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Choosing the Right Medical School

Medical schools are looking for the brightest and best premed students that are best fit for their program’s mission. Premed students likewise are searching for the best medical school which will allow them to thrive academically as well as in other endeavors.  The school you choose will not only dictate your academic path but will also lead to lifelong relationships. These are a couple of factors which one should keep in mind when researching and deciding on a medical program.

  1. Geography: This will be highly dependent on the type of person you are. Medical school can be very stressful. If you have very supportive family and hometown friends that will understand why you’re often absent from events, then consider staying close to home but if the opposite is true then run for your life.  I have seen this go both ways. A friend of mine cried her way through her first year of medical school because she was homesick and yet another friend of mine nearly flunked out of medical school due to distractions from family and friends. If you are a disciplined and independent individual, you can consider an out of state school, but remember you will likely have to pay a higher tuition than your state public institution.  My personal choice was to attend a local medical school for lower costs and familiarity. Subsequently, I travel for fellowship which allowed a change in scenery and served as a great growing experience.
  1. School Ranking: Attending a highly ranked school will certainly look good on any resume and increase your chances to enter a competitive residency. Many of these programs will offer you great opportunities to do cutting edge research and learn from some of the top physicians the country has to offer. At the same time, you can also become very competitive after attending a less prestigious program if you work hard, make very good grades, and especially if you earn entrance into the distinguished Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Society. Be realistic when applying to these highly ranked programs. Compare your MCAT score and GPA to the average acceptance scores at the schools you are interested in. Do not let these scores prohibit you from applying since these averages include numbers below and above that number. Be sure to research the residency match rate for the schools you are interested in.
  1. Class Size: Small classes typically have about 50 students (Mayo- 53) while large classes may have up to 300 students (UIC- 315). Your experience in undergrad has probably allowed you to see if you do better in a smaller, intimate setting or in a larger, more diverse group. It is very important that you feel comfortable at your program so the student and faculty make-up may be important in your decision.
  1. Costs: We can all agree on this one. Minimizing costs is a plus. Medical school tuition can be expensive but don’t forget to figure in those living expenses. Your cheapest option would most likely be to attend an in-state, public institution close to home. This was my choice and I came out with a lot less debt than many other students since I did not need to pay for flight tickets during holidays and I was always home for mom’s good cooking. Private schools do tend to offer more scholarships so do not let this be a deal breaker. Seek and you will find.
  1. Curriculum: Spend some time researching prospective schools’ curricula. Most schools will provide similar content which will prepare you for your board exams and to become a competent physician. Schools will vary on the organization of the material. Some will use a block schedule (one course at a time) and split these into organ system (cardiology, endocrinology, pulmonology, etc.) or into subjects (pharmacology, anatomy, histology, etc). The first two years (preclinical years) of medical school are spent in class with didactic lectures. Some programs integrate patient care during this time and some offer problem-based learning (small student groups). Make sure to check if class attendance is mandatory. Some students do better if forced to attend lecture while others do better studying on their own.

 

Applying to Medical School – 5 Must Do’s

Year by year, medical school admissions is becoming more competitive.  According to AMCAS data, in 2006, the average gpa for matriculating into medical school was a 3.64.  In 2016, the average gpa has increased to 3.7 and it will likely continue to rise.  Students have more leadership roles, spend more time overseas, and are all around great candidates.  The unfortunate thing is that we have more qualified students than we do positions to fill.  So, if a 4.0 and 528 are no longer guarantees you admission into medical school, what strategies can be used when applying?  Here are 5 tips.

1) Identify your target schools early. This is pretty basic and most premedical students do a good job at it.  Nowadays, it is very easy to find information about your various medical schools online (e.g. PreMed StAR).  Be sure to use all of your resources to learn as much as you can about your schools of interest.  Every applicant should try to have 3 categories of schools to apply to.  Reach schools (school that have gpa/mcat/extracurriculars averages better than the applicants), reality schools (your credentials match well with the schools’ averages), and safety schools (your credentials are better than the averages).

2) Network with recruiters from your target schools. Students very often overlook this essential aspect of the application process.  Recruiters are your friends!  They want to be! Their goal is to find you, and you should make it easy for them.

3) Ensure you application is flawless. Did you catch the typo in the preceding sentence? One flaw, can ruin your credibility and cause an admissions committee member to toss your application out.

4) Submit your application early. Many medical schools will admit students on a rolling admissions basis.  This means that you can be accepted to that medical school even before some students have applied or interviewed.  So in theory, by applying early, you have less competition.  If possible, submit your application within 2 months of the application opening.

5) Be on your best behavior before, during, and after the interview process. It is very important to understand that on interview day; everyone is interviewing you! The receptionist, the medical students, the waiter, the chauffeur, oh, and of course the doctor.  Word gets around fast, so if you mistreat any one of these individuals, count yourself out!

These 5 suggestions will not guarantee that you gain admission into medical school, but doing them is a lot better than not doing them.  The playing field is more and more competitive each year so all applicants need to stay on their ‘A’ game!

The Healthy Premed!

It’s no secret that the premed journey is rough. The stress of exams, managing time, and making life decisions can take a huge toll on you. Furthermore, these things all happen during some of the most important years of your life.  It is during this time that you will be away from your parents and begin to establish your own foundations. You will pick up habits (good and bad) that will ultimately make or break you. There is so much information out there pertaining to how premeds should study, how to do well on exams, and how to get into medical school, but we often neglect what is arguably the most important aspects of the premedical student’s life, his or her personal health.  Bad health equals bad future!  Here are a few suggestions to help you stay healthy:

  1. Maintain a healthy diet. Multiple sources predict on average a college freshman will gain somewhere between 10-20 lbs in that year. If you are like me during college, your diet probably consists of ramen noodles, ravioli, hot pockets, pizza, sandwiches, and plenty of soft drinks. This is a very unhealthy diet. It will serve you well to begin adapting to a more balanced diet, even if you have to set aside a little time to incorporate this. I suggest you be very thoughtful while grocery shopping. If you have access to a stove, spend 1 or 2 days in the week preparing a cooked meal and save your left overs in the freezer or in Tupperware for the week. Buy nuts, granola bars, and fresh fruits for snacks. Limit or avoid soft drinks all together. Taking a stance on this will not only improve your health but also allow you to set a strong example for others around you as well as for your future patients.
  1. Work out. It is recommended by the World Health Organization that adults age 18-64 should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or an equivalent combination of this. Doing this can improve heart and lung function, keep bones strong, and reduce risks of noncommunicable diseases and depression. I have always found this to be one of the best stress relieving techniques out there.
  1. Pay mind to your mental health. This unfortunately is one of those areas that has been swept under the rug for far too long. There remains a stigma that keeps this issue from being dealt with appropriately. Doctors and med students are human beings who witness emotional loss of lives and failures which may lead to PTSD. Doctors offer a lot of time and emotional sacrifices for their patients day-in and day-out and some may feel this is not reciprocated. This is partly why the depression, divorce and suicide rates are higher for medical doctors than the general population. I recall two medical students taking their lives while I was a student. So does this trend hold for premedical students? Unfortunately, it does. Based on a study by Fang et al. looking at 647 premedical students at University of California, San Diego, there was a significantly increased prevalence of screened positive major depressive disorder in premedical students than their non-premedical counterparts. The pressures placed on you by friends, family, and even yourself can be overwhelming at times. Remember to take time for yourself, take care of your health and get professional help if you need it. You must be your biggest advocate because no one else will know exactly how you feel.
  1. Don’t do drugs. I cannot stress this enough. It is again very unfortunate that statistically, doctors are more likely to suffer from substance abuse problems significantly more than the general population. We are much more vulnerable to this due to easier access to these potentially harmful agents but this dependence tends to start while in college. Drugs are anything that alters your normal state. This does include alcohol in excess, stimulants, and sedatives. The pressure of school can get to many students so much that they eventually begin to rely on external agents to function and to sleep. We have all seen the TV show’s Dr. Gregory House of House M.D. and his reliance on pain meds to get by. I have witnessed too many students and doctors damaging their futures this way. It would be best not to start any potentially addicting agents unless medically necessary and if so, only while under the care of a medical profession.
  1. Don’t neglect your spiritual health. Often times this is put on the back burner for many premedical students when times get tough. However, I can attest to the benefits of spending time in prayer and attending church service. Sometimes, it is helpful to see past the premedical trees to appreciate how beautiful life is and how grand is the world in which we live!

 

 

 

 

Image Credit Pixabay

Social Media For the Premedical Student

Social media has gradually infiltrated our every day lives and continues to grow every year. There are currently 2.3 billion active social media users [1]. Users of social media check accounts constantly throughout the day. Social media has been instrumental in the success of many people by helping them to self-advertise and by providing information and resources to others. However, the constant feed from the lives of other individuals can become a major distraction. Observing snippets from the lives of other social media users can leave you feeling as if you don’t measure up. We often compare ourselves to those around us. However, comparing your destiny to other individuals’ can cause feelings of disappointment and unworthiness. Do you often wonder why it has taken you longer to achieve the same goals as your peers? What did they do differently? These thoughts constantly creep in and make us lose confidence in our abilities. Nevertheless, you must remember to focus on your goals and not anyone else’s. Your path may be different from your best friend’s. She may get into medical school on the first try, while you may have to wait another year. Should you give up? Absolutely not! In life, although, we may share the same goals, our journeys are often different. We all have different experiences that make us unique and give us a various viewpoints of the world around us. Keeping this in mind, we must avoid the trap of social media and use it to our advantage!  Here are some ways to use social media as a source of encouragement instead of a distraction:

Don’t measure yourself to someone else’s success. Remain focused on your goal. Do not compare yourself to other people. Your road to success may be different but you will achieve your goal, if you don’t give up.

Reach out to the people that you admire on social media. For example, instead of secretly following those that you admire, become active on their social media forums. Everyone wants a mentor, however, the best way to get insider information is to simply ask questions. Many current medical students and doctors recall their pre-med years and are happy to give advice and encouragement.

Limit your time on social media. Just as you manage your time for other areas of your life, do the same with social media usage. Commit to specific times to check your social media accounts. For example, every three hours or 8 am and 8 pm daily. Strategically scheduling social media time helps you to get the most out of the time you spend on social media.

Join social media accounts specifically for pre-meds. Become an active member of a pre-med site like PreMedStAR.com and connect with other premeds. You are likely to meet other students who understand many of the things you are experiencing and have had similar questions to your own. Stay active on the forums and ask questions! Make sure you pay it forward by answering questions posted by other premeds as well.

Stay in your own lane and  don’t give up on your dream to become a physician! Your future patients are counting on you to succeed!

 

To Submit a Blog, Email it to Newsletter@PreMedStAR.com.

Reference: Smith, K., (2016). Marketing: 96 Amazing social medial statistics and facts for 2016. Retrieved from https://www.brandwatch.com/2016/03/96-amazing-social-media-statistics-and-facts-for-2016/

Image Credit: Pixabay

 

How to Choose Your Specialty

Choosing the right specialty is easy right?  Go to medical school, get decent grades, then start a residency in your field of interest.  That’s all there is to it!  WRONG!  There are a few things that are never truly explained to premedical students, one of which is how to choose a specialty. Here are 3 things to consider when choosing your specialty.

  1. Do I like (and are you capable of doing) the bread and butter of the field? Many students are attracted to the “Sexy” parts of certain specialties.  For example, in Pulmonary Medicine, everyone wants to do bronchoscopies and cool procedures.  However, the bread and butter is COPD and Asthma.  Yes, you do get a chance to do the cool stuff, but the majority of your time will be spent doing things that are probably less interesting to you.  The first question you should ask yourself about any field is, “Do I like the bread and butter?”
  2. Are the attendings happy? Once you get in medical school, you will be exposed to residents and fellows more than attendings.  Students often error in decided whether or not they like a specialty by evaluating the happiness of the young physicians who are still in training.  Do NOT do this.  Training is temporary.  Yes, it might be a miserable 3-8 years (depending on how specialized you get) but your life as an attending (a doctor who has completed training) might be much different.  Evaluate the life of the attending, not the trainee!
  3. How much money will you make. Yes I brought up the dollars!  There is a somewhat asinine concept that permeates through medicine and encourages us not to think about money.  “As long as you love what you do, it’s all worth it.”  Well, tell that to Uncle Sam who will be asking you for his loan money back with interest.  As a physician, you have spent a significant amount of time in training and taking on debt, while your age mates (who likely studied less than you and made lower grades than you) have been out making money and building wealth for several years.  Loving your work is great, but that love in and of itself won’t pay back your loans, feed your children, or pay your mortgage.   Remember, it’s the LOVE of money that is the root of all evil, not the money itself.

This about sums up how to choose your field of specialty.  If you like the bread and butter, the money is right, and the attendings are happy, you’ll be a good fit.  Certainly there are other things to consider such as are you good with your hands, and do you prefer to work with people or mostly alone, but three listed items above are a good guideline to get started.

 

 

Image Credit: Pixabay

Addressing Your Doubts

What is holding you back from pursuing a career in medicine? What keeps you from going in 100%? Have doubts creeped into your life and destroyed your premed dream? Is there someone whispering in your ear that you are not good enough or this is the wrong career option for you? There are many misconceptions about doctors and often times these are perpetuated by individuals who have never walked in a doctor’s shoes.  Let’s address some of these.

  1. I am not smart enough. If you can successfully make it through college then you are capable of succeeding in medical school. As much as society places doctors on an intellectual pedestal, many if not most physicians at one point or another also questioned if they were smart enough to become a doctor. Even upon entering medical school, it is very common for new medical students to feel inadequate as though they were somehow selected by mistake. Physicians are regular folks but what tends to separate them is their dedication and hard work ethic. Don’t let this hold you back.
  1. My scores aren’t good enough. This doubt cannot and should not be sugar coated. Getting into medical school is very tough and scores do matter. MCAT and GPA scores are extremely important but they are not the be all and end all for matriculation. We love to root for the underdog who may not have had a great score but came out on top of his or her class. There are plenty of stories like this. If medicine is what you want to do for the rest of your life then you must proactively find a way to get there even if you must take a couple of detours. Consider a post-baccalaureate program, graduate school, or repeating your MCAT. If medicine is your ultimate goal then the extra time and effort it will take you should be well worth it. PreMed Star is now a novel way to develop a more holistic score and a chance to increase your exposure. Take advantage of this opportunity.
  1. I can’t afford medical school. Medical school can be pricey but do not let this discourage you.  As a physician, if you are able to work and do not live beyond your means, you will be okay financially should be able to repay your loans. There are scholarships, grants, and loans available to assist you with costs. Be proactive and seek out these opportunities. There are also opportunities for free education through MD/PhD programs. You may also investigate loan repayment programs through the military, federal programs, or practicing medicine in underserved areas. When you finally do begin to practice, a huge chunk of your loan may be paid off through a stipend or bonus if negotiated well in your contract.
  1. Doctors work too hard. You do need to know what you are getting into. It is true that as a physician you will most likely work very hard during your training as well as during practice but the same can be said about many other professions that offer less job satisfaction and pay much less. You also need to understand that this is dependent on the specialty you chose to enter. Some physicians take call while other don’t.  Some will arrive to work very early in the morning for rounds and leave late in the evening while others work a 40 hour week. More and more, doctors are getting bombarded with paperwork and nonclinical duties but there still remain many pluses that still make this a great profession at the end of the day.
  1. It’s too late. Currently, the average age for entering medical students is 24. However, more and more students are entering medical school at later stages in their lives. This may actually be beneficial to them since many programs appreciate students with diverse backgrounds and years of “real world” experience. The wisdom, experience, and resilience you bring as a mature applicant can carry you a long way. It is never too late to get started.

T’was The Night Before MCAT!

T‘was the night before MCAT, when all through my mind,

Not a law could be remembered, not even Einstein’s.

I read and then re-read, my last minute cramming,

But rather instead, my brain kept on jamming.

On practice exams, my scores weren’t so great,

So now you can see, why I’m up studying so late.

Medical school is my destiny and fate,

So I’m praying this all-nighter, will get me a 528!

Take a moment and breathe!  Just think, in 24hrs, it’ll all be over.  It is quite possible that this is the most nervous you have ever been.  The night before that dreaded MCAT is one you may always remember.  So, how should you approach it?

  1. Do NOT study after 5pm. You have to know when enough is enough.  Hopefully, by this point in time, you’ve studied for several hundred hours in preparation.  Yes, there will always be something more that you can learn, but the time spent learning those few last minute details is likely not worth as much as the relaxation time lost.
  2. Choose your dinner wisely. Some of you will have some legitimate “night before” jitters.  These jitters can make you nauseous and queasy.  Eating a little too much grease might be the one thing that tips you into a night hunched over the toilet.  Also, know your body!  If you are lactose intolerant, don’t have a bowl of ice cream!
  3. Go to bed 20 minutes early. It is extremely difficult for many premedical students to sleep well.  You’ll toss and you’ll turn.  You’ll stare at the ceiling and count sheep.  You’ll wake up and look at the clock to make sure you haven’t overslept.  Those extra 20 minutes
  4. Set an extra alarm. Read number 3 and you’ll be able to appreciate the possibility of sleeping through your normal alarm.  We’ve all heard the horror stories; you know, the ones about the power going out, or the student setting their alarm an hour late.  Cover yourself by setting an extra alarm, and if possible, get one that is battery powered.
  5. Say a prayer!  Hey, it never hurts to get a little extra help!

The funny thing about the MCAT is that at the moment, it seems like the most important thing in your life, and it just might be!  However, when you are wearing that short white coat in a few years, then the long coat a few years later, nobody, not even you, will care about your MCAT.  So, although it might be the night before MCAT, there’s no need to fret!  If you’ve worked hard up until now, you’ll be okay!

 

Image Credit Pixaby

 

Why a 4.0 and 528 Won’t Get You Into Medical School!

RejectedSo you’ve busted your butt through undergrad to get all A’s and the highest MCAT score ever!  Done deal right?  You’re good to go! Every medical school in the country will want you!  WRONG!  On the contrary, you very well might have set yourself up to be scrutinized as if you are applying to join the CIA.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, the author makes an astute observation.  For many things in life, it is not necessary to be the best at that specific task, but rather you only need to be good enough.  To be a successful physician, you need an IQ of at least 115.  If you have that IQ, your potential to perform well as a doctor is just as good as the person with a 140.  So what does this mean for the medical school application?  A 4.0 student is not necessarily going to get in before the applicant with a 3.8.

Many admissions committee members default to one of two views when they see the 4.0/528 applicant.  View one, this student is phenomenal and there is nothing else to be said.  View 2, this student must have no life.  There are countless of students from across the nation who could get all A’s if they did nothing but study all day.  There is a direct correlation! Study more, get better grades.  Now, I do not want you to misunderstand what I am saying, good grades are great.  However, just as much as the student with a low gpa needs to demonstrate that they excel in other areas, the 4.0 student must do the same.

Holistic!  This may be the hottest word in today’s premedical community.  You must find a way to be a well-rounded student.  So if that means that you get a 3.8 but have the opportunity to work as a scribe, considering doing so rather than getting a 4.0 with no meaningful extracurricular activities.  So, to answer the proposed question: Why won’t a 4.0 and 528 get you into medical school?  It’s quite simple; that student has not demonstrated that he or she is more than numbers.  Get a 4.0, get a 528, but be sure to show them that you are more than numbers!

 

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Top 5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Applying to Medical School

This is the question that every premed student must answer. It is the automatic query that follows after you have informed someone of your future goal to become a doctor. It is also the question many med school interviewers will ask in an attempt to gain their first impression of you.

“Why do you want to be a doctor?”

Everyone who poses this question has their own intention behind it. Your follow-up answer will be very telling. I do not believe there is one answer which will satisfy everyone but it is important to know your audience and understand motives behind them asking you this question so you do not fall into any traps. Let’s dissect a few of these motives.

  1. Are you doing this for yourself or for someone else?  Warning! Be true to yourself and make sure you are doing this for you. The medical journey is not an easy one but it can be enjoyable. I have crossed paths with medical students and even medical doctors who remain bitter or quit because medicine is not what they truly wanted to do with their lives in the first place. Don’t get me wrong, being a doctor is an amazing career but when the sleepless nights come around, knowing you are doing it for yourself (not your parents, your spouse, or anyone else) will help carry you through the storms.
  1. Do you know what you are getting into? I do not believe anyone fully knows what they will encounter in medical school but it is good to have a basic understanding of how you can achieve this goal and challenges you will face. Have you set goals for when you will take your prerequisites and MCAT exam, how you will afford your school, or know what age you will be at completion of your training? You do not need to know the details at this point but you should know the basics of anything you are truly serious about.
  1. Are you passionate about this? Your passion for medicine can easily be conveyed through your response to this question. If you are passionate about medicine you will likely also be passionate in providing this answer. When you are excited about something your body language tends to show while your answers tend to be free-flowing and authentic. Give it some thought but allow your passion to speak for you. The listener will appreciate this.
  1. Why not another career? You will get this follow-up question anytime you give the infamous answer, “because I want to help people”. You can help people by being a nurse, or a teacher, or working at a fast food restaurant. Why be a medical doctor instead of a physician assistant or nurse practitioner who cares for patients?  Make sure you know the difference.
  1. Is this an attainable goal for you? The pessimistic and realistic questioner will automatically think of your weaknesses. This may be one’s financial limitations, GPA, MCAT score, personal responsibilities, or lack of role models. They may doubt you initially but how you answer this question may allow them to understand that you have thought about this already and have a way around these potential weaknesses. It will be beneficial to know how to turn your weaknesses into your strengths.

 

By Dr. Daniel – PreMed StAR Blogger

To Blog With PreMed StAR Email Newsletter@PreMedStAR.com

Top 5 Premed Don’ts For Your Personal Statement

Your medical school personal statement is one of the most important components of your application. This short essay can be the deciding factor as to whether or not you will spend the remainder of your life practicing medicine. To be honest, most personal statements will be similar enough that they’ll fit right in with the rest. There will be a handful that standout above the majority, and if you can be in that handful…great! However, there will be a larger number that standout in a bad way. Your first priority is to make sure you are not in the “bad” bag! Here are the top 5 Don’ts for your personal statement.

1) Don’t Turn Your Resume Into an Essay. It is amazing how many premedical students simply transcribe their resume into paragraph form, then add an introduction and conclusion section. Read over your personal statement and if this is what you’ve done, you might as well start re-writing it now. Medical school applications have a specific section for your resume, and it is not the personal statement portion. It is okay to select one or two key of your high accomplishments to include in your essay, but please take caution not to go overboard!

2) Don’t Exclude Transition Statements. Admissions committee members read a lot of personal statements. To say the least, the essays can become somewhat mundane. In order to decrease the pain they face in reading so many, applicants can help them out by writing a ‘smooth’ essay. Transition statements are key in making this happen and cannot be overemphasized. Don’t jump trivially from one paragraph to another, but rather make sure you maintain good flow throughout. Your personal statement does not need to be a Pulitzer literary work of excellence, but it should be readable.

3) Don’t Be Impersonal. It’s called a personal statement for a reason. Medical schools would like to know how you, [Your Name Here], can make your potential classmates better. In order for them to determine this, it is critical that they get a good idea of the real you, the personal you. Don’t be reluctant to tell your tear jerker story, or to share real life struggles which you have had. Remember, the struggle is not what determines your success, it’s always the way you responded to it!

4) Don’t Embellish. Many students work hard to be standout students during undergrad and once they reach the application process, they come to a false realization that there is “nothing special” about them. This leads to embellishments in their personal statement. All of a sudden, a student’s minor flesh wound injury as child when he or she fell off a bicycle turns into a near death motorcycle experience. Don’t do this! If you get an interview with that school, it is likely they will ask about the most interesting aspects of your personal statement, and you don’t want to be caught sweating! Lying is a major Don’t!

5) Don’t Forget to Have 5 People Proofread It! Perhaps the biggest mistake, yet easiest to avoid, is leaving typos and grammatical errors in your personal statement. If you want to know the quickest way to get your application tossed out, then submit an essay with errors in it!

 

Image Credit Pixaby.

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