Often, my motivation to write and my time to do it aren’t in concert. So, sorry I’ve been slacking off on blogging. I’ve traded writing time for doing better in my coursework time. Though, I assume are here for premed stuff — some might even notice it’s just a random dude’s blog. Over the years, because I’m no longer abreast in premed issues and news, I’ve sort of drifted away from premed posts. Neither the less, when I was glancing through my blog stats “search results” (see below) I decided to take a crack at a few premed issues. Out of the interest of time, I decided to chose three:
- premed memory survival strategies for nontraditional
- feeling sad after MCAT
- did horrible on mcat first time
Premed memory survival strategies for nontraditional (premeds)
I’m going to interpret this query as, “Knowing what you know now as a medical student, and thinking back as a premed, what are some strategies for survival?”
Find a mentor – easier said than done, this is super hard, but the pay off is worth it. I sort of flailed about in college, switching majors several times, my interests in subjects would ebb and flow. I would flip-flop between a dedicated student, to taking time off to work and attend school part time. At no point did I think “premed”, that is until I met my mentor. Thinking back at the time, there were several people reaching out to attempt to mentor me, I failed to recognize their efforts of the people who tried. My biggest advice, in this area, is to put yourself out there. Now, being on the reverse side, I’ve tried to reach out to mentor. Sometimes, mentoring has been rather rewarding — it’s been great to give people that little nudge in the right direction into matriculation. A few who I met online this way I’d now even consider friends. However, I imagine like most mentoring relationships, it’s usually not this way. Case in point, my first year of critiquing personal statements for medical school about 1/3 (20 out of the original group of 60) were lost to follow-up. In other words, they just gave up on revising their drafts and fell off the face of the planet. To be fair, I do make very direct critiques, I don’t think it’s useful to waste people’s time being obtuse in a time crunch (aka medical school applications). Negative experiences with mentees may lead to a natural down regulation of a mentors’ willingness to expose themselves to risk. Having use to work at a university, I’ve seen many professors get burned after investing time (and possibly their credibility) into mentees that went AWOL. So, with that being said here’s my advice that I wish I had as a premed:
- Don’t be surprised if someone you want as a mentor is a little reluctant to make a connection with you. First, it may require a brief period of proving yourself, i.e. don’t be astonished if you’re placed on “mentee parole” for weeks if not months. Some people would say to avoid a mentor who takes so long to warm up, there may be some merit to that. However, those slow to engage introverted types are often the commitment types — slower courting periods means time to get to know you prior to committing. I’ve had rather inspirational fast talking mentors totally flop on their commitments — maybe, you can even argue they’re so over-committed that they have no time for one additional commitment.
- Find a counselor who believes in you, but won’t blow smoke up your butt. I’ve had several interactions with assigned college counselors, the first convinced me that I ought to aim a little lower, another without seeing my transcripts projected how I must be doing badly in my courses (I actually had a good GPA). I assume there’s some great college counselors out there, if you know them then stay with them. If you live in a counselor desert, widen your search. Also, there are some counseling services for premeds. As a premed, I’ve never paid for any services, so I can’t make any fair judgment calls. But, I suggest ProMEDeus, only because they were really helpful when I needed some help on how to negotiate for a better financial aid package — a disclosure: I’m biased as I’ve since become friends with one of the CEOs. They’re really good if you’re feeling in the dumps, and just need someone in your corner. Also, though I never paid for her services, the owner of MDAdmit did shoot me some good advice during my application cold feet times. She did write a damn good guide to medical school admittance, arguable if you can’t find a counselor at all then this book (the book link is best found in the link above) will do the job — in my case it did a better job than any counselor.
- Understand that those who are good at getting you through college, or through a project, aren’t necessarily experienced enough to help you make the right “final-quarter” decisions to get admitted into medschool. Yes, everyone wants what is best for you, though it may not seem like it at the time. However, that doesn’t meant that good intentions are met by tangible rewards. At the end of the day, the person who’s most positively or negatively effected by your admittance (or lack thereof) is you. So, remember, at the end of the day it’s you that needs to do whatever needs to get done.
- feeling sad after MCAT
- did horrible on MCAT first time
For this search query, I’m not sure if the person was talking about their practice exam or their final score. For the final exam I was fortunate, I took the test once and never again. However, during my first (timed) practice exam, I remember having the urge to vomit from the stress. Afterwards, during the grading, I recall having a panic attack when I saw how abysmal I had performed. I still remember thinking to myself, “I should give this up…there’s no way I can even get close to 30 [then, getting a 30 was equivalent to getting an average national matriculation score in the new MCAT]. My advice to you, if you haven’t taken the real MCAT yet, is to make sure your worst scores come from your practice.
That being said, I know people in different medical school programs (mine included) where people proclaimed to have bombed the MCAT only to go onto do very well on a re-take. On the other hand, I know people who’ve re-taken the exam numerous times and have yet to break that magical statical threshold. And lastly, I know a minority who have bombed the MCAT, never got that “threshold score” but still found matriculation. Thus, it’s hard to interpret one facet of the application going south, i.e. the MCAT not going so well and perhaps the rest of the application being absolute gold. With that being said, getting a bad MCAT score does close a few doors. The rest of the doors are left slightly ajar, i.e. you can go into them but it just doesn’t seem all that inviting. But really, if you had a bad MCAT you have a few options:
- You decide, score be damned, you’re applying anyways. Cue the 80’s music montage of you training and studying for the MCAT to overcome your circumstances — in the 80’s any challenge was surmountable by a montage. The bad part about the re-take is that you’re re-taking it, and really no one enjoys the MCAT except the people getting paid to administer it. The good part is that, if you do it right, you’ll only be studying for your weak points. I won’t be an “optimism troll” and say that’ll make everything feel better. But, at least you’re learning how to trouble-shoot your short comings on the hardest admissions exam in the solar system [fact!]. And honestly, if you’re admitted into medical school just about none of what you struggled with on the exam will matter. Correction, none of the content you struggled with will matter. However, what will matter is the lessons you took away from the exam, a lot of them are lessons on “how you learn best” combined with learning what academic “hunger” means. Sometimes, what you messed up on was obvious, often it’s not. But, the worst mistake you can make is underestimating what went wrong and overestimating how little you need to do to address your issues.
- If you decided to re-take it, be sure to know why things didn’t go well the first time(s). The worst mistake you can make it not having a humble wake up call, and you decide to reschedule the test ASAP without any real thought about strategy. Statistically, most people get around the exact same score. But, the MCAT isn’t an intelligence barometer, it’s just a test of how well you can take a test. Before, I could give specific ranges and tips, now I can’t because the scores have changed. But, in general, score improvements come from three ends of the spectrum (triangle spectrum-thingy): a) content b) test strategy c) timing. If you’re scoring well below the national average (of all test takers, not necessarily of those who matriculate) then you need to likely work on all three categories, but you’ll have to make some choices in where you can gain the most points — you might need an official course. If you’re scoring at the national average or slightly above, but not quite at matriculation score, then it’s probably not a content review problem from what I hear — a class would probably help you for testing strategy, self studying would also be reasonable. If you’re scoring at the matriculation score during the practice exams, but always fall short during the real deal, it’s definitely not a content problem and more of a test strategy/timing one — don’t waste time reviewing content all over again, instead handle what’s messing with you on test day. In general, at some point you probably know a lot more content then you think you do, it’s just a matter of learning how to apply it in the MCAT format.
- You decide to re-take after some time off. Time off can either make you stronger or weaker, all depending on how you decide to rationalize. Some would see time off as a pure negative experiences, an experience where they only get further from their goal. Others, find a more optimistic interpretation, “If you still want to go to medical school then you really mean it”. I fall into the latter category. It’s very easy to fall into a groove, i.e. be gun-ho about being a premed when everything seems in sync. It’s a lot harder, I think, when you fall out of sync and you realize at the end of the day it doesn’t matter if you go or not to anyone else but you. Yes, you parents and close ones may nag you, or you may project their inquisitiveness has nagging — when it comes to goals, when not taken to the extreme, it’s typically better to have tiger parents than cuddly ones. But, one day your friends and family who prodded you will be gone, you’ll be alone with your decision. There’s a lot of ups-and-downs to medical education (and education continues well into practice), it’s a lot easier to deal with my bouts of medschool dumps knowing that I own my decision. So, if you need time off, don’t take it as a failure. Go get some industrial experience, find love, travel, take a larger role in your community, focus on being happy and adding good memories into your reminiscence savings account. If you decide to revisit the idea of medschool then you’ll be very happy you had time to address all of this, once you’re in medschool your time belongs to medical education.
- You decided to not re-take it. Maybe you have an inside application slot, maybe you prefer to wrestle crocodiles with nothing more than a little elbow-grease. Whatever your reasons, it’s yours to make. Despite my moniker, doctor or bust, I don’t think anyone should actually have a do or die mentality about medical school. Going to medical school, trying to get in, and even finishing all depend on how happy you are with your decisions. And although I think you shouldn’t let this one exam hold you back, deciding to do something else is always a good idea if it means you’re happier in the end. If you’re waiting, and hoping, that medical school will turn life around you’re probably in for a big surprise. Trust me, medical school isn’t a place people go to have their self esteem or outlook on life repaired — if anything, medical school and medical education is exceptional at bringing all of your self-doubts and personal misgivings to light.
The big take-away is that you shouldn’t let me, or your score, talk you out of medical school. But, be realistic and pragmatic about your own situation. A few years ago, when I was actively editing people’s personal statements, I stumbled onto a lot of premeds who’d easily get in if they just had some time off to address extra-premed problems: bills (some premeds have a large role in supporting the household, so missing a salary means immediate sufferings of those around us), family illnesses (some suddenly become primary care givers to their siblings), financial (it’s a rigged system). Yes, some people overcome all of these, go onto right self-help books, and perhaps appear in Oprah. But, it’s stupid to assume that a “meat-grinder” is broken because a few pieces make it through the blades unscathed. So, sometimes taking a break to re-evaluate or to reset your foundations is the best you can do.
It’s 2015, there is now the new MCAT, good luck to all of the new generation taking it. It’s something we all go through, so no matter how you do it’s a feat that you’re taking it. A lot of people start off as premeds, and then perhaps find something else that suits them better. But, people who take the MCAT have pretty much signed the premed contract with their blood. It’s a surreal experience when it eventually hits you that you’re be sitting for the exam a few weeks, and it will literally help shape your destiny. I took mine a few years back, a two years before I applied to medical school so I was one of the last to have the essays included. They eventually removed the essay portion, it was a pain to interpret if it even meant anything. Besides that, there are different forms of communication, and perhaps speed writing essays isn’t the most useful metric for who’ll make a good doctor. Personally, I liked the essay portion because it was a nice intermission between more rigorous sections. At the time, I was a paid contributing writer, so I didn’t practice essays for the MCAT. So, because I’ve never attempted them before it felt less draconian and repetitive as reading passages and clicking answer selections.
Though, I remember having a terrible week coming into the MCAT, including the night before the exam. Somehow, I had angered the MCAT gods that week, that night before dogs across my neighborhood barked from about 3:30-6 AM. So, instead of sleeping in for the MCAT, I was watching the History channel (this was way back when the history channel actually showed history, and MTV already had lost interest in music etc). During my exam, I was tired, delirious, and just ready to plow through the MCAT so I could go to a bar and celebrate my last day seeing the MCAT. If I think back about one of my essays, I was so giddy, I recall I wrote about hamburgers. When I finished the exam, for a brief second, I thought about not sending my score as you have that option. But, I thought, “NEVER AGAIN!”, and I pressed submit. I always feel lousy after exams, even if I’m prepared. A month later, I found out my independent dual readers at the AMCAS liked my hamburger rhetoric and I received a reasonable ‘matriculating score’, and I’m very proud I wrote about hamburgers. You’ll have your own experience, including some bad days and good days.
The old MCAT was around for over 20-years, and this allowed for the AAMC to gather a lot of data about correlation (but not necessarily causation) of the data. The old MCAT had a maximum score of 45, with 3 sections each worth 15 points, and for most of the exam’s shelf-life an essay. For all people who take the MCAT, the national average was about 24 points. The average matriculant for US MD programs had gradual creep up, from about 29 to 31 towards the end of the exam when message boards, tutors, and prep companies had the MCAT down to a science (no pun intended). Please note that because we’re talking only of averages we’re throwing out a lot of higher or lower scores that go into medical school and did just fine, an average score and a person’s score are not the same thing. We survived the MCAT, I can only imagine how those before felt with their paper test (I like paper tests). But, one thing is certain you’ll survive the new one, good luck and do your best!
At the end of the day, it’s just part of your application. So a bad score won’t doom you but a great score won’t buy you an acceptance either.
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.
Applying to medical school is confusing and understandably unfamiliar process, this is where hopefully this blog and your mentors with first hand experience come into play. Unfortunately, not everyone is lucky enough to have a mentor lying around at their disposal. I recently joined the ranks of Student Mentor Network, an advising service created by medical students to help soothe the fierce impact of applications on premeds. As some of you already may know, I was editing and critiquing student’s personal statements (and some secondaries) pro bono this year. Last year I offered to edit/critique medical school personal statements and about 6 people opted in. This year I worked with about 40 people (and a few last year), each person was given three edits maximum, and it worked out fairly well. A large bulk went onto apply to medical school and a fair chunk (statistically speaking) are now interviewing this season. The unfortunate part is that it’s not realistic that I can read over 100 renditions of personal statements while in medical school, not to say it wasn’t enjoyable to see the papers mature — in fact, I asked one applicant to write a guest post after their interview dust settles. After this last wave was over and I started medical school I was certain it wasn’t realistic to keep pumping out edits. After apologizing to future applicants, I asked a few people on Twitter who follow my blog how to make the process more sustainable both for myself and those who wanted to submit. Some suggested I charge with a sliding scale, do crowd sourcing, or other types of creative things.
I procrastinated on a solution for several months as I languished at the thought of charging those who couldn’t afford to apply to medical school never mind another fee stacked onto their plate. A timely email fell into my email box from Student Mentor Network asking if I were interested in acting as a mentor, after I scoped out the site for a bit I noticed the rates were comparatively lower as most advising services charge a few hundred hourly whereas their site ranged from ~$30-$45 per hour. This is not to detract from all services, some services are worth every penny despite being expensive, especially compared to the cost of re-applying. I was intrigued, but being my usual skeptical self, I was not completely won over. So, I exchanged numbers with the owner of the company and we agreed to talk over the phone about the concept. On a weekend between tests we found time to talk, and he explained how he was initially rejected by all schools he applied to despite having competitive stats. He described this experience as eye-opening, learned “how to apply to medical school”, and was subsequently accepted into Johns Hopkins. We both agreed that the medical school application process is rather daunting, what some perceive to be mysterious. Though, once you understand the process it’s rather intelligible, the problem is most people only gain an understanding of the proper way to apply after they’ve already been rejected after a cycle and have forfeited several thousand to application process. So, the setup of Student Mentor Network is that you only receive advising from medical students (those who know what the current application ecosystem is because they just went through it).
So, my plan on how to handle editing/critiquing personal statements will be different from my previous rounds. This year, I will still take some personal statements (with three edits) for free, first come first critiqued. I’ll give priority to those who follow my blog and/or Twitter account. But, this year and from now on I’ll have to cap the number of essays I review depending on my predicated schedule — this next cycle, I’m shooting for 15 people for free and this may expand in the summer. I’ll also still respond to quick questions or lengthy emails as usual, regardless. The rest, or people who want more help can rent my undivided attention per hour via Student Mentor Network. There, we can talk about anything:
- Personal statements
- Building a resume (CV)
- Taking a gap year
- Obtaining letters of recommendation
But really, I encourage you to try to align yourself with a mentor that fits you, maybe I’m not the fit for you. Even if it’s not me you decide on, I’d suggest considering using this website because investing less than 50 bucks is a lot cheaper than finding out you made a fatal mistake upon applying the first time without empirical based advice.
You can find me under Deandre K.
My exams are almost over, just one more to go — they were very hard in case you were curious. A few weeks ago, before the exams, I was invited to have a podcast conversation with Dr. Ryan Gray of Medical School HQ. So, after stripping off my tie from clinical site duty and me frantically trying to remember what my Skype screen name was we finally got down to it. It was sort of surreal, as before applying to medical school I book marked this site because I really enjoyed the content. If you haven’t heard of Medical School HQ, then it’s a good link to add to your favorites list. Here’s their about statement:
MedicalSchoolHQ.net takes the RELEVANT pre med and medical school topics and creates a one-stop shop for you to quickly get the information you need. Follow our current, constantly updating “Pre Med 101″ page for an easy step-by-step guide to your pre medical years. We´re working hard on developing a Medical School 101 for those students going through it right now. We are constantly looking for new ideas that will help YOU. Please let us know what you need to succeed and we will provide it.
MedicalSchoolHQ.net is the work of physicians. This site is here to help medical school applicants guide their way through the admissions process. It’s here to help medical students pick a specialty, aces the board exams and more. We remember how the MCAT and the AMCAS were (and still are) very intimidating and overwhelming for anybody wanting to apply to medical school. We remember how the USMLE seems to be the make or break test to get you into the residency of your choice. Let MedicalSchoolHQ.net be your hub of information to simplify the process.
My podcast interview was their 95th installment, I haven’t listened to it myself because I cringe at the thought of hearing myself speak (haha). But, if you’re interested in listening and learning some private details about my experience as a nontraditional medical school student please check out:
“Could you bring me some information on what type of degree a cook can earn to further himself in his career.
Hey may I wish you the very best in life, keep going, don’t let nothing get you down if it does don’t let it keep you down very long, keep faith in the lord Jesus + keep growing stronger in God’s holy word”
Before I applied to medical school I was involved in a program called Prisoner Education Program (PEP), I wrote a little about the program before in previous entries [Why I Chose to Go to Prison and All the Things I Learned in Prison]. In this program I received a folded up letter from an inmate that I still keep with me till this day. The main goal of this program was to help reduce recidivism by teaching these people life and job skills, academic counseling and tutoring. In the letter above, this person wanted to know how to become a chef. I joined this group for personal reasons, you see I grew up with only one of my brothers, and well we saw a lot and went through a lot of things together; much of it I’m not really prepared to share yet, but it’s things I stop to deal with everyday and I’m sure it’s the same for him. But, we grew up around crime and violence and death. Indeed, our drill was growing up wasn’t for fires or California earthquakes, instead it was a ‘drop to the ground’ when you hear pops because it meant a local drive by shooting. My brother and I have different fathers and we had a father figure who was likely a gang member at the time, I’m presumptive because I was too young to understand what a gang was and what it meant, who was shot to death in the same drive by drill we had come to know so often. I dreamt of the glint of his blood where the bullets had penetrated for many years, I still think about it now though I don’t remember his name any longer; recently, I learned in class that this was a form of post traumatic stress.
My mother hoped to move us away from this ‘fate’, we packed things up, and with a huge helping hand of welfare and government programs we moved to a new city, one where kids killed people in video games but not in real life. I was young, it was an effective strategy. But, for my brother I wonder if he’d seen too much by that time, because he couldn’t detangle himself from the life we once knew yet didn’t talk about with our new friends. His first brush with the law was when he was under 18, then it was just a vicious cycle after that coupled with my personal illness growing up devouring my mother’s attention of course. I’ve often wondered if things would be different, for him and I, first if we grew up in different neighborhood and if he didn’t have to compete with me for love. So, as a premed I did something odd who was soon going to apply to medical, I decided to spend much of my time in prison and get to know the population and maybe how to save and understand my brother who I’ve always looked up to and who had always protected me, read to me, taught me math and how to read, and disciplined me if I didn’t keep up with my studies.
As my brother fell into more troubles with he law and eventually kicked out of the house, I was fooled into thinking my virtues had kept me safe and out of trouble. That is until I had my first and hopefully last brush with the law taught me how little how the world can be. Despite missing many days in high school due to illness, I did pretty well in high school and got into a university; but when I graduated high school, I attended a community college because I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life yet, my step father who was an engineer at the time encouraged me to go this direction to find myself without breaking the bank with tuition. I was sort of disappointed by the transition, but never the less I kept my grades up and started taking some introductory engineering, math and some drafting courses. I met this girl one day, who was also from my school and we went on a date that week and I drove. During the date, being naive I didn’t bring enough petty cash with me, so I stopped at a local bank in an affluent neighborhood to get money out of my bank. While walking through the parking lot I was stopped by a police car, I was told to stop and put my hands on the hood of their car. A man and a woman team then got out of the car, questioned me several times with the same question. I’d seen enough crime movies to know cops do that to see if your story will stay consistent. I told them the same basic things: I go to X school, I’m interested in engineering, where I lived and I’m on date. Things seemed pretty jovial at first, I hadn’t done anything so I had no reason to fear. Then they handcuffed me and put me in the back of their car, this was about the time people were driving by and staring at me surely wondering what a menace to society I was.
In the back of the police car, on the cold and hard plastic seats, hands crimped by the handcuffs I then asked calmly
“So, why exactly am I here and what do you think I did?”
The police officer responded, there was a bank robbery in X city (a local city I’d never been to by the way) and you fit the description of a
“Black male, with blue jeans and a white shirt”.
I’d always had a defiant, if not flippant response towards things, so I laughed and asked
“Isn’t that like every black guy in the city?”
They both chuckled, and we hung out in the car for an hour or so, my date in my car not being able to see this whole ordeal the entire time. Eventually, they did receive more details and I was realized, but not before another cop driving by yelled something like “Go get some chicken BOY!” — I was returned to my car, un-cuffed and as you imagined my date was pretty much over as was my self esteem.
After that, I never told my parents or my brother, I didn’t even tell my friends really as the whole ordeal was just too embarrassing for me. My grades dropped, I fell into depression and I soon wondered why had I been trying so hard in the first place, as an honor roll high school student, if this was going to be the result in the end? I just about dropped out of college and started working, and became rather reclusive. I soon understood how it felt to be on the other side of the law, and how degrading and violating it felt. I suppose this brings the story back full circle, with how I ended up in prisons voluntarily. No, I don’t think everyone in prison is innocent (though some
probably surely are). But, what I do understand now is that I don’t understand society all that much and that’s why I choose to volunteer in a prison and try to help the convicted change their lives.
When I worked with the inmates, they had a hard time understanding why I’d come and if I could ever understand them with my fancy tie and dress clothes. I then told them my dark secret, and from there we had some collegiality. I recall one man who had been in prison for some time for an offense. We decided to do mock job interviews for them, as part of their life skills course. I still recall the man who weeped at the end, and shook my hand thanking me for giving him his first job interview after I gave him his feedback. Now, my brother is out of jail and he’s heard of the program I participated in, and we have a better understanding of each other and I of myself. Though, I’m not sure what ever happened to the man who wrote me the letter, as the next week that I came to the prison we weren’t allowed in because there was a stabbing that morning. I only hope that he doesn’t think that I abandoned him and although I subscribe to no religion, I do thank him for his best wishes towards me.
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!