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!

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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.

50 things I Learned About Med School from Med Students

Original post made March 12, 2014

I’ve had the chance to talk to different medical student from different schools, both MD and DO, public and private schools, and all other parts of the spectrum.

These are based off things I was told! I haven’t started med school yet, so I can’t actually testify. But I figure with they went through it and had some good advice and things to say, hey why not?

This isn’t exactly as it’s gonna go down. You make your own experiences and will find your own way.

First year

  • This is hardest you will have ever done. So far.
  • Even though it seems like you have no time, you really do. Now is the time to go to social events and make friends.
  • Take pictures with everyone at your white coat ceremony.
  • Anatomy has three types of people on the first day; the people who are way too fascinated, the ones who cry because they are cutting open a dead person, and the people who throw up into the slop bucket.
  • Always flip the body slowly and with precision. Unless you want a formaldehyde and fat shower.
  • You might fail your first test. Cry a lot then get over it.
  • Even though you know everyone has to be smart on some level, all the drama and nonsense you still see is a little disappointing.
  • You will spend your loan money on non-school items. Because you have no money.
  • Invest in focus factor.
  • Sleep is for the weak. Caffeine is for the strong.
  • You’ll get really good at scheduling. MAKE yourself good at it.
  • Studying is completely different. If you undergrad it, you’re in trouble.
  • You will completely lose track of time, days and pretty much the outside world.
  • You will horribly mess up at least once during standardized patient care practice. It will be hilarious for everyone except you.
  • This year will mark your very last real summer vacation. Use wisely.

Second year

  • Tears will be shed because you didn’t realize how good you had it in first year.
  • Every first year will somehow look like babies, no matter their age.
  • At this point they want you to do other things. Like volunteering, research and be involved on campus. Do them and know that you can sleep when you’re dead.
  • If you chose to be a TA for a first year class be ready to have to restudy the subject so you can actually be helpful.
  • You should know your perfect study nirvana by this point.
  • You will have multiple complete mental breakdowns ranging between “why did I do this to myself?” and realizing you know how to kill yourself far too many ways.
  • Never make definitive plans. Non-med just don’t seem to understand why you can’t just study later.
  • Try your best to keep contact with a few people from the outside world. Try.
  • Most schools end their MS2 years early to allow time to study for the boards.
  • Say good riddance to lectures!
  • Studying for board is your new job.
  • After you get through boards you will sleep, party, then sleep some more.

Third year

  • Being yelled at will be normal.
  • Being told you’re an idiot is also normal.
  • Find a place to cry where no one can see you.
  • You will do a comprehensive session with a patient only to find out they lied to you for 30 minutes when the doctor asks them the same questions.
  • Be nice to the nurses. They know all secrets.
  • You will put on the spot all the time. Don’t worry; you’ll stop flinching every time anyone asks you a question. Eventually.
  • How long can you go without sleep? Find out in third year!
  • Learn to impress. You need LORs for residency programs. Asking a lot of questions helps you do this.
  • Something at some point will make you pass out/throw up/cringe so hard you reconsider your entire life.
  • At some point, a patient will throw up/excrete something/have an mass explode all over you. And your reaction will be the essence of perfection.
  • The end of written exams! (Besides the boards, obviously).
  • You will figure out what kind of physician YOU NEVER WANT TO BE.
  • And you’ll figure what you actually like and what you could see yourself doing as a doctor.

Fourth year

  • Boards AGAIN.
  • This will be your most relaxed, easy year of medical school. Comparatively.
  • You get to pick rotation sites! Do your best to get them to match up to the places you interview at because you’re already strapped for cash.
  • There are dinners the night before interviews.  GO TO THESE.
  • Make ALL the connections! And not just with the doctors! Get in with the residents.
  • Match is confusing and stressful, but it’s actually applicant oriented. So that’s nice.
  • The only people who say match day isn’t bad are the people who got matched.
  • Now is your chance to reconnect with people. A lot goes by in 4 years.
  • If you make it through the most amazing hell journey, you are award with your degree and become a real to life Doctor.
  • Getting out of medical school doesn’t mean you actually know anything though. You got years to go kid.

50 Things About the Gap Year

Originally posted March 6th, 2014 here

If you make the choice (or fate has decided) that you will take a gap year before medical school, no fear! There are many of us taking the 12 or 16 month “break” before starting our medical journey. Once again, I’ll share what I’ve learned (and am still learning) while I’m out of school. If you have any more detailed questions, feel free to ask. These are based off my personal experience, and remember everyone and their experiences will be different!

This “50 things” is a little longer than my previous posts so prepare yourself. You have been warned!

Fantastical Myths

  • You are taking a gap year because you didn’t get into med school the first time. This is true for some, not for all. Plenty of people choose this and it isn’t because we were the unlucky 54% who didn’t get accepted last year (that’s the stat, I’m pretty sure).
  • People who take a gap year don’t know what they are doing with their lives. This is totally untrue! Just because someone takes more time than other doesn’t mean they are indecisive or flaky. Don’t judge.
  • If you don’t start medical school right out of college you’ll be the oldest person in your class. Anyone who says this is someone you should slowly back away from, because this person never researches anything. The median age for MS1s is about 25, so yeah.
  • Anyone who takes a gap year should really be doing a master’s program instead, otherwise you look lazy. I’m not saying doing a post-bac or master’s program is a bad idea, because it isn’t at all. But that doesn’t mean if you chose to not take one you won’t get in anywhere. Your bachelor’s degree is all they need.
  • You’ll forget a lot of what you learned in your undergrad if you take time off. Newsflash, you’ll forget that stuff in 2 months anyways. And seeing as you are about to be bombarded with information at twice the speed with 10x the material, everyone is at the starting line all together.
  • Medical schools don’t like you see that you are taking a gap year. Wrong. Medical schools don’t like to see that you’ve taken a gap year if you do nothing during it. Otherwise, it’s really a nonfactor.

 

Good reasons

  • If you’re worried about the MCAT taking a gap year can help you out. In the summer between junior and senior year (if you’re on a traditional track) you can spend that entire time studying and take the MCAT during the late summer/fall dates.
  • If you screw up on the MCAT you have time to retake it in during the spring dates.
  • There may be classes you wanted to take, or classes that could strengthen your GPA. You can take it and kill the curve.
  • Everyone has something they really want to do! This is your chance to kick that junk right off your bucket list.
  • There are tons of cool and relevant jobs out there that can satisfy the need to stay on your game and maybe get your some useful contacts.
  • Want to do research in depth? Now you have time to devote to that, and maybe you can even get published (here’s to hoping).
  • Getting letters of recommendation can be a huge pain in the ass, especially if you try to do it in a time crunch. A gap year allows for you not only to have a full array of science instructors (these are required!) to ask, but also to have really definitive dates to collect those letter.
  • Missing some clinical exposure can hurt your application somewhat, but not anymore! Now you can volunteer and even get time to interact with real patients.
  • Interviews will happen over the gap year. This means you won’t be forced to miss classes and it may be easier to just pick up and go if you are informed you have an interview a week away.
  • Take the time to evaluate your mental health and prep yourself before you dive in head first.

Bad reasons

  • Just as it sounds, a gap year means you will be out of school for at least a full year. It can be hard to readjust back into the flow of classes and med school takes no prisoners.
  • There are great jobs out there, so there equally crappy ones. Sometimes you just have to do for money. Some of which are miserable, so having to do that sucks.
  • Or you don’t get a job at all (if you are looking for one). And that sucks worse.
  • Boredom. Not being is school after a fairly rigorous course load can feel like you’re floating in limbo.
  • Non-med folk will constantly be confused when you try to explain a gap year to them. It’s frustrating and annoying, but not harmful.

Things you should totally do!

  • Travel! Go across the country; even get out of the country!
  • Visit your family that you don’t normally get to see. Med school is going to suck up most of your time, so getting away for family events is going to be tough. See them while you still have the chance.
  • Make a savings plan. The extra money will come in handy.
  • But spend some money on yourself! Take yourself shopping; get some cool electronics, or new outfits or really anything. Money doesn’t buy happiness but it can buy you nice things and that’s kinda the same thing.
  • Have you ever seen your favorite band in concert? Do it.
  • Discover new music! Or old music you never knew about.
  • Sleep in until an obnoxious hour at least once. You need to do it so you can complain about missing it.
  • Learn to cook something really cool. And also how to cook something really fast.
  • Get your kick-ass on! Learn self-defense or a martial art. Safety first!
  • Party a little. If you’re like me, you didn’t get too much time to get the crazy college experience (I was totally okay with that). You might want to get in that little extra bit so you aren’t stuck on needed to “live the life” later on.
  • Do something you never thought you could. Run a marathon, learn to snowboard or start a blog.
  • Get some kind of certification. These can help you both in med school and in getting a gap year job.
  • Pay off whatever loans you have. You don’t have to get through them, since you can have them frozen until you are done with med school. But do you really need MORE debt hanging over your head?
  • Take care of your health. This is actually incredibly important. If you’ve been putting off say a root canal, having your tonsils removed or anything in those categories, now is the time to do something about it while you have the time to be accurately assessed and recover.
  • Be super excited to start!

Things you should not do

  • Don’t try to pre-study. If there is a subject you have no background in its okay to learn a little bit about it, but don’t try to self-teach like you’re in a class.
  • Don’t run yourself completely ragged. This is a time to do what you like but also a time to relax. You don’t want to show up to your med school with an action hangover.
  • Try to not get hurt. My dumb ass broke my ankle at the end of spring 2013 right before my graduation and guess what, it still hurts and I’m still not use to dealing with it. New injuries, especially ones that inhibit are a pain to deal with. So stay safe and smart.
  • Don’t complain about how bored you are waiting for school to start. I’m completely guilty of this and I’m trying to stop doing it.
  • Please don’t brag all the time about getting in. Celebrate as need obviously! But this goes for anyone who got into med school, but to hear about it for 12 to 16 months is nothing but obnoxious.

Choices only you can make

  • You’ll need to figure out if you will be living on your own or moving back in with your parents. Living on your own (or with roommates) means paying your expenses on your own and having less money for yourself. Living at your parents’ means…well parents.
  • If you chose to live on your own will you stay near your undergrad school, near your medical school, or somewhere totally different. These are allowed to overlap of course.
  • If you have a significant other, having a gap year can help you make choices about your relationship. Plenty of students rush into med school in a relationship just to watch it fall apart. Having this time will allow you to really consider what they want too, and all the hard decision that come with it.
  • You need to decide where to allocate your time. You can try to do it all, but sometimes you simply can’t. While you can get paid fairly well a full time job won’t allow you to travel extensively and vice versa.
  • Plan on getting a furry friend? Make smart selections here. Can you afford it? Have you have this type of animal in the past? Does it need a lot of attention? Know your pet facts.
  • Masters and post-bac programs look really nice on your application and help prep you for the rigor of medical school. Many people who chose this route use them to get all of their requirements (such as if you are leaving your first career or a “nontraditional” major), need to “fix” a GPA or get more science classes in.  But these programs mean more debt.
  • Are you burned out? You really need to consider this. If you feel tired and lackluster about your studies and feel like you can’t take another class will you really be okay enough in 4 months when you start the intensity of med school?
  • Maybe you’ve been accepted somewhere already. Do you really want to go to that school? This is a tough decision, because a school you turn down will question you if you reapply the next cycle. But you may know you won’t be happy there. Take time to think this out.
  • Do you want to take a gap year? If you don’t THEN DON’T. But if you do want to take a gap year don’t let anyone stop you from doing what you need to do.

50 Things I Learned While Interviewing

Original post written March 4th, 2014 here

Interviews are a pretty big deal. Seeing as how (at least I personally think) interviews were my strongest part during the application process, I want to share some of things I learned while I did my own interviews. Everything I mention happened to me (or a close friend) at some point during this process.

Remember, these are what I have concluded. This is not a rulebook, rather suggestions. Always be you because that’s the most important thing.

Being granted the honor of an interview

  • Most interview invites come through email and read INTERVIEW INVITE.
  • If your inbox hates you, like it hates me, these emails will be in your junk mail.
  • There is such thing as pre-interview hold. This is a medical school’s way of saying “You are pretty good and applied early, but we totally want to see what else we can get.” This is crap.
  • Some schools offer dates for you to choose from to come interview. Others say “This is your day to interview. It’s in a week.”
  • If you are put in this position, you are allowed to call and request another date. Just know a lot of schools that assign a day generally have less interview days than places that let you pick. And the golden rule is the early the better.

Lookin’ good

  • Get a damn suit. Do not wear an outfit from American Eagle you think looks like a suit.
  • Get your suit in a reasonable, neutral color. Do not think that a bright red ensemble is okay. It isn’t.
  • If your suit is a little long, or loose get it tailored. It’s worth the little bit extra to not worry about being swallowed up by your jacket.
  • I got it, suits are expensive. But outlet malls and stores are fantastic places to get really nice quality attire without breaking your quickly depleting bank account.
  • Get comfortable, but dressy shoes. You will be walking around for a fair amount and watching some poor girl topple out of her heels should be left for downtown at 2 am.
  • Ladies, when wearing makeup less is more. Throwing all of Sephora on your face is a poor idea.
  • Also ladies, if you wear a skirt, SHAVE. Or at least wear pantyhose, there is no way to make leg hair look kept (which is why dress shorts don’t exist for men)
  • Gentleman, unless your facial hair is well-kept, clean, and flatters your face YOU SHAVE TOO.
  • Don’t get your hair cut right before your interview. A trim is fine, but a new style is a bad idea. You will end up in front of the mirror freaking out because your hair has never done this crazy shit its doing right at the exact moment.

 

Road Trip

  • Save, save, SAVE! Unless you can somehow get to every location you are offered an interview at by teleportation, traveling, hotels and food will drain your bank account faster than sugar-free haribo gummy bears will drain your colon.
  • If you have to fly, make sure you get to your location at minimum the night before. Coming the morning of is literally the worst idea ever.
  • Most schools will have recommendations for hotel to stay in. Follow this advice.
  • If you are driving long distance find someone to come with you. Otherwise you sit in the car for 6 hours thinking about every single thing that can go wrong. Like your interviewing having a heart attack, or you throwing up in the middle of the tour.
  • Discern if you want this person to be a parent (if you’re in that age bracket to do so). Base this on how long you can stand your parentals talking about your potential new doctor-ness or any related topics.
  • Know when the doors to the school open. Showing up an hour early to find out you have to wait outside in 95 degree weather in your suit is awesome.

At the interview, but not interviewing yet

  • You should show up at least 30 minutes early to your interview time. There’s usually paperwork you have to fill out as well as food.
  • If they offer you break or lunch food, eat something. Some interviewing days only last 3 hours, but other days they can go for 7.
  • And if you are wearing any light clothing at all, do not, I REPEAT, DO NOT try your chances with the coffee. Your nerves should be able to keep you awake.
  • Be mentally prepared for things to get weird. Like you can walk in and they make you write an essay. Or you can’t find the 7th floor.
  • You’ll be told a ton of information about the school ranging from curriculum to specially faculty to awards. This is them trying to convince you that you are a good fit, even though they haven’t decide if you are a good fit for them.
  • This will be a chance for you to talk to real live medical students! Don’t be afraid to ask them all of your questions, which is why they volunteered to be there in the first place.
  • Some school will give you a packet which has finaid info, school booklet, other misc. items, and if you’re lucky the names of the people you will be interviewing with. If they are faculty, make sure to ask the medical students about them.
  • At some point during the day, before or after the interview, you will tour the campus facilities and get to see classroom, labs, places to study and many other exciting things. If you have multiple interviews, you may take these sights into more account than you thought previously.
  • This is the time to find out the little nuances of the school. Is there a dress code? Does the school stay open 24 hours? Where can you get food?
  • When it comes time to start interviewing, most candidates have different times. So you may be first, or you may be last. Just keep yourself level headed the best you can.

The main event

  • There are plenty of places you could have your interview at the medical school. You could be in someone’s office, a board room or even a completely glass study room. You know, so everyone can SEE YOU.
  • Interviews typically range from 15 to 45 minutes. There is no time span that means you did well or poorly. It is what it is.
  • If your interview(s) take a second to think of another question or discuss something, gather yourself back up. Are you slouching? Have you been umming a lot? Are you swinging around in the swivel chair from hell? Assess and recompose.
  • Be ready with the questions you know will be asked, like what do you want to be a doctor or Tell me about yourself? The way you answer will generally set the pace of what questions you are asked after that.
  • Play off the mood of your interviewer(s). If they seem grumpy or uninterested, speak with a lot of confidence but keep a serious tone. If they are light hearted, getting a laugh out of them will help you be remembered.
  • And that is something you want. To be remembered. If the interviewer(s) remember you as someone interesting, your chances of getting in will sky rocket.
  • Bad grades or a lower MCAT score are hard to discuss, especially without making it seem like you are making up excuses. A good way to combat this is to make it known this is a weakness and you have found way since then to overcome those weaknesses.
  • Make sure that you have a good understanding of the mission statement of the school. This is important when you are asked about how you “fit”.
  • Play into your interests and strengths. Had an uncommon major?  Played a sport for 10 years? Lived overseas? Bring out that ammo and link them to how they could make you a good physician.
  • Have questions ready to ask when they are done questioning you. Have at least 2 because you will most likely have at least one of them answered beforehand. And if they answered all you questions let them know! Just say “thank you, but X person answered them all already!”
  • In a move mostly to throw you completely off and make you falter, your interviewer(s) might ask you something completely knowledge based, such as a clinic question or the Henderson-Hasselbach equation. If you know the answer, damn child. But if not you are allowed to say “I’m sorry, I don’t know the answer.” Don’t sit there in your short interview time drowning.
  • Group interviews can be a lovely experience or straight out of a house of neurotic premed horrors. This all depends on the people who are grouped with. You have no control of this measure of fate. Be able to answer your questions in 30 seconds quips, so your interviewer(s) can get a sense of who you are despite the situation.
  • Some interviewer(s) will give you their business card. First, keep your excitement down to an eager thank you, because this is a good sign. Second, make sure you send a thank you email directly to them. You will look professional, grateful and your interviewer(s) will remember you.
  • Be your best self during all of this! Be genuine and show them who you really are.
  • Say thank you to EVERYONE.

Home sweet home

  • Get back home after your interview, and pass out somewhere in your house and forget about it. Dwelling over every little mistake is bad for your health and a future doctor shouldn’t be doing unhealthy things.
  • In most cases, but not all, your acceptance will come either by phone call or snail mail. Snail mail is way worse.
  • Being on hold or waitlisted is not a death sentence. Be patient.
  • Being rejected is also not the end of the world. Chances are if you got one interview, you will get more.
  • In the very likely chance you have been accepted celebrate! You did it and no matter what happens from here on out, guess what? YOU’RE IN!