American Medical College Application Service
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.
- the state of being diverse; variety.e.g.: “there was considerable amount of diversity this applicant can add to our program” — says your dream school.
- What do you know about diversity?
- What is your understanding what diversity means in the current medical age?
- How do you tie that together into an argument of how you’ll help better that medical program?
- I found it difficult to brain story what makes me” diverse”. This is only natural, I speak English fluently as a native, but when someone asks me to say something “in English” I can’t think of a thing. So, instead I brainstormed the tangential answers by pretending I was addressing a future patient who misunderstood me, thinking I had nothing in common with them. I then tried to think how I’d assuage their concerns, then it was easier to shift gears into how writing about my “diversity”.
- Do not confuse this with the “hardship essay”, though your diversity may contain hardships that in fact make you diverse.
For my own diversity essay, I tried to take advantage of the changing medical landscape with the Affordable Health Care Act, allowing current events to segway into my understanding of diversity was easier for me (it almost gives you a skeleton to work around). Though, the caveat here is that you have to be up on your world and national news to play the part once you arrive at interviews (better start listening to Al Jazeera and NPR now). For myself, growing up without healthcare had an enormous impact on my quality of life, after all when you have a big family you have the unfortunate consequence of seeing ‘statistics’ play out as you’ll see in my diversity essay:
A physician must interact with patients across a large spectrum of income classes, a large swath of patients live in poverty. Therefore a doctor with a diversity of experiences may be better able to adapt to this fact. Lack of affordable health insurance inexplicably leads to overuse of emergency rooms, I know first-hand as I wasn’t privy to having a primary physician as an asthmatic who couldn’t afford insurance. I can only imagine that with the passage of the Affordable Health Care Act the diversity of patients seeking treatment can only increase. Being one of *14 (two dead) I’ve seen that diversity first hand having: a brother diagnosed with HIV, one dying after chronic cocaine abuse, and a brother currently in prison. To better get to know a diverse population I have spent time working with myriad of individuals from prison as a mentor, lecturer and tutor. As a volunteer in children’s oncology department I learned that compassion is a component of professionalism. Furthermore, I am gaining a greater understand the research process as an IRB/ACUC member. As an IRB member and Ethical Compliance Officer I weigh risk versus beneficence in order to protect special populations (prisoners, children, mentally disabled, and pregnant woman) from dangers of irresponsible research: misleading informed consents, conflicts of interest, manipulation and undue influence. I believe my diverse background will create a solid foundation of experience as a medical student and practicing physician.
It’s likely that if you’ve gotten this far, you have a story to tell. So, be assertive and tell it.
*In case you’re curious, for myself, I currently no interest in children nor having a huge family. For now my houseplant named, Fernando, makes a good son.
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!
Are you applying for medical school this cycle? Nervous? It’s okay, I was here last year too, it worked out for me. Remember, once you press that submit button you’re in it to win it, so don’t look back now. My last second advice:
– Submit early, but don’t submit garbage. As much as I’ve been harping on you to apply early, it doesn’t make much of a difference between the first day and perhaps next week. The key here is: will your application be better by that time? If yes, then wait a few days to work things out. If no, and you’re just nervous, then it’s time to take the plunge and apply. Also, the MCAT and LOR can all be updated even after you submit, so if you’re waiting on these to submit then you’re making a big mistake. Even if you have a great MCAT score and award winning LORs, if you submit late in the season it’ll still take time to get verified plus there’s less seats for you; so, if you’re school has rolling admissions you’re chances have diminished significantly. The process of applying to medical school is NOTHING like most universities because of rolling admissions.
– If you didn’t opt for the $25 MSAR (potentially less than 1% of total medschool application bonanza) you’ll likely be very sorry later on. I was lucky, and I bought mine before I applied. If in the future you’re reading this, and its now secondary apps period and you still haven’t bought it, well you’re likely wishing you did — but don’t worry it’s still incredibly useful during the secondary and for prepping for interviews. If you feel like data mining all over the internet yourself, knock yourself out.
– Ignore most SDN hype, except for the “verification” threads. There are a series of threads you can search for using “verified” or “verification” as terms in SDN, you’ll see last years verification pattern. People will post the day they submitted and they day they were verified. I can save you a lot of time by saying it’ll take either exactly as long as the AMCAS told you or shorter unless you application is returned to you. You don’t need the extra drama at this point in your life. Don’t worry about when other people are receiving their secondary, invites, or rejections etc. For example, one school I interviewed out explicitly told us that they’ll be saving spots for other applicants they plan to invite later, some schools feel a little more cavalier about when they’ll contact you. Give schools some time to process things before you panic about how quickly they may be contacting you. When I put in my application at Boston University, I had already interviewed at other programs before I was even invited to an interview, so each school does their own thing. Pro tip: getting the MSAR will help you understand each schools’ deadline yourself.
– You’ll feel a large weight lift off your shoulders once you press the submit button. Awesome! Now, take a day off or two if you can muster it, and start working on secondary application drafts. The key here is to remember, no matter how well written your draft is, it’s still a draft and it can’t be submitted until you’ve customized it so much no one can tell you pre-wrote it. Here’s a secret, everyone reuses their secondaries to an extent, all schools know this. It’s really the only way to crank out 50-70 short essays in a month or two. But, humor medical schools by personalizing — each secondary should sound like they’re pretty much the only school you’d ever want to go to. And to be honest, by the time I wrote my secondary I actually felt emotionally bonded to each program. I actually got sort of depressed when I had to withdraw my acceptances, because I got so attached to each program, it felt like I was breaking up with someone I liked each time I withdrew. Everyone wants to feel you love only them after all. If your hearts not in the secondary than they’ll spot it, they have some type of clairvoyance about it.
– The secret to completing a good secondary is to love each school you apply to [while filing out their secondary] and staying organized. Part of that means doing your homework about applications. Schools are very generous about giving out their old secondary essays. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always mean that your school will provide it directly on their site — but a lot do if you just Google it. On SDN you can also search for past secondary prompts. The key is for you to realize that there’s really only a handful of categories that they’ll ask you about, so once you have good ideas developed for multiple topics you’ll be fine. I’ll spend more time talking about secondary applications soon, for now this older article I wrote should help:
– Don’t be afraid to ask for help, or even reputable companies/accounts (ProMEDeusLLC, MedMentors, Accepted, MDAdmit). People like to brag about how independently they applied to medical school and were fine. But, with all do respect, this isn’t a “lifting contest”. In the end only one thing is going to matter when the dust settles: are you in medical school or are you at least closer to it for the next cycle. I was one of those people who did so pretty independently: no premed advising, no tutoring (although I was a tutor later), self-studied for the MCAT (Examkrackers), and I personally didn’t use advising services during the AMCAS. But you know who’s going to care about all of that in medical school? No one. Do what you have to do, don’t under utilize your resources. I dodged a bullet, feel free to reach out for help and advice.
– A rejection nor an acceptance dictates your value. Everyone receives rejections, and some will get both rejections and acceptance(s). It seems almost like a character building exercise, you could probably win the Noble Peace Prize, single handed cure Malaria, and resurrect the dinosaurs and you’d still probably receive at least one rejection. The point is, using my culture as a reference point for this example, that you probably won’t marry anyone if you don’t at least date someone. You have to be willing to stumble, roll down a hill of jagged rocks, and then spring up and say you’re ready for more! Getting an acceptance is also pretty awesome, but this doesn’t mean that person is necessarily more qualified — after all everyone applies so different that while the scores matter, it’s hard to objectively rank application versus application.
– Work on your weak points now. If you’re not sure you can vocalize “why medicine” and “where do you see yourself in 10 years after attending this program”, then get that hammered out now. If you’re heads in the sand about the Affordable Health Care act, you better get up on your game. If you’re not used to defending your opinion in front of someone you think is “superior” to you, then you’d best learn how to do that now as well prior to interviewing. If you’re still in college there are probably programs to practice interviewing available to you. It’s also easy to find typical interview questions if you search online. Print them out, and have someone ask you. I ignored my own advice on this one, I yap all the time and argue with professors and sometimes a physician or two so I just went into my interviews mostly cold because I felt comfortable. My interviews, it probably felt more like I was interviewing them at times, and I was. Also, for me, I get more nervous if I put too much prep time into talking — go figure. So, do what works for you, but at least practice a bit in whatever way works for you.
That’s all for now!
As you probably already know, I applied for medical school last year, interviewed and was accepted. I will be starting in August — white coat ceremony is on day 1 of school!
If you’re curious how it feels, well, pretty damn good. I’m not accustomed to hard work begetting rewards, I had grown up with a empirical truth that hard work correlated to nothing more than hard times — thus, you best enjoy the journey — and so far I did. People often ask me a few questions:
Q: did you party like a rock star after getting into medical school?
I wasn’t showered in confetti, I didn’t go streaking down the street (I sort of imagined that’s how I’d celebrate, but alas now’s not a good time to pick up a misdemeanor), I didn’t take an extravagant excursions to Borneo, nor did I go spelunking. How do I celebrate? In a small way, for example “Man, maybe I shouldn’t buy this shirt..wait I got into medical school”. Those small rewards for myself are enough, because like many college students, I was trying to rival a monk on making due without for years — so, now I’m easy to please. Though, I’m amendable to my readers celebrating vicariously for me.
Q: given the smashing debt, why go into medicine at all?
It’s no secret that medical education is expensive in the US. The average medical student walks out about 180K in debt (not counting their previous debt from getting into medical school in the first place). I really had to ask myself this question, because well I turned down a full tuition scholarship to one medical school, and almost 100K from another. Now, I’m left waiting for my financial aid to be process at BU, and I’m not sure if I’ll be paying the bill by myself or with scholarships. I’ll let you all know soon how that worked out financially. Now, this may seem counter intuitive, especially considering how much I spent on applying. But, I think if anyone is going to use that annoying YOLO, it should be a medical student. You see, I grew up thinking I’d never do much for myself, in fact I thought as a child I’d be a trash man like my mom’s boyfriend — I even considered the utility of going to college, being the first to go. So, now that I’m going, I decided to just go for it. The person who inspired me to take that chance was my research mentor, and pseudo older brother.
Now feelings aside it’s an investment, because even if I spent 180K on lottery tickets tomorrow, I’m still statistically very unlikely to receive a return that makes the investment worthwhile. I believe that a good ratio of your pay to investment of education is your expected salary versus the investment, obviously you’d like to make more than you spent. So, for example, if you paid 60K for a masters I’d think you’d like to make around that amount annually to stay financially solvent (because I am expected to pay this money back). With that example, you may pay for 60K masters and make 20K for 10 years, this would be a great intellectual and personal investment but perhaps not a financial one. On the other hand, if you paid 150K for a BA in Underwater Basket Weaving, then you may be in for a rough ride if you don’t have a follow up plan. I don’t expect to buy a island in the Caribbean, put showgirls through college, or play golf with the mayor. Heck, I grew up with one solid dream, that is make enough so I have: running water, power, and have a home (because at some point in my life I’ve not had one or more of those). Besides, how many people actually get paid to do what they want to do? So I feel pretty lucky.
I’ll keep you updated about my financial aid package (or lack thereof) in the coming weeks, should be coming soon. Be ready for the possible massive face palm, or the lackluster celebration on my part. On the side note, I think there’s something almost liberating about owing a 1/5 of a million dollars — it really puts every day expenses into perspective, and I find myself rewarding myself a little more than I used to.
#doctorbust find me on twitter @doctorORbust
We live in the age of propaganda. Oh, few words have had their image tarnished like the word propaganda. In the 19th century, propaganda became affiliated misinformation, even to the extent of libel and slander, often to influence others into nefarious activities they wouldn’t of engaged in otherwise if the “whole truth” was known to them. However, the word actually stems from Latin, and it neutrally means “to spread“. We probably would recognize the word better as “to propagate” (e.g. the action potential propagates via..). It suddenly takes on a hint of positivism, well, all depending on what you’re propagating. And, premeds are charged with writing one of the best propaganda campaigns in their career, their personal statement. I assume, that you are possibly like me, okay with science but a little on the weak side when it comes to the touchy-feely part of life. The AMCAS requires these icky things called “feelings”. There was probably never a time in a premed’s career (except breadth courses perhaps) that how they felt, or expressing how they felt, ever mattered or was considered a valid answer. In fact, we are taught to be objective in our manner, steadfast in seeking absolutes, while discarding the subjective as meaningless — after all, if something is a different color just depending on the angle viewed, what’s the point of arguing about what color that object is? It’s all relative. Though, a qualification of my whole argument there is you’re just as inept as I am at expressing myself. But, sharing my thought process and I strung my personal statement (narrative) together, maybe this post will help you.
As you may already know, I sometimes offer to read applicants personal statements and make critiques. Most personal statements have great content, or have the potential to be great. Some are written better than others, as it’s reasonable to expect. So, when I read premed’s personal statements, their “argument” for being accepted into medical school, the personal statement, often usually a series of stacked explicit cliche premises: compassion, passion, lifelong learning, diligence. A superposition of valid premises neither the less — though, it often comes off as a check-list of accomplishments. Often I feel, the problem is not that they don’t have a good story, it’s rather that they haven’t considered their narrative. A lot of applicants have exceptional stories, but poor narratives.
Framing the story with the Narrative – Being a Puppet Master
One thing all premeds need to realize is that, on paper all applicants are pretty have identical premises for admission: good scores, medical & non-medical volunteering, interested in helping people, appreciate the ability to learn, and possibly have conducted research and/or various types of leadership positions. Therefore, simply rehashing your statistics and achievements isn’t really a maximal use of the personal statement in my opinion. Now, don’t let me mislead you — there is an importance in using the typical premises albeit in a nuanced manner. The only problem arises when applicants think retelling their story for the personal statement constitutes a “personal” statement. Instead, applicants would do better to structure a narrative, and string together their story to support “their narrative”. There is a time and a place to leave things up to interpretation, a story’s significance is often left to interpretation, whereas the narrative is typically more concrete. Now, if the reader agrees with the narrative or not is another issue, this will depend on if the story (anecdotes) presented cogent arguments to sway the reader in favor of the author’s position. Of course, you could decide to get artsy and leave the narrative ambiguous, also known in theater/screenplay circles as the Rashomon Effect, but in this type of writing I’d advise against it. A good narrative doesn’t strong-arm, nor coerce the reader into conformity; instead, a good narrative will help to orientate the reader around the premises. And with any luck, the reader and the author end up with the same conclusion.
Building the Bridge from Dreams and Goals — Let’s start with how it ends.
What exactly is your goal — is it just to get into medical school? It may seem like a rhetorical question, I mean, why would you apply if you didn’t want to get in? But, consider it for a second. On your goals, do the curtains drop once you’ve posed selfies on white coat day? Not very likely. You probably want to do well in medical school, clerkship, residency, into attending. Yes, let’s just assume you’re 10-15 years in the future, and practicing medicine and helping new residents. Now, look at your personal statement, and ask yourself do your premises for your acceptance congruent with your picturesque ending? If you think about it, this is likely how far medical schools are also projecting into the future, as they not only care about you getting in, they also want you to be a stellar doctor to represent their program after graduation. I found, this retrograde synthesize method of writing to really help whenever I’m in a writing rut. So, instead of just rehashing your anecdotes, work on your narrative as well.
Each paragraph gives you the right to compose the following paragraph – transitions should be logical to frame the narrative, you’re not trying to make a Memento type personal statement. If your personal statement doesn’t make transitions well, then it’ll appear that there are logical leaps between premises. Transitions don’t have to hammer the reader on the head, but it should allow a ready to easily conclude why each paragraph or sentence supports the rest of the composition.
If you haven’t developed a narrative, try this: take your rough ideas, outline etc, to see if your narrative fits that. Try different narratives, people love narratives. If you’re not sure if your personal statement captures your narrative, have a few friends read over your personal statement and ask them to write a 140 character, a succinct (tweet) summary about what they think your narrative is. The key is to keep their translations short and sweet, if they have to fumble for paragraphs to define your narrative then you’re probably missing something.
Remember, if you don’t chose your narrative your reader will.
Examples: Reefer Madness – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reefer_Madness
Narrative: marijuana use in all forms is destructive to society
Story (anecdotes) premise 1: innocent youth gets entangled with under world due to marijuana cigarettes(aka reefer, Mary Jane, whacky-tobacky, the Devil’s Lettuce).
Story premise 2: usage of marijuana causes: increased sexual activity, suicidal thoughts, and possibly psychotic murderous episodes.
Story premise 3: if only Johnny didn’t use drugs, he’d not be going to jail, and several people would still be alive.
Validating the narrative is simply a matter of validating the story’s premises, or anecdotes. If anything, we should learn that a composition will back fire, if the premises/story and the narrative are not well aligned. This is evident by how ineffective this propaganda movie was towards curbing marijuana use in the United States.
So, again, if you don’t make your narrative others will make it for you. On the other hand, if you make a narrative and the premises aren’t supported, then that’s possibly worse. And, as you should learn on the MCAT, you don’t have to agree with the premises in order to validate the premises. You can totally disagree with the philosophy of the writer, but if their conclusions are valid they are valid. Though, valid priori don’t always mean that the conclusion is supported. Write with the conclusion always in mind, and stack your priori in a logical way to argue why you should be accepted. Use the same (or better) critical thinking tools you used to break down the support and structure of the MCAT verbal passages on your personal statement–at least you can feel better about not wasting your time on that section.
Find me on twitter @doctorORbust