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.
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The 10 Pre-med You’ll Meet in College

Originally posted April 1st, 2014

Ah categorization. Don’t we all love it? These are some pre-meds I have seen in my day. Maybe you have seen them all; maybe you haven’t interacted with anyone like these. Is this all of them? Of course not! Its just a few who stick out and who you might not ever forget. You might even be a combination of a couple of ‘em.

The doctor-to-be since birth

These pre-meds have it covered. They’ve been volunteering at hospitals and clinics since they were legally allowed to, already have umpteen doctors ready to write them recommendation letters, and know exactly what kind of doctor they need to be. Whispering sweet nothings of physician-hood since they were three, they will let nothing stop them from achieving the goal. They are slightly intimidating at first, but eventually they become less so as classes get more intense. Besides their total one-track commitment to medicine, they are pretty helpful and are general nice.

The perfect candidate

How are they so good at everything? Great grades, good test takers, they seem to know exactly what to do and have all the right doctorly attributes. But you can’t hate them. You don’t even dislike them because they are pretty nice. They are the ones willing to help a straggler, teach a study group and be a beloved officer in a club. You really find yourself cheering for them along the way. The trick with the perfect candidate for medical school is they don’t believe themselves so great. The word is humble.

The forced

In your heart you want to shake the forced. They don’t really want to be a doctor, but feel pushed into a corner. Maybe it’s from parents; maybe they just put too much pressure on themselves. A lot of people who are forced to be pre-med start off okay, but slowly decline. Whether they are losing steam or lose complete interest its clear they are not happy doing this. You can only hope they figure it out before they get into medical school.

The nonchalant

“Oh yeah, I guess I want to go to med school. I do pretty well in my class.” They say while not even bothering to look up from whatever they are doing. And you have no idea if they are the best in class or drowning at the bottom. They just don’t seem fazed by any of it. They are good to have around if you’re panicking though. “Why panic? It’s not going to make anything better.” They say. The wise words of someone who reads the organic chemistry book like a novel.

The Ivy Leaguer

Every pre-med has a dream school but these pre-meds are going to Harvard for med school. Or so they say. And say it they will. It’s nice to think big, but some goals seem just a little bit lofty don’t you think? Tread carefully around these pre-meds, for they don’t take it well if you try to talk about thinks like less prestigious schools, or heaven forbid, BACKUP OPTIONS. They tend to have a slight air of superiority, even though they don’t go to their dream Ivy League. And nothing will break the delusion, except an actual rejection.

The baby gunner

You won’t always notice them right away but it comes pretty apparent when one day you are shoved out of the way as baby gunners plant themselves in the front row of your class. Some live up to their crazy study (or not) habits, but most just act like the top of the class. To them, everyone is competition and there is no way they are going to let anyone get ahead of them. It’s a dog-eat-dog world after all. So don’t ask for advice or about what happened in class that day because you certainly won’t get a good answer. You can’t beat them either, in anything. Got a 95 on your test? Well they got a 96. There isn’t much to gain here.

The panicked

We all get stressed sometimes, but why are they crying after the test? The panicked will always seem up in arms about something, whether it is an upcoming test, not being 100% ready for an event or they started thinking too much. These anxiety driven individuals can get things done, but it’s usually accompanied with sobs and a breakdown. Usually they do alright, but they don’t really get the whole fact that if they did well once, they can probably do well again. Do not provoke.

The confused

“How high a score can you get on the MCAT? Why do I need to take physics? We have pre-med advisors?” They aren’t doing it to be annoying; the confused just don’t quite know what’s going on. They want to be a doctor, they really do. They most likely have just never had specific guidance so they have turned to you for all their medical school questions. Be patient though, one day they apparently figure it out (but really still have no idea what’s happening).

The survivors

The survivors have made it though. The students who have seen it all, done it all and now have the great honor of entering medical school. Keep them around for your questions and expectations. If they like you, you will gain a treasure cove of information. They took your path and there they go. Hopefully, they make you feel like if they did it, you can do it too.

The 10 Commandments of the Pre-med

Originally posted May 7th, 2014

Being pre-med is a little like being part of really weird religion. We have specific rituals we must complete so that we might ascend to a higher plane (aka getting into med school). And no one quiet gets it unless they themselves are pre-med too. So here are some commandments* to follow while we try to get into paradise (or is it hell?).

1.       I am pre-med, I believe in myself

If you want to become a doctor, this is not only the first thing, but the most important thing. The minute you completely stop believing you can reach your goals is the moment you won’t achieve them.

2.       Thou shall not follow nonsense

False prophets so to speak. If you heard a rumor about something or hear people talking up a storm about a class but something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Do your research, but also trust your gut. Don’t go along with something just because everyone else is.

3.       Thou shall not take thine classes in vain

If you are pre-med you should know how important your classes are. Don’t take advantage of them and actually learn the material even if the teacher sucks or you might not get as high of a grade because you took the harder class.

4.       Remember all exam dates

These are the pre-med scared times, so it would behoove you to keep track of them. You should also know the dates when applications open, deadlines end and any events you have are obligated to go to.

5.       Thou shall honor thine mother and father and all instructors

Respecting parents once you’re in college? Slightly easier than high school. Respecting all your professors? Sometimes really easy, sometimes you plan an axe murder in class. BUT they are still experts in their field and willing to instruct. You don’t have to like them, you just can’t fly off the handle at them. You should take action if the problem extends beyond obnoxiousness.

6.       Thou shall not medically touch any person

You are not a doctor. You are not even a medical student yet. You have no right or responsibility to try to diagnose or “aid” anyone unless you are specially trained to do so (phlebotomist, CPR certified, etc.). You’ll get there one day, stay smart and safe.

7.       You shall not receive grades immorally  

There are some times in college when it is sooo tempting to cheat. For pre-meds though, college isn’t the end of the road for us. We aren’t just trying to make it through. We’re here to learn the tools we need to be successful doctors, and cheating is counterproductive. Plus, it is not worth it to get caught. Rather get a crap grade than be kicked out of school.

8.       Thou shall not steal or be deceitful

This goes right along with cheating, but also with lying about grades, class material or stealing shit off the internet. What’s the point of doing those things? Because it certainly doesn’t make you any better at anything.

9.       Thou shall not slander others

It happens to the best of us, where we totally shit talk people. It’s not the end of the world, but you probably shouldn’t tarnish anyone’s reputation, intended or otherwise. You also should not be verbally abusing people and bringing them down.

10.   Thou shall not covet what other achieve

Admiration is a good thing. It can help you set your own goals. Seething jealousy over other is bad. It will only drive you crazy when you compare yourself to others and want what they have. Most of them earned the things they have. No one get a gold star for free in medicine.

*These are based off the Judaic translations of the 10 commandments, pretty much in order with 3 dos and 7 don’t. I am only familiar with that version, but got creative with the old English.

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!

Keeping Care of Those Medically Bound

Originally posted June 11th, 2014 here

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 always turn that way. We only have a measly 24 hours in our days and while we’d love to spend it with you it doesn’t always happen. So one thing that wears us down is when our busy schedules cause us to be left out, forgotten because we “never go”. 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.

50 Things About Doing Research as a Pre-Med

Ah yes the eternal question for pre-meds “do I need to do research?”

Technically, no you do not need to do research. Most schools do not require research experience, though if you look at stats, most people who get accepted to medical schools have done it. It’s always looked upon favorably.

So what about research? Well, I’ve been doing research for 2+ years so I have a few helpful things to share. Remember, all experiences should be your own. Just take all advice with a grain of salt.

 

 Getting research

  • Figure out what kind of research you are interested in. Medical? Military? Education? This is a good place to help you start in your search.
  • Look at the options offered by your university or in the area.
  • A good reason to be on good terms with your professor is that you can ask if they are doing any research and if you can be involved.
  • Ask friends who are already involved in research if they know of any openings. I got two of my friends research positions.
  • Know your strengths. Are you good at writing? Do you work better with your hands?
  • What do you need for specific labs? Most places have certain requirements, like having taken an organic chemistry lab or proficiency in using statistical analysis software.
  • Some research is paid. Some are considered “volunteer”. Don’t discredit an opportunity because it isn’t paid.
  • Research comes in cycles and is based on projects. They can last anywhere between 4 months to years. Figure out how much time you will be able to dedicate.
  • Many medical schools love to see research. It DOES NOT have to be medically related. What they want to see if your involvement and dedication to see it through.
  • Don’t get into research just as an application booster! Do it because research is meant to help people or help discover new things!

In the lab

  • Make sure to always dress appropriately for the lab you’re in. In a chem lab? Always wear your protective gear. Work in an office? Dress like a professional.
  • Always be aware of what’s going on during your projects. You never know who might swoop in and fire questions at you.
  • Get to know your peers. Are they undergrads, grad students? Med student, doctors, PhDs? This is how you can gauge how your demeanor in the lab should be.
  • Be aware of who else works around you. A lot places have more than one project going on at any one time.
  • Doing research is generally more of commitment that just doing volunteering, even if you aren’t paid. Most of the time, you will have to sacrifice between 8 and 12 hours of your time a week. Maybe more, maybe less, it depends on the lab and the project.

People you might meet

  • There will be people you love in your lab. They will make your experience great and help you bond with what you are learning about.
  • Other people will drive you up the wall and make you want to tear your hair out of your head. “How did these people make it through college?!” You’ll wonder. But this is just practice for the real world.
  • Undergrads: probably the most like yourself (and in the same position). Most likely, they will have similar classes and interests. Mostly harmless.
  • Grad students: In some labs, you’ll be working directly under them. They are pretty stressed out since the project is likely part of their thesis. Try not to mess up and stay away when they are freaking out about something. “You won’t understand until grad school.” If you say so.
  • Full time employees: they get paid to do what you do for free. Most of them have indeed dedicated their life to working there though. Many of these people probably won’t work directly with you. Maybe just in the building.
  • PhDs: probably your bosses. You will either be on full interacting terms with them, consulting them for even the most meager of trifles or you will surprise that they even knew your name even though you’ve been there three months.
  • PhD candidates: these people actually know hell. Similar to grad students and have good advice.
  • Military officials: they think you’re funny because you’re really nervous that you’re going to insult the United States military and get fired. Most of them are pretty nice though, if not slightly confused by the research they are funding (if your military funded).
  • Actual scientists: You aren’t sure what their qualifications are, but they are really serious about this research. Like really serious. Somehow, it makes you afraid to touch anything.
  • Physicians: Research doctors to be more specific. If you were brought onto the project, they probably already like you. Don’t mess it up.
  • Med students: if you work with med students, they do most of the clinic type stuff. You’re just happy to help though.

Things you might do

  • More likely than not, you will be doing multiple things while in your research position. Make sure can multitask effectively.
  • You might be working with chemicals or microbes that would be, well, dangerous. It’s exciting but don’t rush anything in this setting unless you want acid burns (learned that from personal experience).
  • Someone might ask you if you can make meth, not matter what kind of lab you work in.
  • You might actually make something pretty close to meth.
  • The products you get in research actually mean something, so take your time to get it right.
  • Many labs have equipment you won’t see anywhere else. Not only will you have the privilege to see these objects inaction but you will probably know how to use them as well.
  • Certain labs require you to know how to work with the data yourself. Pay attention in those basic classes, now is when they come in handy.
  • You (probably) will have to complete an IRB and CITI training.
  • If you work on literature reviews, you will figure out how to crank them out like nobody’s business. This helps if you chose to do research later.
  • You will learn how to cite correctly. And quickly.
  • Depending on what kind of person/company/school you work for, you will have the chance to expose yourself to many different people. Many who can offer great connections or opportunities in the future.
  • You will meet important people regardless though. Always have your game face ready.
  • Interactions with participants will always be interesting. Some will be perfect. Other you will wonder how they get a car started (ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS CLICK A RED BARREL, IT’S NOT THAT HARD).
  • Color blindness tests are pretty standard when running participants. At some point, you may run into someone you have to tell to see an optometrist because they might be red-green color blind.
  • You will come to understand why research, especially the one you are participating in, is so important.
  • Maybe you will get to work on personal research. Some colleges have students do an undergrad thesis and where do you think you can do that in the sciences? A lab of course.

You give what you get 

  • You will find out if you like doing research.
  • Researchers move onto new projects constantly. If you do well, you may be invited on to continue doing research under someone.
  • Many research positions start off as unpaid. Many turn paid if you stay on for good work.
  • Depending on your quality of work and what you do, the people you do research under are excellent letter writers.
  • You will become somewhat of an expert in whatever you are doing research on.
  • You will have the experience. Researchers in the future are more likely to take on someone who already has worked in the environment.
  • The more instrumental you are in your lab, the more likely you are to be published.
  • Know that almost all research is done to benefit someone, somewhere. Be proud of that.

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.