10 Things to Get before Your First Semester of Medical School

Originally posted October 2014

I’m almost done with my first semester of medical school!

Thank all the stars.

In celebration that I have 2 weeks left, I’ve come up with a list of the things I should have had the moment I started to make my life easier. These are nothing more than suggestions to anyone who will be starting soon. Remember, it’s a personal experience, and everyone’s will be different, and it’s what you make of it. I just like sharing.

And if you’ve got something to add, please do!

1. Netter’s Anatomy Flash Cards

If you even have the thought that you might want them, just get the stupid cards. These suckers have saved me anytime I have been stuck somewhere and I need to study. You can grab them between breaks, read them on the couch, make games out of them. Anatomy really doesn’t vary in terms of material and everyone takes anatomy.

2. A bunch of those 70 cent notebooks

But Sass, you say, I want the nice notebooks! And you get those lovely book bound notebooks with the heavy paper (if it so pleases you). BUT you’re going to need scratch paper, And yes you  can use regular ruled paper or computer paper. BUT if you aren’t a fan of “holy crap I wrote something important on that paper” situations or if you’re a compulsive hoarder (we all become hoarders in med school) it’s just so much easier to have these cheap-os.

3. Some kind of calender 

I don’t care how you do it, but do something. Use Google Calender, get a planner, put sticky notes everywhere, get a whiteboard calender DO SOMETHING. You may not realize it yet, but medical school says “hey we need every inch of brain power and long term memory you have” so believe me when I say, you will forget so many things if you don’t put it somewhere.
4. A good pillow 

Despite how it might seem, sleep is a necessity, not a luxury. So why make yourself have a harder time getting to sleep? Quick answer, don’t. Do what you can to make it easy for you get whatever amount of sleep you’re getting (every second counts). A great pillow is the simplest solution, though comfy bed sheets or a fluffy comforter can help too.
5. Reliable internet 

First of all, the majority of medical education now functions via the computer, you need internet. Secondly, I know we are living off “future money”, but current you will be a much happier person if your internet doesn’t constantly cut out. Even if you study at school all the time and are never home are you gonna lie and say you don’t lose your mind watching netflix (or any variation) because the video won’t buffer? If nothing else, invest in this.

6. An arsenal of writing utensils 

You will need good pens that make you happy (you need happy). You will also need pens you know you will not miss you never see them again. You will need board markers because whiteboard learning is a gift. You will need highlighters because neon yellow is the calling card for need to know. You will need pencils because we live in a world of mistakes.

7. Vitamin D 

*Disclaimer I am not a doctor (just yet), this is just a suggestion, ask a medical professional to know if you should take any supplements* Do you wanna know a vitamin most people are deficient in? Vitamin D. Do you know where we get Vitamin D from? The sun. Do you want to know how often first year medical students go outside? If you guessed “only when they remember” then you are correct. Some of us are lucky enough to be outside. The rest of us need a bit of help.

8. Snacks

Not just any snack. A good, reliable, filling and hopefully healthy snack. Med students come in three varieties when it comes to eating. Eats like a normal human, eats out a lot, and forgets to eat. I fall into the last category because I just don’t have food with me. So find a snack that makes you fall into the first category .

9. A phone that works and can access wifi

At the minimum, you need this. You need a way to stay in contact with the people who matter to you, to be notified when you’re in the library and their about to be a quiz, when you’re still new to this hole med school thing and you get your first text from a new friend. You’ll want to pull up grades on the fly, or see that they changed a class in your email. Oh, and wait until interview season starts. You just can’t avoid it, you need a phone that gets you connected.

10. Confidence in yourself 

Let me tell you something about medical school. It’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done so far. It’s endless hours of learning words you didn’t even know existed, things you may never see again, and pictures you can’t even grasp. It’s a world full frustration and of feeling like you aren’t good enough, or as good as everyone else. But you are. You made it this far and you can do this. So if there is one thing you do get, let it be this. Let yourself believe you can do it, and that you have the ability to be successful.

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50 Things I learned that Happen Before, During and After the First Medical School Wxam

Posted October 2014

Medical school is the most wonderful, amazing, horrible, gut wrenching experience I’ve ever had. It will get infinitely better and worse all at the same time. Its a whirlwind.

The first big exam in medical school is a stepping stone. Its the start of the medical student actually becoming and actual doctor! It sounds great in theory, but its not such a fairy-tale in reality. So I’m sharing my experiences, advice and a bit of motivation about the first stop in the medical school experience.

My experiences might be different from yours, and that’s how it happens. These are just what I learned from me and my classmates. I just want to share!

Before those days

  • The first time anyone mentions your first exam will be during orientation, your last moment of beautiful freedom.
  • Exam taking in medical school is unlike how you’ve been done testing before. It’s different at every school, but it’s a whole new ride.
  • You will be told you will fail by upperclassmen, instructors, pretty much everyone.
  • It’s easy to think to yourself that it’s just a scare tactic and hey, you don’t need to worry about failing.
  • It’s not that these people are trying to scare you. They are trying to warn you.
  • Just remember that most upperclassmen only want to help you.
  • Okay and maybe scare you just a little.

Ready, Set, Go and never stop

  • The first day of classes will be overwhelming. There are no syllabus days, no get to know the class. It’s go time.
  • Even though it was a lot, the first day won’t seem so bad.
  • After the first week you will feel like you jumped into the deep end and you do not have your floaties on.
  • Try as you might, you will find yourself comparing what you know to what your classmates know and comparing study habits.
  • You realize you have no idea how to study anymore.
  • Don’t worry, neither does anyone else.
  • The next week consist of frantically trying to figure out how to study again.
  • If you find yourself at an impasse, seek out those with experience. Call a friend who’s already a doctor, find a current 2nd, 3rd or 4th year or seek an advisor.
  • Don’t forget about your professors! As the test makers, they really are a good resource. It might be intimidating, but you gotta do what you gotta do.
  • Take breaks! Take a day off! Take a nap. Trust me, you’ll need it.

Dig a little deeper

  • Even if you don’t quite have solid foot hold, you have to keep going. You can’t stop now!
  • Study with everyone you can. No one has allegiances or solid groups yet, and you will find out which people you can work well with, if at all.
  • Many others will assume class is useless. You have to figure that out for yourself though even if you have to suffer some.
  • You will feel tired. Not just tired, but drained. Not just drained, but beaten down.
  • Random bouts of test anxiety will start popping up even if you are still two weeks away from the exam.
  • These episodes will including feeling like you don’t know enough, don’t know anything, and that you might just be going a little crazy.
  • Remember that you can’t know it all, but you can know a lot.
  • After two weeks you will have exhausted every way you know of to keep yourself from being exhausted.
  • The days before the test, you will cycle through “I don’t know everything, I MUST learn everything NOW!” to “I’m so screwed” to “I should just accept it the way it is.”

The Day arrives

  • For all that jazz about accepting thing for the way they are, you might be up at 6 am studying just a little bit more.
  • Check the weather the day of your exam! Check the traffic!
  • Eat your safe food.
  • Pretty much the only conversation starter you’ll hear “So are you ready?”
  • Almost everyone in your class pretty much looks like they are in some form of facial pain from trying to act calm.
  • Stay far away from any known gunners.
  • But stay equally as far from the nervous wreck. Just being around them will make you feel even more nervous if possible.
  • If you are the nervous wreck don’t let it show or remove yourself from others as not to freak yourself out more and freak anyone else out.
  • Just tell yourself you’re okay. Because you are. You are smarter than you think.

Test Time

  • Put on your game face, leave your problems at the door and act like you’re going to rock this shit.
  • But you will completely blank at some point (don’t freak, its normal).
  • Gut instincts are a pretty good way to go, but if you really don’t know a question leave it for later. Chances your exams are pretty long and some questions can give away answers to other questions.
  • Don’t let the distractions get to you. If you can’t tune out excess noises, like someone throwing up for example, make sure you have ear plugs (and that they are allowed).
  • Use your time. Think out questions. Let oxygen get to your brain.
  • At the same time, if you feel done with your exam and you feel there is nothing more than you can do, turn in or end your exam. Don’t brood over what might be.

Your first chapter, completed

  • Whatever you need to do to be over the exam do it. If you need to cry, bitch about every question, speak to no one, or party it out do it.
  • BUT if you have another exam afterwards, you need to find a way to but this exam behind you beyond your norm.
  • You may pass. That is fantastic, you’ve already got at least some of it figured out. Don’t get cocky though.
  • You may fail. The world will keep turning, and you now have learned what doesn’t work for you. This is your tool to succeed for the next exam.
  • You will be so burned out. You might be burned out for days. Allow yourself some time to come back.
  • You now have the experience to be successful in medical school. Make sure you use it wisely.
  • If you love medicine, make it work. If you hate the book part of medicine, make it work anyways.
  • No matter what, remember that you can do this.
  • This is only the beginning.

I want everyone in medical to do well! I want everyone to succeed! I hope that you’ve learned something or felt the pain of medical school exams along with me.

Keeping Care of Those Medically Bound

Originally posted June 2014

Whether it be non-med to pre-med, pre-health to pre-health, med student to parent, or any variation of those, we all have to keep in the mind the care for everyone involved in our crazy health related journeys. We should keep each other level headed and be there. So here are some helpful ways we can help each other out, instead of bring each other down.

These are just some things I’ve learned as a student, as well as from others all over the spectrum. These might be different from yours, and that’s just fine, but maybe it can help us all see eye to eye a little bit better.

Talk nerdy to me

It’s doesn’t always have to happen, but every once in a while, let us go nuts. Let us talk about the things we learned. Let us spew science mumbo jumbo you aren’t interested in. Let us explain how your lungs work. Let us talk about nursing to you, even if you are optometry. Let us gripe about a class you haven’t taken yet. Let us be excited when we have a health epiphany. A lot of times we forget that not everyone can share in our enthusiasm or we can’t remember how normal people communicate. And remember, we should certainly return the favor (aka call us out on it).

Priorities, Priorities

At some point all medical whatever-you-are studying becomes numero uno on your list of what’s important. To many, that’s just a wee bit crazy. To us, it’s totally normal. But it’s okay to give a little nudge and say “You need to sleep.” Or “you haven’t seen the light of day in a week.”

 

Don’t you forget about me

As medical anythings, we play the busy card a lot. It’s justified, most of us do have a lot on our plate. And we do want to hang out, participate and have fun but the earth doesn’t turn that way. We only have a measly 24 hours in our days. So one thing that wears us down is when our busy schedules cause us to be left out. Saying “no” means that we take responsibility for not going. Not being invited gives us pangs of hurt, even if it wasn’t on purpose.

Just because you show yours doesn’t mean they have to show theirs

Grades, obviously. You have every right to show people your grades good or bad. You even have the right to ask (though it isn’t really appreciated). But everyone has the right to say no and you can’t do anything about it. In the early stages of our education, most of us are neither here nor there about it and don’t have a problem sharing. But as classes get more competitive and more challenging, students can choose to not share anymore. It’s something personal after all. And on that note…

We are allowed to change our minds

And no one should get flak for it. So we might have started off with a goal of medical school and changed to pharmacy, drastically changed our target specialty, or starting over from a totally different major or job. That’s the great thing about schooling here. You can try things until something suits your fancy. A lot of times these choices are hard. As students in the health industry the last thing we need is for people saying things like “can’t hack it, couldn’t make it, and wasting talent”.

A little heart will help

Listen, we all do things and say things without thinking. Especially if we think we’re being funny. We don’t always realize when we do it, especially when we have 50 other things happening at once. Point it out when things like this happen, but please don’t run us into the ground, telling us how horrible we are. Trust me; we are sorry when we do things like that and we already feel bad. If you have a repeat offender, it might be different, but most of us are just trying to sort out if we are good enough already. We don’t need to be beat into the ground for it.

Patience is a virtue

We need to be kind to each other. We all have struggles inside and outside of the classroom. All of us fight battles no one else can see. It can be hard, especially when they are being short with everyone else. Maybe they back out of events or forget something important. Try not to let it get too far under your skin. But for most, these tidal changes eventually return to calm water. They will appreciate that you can see beyond their stints of insanity.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

Being there for your health hopeful is one of the best things you can do. But remember your own sanity. It’s true, this process does change people. Sometimes, it’s best for everyone to keep some distance for a while. If you try to push, even if you have the best intentions, it could end up worse than how it started. Don’t drop anyone like a hot tamale (unless they do something really awful) because of a few incidences. When things have cooled down, take a step back in.

We don’t say it enough

We’re thankful that you’re here! We’re sorry when we miss important things! We love you! Being a student in the medical world isn’t easy, and sometimes we just get so wrapped up in everything. We aren’t trying to be detached or demanding or snippy. It happens to the best of us. Hell it happens to everyone at some point. We really do care though.

It’s a tough ride, but somehow we can all get through. Remember, if you want to be taken care of, take care of those around you.

Writing a Killer Personal Statement

Originally posted March 25th, 2014

If you haven’t seen my stuff already, why yes I do like writing. It’s something that comes fairly naturally to me, but also I do a lot of it. So I would like to say that my personal statement is pretty good. So with the 2014-2015 application cycle winding down and the 2015-2016  one picking up I thought I would lend some helpful tactics to help write a personal statement (but reviewed in 2017).

In some ways, it will almost be a step-by-step guide to writing your statement, but make sure you do it on your own.

Write out the exact reason you want to be a doctor

I had so much trouble with this. If you are anything like me, you can FEEL that you want to be doctor. It’s just this weird internal struggle that if you can’t do this nothing else is the world will make you feel right. But you can’t really vocalize that, or say you just “have a feeling”.

So, the best way to do this is to say it out loud “I want to be a doctor because…” and then write it down. Then do it again. And again. Do it until you have a solid, coherent reason that is something besides “I want to help people.”

In the end, it should read like a kindergarten fill-in the blank; “I want to be a doctor because of these reasons.” Now you can start.

 

Different kinds of personal statements

The Princeton Review medical school books say there are three major types of personal statements. I mostly agree with this, except I have seen four. I will now tell you about the types! To start your personal statement you should pick which path you plan to follow. Remember, these are tracks, not themes and general guidelines, not rules. They are just the foundation of your personal statement. It will help you keep focused throughout your statement.

A personal history

It’s as straight forward as it sounds. This type is basically gives your life story in 5300 characters (including spaces) and how, over the course of your life, you found your passion for medicine.

An academic history

It basically overviews your academic experience in relation to how you can become a good doctor. This one is a little tougher, because you need to explain how your educational experience relates to your passion in medicine.

A story

This is a main illustration of something that happened in your life that, you guessed it, makes you want to be a physician. This is a much more focused than the other types, and should guide the reader through an experience.

The random

Or as I like to call it “the bat-shit crazy”. I’ve only seen one or two examples of these kinds of personal statements ever. And I suggest you don’t go for it unless your prose and purpose are pure magic. They tend to read like random, philosophical drabble and one that is written correctly makes you feel like you had an existential experience.

My personal statement was a mix between academic history (75%) and a story (25%). Yes, you can mix them, but don’t let it overwhelm you or try to mix all of them.

Pick a theme

What do I mean by a theme? Well, what do you plan on writing about? A theme, or a topic, can really be anything in your personal statement.

If you picked an academic history, you theme falls within the bracket of school, but you need to narrow it down. Will you specifically talk about which classes made you love medicine, or about how being involved in campus did?

If a picked a story, the theme should be pretty easy? What is your story about? But tread lightly here, and do not let it become a sob story.

Basically, a theme is critical for your personal statement because it helps keep your writing coherent and focused. You shouldn’t be jumping around too many ideas or concepts. This way, you can accurately describe your intentions without leaving anything half written or too open ended. It’s an exercise in writing in general as well.

My theme was martial arts and medicine and influences of science classes. You can have more than one theme! But personally, I suggest having MAXIMUM 3. It just depends on what you choose to write about.

Use developed, relevant vernacular and syntax

We’re not poets here. A lot of us haven’t even taken a substantial writing class since our first year, so how exactly should we be expected to write a masterpiece? In reality, the people who will be reading your essay know that they shouldn’t expect personal statements to be the perfect representation of the English language. BUT they do expect you to write like an adult with more complex vocabulary. You know, compound words, using proper grammar, and smooth transitions.

If you know you aren’t the greatest writer a good way to go about this is just write your statement like you normally would. Then go through and count how many times you used certain words like “said”, “want” or “doctor” and if they feel overused find synonyms (that make sense, check meanings out before replacing words).  A lack of word variety makes a paper boring. Also check for things like too short sentences, run-on sentences and colloquial conversation words.

Describe something that demonstrates your abilities and traits 

Saying you want to be a doctor is just peachy keen! But in your personal statement should have something that proves you can actually be a doctor, not just explain how great being a doctor will be. You need to demonstrate, through your writing, that you have the passion and dedication to be a doctor as well as exemplary traits.

This can be done a few ways; you can state it (not recommended), you can sprinkle it throughout your paper or you can give a specific example. Each one has merits and faults. You just need to pick the best one for you and the flow of your paper.

Hash out anything you feel might need explaining

That is, if you choose to do so. No need to talk about mistakes if you don’t want to. But if you do, for this, it’s not a point of going over all the mistakes you think will hurt your chances of getting in. But if say you didn’t do well a semester, if you’re major isn’t so science-y, or even if you took a nontraditional path you have the right to mention something about it.

For instance, my lower grades happened in my sophomore year (when I started my pre-med track), so I talked about the struggle in transitioning to science classes, and even though I loved them they were a challenge for me. If your major is not the normal science track, explain why you picked it in a sentence or two and how it will benefit you in the long run.

Remember, you always need to take something less than complimentary and turn it into a positive note. Negativity is not very well received, especially in writing.

Read your personal statement out loud

Everyone says it. You know why? Because it works.

In most cases, a personal statement should have a conversational feel to it. If it doesn’t sound conversational, it isn’t. If it sounds broken and sad, it is. Reading it out loud will give you the best sense of how your paper portrays you.  It’s also a fantastic way to watch grammar and syntax errors you normally don’t “see” on paper.

Use your online resources

Basically just polite ways of saying look at other personal statements online. What you’re going to look for it those ones that are labeled “really awesome” and read them. You aren’t looking for yours and theirs to actually be similar. You want a similar feel. Writing is an extremely powerful tool that conveys emotion and purpose. And you want to be able to do that with your personal statement. You want your readers to feel just how being a doctor is important to you.

Let everyone read it

This does not mean let everyone edit your personal statement. Just let them read it and give their opinion. You shouldn’t ask if they think it’s good. I mean, I guess it’s nice to hear, but what you should ask is “does this make me sounds like a really good candidate for medical school?” this will provoke much more critical answers from you essay readers that you can actual build off of.

Make sure that you do have people who can edit your paper though.

Love your personal statement

Shit. What a concept.

I’m being completely serious though. Being confident in your personal statement is the same as being confident in yourself. Your personal statement is about YOU after all! You need to stand behind what you’ve written because it’s the first impression an admission committee will have of you beyond your scores. Love what you write, love who you are and love what you can become.

Good luck all you applicants out there! Believe in the power of the pen!

50 Things to Get/Do Before You Start Medical School

Originally posted March 18th, 2014

At this point in the game a lot of pre-meds are accepted or getting accepted to their medical school. Congratulations! And I’m sure everyone is very anxious to get started and get all their brand new medical things which is super exciting. But what about all the other things you need to get that aren’t on your most exciting school supply list EVER?

Let me share ALL the things I was told to get/do before I start school in like 6 months.

These are things I was told by medical and graduate student and figured out by doing a lot of digging around. This is not advice for what medical equipment or what study books are the best to have. I don’t know that yet. (Also, all these things will probably run you a pretty penny, so you DEFINETLY don’t need to do it all). The things are for your life I’ve found might be different from the things you need and get, and of course that’s cool too. Just have some of mine.

Tech it and Wreck it

  • If your laptop is more than 2 years old, get a new one, have parts replaced or run a major systems overhaual. If you are going run that poor machine into the ground, might was well do it without lag.
  • Get a tablet. These little suckers will save you time and time again.
  • Don’t have a smart phone yet? Come join us in 2014. You need one to be able to stay on top of your email, obligations and meetings, and frankly just people. Schedule changes, canceled classes and seminars will all be found on your smart phone in a quick hit too.
  • Is a planner technology? I don’t care if it’s not, but you should still get one that has both weekly and monthly pages.
  • Learn how to use all of your tech. Don’t walk into class the first day with your brand new laptop and be like “where the fuck is Word?”
  • Secondary on that, don’t switch your system unless you have a few months to play with it. If you’ve always had Macs, don’t try to switch to a PC a week before classes because you will be confused as fuck.
  • Learn to use google drive if you don’t already know. Trust me.

 

Dress to Impress

  • Scrubs will soon be your best friend. Buy one pair that make you look like a real person.
  • The rest of your scrubs should come off the internet and cheap enough to toss at the end of your labs (because they smell like guts, chemicals and stank).
  • Pair your throw away scrubs with throw away sneakers! The look is in.
  • Anatomy labs, really labs in general, tend to be suffering an eternal winter. Get yourself some cheap thermals and long sleeves to save you from the pain.
  • Get yourself some business appropriate clothing. You never know when you have to go to a conference or a meeting.
  • Get a white coat you can junk up. Learn how to maneuver in it. Break that shit in.
  • Find a hair stylist you like BEFORE YOU START. Life is much easier this way, trust me.
  • Get a formal outfit. Whoa, crazy right? But you need to have at least one black tie event outfit because you never know.
  • Moving to a place with a different climate than where you’re from? Plan and get clothes accordingly.

Live well

  • Make sure you find a place and move in at least 2 weeks before you begin. I know this sounds obvious, but the process can be overwhelming and take longer than your think. Also ending up house hunting during school sucks shit.
  • Find a place where you feel comfortable and safe. An apartment that is 2 bed 2 bath costs $500, costs that little FOR A REASON. Even if you have to spend a little more, it’s worth it.
  • Learn your weather! Moving to Florida? Learn about hurricanes. Moving to Kansas? Tornados. What about California? Earthquakes. Be ready people!
  • Have your new living situation set up before you begin. Don’t get buried in boxes.
  • Do you want to do the roommate thing? Don’t just do it because it’s cheaper. Make sure you know your options about this, it’s a big deal!
  • If you do choose to lives with other peeps, you must figure out all financial information. I’m talking rent, bills, and other expenses. Also you need to set ground rules. We’re all adults(ish) here.
  • If you don’t already have a dry erase calendar, I might be judging you.
  • But also get a dry erase or chalk board. These were already widely useful in undergrad, and it won’t change for med school.
  • Get a big ass desk. You’ll be thankful I told you this.
  • Also a comfy study chair.

The pet brigade

  • If you decided to get an animal which needs attention (cat, dog, ferret, etc.) you NEED to get it minimum six months advance before you start medical school. Why? These animals need time to forage a bond with you to be able to trust you. And if you’re gone for 12 hours a day these animals will only see you as a hand which serves food.
  • You also should have a pet for a while because baby animals are hard work, and you won’t have for those poor creatures.
  • That being said, having a fuzzy (scaly or feathery) friend in medical school can help your stress and keep you level headed that yes, there are others in this world you need to take care of besides you when you aren’t in class.
  • Find a safe place for your pets to stay if you go out of town or subsequently start 3rd year rotations.
  • Get all of your vaccines/bug medication/checkups for your little (or big) dude out of the way before you start.

Friends and family

  • You should take the time out to explain to non-med family and close friends about the changes that are going to happen in your life and how it may affect your relationships. How no matter how long you may not be in contact, no matter how many events you have to miss that you still care about them and want them to stay a part of your life.
  • Some will understand others will not. It’s up to you to figure out what to do.
  • If you have a significant other you’ve been with for a while, you have to discuss what your plans are and what both of your needs are. It’s upsetting, but you can’t drag anyone into this who doesn’t want it.
  • Get closure. If you had a friend you never resolved a fight with, a family member you stopped talking to and WANT to try to close that chapter or fix it now is your time.
  • Take time to see the family members you know you may not get another chance to see for a while. Same with close friends.

Medicine for you

  • Go to your doctor! Go for just a general check. Seriously.
  • Have a procedure you may want done? Do it now before it gets worse and then so you have time to heal.
  • If you’re moving, find a new healthcare provider. This shouldn’t be too hard and your school should be able to recommend someone (come on now).
  • If you have prescriptions get them filled out anew before you start. And if possible, try to get your pharmacy to do the three month thing. It’s nice.
  • Only if you feel like you need it, get a mental health assessment. Better to figure out why you get anxiety attacks and do something about it rather to just let them happen.

Trips, tips and tricks

  • Go somewhere you’ve never been before! Experience brand new sights, cultures and food.
  • Go somewhere you love. Enjoy all the best parts of that place.
  • Revel in your “thing”. Love volleyball? Hard core gamer? Make crochet pillows? Do as much of your thing as you can.
  • Find a new “thing”. Ever done aerial yoga? Made pottery? Gone paintballing? No one says you have to love it and do it forever. But who knows maybe you will.
  • Read all the things!
  • If you do research, find out if you’ll be a co-author for a paper. The find out when it’s going to be published. If it gets published while you’re in medical school, guess what? You have a published paper in med school.
  • Get in contact with a current student. They will be able to give you tidbits about your school as well as opportunities you might want to get into.
  • For goodness sake DO NOT PRE-STUDY. There is a slew of reason why not to do it, so just don’t.
  • Enjoy your time before you start and be happy.

Do You Wanna Hear an MCAT Horror Story?

Well do you?

Originally posted March, 13th, 2014

 

I want to preface this story by telling you what my pre-med advisor told me when I told her this story after it happened.

“I’ve been a pre-professional advisor a long time. I’ve hear a lot of stories about MCATs and LSATs that were pretty bad. But yours is the worst. I have no idea how did that.”

So there’s your warning.

This all starts after I got my first MCAT score back in late August (I did a summer MCAT course) and it was not what I wanted or expected to get at all. Because of that, I decided to retake the exam on the last day the MCAT was offered in September/October so that I would still have all of my online study material and all that jazz.

So there I am, sitting at the bus stop early on Wednesday afternoon after my bio 2 class. I hadn’t checked my phone in a while so I figured now was as good a time as any.  There is a voicemail from a number I’ve never seen, but I figure if I have a message the call must have been important. The person who was sitting across from me must have thought someone died from my reaction to the voicemail.

It said “Hello Miss Sass. This is Prometrics. We’ve made an unfortunate mistake in our booking system and overbooked the testing facility you will taking your MCAT at on Saturday. We had to cancel your test reservation. We hope this hasn’t caused you any issue. Please call us back if you have any questions.”

If you want to know my reaction this, it was that first I let my phone fall out of my hand, and hit the pavement while I stared completely unmoving. Then I screamed and started crying. Because this was the most mature reaction I could think of at the time. But can you blame me? They canceled my test. Four days before the test. The very last test.

The first thing I did was call my mom because I was really just a mess. We ended up calling Prometric back trying to figure out with them what to do. Over the span of three hours a solution was found! There was one place left in the country. One place in the entire United States where I could take the MCAT. And it was in San Diego, California. Oh and just for reference, I live on the east coast. So I went.

Yep, that’s right. I flew across the country to take an EXAM.

I blame my hero’s spirit from reading way too many mangas for shit like this that I do.

So yeah, two flights later and one favor called in by my mother to a friend I was in California. The good thing though was the 3 hour difference made it feel like I was taking the MCAT at 11 am instead of 8 am which was kind of nice. But if you think my troubles ended when I got to the testing center you would be wrong.

The physical science section was by far my weakest section. I generally struggle with more math based concepts and I’m not great at mental math. I’m about 50 minutes into the section when the screen goes black. My first reaction is SHIT I broke the computer SHIT SHIT SHIT. But then I see a head pop over the cubicle next to me, face screaming pure panic. A few more heads bob up and down, but only from my row down. Half of the room had lost power.

At this point, one of the other test takers managed to wave down a proctor without making too much noise. In the exact fashion you expect, the proctors realize what’s going on and RUSH into the testing room, scaring the absolute shit out of the other half of the room who has no idea what’s happening on our side. Now everyone in the room in panicking and freaking out.

They got the problem fixed, and no lost any test data, but everyone in the room was anxious after that. In the end, I just kind of figured the MCAT must hate me, but I actually didn’t do so bad. That MCAT score was the one that got me into med school despite the most traumatizing test experience I think I’ve ever had.

So there you have it. That’s my horror MCAT story and I pray that no one ever have to go through what I did.

Here’s what to take away from this story;

  • I really really really let nothing stop me from becoming a doctor. I will literally jump over any hurdle.
  • I’m a glass-full kinda person.
  • These were real things that happened. They will probably never ever happen to you.
  • Despite the complete bullshit that happens around you, you can do this. Everything will turn out the way it’s meant to.

Good luck to everyone taking the MCAT out there!

To Take or Not to Take

This post will pertain mostly to osteopathic students, as only DO students have the options to take both the USMLE and COMLEX. Despite that, I would urge MD students to give it a read as well only because you may find yourself in a position where a DO student would ask you what you think about this situation and the more you know the more you can help.

Welcome to boards season. A time in every medical student’s life that fills them with dread and anxiety. As a DO student, you may have just a bit more stress, knowing not only must you take your own exam, the COMLEX, but you also have the choice to take the MD one as well, the USMLE. You’ll hear the “yes you need to take both!” or the “don’t even bother!” arguments over and over while trying to figure what you should do. While both have valid points, I think the most fair thing is to let the student hear as many pros and cons as possible to make their own choice on what’s best for them. I’m going to attempt to do that.

First some quantifications;

USMLE: approx. 280 questions with seven 60-minute blocks, 28 to 40 questions a block. Each block may be followed by a break. You have 45 minutes (or 60 if you skip the tutorial) to disperse however you like over each break. Generally considered hard, but fair.

COMLEX: exactly 400 questions with 8, 60 minute blocks, 50 questions a block. There are only two 10-minute breaks between the 2nd and 3rd sections and the 6th and 7th sections, plus lunch. Generally considered random.

I made sure to ask as many of my classmates as possible to get a good idea of what they felt as a whole and to make sure I wasn’t being weirdly biased, since I only took the one (though I originally was going to take both). Basically, the USMLE is a better written and more organized test over all, doing a better job of testing the “high yield” topics often associated with boards. COMLEX, though still having some very consistent testing topics, will have many point-and-shoot questions, vague stems and answers and super random questions on things you’ve never seen in your life or will ever see again. Long story short, there’s a bit of a skew when it comes to the standardized testing.

That being said, as a DO student we don’t have a choice in taking the COMLEX. That’s our test.

Hopefully, this will help you find a clear direction you want to take in this whole crazy process.

Let’s start with some fun stuff.

Myths:

  • ACGME programs don’t understand COMLEX scores.

This is probably the biggest argument to take both exams I’ve heard, and also one of the most poorly thought out ones. Think about it for a second. Yes, the program may have older doctors who don’t “get it”, but if you’re looking at an MD program many times you’ll check to see if it has any DO residents. Thus someone on staff knows what your score means, so if you tank your COMLEX and do well on the USMLE it actually does matter and you won’t be able to escape it. Plus, ACGME programs are now highly encouraged take the extra time to understand COMLEX scores past the poorly made algorithm to compare to USMLE scores. This isn’t to say there is no bias, because it does still exist, but you can’t assume they’re ignorant either.

  • AOA programs aren’t as good as ACGME ones.

Maybe once upon a time this was sort of true, but not really anymore (especially since the merger plans to weed out programs not up to par, both AOA and ACGME). There are amazing programs on both ends, and crap programs on both ends. Just do your research, check Frieda and AOA opportunities. Be smart about it.

  • Studying for the USMLE is studying for the COMLEX.

Eh. Kind of. There is some truth to this, the overall material you need to know is basically the same for both test. But as I mentioned earlier, the tests are not the same. The question styles are pretty different. You would probably be okay if you only studied for one, but you probably wouldn’t do as amazing on the one you didn’t do prep for. It’s easily remedied by just doing questions from multiple banks.

General considerations:

  • So much money.

These tests are expensive AF. And while an extra $600 may seem like another “drop in the bucket,” remember the tests after this one are even more outrageously expensive. Plus you might be moving and dealing with all the other life crap. It’s not a huge consideration, but for some it’s important.

  • You can sign up for the USMLE pretty late.

It turns out when you do the application to take the USMLE you don’t actually have to submit the payment until way later. I did not know this. And in some places, you can sign up as much as a month and half before the time you want to take it and still get what you want. Which means if you’re on the fence you don’t need to choose right away. You can wait and see how you feel as you get somewhat closer without blowing large sums of money.

  • You can take the USMLE whenever you want.

We have to take the COMLEX, but for DO students, the USMLE isn’t our test, which means it’s kind of a free-for-all. If you want to take a week from the time you take COMLEX to the time you take the USMLE, that’s fine. If you want to take it at the start of fourth year after finding out you really love a specific MD program, cool. It’s up to you.

  • You must report BOTH scores

In the past, you could take both tests and if you weren’t feeling your USMLE score you had no obligation to report it. Due to the changes occurring in the ACGME and AOA, this is no longer an option. You MUST report both scores and failing to do so can disqualify your applications in 4th year. No one wants that.

Reasons to take both exams:

  • You don’t know what you want to do

A general consensus (of my classmates mostly) says that the less you have an idea of what you want to do, the more sense it makes to have more options available to you. The way to do that is to take both COMLEX and USMLE. In the most ideal situation, this means you have no limitations in applying to any specialty or program.

  • You’ve done well in classes/previous examinations

If you’ve had a good test-taking record, chances are you’ll keep that general trend and the differences in the exams won’t be as strong a factor in what your score may be.

  • You’re confident in your ability to recover

While you can take the USMLE whenever you want, most people take it within a week or two of their COMLEX. These tests are awful to sit through just one time. It really can be torture to have to force yourself to immediately get right back to doing questions and keep preparing for whichever one you take second. If you can get yourself to get back on the horse and ride it out, then go for it.

  • You think you’ll want to apply ACGME

Some ACGME residency programs do accept COMLEX scores. Some. But there’s a big discrepancy in score conversion and the percentile of the scores certain programs want you to have. An example is that an ACGME program may say you need a USMLE score of at least 210 to apply but a COMLEX score of 540. There are not even close to same percentile. So if you think one of these programs is what you want, you’ll be giving them what they want to see by taking the UMSLE.

  • OMM is not your fave

You’ve had two years of manipulation and you find “hey, this isn’t really for me, I don’t particularly like it, I’m not too good at it” then you may have a better time with the USMLE since it obviously won’t incorporate any osteopathic principles AND it will open you to more programs where you won’t have to work with it.

Reasons not to take:

  • You don’t know what you want to do

For many people, it’s hard to set a goal for yourself when you really have no idea what you want to do. It’s even harder with the prospects of two exams looming over you. To really keep your options open to every specialty you may want to consider taking just the COMLEX so you can really focus your efforts on doing your best on one exam.

  • Taking both exams can cause discrepancy

So you took both exams. On one test you score in the 85th percentile. Awesome! But on the other you score in the 55th. Pretty good, but not outstanding. Now there’s a 30 percent discrepancy between your scores. Regardless of what type of program you apply to, that could be viewed as a red flag. And you can’t assume they’ll say the lower score was a fluke, because in reality they’ll probably say the higher score was a fluke. Don’t give them a reason to say anything was up to chance.

  • AOA programs are what you think you’d want

The best part of the ACGME and AOA coming together is that residency programs will be standardized and even-paced. Which means the training will become pretty similar, and there won’t be those ancient differences people like to harp about. Plus, if you find you’re cool with OMM and want to be able to continue using it as a tool, AOA is really the way to go.

  • You suffer from somewhat severe anxiety/depression

I’ll be completely honest here. Taking boards will be the most stressful thing you’ve done in medical school at this point. It’s terrifying. So if you don’t handle the stress in a constructive way and you let it eat you from the inside out, taking both tests in seriously a no-go. You don’t have to put yourself through the extra anxiety if you are already suffering from some. And you shouldn’t. You need have one focus and make sure you’re getting the appropriate help if needed.

  • You take an NBME and it doesn’t go so well

I mean, you’re your taking COMSAEs and those aren’t going well either, that’s a completely different situation. However, if you find you’re doing fine on COMLEX style questions and QBanks, but struggling with the USMLE material and question style, you don’t need to force yourself to take USMLE. DO schools tend to have a slightly different approach in teaching and if they do focus on testing, it would be for the COMLEX. This relates back to score discrepancy as well.

  • If you’re interested in certain specialties

Again, let’s be honest. Would you like to know how many DO students went on to ACGME orthopedic residencies in 2015? One. Just one. Why? There’s a ton of reasons why, but one of the biggest is that as competitive programs, they have many, many qualified MD students applying for the same positions that you may want. With such limited capacity, MD programs are likely to pick their own students because technically we’re still the only ones who get access to both ACGME and AOA residencies.

 

“I think I’m cool just taking COMLEX.”

Cool, you’re done. You can stop reading and go do other things.

“I want to take both!”

I hope you’re ready for the next questions of “which do I take first?”

Good question. For some reason, people are very passionate about this topic and you’ll hear varying opinions but really you have to do what will work best for you to get you the best scores.

Points to consider:

  • Do you tend to do better the first time you take the test or the second?

You only get one shot at these exams (granted you pass of course), but for some they tend to do better after feeling the real stress. Others come out of the gate running and slay it the first time. If you’re in a good place with practice test scores, then it’s really about what type of program you’re more interested in is whatever test you should take when you know you’ll perform the best. If you’re a little iffy, then you need to take the COMLEX in your stronger position. Remember, you must pass the COMLEX as a DO student. Anything else is bonus.

  • Are you unsure if you’ll be in the right condition to take another big test?

This is something you won’t really know right off the bat. If you tend to be knocked out after you’re regular, run of the mill med school exam, what could happen after 8 hours of non-stop questions? If this is something worrying to you, you may want to consider taking the USMLE second because that’s an exam you can move back without restriction or not take at all without repercussion if you change your mind at the last minute. You can only move the COMLEX to a certain date based on your school’s guidelines.

  • How are you with OMM?

Osteopathic principles are a big part of the COMLEX, sometimes up to 30% of the entire test. A lot of students opt to take the USMLE first and take the next chunk of time until their COMLEX (usually a week) studying OMM from QBanks or books like Saverese. If you find OMM is something you’re pretty proficient at, or you’re planning on doing good incorporation into your study schedule, this week probably isn’t needed. You can take the COMLEX first, then focus on busting out more questions for the USMLE later or whichever way you feel will be more beneficial to you.

These exams are scary. They’re hard. But that doesn’t mean you need to take them on blindly, or do exactly as someone says you should. A big part of medicine is learning from others, but an even bigger part if trusting to do what’s right by your own volition. Taking boards is no different.