and A

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Often, my motivation to write and my time to do it aren’t in concert. So, sorry I’ve been slacking off on blogging. I’ve traded writing time for doing better in my coursework time. Though, I assume are here for premed stuff — some might even notice it’s just a random dude’s blog. Over the years, because I’m no longer abreast in premed issues and news, I’ve sort of drifted away from premed posts. Neither the less, when I was glancing through my blog stats “search results” (see below) I decided to take a crack at a few premed issues. Out of the interest of time, I decided to chose three:

  • premed memory survival strategies for nontraditional
  • feeling sad after MCAT
  • did horrible on mcat first time

Search Query:

Premed memory survival strategies for nontraditional (premeds)

I’m going to interpret this query as, “Knowing what you know now as a medical student, and thinking back as a premed, what are some strategies for survival?”

Find a mentor – easier said than done, this is super hard, but the pay off is worth it. I sort of flailed about in college, switching majors several times, my interests in subjects would ebb and flow. I would flip-flop between a dedicated student, to taking time off to work and attend school part time. At no point did I think “premed”, that is until I met my mentor. Thinking back at the time, there were several people reaching out to attempt to mentor me, I failed to recognize their efforts of the people who tried. My biggest advice, in this area, is to put yourself out there. Now, being on the reverse side, I’ve tried to reach out to mentor. Sometimes, mentoring has been rather rewarding — it’s been great to give people that little nudge in the right direction into matriculation. A few who I met online this way I’d now even consider friends. However, I imagine like most mentoring relationships, it’s usually not this way. Case in point, my first year of critiquing personal statements for medical school about 1/3 (20 out of the original group of 60) were lost to follow-up. In other words, they just gave up on revising their drafts and fell off the face of the planet. To be fair, I do make very direct critiques, I don’t think it’s useful to waste people’s time being obtuse in a time crunch (aka medical school applications). Negative experiences with mentees may lead to a natural down regulation of a mentors’ willingness to expose themselves to risk. Having use to work at a university, I’ve seen many professors get burned after investing time (and possibly their credibility) into mentees that went AWOL. So, with that being said here’s my advice that I wish I had as a premed:

  • Don’t be surprised if someone you want as a mentor is a little reluctant to make a connection with you. First, it may require a brief period of proving yourself, i.e. don’t be astonished if you’re placed on “mentee parole” for weeks if not months. Some people would say to avoid a mentor who takes so long to warm up, there may be some merit to that. However, those slow to engage introverted types are often the commitment types — slower courting periods means time to get to know you prior to committing. I’ve had rather inspirational fast talking mentors totally flop on their commitments — maybe, you can even argue they’re so over-committed that they have no time for one additional commitment.
  • Find a counselor who believes in you, but won’t blow smoke up your butt. I’ve had several interactions with assigned college counselors, the first convinced me that I ought to aim a little lower, another without seeing my transcripts projected how I must be doing badly in my courses (I actually had a good GPA). I assume there’s some great college counselors out there, if you know them then stay with them. If you live in a counselor desert, widen your search. Also, there are some counseling services for premeds. As a premed, I’ve never paid for any services, so I can’t make any fair judgment calls. But, I suggest ProMEDeus, only because they were really helpful when I needed some help on how to negotiate for a better financial aid package — a disclosure: I’m biased as I’ve since become friends with one of the CEOs. They’re really good if you’re feeling in the dumps, and just need someone in your corner. Also, though I never paid for her services, the owner of MDAdmit did shoot me some good advice during my application cold feet times. She did write a damn good guide to medical school admittance, arguable if you can’t find a counselor at all then this book (the book link is best found in the link above) will do the job — in my case it did a better job than any counselor.
  • Understand that those who are good at getting you through college, or through a project, aren’t necessarily experienced enough to help you make the right “final-quarter” decisions to get admitted into medschool. Yes, everyone wants what is best for you, though it may not seem like it at the time. However, that doesn’t meant that good intentions are met by tangible rewards. At the end of the day, the person who’s most positively or negatively effected by your admittance (or lack thereof) is you. So, remember, at the end of the day it’s you that needs to do whatever needs to get done.

Search query: 

  • feeling sad after MCAT
  • did horrible on MCAT first time

For this search query, I’m not sure if the person was talking about their practice exam or their final score. For the final exam I was fortunate, I took the test once and never again. However, during my first (timed) practice exam, I remember having the urge to vomit from the stress. Afterwards, during the grading, I recall having a panic attack when I saw how abysmal I had performed. I still remember thinking to myself, “I should give this up…there’s no way I can even get close to 30 [then, getting a 30 was equivalent to getting an average national matriculation score in the new MCAT]. My advice to you, if you haven’t taken the real MCAT yet, is to make sure your worst scores come from your practice.

That being said, I know people in different medical school programs (mine included) where people proclaimed to have bombed the MCAT only to go onto do very well on a re-take. On the other hand, I know people who’ve re-taken the exam numerous times and have yet to break that magical statical threshold. And lastly, I know a minority who have bombed the MCAT, never got that “threshold score” but still found matriculation. Thus, it’s hard to interpret one facet of the application going south, i.e. the MCAT not going so well and perhaps the rest of the application being absolute gold. With that being said, getting a bad MCAT score does close a few doors. The rest of the doors are left slightly ajar, i.e. you can go into them but it just doesn’t seem all that inviting. But really, if you had a bad MCAT you have a few options:

  1. You decide, score be damned, you’re applying anyways. Cue the 80’s music montage of you training and studying for the MCAT to overcome your circumstances — in the 80’s any challenge was surmountable by a montage. The bad part about the re-take is that you’re re-taking it, and really no one enjoys the MCAT except the people getting paid to administer it. The good part is that, if you do it right, you’ll only be studying for your weak points. I won’t be an “optimism troll” and say that’ll make everything feel better. But, at least you’re learning how to trouble-shoot your short comings on the hardest admissions exam in the solar system [fact!]. And honestly, if you’re admitted into medical school just about none of what you struggled with on the exam will matter. Correction, none of the content you struggled with will matter. However, what will matter is the lessons you took away from the exam, a lot of them are lessons on “how you learn best” combined with learning what academic “hunger” means. Sometimes, what you messed up on was obvious, often it’s not. But, the worst mistake you can make is underestimating what went wrong and overestimating how little you need to do to address your issues.
  2. If you decided to re-take it, be sure to know why things didn’t go well the first time(s). The worst mistake you can make it not having a humble wake up call, and you decide to reschedule the test ASAP without any real thought about strategy. Statistically, most people get around the exact same score. But, the MCAT isn’t an intelligence barometer, it’s just a test of how well you can take a test. Before, I could give specific ranges and tips, now I can’t because the scores have changed. But, in general, score improvements come from three ends of the spectrum (triangle spectrum-thingy): a) content b) test strategy c) timing. If you’re scoring well below the national average (of all test takers, not necessarily of those who matriculate) then you need to likely work on all three categories, but you’ll have to make some choices in where you can gain the most points — you might need an official course. If you’re scoring at the national average or slightly above, but not quite at matriculation score, then it’s probably not a content review problem from what I hear — a class would probably help you for testing strategy, self studying would also be reasonable. If you’re scoring at the matriculation score during the practice exams, but always fall short during the real deal, it’s definitely not a content problem and more of a test strategy/timing one — don’t waste time reviewing content all over again, instead handle what’s messing with you on test day. In general, at some point you probably know a lot more content then you think you do, it’s just a matter of learning how to apply it in the MCAT format.
  3. You decide to re-take after some time off. Time off can either make you stronger or weaker, all depending on how you decide to rationalize. Some would see time off as a pure negative experiences, an experience where they only get further from their goal. Others, find a more optimistic interpretation, “If you still want to go to medical school then you really mean it”. I fall into the latter category. It’s very easy to fall into a groove, i.e. be gun-ho about being a premed when everything seems in sync. It’s a lot harder, I think, when you fall out of sync and you realize at the end of the day it doesn’t matter if you go or not to anyone else but you. Yes, you parents and close ones may nag you, or you may project their inquisitiveness has nagging — when it comes to goals, when not taken to the extreme, it’s typically better to have tiger parents than cuddly ones. But, one day your friends and family who prodded you will be gone, you’ll be alone with your decision. There’s a lot of ups-and-downs to medical education (and education continues well into practice), it’s a lot easier to deal with my bouts of medschool dumps knowing that I own my decision. So, if you need time off, don’t take it as a failure. Go get some industrial experience, find love, travel, take a larger role in your community, focus on being happy and adding good memories into your reminiscence savings account. If you decide to revisit the idea of medschool then you’ll be very happy you had time to address all of this, once you’re in medschool your time belongs to medical education.
  4. You decided to not re-take it. Maybe you have an inside application slot, maybe you prefer to wrestle crocodiles with nothing more than a little elbow-grease. Whatever your reasons, it’s yours to make. Despite my moniker, doctor or bust, I don’t think anyone should actually have a do or die mentality about medical school. Going to medical school, trying to get in, and even finishing all depend on how happy you are with your decisions. And although I think you shouldn’t let this one exam hold you back, deciding to do something else is always a good idea if it means you’re happier in the end. If you’re waiting, and hoping, that medical school will turn life around you’re probably in for a big surprise. Trust me, medical school isn’t a place people go to have their self esteem or outlook on life repaired — if anything, medical school and medical education is exceptional at bringing all of your self-doubts and personal misgivings to light.

The big take-away is that you shouldn’t let me, or your score, talk you out of medical school. But, be realistic and pragmatic about your own situation. A few years ago, when I was actively editing people’s personal statements, I stumbled onto a lot of premeds who’d easily get in if they just had some time off to address extra-premed problems: bills (some premeds have a large role in supporting the household, so missing a salary means immediate sufferings of those around us), family illnesses (some suddenly become primary care givers to their siblings), financial (it’s a rigged system). Yes, some people overcome all of these, go onto right self-help books, and perhaps appear in Oprah. But, it’s stupid to assume that a “meat-grinder” is broken because a few pieces make it through the blades unscathed. So, sometimes taking a break to re-evaluate or to reset your foundations is the best you can do.


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