Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Things I Learned Applying to Medical School

1. The MCAT is hard.

I’m fairly good at test taking. I’m also what you’d call an overachiever. In third grade, my English teacher gave us extra credit for every book report we turned in. I turned in 20 book reports at a time. She stopped grading them after a while.

But the MCAT was another animal. 

Yes, a shark
You’re basically told from the beginning of your pre-med career that if you don’t score well on the MCAT, you can kiss going to medical school goodbye. Furthermore, the MCAT is one of the most difficult graduate school exams, covering four courses of science material (and it’s about to get longer and more difficult in 2012). There is always going to be something you don’t know on the MCAT. Add to the mix that I was working full-time and taking courses while studying for the MCAT…

I choked.

Fortunately, the medical school that accepted me overlooked the minor hiccup of my score (30R for those wondering) in light of my undergraduate GPA.  My advice to those of you taking it now is to relax. It is not the end of the world if you have to take the MCAT twice; I know many physicians who choked on their first attempt. But you probably won’t have to take it twice if you begin the test calm, with a good knowledge base, and a snack in your cubby for a drop in blood sugar.

2. Find a good advisor.

Being a non-traditional applicant, I had three different advisors during my three years of preparing for applications.

My first advisor was incompetent. Our conversations went something like this:

Me: “What do you think of my personal statement?”
Him: “Looks fine.”
Me: “Anything I should work on? Did you like the intro? What about the transitions?”
Him: “I think it’s alright.”
Me: “What do you think I should do to improve my application? Should I volunteer more? Get a research position maybe?”
Him: “You could do that.”
Me: “But do you think I need it? Would it be useful for my application?”
Him: “It’s up to you.”

But the worst thing was that he lost two of my letters of recommendation.

Lost. Two. Of. My. Letters.


Because I really wanted to bother my recommenders for a letter…again. I almost hyperventilated every time I thought about this advisor. Consider that he was in charge of my entire committee letter to medical school. *shudders*

My second advisor was afraid to tell me the truth. The reality of my application was that my MCAT score was very low for the schools I was applying to. I candidly asked her if I should take the test again, and she told me “No”. But I really should have. Out of 15 applications, I only received one interview.

My third advisor was amazing. He took one look at my application and pin-pointed what I needed to do to improve. He told me that my MCAT score would likely not get me accepted, and he told me of some research opportunities I should pursue. In March, when I got the surprise interview from my school, he scheduled an immediate mock interview with me, where he grilled me for an hour and a half on everything I hadn’t anticipated. I believe he is a large reason why I aced the interview.

3. The interview is fun.

If you get an interview, congratulations! You’ve made it through the first round. At this point, your acceptance is yours to lose. The best advice I received from an admissions committee member was to realize that they are choosing the doctors that will treat their children. You’d be picky too.

When I arrived at the school for interviewing, I realized they were trying to impress me. This was an unexpected twist for me; hadn’t I just spent three years convincing a medical school to give me the time of day? We were wined and dined (lots of candy!), given a tour and endless presentations on how amazing their medical school was.

I’d done so much prep for the interview; I was ready for anything. I had highlighted sheets of our state abortion laws, information on clinics specific to the medical school, bullet points about tort reform, and I’d written out all of my answers to questions like, “Why do you want to be a doctor?” I was so prepared that it allowed me to enjoy the day. Heading into the interview, I was nervous for about 10 seconds. Then, I hit the ground running and had a fantastic time. Both my interviewers were really interested in the non-traditional part of my application. I had a somewhat incredible family history, so we wound up discussing this for a good part of my interview. With one of my interviewers, we discussed which specialty would fit me the best, and he told me about how he’d give tough love to his interns by assigning them a patient who was going to die imminently. Something to look forward to I guess?

4. Getting into medical school is hard.

I went to a good undergraduate school, majored in computer engineering, had an excellent GPA, had papers published, a career with many awards, volunteer experience up the wazoo and terrific recommendations. I applied in July of 2010 and was only interviewed at 1 of 15 schools I applied to. The bottom line is that there are 50 applicants for every spot in the class. I’d encourage you to make your application as flawless and unique as possible. Don’t give them a reason to deny you. With every submission, letter, essay, statement, make the admissions committee realize how badly they want to get you into their medical school. Above all, don’t get discouraged. Up until April 1st of 2011, I was ready to reapply and re-take the MCAT for another round. Persevere.

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