Ready to Apply to Medical School?

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Hello Everyone,

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!



“Have a Seat…” — Worst Words to Hear

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A great way to tell people bad news.
A great way to tell people bad news.

“Hey..I think you should take a seat” — these are the words no one wants to hear from their doctor.

I heard them — and as life would have it the timing was perfect, just when I started studying for the MCAT.

He went on to explain, “Your liver enzymes are elevated about 4-5x the normal amount. At first we ignored it because you’re otherwise healthy, so then, we re-tested it after another visit –and it was still elevated. This is unusual, as you’re otherwise healthy, and you exercise.”

We, the doctor and I, then went down a list of ways to insult your liver. Given my age, there were only a few ways to have bloated liver enzymes levels:

  • Hepatitis A-C: I have no prior IV drug use (nor current if you’re wondering), no prostitution (besides intellectual), and I’ve never had a tattoo. Though, I have volunteered in prison, so I had to leave this possibility open. We tested for Hepatitis, the great news was a diagnosis was knocked off the list: clear of Hepatitis.
  • Cirrhosis of the liver: we ruled this out rather quickly, though I drink, my habits weren’t enough to scar the liver. Though, there was also a chance for “out of the blue” idiopathic Cirrhosis, but the rest of my liver enzymes didn’t fit this diagnosis.
  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver: this was ruled out pretty fast.
  • Several other system inflammations: all of them were ruled out, as I had no indicators for inflammation.

As my physician and I whittled down the list, it soon became apparent to me he had already completed the check-list by himself, perhaps even several times. The real reason why I was asked to sit down soon became pretty obvious:

  • Neoplastic growth (cancer) that happens to be secreting enzymes on its own: it was a remote possibility he admitted. A possibility that my doctor had hoped to jettison once I came in to give a better history. He asserted this wasn’t very likely, but we had to rule it out given that everything else was negative. Besides, I had been a asthma drug test subject for over a decade, perhaps I would add a new symptom to their speedy commercial disclaimer once the drug was released.

So, that was my first several months of the MCAT studying, trying to figure out if 1) I had cancer 2) if I were diagnosed with cancer would I continue to apply to medical school and 3) if I should tell anyone. The wasn’t much I could do about the first point, after a little mopping around. It wasn’t a particularly fun period of time as I was still recovering from the suicide of a friend and the death of a family member. But, eventually I mustered my MCAT motivation, I realized I either ‘sick’ or I wasn’t — so I decided to move along with applying to medical school as planned. And since, all of this was unsure, I decided to keep it to myself. And so, I didn’t tell my friends or family.

I’ve been close to death several times in my life with asthma, I’ve even slipped into death, only to be revived (a story for another day). But, this was different for me, because with asthma it was always an immediate emergency, this time it was like an invisible timer. I thought about my life, my friends, and how much they meant to me. As the weeks went on, and we couldn’t find a reason for my liver enzymes still, I decided to use the best of my apparent dwindling time: spending time with friends, calling people I haven’t seen in years, and trying to be a better son and brother. I’m not used to expressing my emotions openly, so I told them good bye in my own way, in the guise that in the future I’ll be moving away to medical school if admitted. I went to eat with my research mentor, told him how much he meant to me. All along, I kept studying for the MCAT — no, it’s better to say I can’t myself occupied by studying for the MCAT.

Fortunately, one day, I remembered that I have a degree in Exercise Physiology (i.e. physiology under extreme conditions) and a minor in Physiology, so I decided to go out on a limb and do some research using Pubmed about liver insults — this time focusing purely on the exercise physiology. I recalled learning that the liver most process the products of muscle break down, and recycling various energy (potential) molecules. Supporting my hypothesis, I found one paper that explicitly expressed that research investigators should be wary of recruiting subjects who are exercising vigorously because their liver enzymes will be much higher than normal (4-5x more, like mine).

I then decided to put a mental bet on my self diagnosis, it was either I was right or I’m in a heap of trouble. I then emailed the paper, and my reasoning by email to the physician — I even thought of a way to test for my diagnosis: stop exercising and watch my liver enzymes. If they dropped I was right and I’m going to live (for now), if they still elevated I’d best get my last will and testament in plus life insurance. He emailed me back almost immediately, he liked my idea and decided to try it. Good news: I didn’t have cancer.

And let me tell you, I’m pretty happy I was right — but, you never really know when life will just “happen”, so expect a lot of curve balls. I went onto take the MCAT, and did well enough to get in, though I never expected to lose so much time from studying with trying to study my own case.

Reach me at twitter @doctororbust



Pressing the Submit Button – #AMCAS

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Certainty — there is such an irony in the word “certainty”, as few things in life are ever certain. 


Though, there is some overarching truths inherent to every premeds journey, or certainties: prerequisites, volunteering, and some type of leadership and/or some other types of enrichment experience. And, again we edge closer to certainty as we mature along our premed journeys’, after all there’s a lot less certainty of a freshman premed continuing on into medical school than a premed senior/post graduate. The reasons are pretty blatant, and don’t need much exploration: the premed journey whittles down a lot of people, regardless of your beautiful mind and/or heart, and by the time you reach the end you’re probably a ‘decent’ applicant if you stuck with it and life didn’t molest you too obtrusively. A lot of great people never make it to taking Organic Chemistry, the gnarled and tattered survivors go onto take the MCAT. The socially emaciated, #MCATPTSD desiccated husks of people,  formerly known as a premed, then goes onto enter the must brutal game of musical chairs i.e. the AMCAS. At that time, if you chose to apply then you are now an applicant — this nebulous “friend” zone where you’re still a premed, but you are “certainly” a premed after you’ve pressed the SUBMIT button on the AMCAS.

Before pressing the submit button, early in a premed’s career the title “premed” is one often wore in honor. For the medical school applicant premed, this is probably the most fearful time in their life, and the title suddenly bears great weight. In fact, there’s likely a strong correlation to how many people expect you to become a doctor your perceived Atlas boulder on your neck. Indeed, I’d argue there’s even some type of transcendental comradery that is threaded between applicants and accepted medical students (and even doctors), a mutual respect borne through similar experience regardless of outcome.

Let me assuage your concerns, it’s perfectly normal to be apprehensive about applying to medical school, there is no shame in it. Indeed, it’s better to have every doubt you can conjure up prior to being accepted into medical school — and even then the doubts probably won’t stop stirring. This is probably especially true if your parents have geared you up to be a premed since you were a fetus because this is likely the first time you realized the destination of your train tracks. There was little certainty when you started your career as a premed that you’d end your undergraduate career as one (if traditional), and there is little certainty that when you press submit you’ll get in. And really, there is a maturity involved in re-evaluating your life, after all the true path to medicine forged you own way.

But, there is one sure way to be certain you won’t get in, by sabotaging yourself (perhaps unconsciously) by putting in a low grade application effort on the AMCAS or self-selecting out. And its fine to decide to do something else, this is in no way a failure, the most important thing is that you consciously choose and don’t let the sands of fate do as they may.

Though know there is one certainty: the only way to get into medical school is to apply to medical school.



Hang in There Premed

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You’ll get by — if you can just hang on.

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All premeds at some point become aware of the explicit requirements necessary to play on par with other medical school applicants. Namely, those are the medical school prerequisites. I won’t rehash the prerequisite talk; I mean after all, if you’re here you already are knee deep in it. You’ll demonstrate your understanding for the medical field by volunteering – you won’t really be very useful, but that feeling of inadequacy will drive you. There’s also a good chance that if it weren’t for your parents bank investments, and/or financial aid (community investing in you), a dwindling savings (you investing in yourself), you’d perish in a back alley. Despite all of this, you’re likely either employed at a minimal rate or volunteering just to gain more experiences. You’ve done this much, good job! Eventually, you might have the fortunate of developing arthritis as a pipette master in a lab, all of course an opening salvo to prove your self-worth so you might be asked to be a co-investigator with a professor. Oh yes, one more thing, be sure to take the hardest entrance exam ever created, the MCAT.

Somehow, being a premed and accomplishing things, acing courses you likely forgot how it felt to fail. Do you remember the pain of not doing well? Fret not my friends; if you haven’t tasted the acerbic smell of defeat then the AAMC has something in store for you, the MCAT.

You will bomb the MCAT.  It’s just up to you to decide when you bomb it: just try have it occur during your early practice tests.  

And that’s really what this article is about, how to recover after doing horrible on the MCAT. As I said before, everyone bombs it – you just want to make sure you’re bombing it early, and not later e.g. test day. Let’s put the “real deal” into context that means you’ve paid for the MCAT and/or have a future date in mind and you’re locked into a study schedule. There is no substitute for that sense of urgency. That’s really all there is to it. Bring up the MCAT to any medical student or doctor and you’ll typically draw a metered chuckle, followed by a quick grimace as they reminisce about their MCAT experience. It’s a horrible exam for everyone, even if you do well it’s not a very pleasant experience, in fact you couldn’t pay me to re-study for the thing now that I’ve passed it. Let me be clear, studying for the MCAT is unlike anything you’ve ever done before. It’s designed to be mind-numbingly hard, but do able with enough time and effort.  So, promise me you won’t let your first set of practice scores get you down, I promise you it’s terrible for all of us, don’t let others make you think everyone aces it on the first shot or two. But, if you only take a few MCAT exams then you’d better expect that bombing to be a campaign of terror. There caveat, oh there’s always one, don’t blow your official AAMC practice tests either as you only get so many.

 Why are you doing this?

That’s a good question to ask yourself, in fact, it might be the first time you’ve ever asked yourself this. Now, if you aren’t at the phase of taking the MCAT yet, you probably think what I say is blasphemy, but be aware there is a period of darkness. The MCAT is so hard that you might find yourself reevaluating your future, regardless of your intelligence; it’s seen it many times before.  But, rest assured, while it is hard and you might even doubt yourself along the way, I haven’t met a medical student or a doctor who hadn’t at one time experienced the same thing. Use that bad MCAT practice score (real score) to fuel your hunger for medical school, it’s indicative that you still have room for growth, and if you’re not growing you’re likely atrophying – or so we must tell ourselves to push on.

Study on premed.