It’s winter in Boston, I hope all is well for everyone. Now, again, at my school applicants are interviewing. It’s a curious sight, I remember making the trip before, peering off into the classroom when I could to get an idea of who these mythical creatures called medical students were. So, it’s strange to be on the other side of the window. Anyways, nostalgia aside, I wanted to share with you an interview with a recently accepted applicant (see below). I believe we met on Twitter, when I was editing and critiquing personal statements in my downtime. I distinctly remember her personal statement, so I’m excited to see her progress from a hopeful applicant to an accepted medical student with a full scholarship.
So, here’s the interview:
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? — e.g. major, participation in college, post graduate work or activities, continued and concluded work/projects, notable experiences.
My family is originally from Peru, my father completed medical school in Lima and we immigrated to the United States when my father got a pediatrics residency offer in New York. I grew up and attended school in Texas, where I majored in Biology and minored in Psychology. I was very fortunate to have several mentors along the way who really pushed me towards research and am grateful our paper was accepted a few months before applying to medical school. I worked in two very different labs in undergrad, a summer in an entomology lab and a neuroscience lab my junior and senior year. Although I considered medicine, I originally planned on pursuing a PhD in Neuroscience/Neuropharmacology, so my focus in undergrad was research and teaching (I worked as a Teaching Assistant for Cell Biology lab and Supplemental Instruction Leader for Analytical Chemistry) and did not really have very much clinical volunteering (at least compared to my ‘intense’ pre-med peers).
My main extracurricular was Colleges Against Cancer (CAC), where I helped start Relay For Life at my university. Unfortunately, it seems that people in my life keep struggling with cancer. My first awareness of the disease was when my fifth grade teacher went through breast cancer treatment. In college, I discovered my lab mate was a lymphoma survivor (we co-founded our CAC chapter), my godfather battling colon cancer and losing my first research advisor to pancreatic cancer, and recently losing family members to lymphoma and glioblastoma. Although I have no idea what it says, I believe that my evaluation letter from my American Cancer Society staff partner had significant weight in the strength of my application.
There are people that seem to know they were destined for a career in medicine since they were fetuses. To say I am 100% certain that I should become doctor would be inaccurate, sometimes I still question if I have the desire pursue a career that in practice seems increasingly more centered on costs and paperwork, and less focused on quality and prevention. Seeing my father practice medicine in a private practice setting was off-putting to me, especially as I developed a real knack for teaching early in my undergraduate career. However my somewhat cynical, not idealist view that our current healthcare system is ‘broken’ is one of the many things that fuels me to strive for change. My senior year (after much introspection), I realized that academic medicine was a great way to consolidate helping with others while teaching and decided to apply to medical school. Since I still needed time to study for the MCAT, I decided would take a total of two years off before matriculating in medical school (which thankfully I will next fall!).
Applying to medical school is pretty difficult, besides the prereqs, a lot of steps have to be made correctly on a timely manner. How did you prepare for the applying to medical school, anything in retrospect you would have done differently now that you understand how the process works?
Honestly, I read a lot of blogs and from there searched for books. Hannah’s (@MDPhDtoBe) blog (side note: I met her a few months ago and she is an incredible human) and this one were probably the two I referenced the most. I used two books (one which you have mentioned in your own blog) the Medical School Admissions Guide and Cracking Med School Admissions, both which gave interesting examples of personal statements and suggested timelines. After the MCAT, the two most challenging parts of the application were the Personal Statement and the Activities Section (also, insanely time consuming). Looking back I would have kept better records on my activities because I ended up spending a lot of time tracking down faculty/staff for their contact information and wracking my brain to guesstimate how many hours I spend on all of my activities. Something important that I reflected throughout the interview process was to try not compare yourself with other applicants. It’s difficult when you’re in a room filled with brilliant, driven people, but reminding yourself that you have your own story, that everyone’s journey to medicine is different is good perspective to have because it’s easy to become intimidated and not think you’re good enough. You have made it this far, be proud (never arrogant) of your accomplishments!
Last year I edited your personal statement, how was the experience for you and how did it help?
The personal statement was very challenging for me to write. I probably went through ten drafts of my personal statement before I felt “satisfied”. Mr. @doctororbust kindly agreed to look over my personal statement and gave me great feedback, particularly with the flow of my ideas. Most of the people I asked to edit my personal statement were very familiar with my story and everything I had done throughout undergrad, so having someone who was completely impartial was extremely useful and I am extremely grateful for the direction my personal statement took after you reviewed it! Forever grateful.. this brings up another point, do not be afraid of asking for help. There are kind people in this world who genuinely want you to succeed 🙂
What were some things that surprised you about the application process? — this could be either positive or negative or even just an observation.
Overall, the application process was a journey. Equally beautiful and frustrating. Writing the personal statement was somewhat revelatory and defining. Creating a narrative that portrays you and your passion for this career in 5,300 characters is nothing short of daunting. I think I did not expect the application to take so long. I tried to finish it up as soon as I could. I am surprised to have gotten three out-of-state public university interview offers, so I wouldn’t discourage someone to not apply out of state, however make sure you do your research and write a compelling narrative on why you want to attend a specific school. If you can attend a recruitment fair, take advantage and stay in touch with people. An admissions staff member I met at a recruitment fair arranged for me to meet with a pediatric psychiatrist after my interview because I mentioned this was a strong particular interest of mine. As much as medical schools are interviewing you, you are also interviewing them to see where you will be the best fit and if they are granting you an interview, it is likely they will accomodate you to make you feel welcome. As I mentioned, I strongly considered pursuing a PhD, and debated applying to MSTP (MD/PhD) programs. Ultimately, I decided not to apply since I did not believe my MCAT was very competitive for MTSP programs. However, in my interviews and after talking to a few MSTP minority students, my MCAT score was higher than one (by 3 points) and exactly the same as the other MSTP student. Although I do not believe in holding myself to a “low standard” because I am considered a minority in this country, I do feel a slight sense of curiosity of what would have happened if I had applied to combined programs.
How many schools did you apply to? If you don’t mind disclosing it, can you share what school you decided to attend?
I initially intended to apply to more, but I ended up completing 13 allopathic medical school applications. To date, I’ve had two rejections, five interview invitations and acceptance offers from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and the University of Wisconsin- Madison. If I do not get any more interview offers, my last one will be at the University of Illinois-Chicago in February! Since I did also complete an application through TMDSAS, I’ve ranked UT Southwestern and UTHSCSA and will have to wait for ‘match day’ on February 2rd (Texas is special).
For schools that are a part of AAMC, I legally have until April 30th to make my final decision… However, during winter break when I was in Peru, I found a letter from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health saying I have received a full tuition scholarship!!! I am about 99.99% certain I will accept this offer because frankly I loved the students I met, the interviewees (we did a group one with 2 medical students and 3 other applicants), and the city of Madison. I am beyond thrilled to have this incredible opportunity, as I am flawed and far from a perfect applicant (as in I have a C in calculus and several Bs early on in my transcript.. but I worked hard to bring those grades up!).
What will you do as you wait to start?
I am happily continuing to work for a medical non-profit association in Washington, DC and tutor Biology, Chemistry, Biochemistry and Spanish while I wait to start medical school next fall! Taking time off school was the best decision I made to solidify my decision to apply to medical school. If you have any questions about anything, please feel free to send me a tweet @brainyloma! Best of luck!
Thank you @brainyloma, please check her Twitter out if you have more questions.
Every now and then I get an email from the people from Accepted when they’re running a webinar. If you haven’t attended a webinar, make this your first. A webinar is like an online conference, of course the best part is that you can participate while in your pajamas — any time you can be productive and still wear pajamas you’re winning in life. So, for details of this webinar please see the message I’m forwarding to you:
Follow the yellow brick road…
…to acceptance at your top choice medical school by applying the tips that you’ll learn in Accepted.com’s upcoming webinar, Get Accepted to Medical School in 2016, to your application. You think it’s easy to navigate the road to med school admissions success? Think again! Without a map and some handy tools, it’s easy to get lost!
DATE: Wednesday, December 10, 2014
TIME: 5:00 PM PT / 8:00 PM ET
Get the tools you need to start the application process early and get accepted! Register for Get Accepted to Medical School in 2016 now!
Good luck and best wishes, and remember that the early bird tends to get a seat in medical school!
As promised, here’s the confidential(identity) interview from the accepted Stanford student. They’ll be starting this year as a M1. As a nontraditional premed, switching majors several times before finally deciding to apply to medical school.
It’s interesting to note we both applied to Boston University and Stanford, however we both never received interview invitations from each other’s respective current medical school — it really goes to show there’s interpretation about what constitutes a good fit for their institution, and we found our own fit. For myself another interesting point of this person is that, like me, it took them many years to finish their college career — we both took multiple breaks for work and switched majors innumerable times before deciding on applying to medical school.
Anyways, I had to distill a nearly two hour conversation where we easily went into tangents (
mostly entirely my fault). After laughing and removing the tangents, here is the more educational and likely useful results:
Q. 1. When did you decide that medicine was for you, and why?
Basically, I realized medicine could be a career for me because of the position it occupies in relation to other fields. As a community college student, I had the opportunity to take a wide variety of classes in different fields, without needing to prematurely declare a major. I had always been interested in fields where I thought I could make a difference, I dipped my toes in psychology, sociology, political science, “hard” sciences (thought about a PhD), public health, and even art (documentary photography). For me, medicine fits snugly between public health and the hard sciences, and gives me the best of both worlds (well, what I feel is the best of both worlds). Public health was hard for me because it was a bit far removed from the individual level, obviously since it’s more focused on populations. This is great of course! But that was hard for me to work with, because actually seeing change takes a LONG time, if you see it at all. Bench research is cool too, I still love it, but couldn’t see myself devoting my life to it because it was easy to get caught up in the little things, without the human perspective, and I felt a little lost there, honestly. Medicine allows me to inform both fields with a clinical perspective, work with both fields as part of the health team, and still enjoy what I do
Q. So, do you think being a nontraditional gave you a different point of view? For example while studying.
I think so. I can’t say that more traditional premeds didn’t learn the same things I did, but I can say that I wouldn’t have the perspective I do without doing it my way. Having studied a variety of topics, I kind of felt that medicine was just one career path that could be taken. It fits a small niche in between all the other things people can do with their lives, or to help others. Plus, being nontraditional, working through school, all of that…I had to learn to prioritize and really figure out WHY I needed to do some of these things. I think premeds often get caught up in “the list”, the list of shit we’re supposed to do to be competitive. And a lot of us end up with huge resumes of shit we did that had no impact on us or our communities
The end goal is to be a great doctor…so these experiences should be towards that goal. Activities aren’t just there for filler. Med schools look for these activities because they think we have something to learn from them. And as a nontraditional student, I think I may have had an easier time figuring that out
Q. Lately, schools have really been pushing for diversity, how do/will you bring diversity to your program?
As for the diversity question…I STILL have trouble answering it. I think it’s because there’s no single factor that stands out as HI THERE DIVERSITY. I’ve mentioned before that I am certain that all of us are really diverse. We have our collections of scores and activities on the applications that look the same in bullet-point form, but different students get into different schools. In any case, I think being a nontraditional premed has given me some interesting opportunities. I took extra time in school; it took me eight years to finish up my degree, so I was able to explore a number of different areas of study and work part-time throughout undergrad. After all of that…I can’t help but see medicine as integrated with every other field, and my approach to healthcare in general requires that we don’t separate “health” from the rest of our patient’s lives. I also had time to make big commitments to projects that I cared about, and learned more than I could have imagined. I helped get a nonprofit global health organization started, which taught me as much about public health as it did about team work, leadership, and resource management. I worked in a research lab for a few years doing more engineering-based health projects, and was inspired by the potential future of stem-cell based diagnostic devices and therapies. I think the biggest opportunity I had while being nontrad, and perhaps bringing some diversity to the mix is my restaurant work history. I got my first job at 16 working in a cafe and bakery, and from there moved on to other cafes and finally ended up serving and bar-tending at a restaurant as I got older. It seems like working during undergrad isn’t typical for a lot of premeds, so I’m so glad I had a chance to do it. Of course, I hated it at the time and it was stressful, but being forced to talk to strangers day in and day out will probably help my bedside manner more than any amount of shadowing doctors could do. I learned a lot about making people feel comfortable and responding appropriately to misplaced anger by waiting tables. Although it isn’t directly related to medicine, waiting tables taught me a lot about professional communication in strained situations. People can get really upset about their food, it seems! Or parking, or having to wait for a table…about a lot of things outside my control. And I feel that happens in everyday medical practice often, so having a little bit of experience managing those situations will likely help me in the future. Waiting tables was also a great teamwork exercise; you really can’t survive the floor without working together, even if you don’t always get along with your coworkers. Maybe that gives me some of that coveted diversity? Who knows, I think it’s the summation of our experiences that gives all of us a unique perspective.
Q. So, as a nontraditional or traditional premeds was there anyone who mentored you? Also, applying to medschool is pretty nebulous; have any guidance or tips along the way?
I’m lucky to have had a great mentor in this whole thing. I think as you’ve pointed out a few times, there are a lot of people who are just waiting for us to fail, to not make it. So, I had my mom, who is a doctor and a teacher. When I have questions about how to be a great doctor, I always turn to her. For the premed-y things though, I kind of just went with it. Internet-searching. Berkeley doesn’t have official premed advisors, so I kind of went at it based on anecdotes from friends and the internet
As for my tips…I think the best ones I have are to do what you love…pick a few key activities that will help define and shape you, and give them your all. Don’t mess around with 100+ random activities that you only contribute 10 hours to.
Also, keep a journal of everything. Not only does it make it so much easier to learn from and reflect on your experiences, but you will thank yourself SO MUCH when applications roll around.
And surround yourself with good people, even if they’re not premed or doing the same things you are. Don’t let negative folks discourage you, don’t take SDN too damn seriously, and don’t put other people down because we never know where they’ve been
Regarding the question of, “For premeds without a committee or reliable advisors do you have any tips?” that’s a hard one. Reliable information is difficult to come by, and you don’t want to get sucked into the anecdotes too much, because they may be wrong! I think some of the books out there are pretty good –the ones written by previous admissions officers. I guess my major tip for anyone is just always frame your activities or potential activities by thinking “How will this make me a better doctor? What am I learning or contributing?” If you can come up with solid answers to that, then it’s a worthwhile activity lol.
And the usual: don’t let your GPA slide, set study schedules to keep it up, check school websites to meet prereqs, and don’t think the MCAT will be a breeze.
Q. I suppose you should probably jot down that answer [from the journal etc.] as well for later during secondary/interviews?
- YES, absolutely. Take notes, always. Makes life so much easier down the line when time is of the essence. I was lucky that I had some notes and journals, but I WISH i had an updated CV.
- Oh…another pro tip. Start saving a lot of money — like yesterday. Charging app fees to your credit card is awful (that was me, it sucked).
Q. As you already know, I don’t report MCAT scores; but, you did very well, do you have any study tips?
Well, since everyone studies a bit differently, it’s kind of a hard thing to say for sure. The one thing that I think will work for everyone is to set a study schedule. Like map out every single day, what you’re going to review, how many problems you’re doing to try, etc. Even map out your break days
- I also tend to think that you shouldn’t review all of one area, then the next. Should probably do one chapter of physics, one chem, one orgo, one bio, then repeat with the next chapters
- Practice problems are golden, obviously. do as many as possible, but I think it’s best if you don’t re-do the same ones. I saved all my AAMC practice exams for the last month
- Flashcards are great for random facts, and can be taken anywhere for quick review (on the bus, between classes, etc)
- Always focus on understanding and connecting concepts, rather than memorizing shit
*Doctoorbust: a caveat, remember pick tips that work for you, ignore any that don’t.
Q. I know you’re tired of hearing this but, any idea what you’re going to specialize in?
Not a clue! I’m trying to go into it with an open mind, simply because I know I haven’t seen even half of what specialties are out there. Even for the ones I have “seen”…it’s difficult to know if my experience in them as a premed was anything like the way they actually are. So, I’m trying to be open.
Plus, it’s hard to know where the field will be in 4-5 years. Things change. The structure of medical practice is undergoing some pretty significant changes, and I’m not really sure where it will all end up.
Q. How do you feel about the coming changes (healthcare)? There’s a lot of anxiety in some groups about it.
I honestly don’t know. I see it as a good thing, a step in the right direction for expanding patient coverage, but I can also understand the concerns from a doctor’s point of view, as far as who is getting reimbursed for what, and additional constraints on their time I think it is easy for us to say, as folks who have yet to enter the medical field for real, that expanding coverage is GREAT and it’s easy and things like that. But I’m not sure we really know what it’s like in the trenches. I’m thinking specifically of primary care, it seems that it’s going downhill fast for those currently in family practice and internal medicine.
For the record, my personal opinion is that expanding coverage equates to awesome. But I don’t think we can neglect the concerns that have been brought to the table by our colleagues, either.
Q. What are some things you wish you did as a premed now that you’re going into medschool?
I wish I had traveled more, and taken more time for non-premed activities. I definitely enjoyed all the work I did in preparation for becoming a doctor, but I let some things slip too
I would just advise people to always make time for hobbies, for themselves. This is because hobbies are every bit as important as engaging in research or volunteering. Being healthy and happy will make you a better doctor, too.
Maintain relationships! Friends, family, don’t let it slide because you’re too busy studying.
Q. Now, you’ve been there and done that. What are some misinformation points you’ve heard about being a premed or applying that you believe to be false, at least from your experience?
The biggest thing I think is that you need a perfect GPA and perfect MCAT score, or that having X hours of these activities are all it takes. Or that it’s guaranteed to get in if you have those things. And you see this everywhere. “My friend has a 4.0 and a 42 MCAT and thousands of hours of volunteering and research and didn’t get in” or the other commonly seen thing “I need a 4.0 and a 42 etc in order to have a shot.”
Yes, you need decent numbers, but that will only get you so far. We have to learn from our experiences in order for them to count. The hours spent doing an activity are usually correlated with learning and reflecting, but the hours themselves don’t mean anything
The other thing about applying that I saw a lot is the obsession with school rank and the numbers. It’s not all a numbers game. Schools have different missions, different focus points that they look for in their applicants
The smart applicant will choose schools that they will fit into, whose goals are in line with the applicant’s, or the applicant feels he/she can contribute to
The process feels like a crapshoot. To some extent, it probably is, but that doesn’t mean that applicants can’t maximize their chances. Obsessing over numbers won’t get you anywhere. and the thing is, just because your experiences don’t fit into one school doesn’t mean they don’t fit somewhere else. For instance, I was rejected outright from BU! But I got in somewhere. And you got into BU! And were rejected from other places we all have different strengths, just have to play to them. it takes some serious self-reflection and honesty on the applicant’s part. Still, no one’s saying it’s not competitive. But…always remember the numbers aren’t everything. My GPA sucked, and I got in somewhere.
Thanks for reading! I’ll try to keep posting while moving!
We are all full of weakness and errors; let us mutually pardon each other our follies – it is the first law of nature — Voltaire
During the secondary applications, there is a good likely hood that you’ll eventually hit a question that asks for your to explain your weaknesses — some questions may even have you elaborate more, some less. As premeds we’re hyper vigilant when it comes to addressing our weaknesses. The worst thing you can do on this essay is to wall yourself up, become defensive, and start playing “cat and mouse” on this question. When interviewed, this is a question interviews like to toss in, so the better you know this question the better you’ll be during it. In fact, there’s seldom a job interview that I’ve had that also didn’t ask this question (at least a job that preferred a degree).
On the other hand you may indeed be perfect, good luck explaining that to your interviews who likely can easily give you a running list of their “weaknesses”.
Here was my strategy in answering the question:
1. Present weakness (feint)
The first step to many problems is to first acknowledge you have one. (see step 3). In my example it’s my “self doubt” about past decisions.
2. Rationalize/humanize, but don’t minimize weakness (parry into step 3)
Use an explanation to explain what your weakness is in context, then project how this could be a ‘problem’ later. Pretty much, in this phase I was beating my reviewer to the punch by acknowledging my issues, then being realistic about how that is a weakness in their context as well. After that, I used that to transition into the next step, step 3. In my case I tried to reason with physicians who probably were just as neurotic as I was about things, so it wasn’t a hard argument to bridge rumination and self destruction.
3. Propose solution/plan of action for your weakness (Parry into a gentle counter attack ‘riposte’)
Up until this point, I was on the defensive as a writer, but at the conclusion I moved towards the offensive, I decided to address how I’d overcome my problem: becoming more systematic, learning how to trust and delegate better (more trust in the process less restless nights in theory). This helped turn my weakness into more of an, “Aha!”, moment then a guilty admission. The key here is to really give the “how will you solve” this problem prompt real consideration.
And the golden rule — don’t BS ( unless you believe the BS too, but that’s some type of Inception type concept that we don’t have time to cover).
What is your weakness?
I feel one of my largest flaws is my tendency to ruminate on my past decisions. As a future doctor I could imagine myself always wondering if I could have provided a better outcome for a patient: if I just had noticed a symptom sooner, prescribed medicines more or less aggressively, if I made the correct ethical choice, and wondering constantly if there was a better way to perform my duty. This year I have strove to empirically record my observations using an online journal; it has allowed for me reduce circular worries. Later, I could assuage my concerns with meticulous chart recording and recording case studies. I should also learn how to better develop trust and delegate to others, this would help reduce a lot of stress. These skills would transfer into medicine as I better learn to foster team work with other allied professionals. While I believe self-criticism is necessary, and should be invited, nonconstructive self-doubt helps no one.
As you may have imagined, to reflect on things is healthy but to ruefully regret is not a good thing. You may have also imagined that this trait would have made me more anxious during application season, at the beginning this was indeed true. However, during that time I grew to appreciate a new philosophy about my time and how much I would worry about things.
Accepted Webinar on Successful Secondaries!
Accepted.com is hosting an important webinar that will teach you how to write impressive, memorable secondary essays!
When: Wednesday, June 25th at 5:00 PM PT/8:00 PM EST (Click here to see what time that is for you.)
Why: So you can learn how to write successful secondary essays that will catch the adcom’s attention and earn you more interview invites!
How: The webinar is FREE, but you must register to reserve your spot. Sign up here: Secondary Essay Strategies that Score Interviews
A year ago, on this day, I submitted my AMCAS. I held off on submitting to edit a few things, I think the effort & risks were worth it.
During that period I brushed the dust the cob webs off of my disused Twitter account, started blogging, and tried to keep myself occupied. I do better under stress if preoccupied. I then tried to report to you all about what I’ve empirically learned during the application process, being sure to only post about things after I had experienced it. As you may recall, the point of this blog is to record my process from premed to medical school. My first day of school is on August 4th, and I’ll be relocating to Boston permanently on July 30th. I’m pretty excited to meet my classmates!
A year later, I’m still learning my way around Twitter, still blogging, but this time I’m also in medical school. My problems last year are replaced by welcomed medstudent problems — though, it’s a problem I opted into!
I just got a nice message from Accepted.com, graduate school admissions advising website about a webinar open to premeds. Don’t miss this opportunity to improve your application.
Upcoming Open Admissions Q&A Session!
If you have questions about applying to med school, you are invited to attend Accepted.com’s upcoming Q&A session, Ask the Experts: Medical School Admissions Q&A, during which Accepted med admissions experts will be available to answer all of YOUR med admissions questions.
AMCAS applications, secondaries, choosing schools to apply to, interviewing, paying for med school, finding the right recommenders, interviewing – all questions are welcome!
The interactive Q&A will take place on Tuesday, May 20, 2014 at 5:00 PM PT / 8:00 PM EST. Register now: http://reports.accepted.com/med/2015_admissions_qa