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How To Get Into Medical School

How To Get Into Medical School

How do you get into medical school?

It’s simple! All you have to do is:

  1. Be a genius.
  2. Be completely selfless while somehow spending enough time by yourself to study and get perfect grades.
  3. Experience something life-changing that drew you towards medicine (and be able to write about that experience without sounding “braggy” or cliché.)
  4. Volunteer more hours than you sleep.
  5. Other helpful skills/experiences: being a top pick in the NBA draft but declining because you want to pursue medicine, winning a Nobel prize (“nominee” would also suffice), being the dean of a medical school, etc…

Okay, so I’m obviously being sarcastic…but when I was a premed, there were times when this was how I honestly felt.  Whenever I told others that I was pre-med, their eyes would gloss over and they’d mumble a reflexive “well isn’t that nice”.  Truthfully, I felt kind of strange identifying as a “pre-med” since that word is empty unless you actually get accepted into med school.  I wrote this piece to share what I wish I would have known as a pre-med and hopefully put some certainty into this overwhelmingly uncertain stage in your life…

Unfortunately, I can’t give you a recipe that will guarantee your acceptance into medical school (I would if I could).  What I can do, however, is share with you the three essentials that will ultimately get you that life-changing, “we are pleased to offer you a spot at ________ school of medicine” call.
These essentials are: show you are smart and can learn, show your dedication to medicine, show you understand what being a doctor is all about…

 

1.  Show You Are Smart And Can Learn…

This is where your MCAT and GPA come in.  Let’s breakdown these anxiety-provoking, objective data points a little more and really understand how admissions committee’s weight them.

MCAT – “Smart”

Your MCAT score is uniquely provides the only “standardized” metric to directly compare you against every other applicant. That said, admissions committee members know that correctly memorizing and using Bernoulli’s equation of fluid dynamics isn’t what will ultimately make you a good doctor.  Rather, your MCAT score is a means of identifying your baseline ability to study and take a test (a skill that is unfortunately necessary for you to become a doctor).

This means you DON’T need a near perfect score to get accepted.  However, you DO need a solid score that shows that you can perform at a baseline level similar to your peers. (For more info about studying for the MCAT click here)

GPA – “Capable of Learning”

You will learn more in four years of medical school than others learn throughout their entire life.  That said, in order to gain the vast knowledge required of a successful doctor, admissions committees want to be confident in your ability to learn.

When compared to the MCAT, your GPA is much more ambiguous and “open to interpretation”.  To compare the two, think of your MCAT as a picture and your GPA as a video. Your MCAT is a snapshot of how you performed on one day, but your GPA is how you performed over 4+ years!  Like a video, your GPA is dynamic in that it changes over time.  Since admissions committee members like to scour through your transcripts to see how your grades changed over your undergrad years, your GPA becomes more than just one number.  Ultimately, they are looking for progression and want to see that you are committed to learning and self-improvement.

If you have a bad grade or even bad semester, then show your ability to bounce back by having better semesters.

Honestly, having a poor GPA one semester then showing continual improvement after, can even be more beneficial than just having all good semesters.  With all that said, you are expected to reach a specific “GPA cutoff” that many schools have. If your GPA is lower than others, your grade progression through your undergrad years is a huge determining factor.

 

2.  Show Your Dedication To Medicine…

From my experiences, applicants usually fall into one of two categories:

  1. The applicant knew at a young age that they wanted to become a doctor.
  2. The applicant experienced something that changed their life’s course and pushed them to pursue a life as a doctor.

Now obviously not everyone is going to fit one of these two categories, and often times, there is overlap between the two.  Neither of these applicants are superior to the other, and both have unique opportunities to show their dedication to medicine.  Regardless, your personal statement will be key in showing your commitment to medicine.
To help you strategize and show your dedication to medicine, I have broken down these two applicants by timeline.

Applicant #1 –  To show your dedication…

Emphasize and outline your long history of interest in the medical field.  You should show your consistency by highlighting the experiences you have had that have strengthened your passion for medicine.  Although you might not have that “life changing” event like applicant #2, your strength resides in your long-term commitments, whether it be volunteering, shadowing, premed organizations, etc…

Applicant #2 –  To show your dedication…

Your focus surrounds that life-altering event that pushed you towards becoming a doctor.  You have an opportunity to grab attention by vividly describing this event and how it will help you stay committed during the long journey to becoming a doctor.  Don’t be afraid to highlight your previous interests or career, since these will help show your uniqueness as an applicant.  For example, I have med school classmates that were previously chefs, investment bankers, English professors, etc…

If you fall somewhere in between these two ends of the spectrum, don’t worry!  You might have the opportunity to combine the best parts of both of these applicants to show your dedication.  Regardless of what type of applicant you are, you will always benefit from a personal statement review service.

3.  Show You Understand What Being A Doctor Is All About…

Basically, admissions committee members want to make sure that you know what you’re getting yourself into.  The training required to become a doctor is unlike that of any career.  It will push you beyond your perceived limits and demand huge delays in gratification.  So in order to make these sacrifices, you should clearly understand what it means to be a doctor so you can focus on this ultimate goal.  Admissions committee members understand this too.

I believe there are two main ways to show that you know what being a doctor is all about:

Shadowing and/or working as a scribe…

Every applicant needs to have at least some shadowing experience. No question. Getting this glimpse of what its like to be a physician on a regular day is critical.  It shows that you not only understand the positives, but more importantly, that you understand the frustrations and challenges they face. It shows that you’re willing to take the good with the bad and still pursue this career.

Working as a physician’s scribe can be a substitute for shadowing, since this is a lot of one on one time with a doc.

Direct patient contact…

As crazy as it sounds, if you want to become a doctor you have to see patients (yes, even pathologists and radiologists). Therefore, having patient contact experience is essential in demonstrating your ability and understanding of what doctors actually do.  This includes any opportunity where you have 1-on-1 contact with patients.  Some examples include: CNA/caregiver work, EMT, hospital volunteering where you directly visit with patients, etc.

To be a competitive applicant, you should at least have some experience in both shadowing AND patient contact. Every applicant is different and you can choose to do more of one and less of the other.  For example, compared to other applicants, I had minimal shadowing experience(20+ hours). However I made up for it by working a full year as a caregiver (plus 2 years visiting elderly patients in the hospital).  These patient contact hours ultimately offset my limited shadowing experiences.

 

In Summary…

The answer to “how to get into medical school?” starts with the following:

 

  1. Show that you’re smart and can learn – via your GPA and MCAT score.

  2. Demonstrate your dedication to medicine – via sharing your personal story.

  3. Show that you understand what being a doctor is all about – via your shadowing and patient contact experiences.

 

I have found that the people who talk a big game are usually trying to compensate for the lack of success.  If you haven’t noticed in this piece, I’ve emphasized “showing” rather than “telling”.

If you want to be a doctor, you’ll have to make sacrifices and do what others won’t now to have what other can’t down the road.  You’ll have to miss a few parties, study when you’re tired, and volunteer on your days off.  But once you make that decision to commit to this noble pursuit, I promise you won’t regret it!
This is what will ultimately get you accepted into med school.

By Drew Porter

-M4 at UWSMPH, Editor at Motivate MD

 

This is obviously a broad topic, but I’d love to answer any questions you might have… So don’t hesitate to comment below!!

How to Study in Medical School: 12 Study Tips for Struggling Med Students

How to Study in Medical School: 12 Study Tips for Struggling Med Students

If you’re anything like me, then school has always come easily to you. Sure, there might have been hiccups in your prestigious academic career, but ultimately, you had little doubt that you would succeed and attend, pass, and graduate as a fully-fledged physician. And, if you’re anything like me, when you got to medical school, at some point, you got smashed over the head with a Tom and Jerry-sized mallet when it came to studying, and exams. Like me, you’ve probably barely passed an exam or two during your time as a medical student…

It turns out, my lack of effective, efficient study habits has kicked my butt much more than I care to admit, and I’m only now realizing-after some hard lessons-what it means to study the right way in medical school. That’s why I’m writing to you today-to hopefully assist you in learning from my mistakes. I’m not going to say anything profound or brilliant, but I want

1. Plan Your Studying

This seems like an easy one to overlook, but it must be said. I’m talking a “big picture” idea of what you want to accomplish daily, weekly, and monthly. Figure out a daily, weekly, and block/monthly schedule that works for you, and stick to it (I recommend an app called Fantastical). What sort of content do you want to be studying the afternoon after class? Are you an am or pm studier, 9-5? What about on the weekend before exam? For added, effect, have a ToDo List for studying (Any.do is great). Find a pattern to your life that works for you, and don’t worry about anyone else (this goes for every tip). Both a ToDo list and a calendar will give you a feeling of forward motion, progress, that is sorely lacking as we go through a seemingly endless cycle of class and exams. Trust me on this one that the feeling of forward progress will help you study longer and harder.

2. Set Goals 

Do you want to pass, or do you want to excel? Figure out what you want, and spend time working out what has to be accomplished to achieve this goal. Break down content into accomplishable bytes, and reward yourself when you achieve a goal.

3. Find Your Quiet Place

Batman has the Batcave, Superman has the Fortress of Solitude, you need to find yours. I don’t have the time to go through all the science that demonstrates that quiet, individual, and intense study is the best way to master a subject. Study groups are good, but only after you’ve learned the content on your own and can discuss, clarify, and teach others. And in this quiet space, it’s important to minimize distractions like our phones, social media, people, and heck, even music. I admit, this is a hard one to give up, because I love listening to music when I study, but all of the science shows we retain less information when we study with anything but classical music at low volumes. If you absolutely need noise, white noise apps are an awesome alternative.

4. Engage Actively With Content

Active learning is always better than passive learning. We produce stronger mnemonic ties to facts and information when we do something that forces us to ask questions of the material. This is a hard one for me too, but after we’ve read the content/watched the lecture, it’s important to create note sheets, take practice tests/questions, and discuss with others (after we’ve studied on our own of course!) This also means reviewing frequently, and not just before the test.

5. Use Different Modalities

The idea of being an “auditory” or “spatial” learner is a lie. While you might prefer one modality, it’s been repeatedly shown that by introducing multiple modalities of information- sight and sound at the very least-we retain that information better. It’s the reason why anatomy isn’t simply taught theoretically, but you get to smell the humidor, and dig into your body, and see it. It’s even a pretty good  reason to consider switching to handwritten notes-the tactile feedback engages more of our brain with the information at hand. As an aside, I also encourage you utilize multiple resources when studying to break up the monotony.

6. Take Frequent Breaks

Look, I don’t know about you, but I get burned out from studying at about the 40 minute marker. It’s important to take breaks between slogging through textbooks and notes. The general rule is 10 minutes for every 50. Get up, stretch, walk, relax your eyes (so don’t stare at your phone), get a snack. When you return, jump topics or the way you’re studying. These regular breaks will help consolidate information into your memory. I suggest using a Pomodoro Timer to force this on yourself, if you’re like me and like to stretch your breaks just a little bit longer.

7. Do The Hard Stuff First

Yep, pretty simple. Do the hard work when you’re fresh, and save the easy stuff for the end when you’re burned out. It probably sounds awful, but it works.

8. If Something Isn’t Working, Change It

Guess what? You have permission to study the way you want to. If a place isn’t working anymore? Move. A particular Q Bank or SketchyMed being a pain? Quit using it!

9. Nothing Can Compensate For Time

I’m too lazy sometimes. Nothing can compensate for not putting in the hours, so do yourself a favor, and put in the hours, even when the content seems easy. Especially when it seems easy (here’s looking at you M2 pulmonology exam).

10. Be Weird

This one comes from my roommate, and it’s a great one. He says, “Do whatever you need to do to remember.” He paces, others dance around the room, make stupid puns, dirty mnemonics. Really, just be your crazy weird self, and do what has to be done to make content memorable. And don’t worry about being weird-everyone In med school is a freak-you’re in good company!

11. Take Care of Yourself

Heart, mind, soul, strength. You are a holistic person, and have to treat yourself as such. It’s easy to lose ourselves in the vast streams of knowledge and thought, but make sure you take care of your relationships, your emotions, your mental health, your sleep, your diet, exercise, your spiritual nature (if you believe in such things).

12. Get Help

It’s there when we need it. Your professors don’t want you to fail, so get help when you need it-classmates, office hours, tutors, the resources are there. There is no shame in using them.

Matthew Wright

Medical College of Wisconsin – Class of 2019
Editor at Motivate MD

Have anything to add or simply have an unanswered question?

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How To Write A Personal Statement for Medical School

How To Write A Personal Statement for Medical School

By reviewing hundreds and hundreds of med school personal statements, I have noticed several recurring themes. Mulling these over, I have devised a recipe for writing personal statements that will help you avoid the pitfalls that many pre-meds face.

Write Your Thesis First

Although this is a creative essay, you still need to obey the conventional organization that you were taught in high school. This revolves around your thesis, which I like to view as the roadmap to your entire piece. Therefore, you should start by writing this crucial sentence. It should answer two very important questions. First, why do you want to be a doctor? Second, why will you be a good one? Beyond that, it should contain the evidence for your argument, which again, is the answer to the two previous questions.

Reflect Deeply on the Evidence for Your Thesis

This evidence is where you truly convince the reader of the argument outlined in your thesis. Therefore, choose wisely. If you say you are drawn to medicine for its naturally challenging nature, you better have something that supports you thrive in such an environment. Moreover, if the humanistic element is what captivates you, then the reader better not have any doubts about this based on your chosen evidence. Be hard on yourself, as the personal statement is your opportunity to really jump off the page and be far more than a set of metrics and experiences. Ultimately, the evidence you choose will be expounded upon in your body paragraphs (I would not recommend more than four given the character constraints you have to work within). As I said above, the thesis is your roadmap. That is why you should begin here.

Put a Story to Each Bit of Evidence in Your Thesis

When we review medical school personal statements, we often use the phrase show, don’t tell. This refers to the fact that it is much more powerful and convincing to convey a trait through a story, rather than merely telling your reader you are compassionate, hard-working, or whatever it is you want to say. Each element that you choose to support your thesis has to be tied to a heartwarming and convincing story. Don’t speak in generalities from a bird’s eye view, hone in on one particular experience with perhaps just one individual. Maybe you really connected with someone you were tutoring, propelling them to new heights. Maybe you went the extra mile to put a patient at ease. Find your stories and I can assure you that you will not be disappointed with your end product.

Don’t Neglect the Concluding Paragraph

Getting back to organization being crucial, do not neglect to write a concluding paragraph. This is generally the easiest to write, as you are merely bringing all of your thesis evidence back together. Then, you close with a powerful, rewritten version of your thesis. Voila!

Med School Personal Statement Dos and Don’ts

I hope this has provided you with the tools necessary to start your medical school personal statement. We look forward to working with you more on it!

Winning the War Against Anxiety

Winning the War Against Anxiety

 

Hey everyone-it’s been a spell. I’m glad to be writing again.

Guys-I have anxiety. No, I don’t fit the diagnostic criteria for GAD or Panic Disorder. That said, my default wiring is anxiety. I worry about nearly everything- school, dating (I’m single ladies…), weekend plans, friendships, finances, research, if I remembered to flush. You know, normal stuff. Most of all, I worry about the beautiful, big picture, future-stuff like boards and residency and who I am as a person. I am exceedingly future focused and self-conscious, a winning combination, I know. Chances are, if you’re in medicine, you probably relate.

And you know what?

Anxiety Sucks.

A lot.

The ways anxiety sucks are impossible to number, but if I picked three reasons it would be these: Anxiety sucks because anxiety is de-motivating, it robs today of its joy, and it’s just a tiny bit addictive. You know, like when you watch Human Centipede and you want to stop, but you just can’t. (Editor’s Note: DO NOT WATCH HUMAN CENTIPEDE).

Right now, I just want to talk about how constricting, how suffocating, how demoralizing anxiety can be. Story time- I’ve been MIA from life for the past 3 as I’ve been wading through a labyrinthine haze of UWorld and First Aid. I had an original Step 1 date set for early June. As the day drew closer, I started getting anxious. I was sleeping 4 hours a night, vomiting before practice tests. My bowels were a mess. I don’t say this to garner sympathy, but to make it clear where I was at.

And you know what I did instead of buckling down? I psyched myself out- I told myself I couldn’t do this- that I wasn’t improving (untrue), and that I should be ashamed for not working harder (maybe a little true). I felt it didn’t matter if I studied or not, so I started slacking- waking up later, studying fewer hours, less intensely. If that’s you, I want you to simply know- you can do it. Heck, if you’ve accomplished anything in your life, you know that you succeeded in part because you told yourself you could succeed. When you’re anxious, nothing seems worth it, your mind races, and what was once false starts becoming real. Anxiety inhibits us from reaching our full potential.

But you knew that.

What you not might know is the cure – humility. Working harder doesn’t work. Talking yourself out of it doesn’t work. Humbly admitting that in your present state, you can’t do it- that works. You, being as anxious as you are, cannot and will not succeed. You have to accept reality. To me, that’s what humility is- seeing yourself precisely as you are-no better, no worse. I had to realize that yeah, I do suck right now. It’s a really hard thing to realize- that you’re broken and need help.

Everyone I’ve ever seen get through their anxiety, they had to accept the world as it was at that moment, to admit they needed a hand. It is never wrong to ask for help. To ask for help is, believe it or not, a sign of strength and courage. And I’m sorry, I wish I could give you a roadmap to humility, but I can’t. Maybe you’ll just break down in tears to your dad sitting in your sweaty Pontiac Vibe with broken a/c in the parking lot of a Panera. No? Just me? Okay, that’s cool.

Honestly, not the best place for a mental-breakdown- there was a Kopps Frozen Custard just across the street.

There’s a second step to winning this war- build an army. I mean a real team- people who may not entirely understand what you’re going through, but love you unconditionally. Joel, my roommate who told me how it was. Josh, my best friend who happened to be coming up to Wisconsin the weekend after I had my mini-meltdown. The scores of friends who lent me support on test day. The crew at MotivateMD who gave me the time off I needed to take care of myself. Dr. Tsao who showed me so much kindness and helped me switch my schedule around. And of course my amazing family, who let me be normal, who told me that I was loved no matter what, who told me I am valuable simply because I exist. Yeah, it’s a platitude. But sometimes we need to believe in the stupid little banal platitudes of life.

Because they’re true.

And you know what? Things got better. I moved my test date, took extra time to study, moved back home for a month. Things got better. Suddenly, material that didn’t make any sense was going in. I believed I could succeed, I wasn’t sick, I was sleeping again. When test day rolled around, I felt like I might actually pass, or even reach my target.

You can feel that way too-all it takes is a little humility.

I’m not saying anxiety is easy to deal with. I’ll probably always struggle with it. But now I know how to. Heck, my anxiety is mild by most standards. I know that. I’m not so resilient, I don’t have grit. Sorry if I sound like a pushover today. Even so, if you struggle with anxiety, I hope that my story has gone some way towards helping you win the war.

Be kind to yourself. Love others.

-Matt

Single Greatest Piece of Advice for First Year Med Students…

Single Greatest Piece of Advice for First Year Med Students…

On my first day of medical school, I entered the classroom full of confidence…

I had this internal plan of vigorously taking notes during all of my lectures and studying feverishly all night long. I envisioned myself participating in study groups with my classmates and holding my own during small group discussions. I’ll admit, I was not the “smartest” student during my college career, but I knew that medical school would be different. I was finally in an environment where I was learning material pertinent to my future career and was ready to give it my all.

However, within my first week of classes, I realized that my plan was completely falling apart. I found myself in an environment where I was convinced that everyone was smarter than me and knew what he/she was doing. I started anatomy feeling powerful, but left my first lab in tears because I was convinced that I was somehow already behind. Finding myself dedicating hours drawing out all of the muscles of the back and upper extremity, yet somehow still managed to fail my first anatomy quiz. After that, I arrived to every lecture and lab with a smile on my face while on the inside I was wondering how all of my classmates seemed to have it all together. No matter how vigorously I took notes in lecture or how feverishly I studied, I simply felt like I could not keep up.

 A few weeks into medical school, I found myself emailing my anatomy professor asking for help.

I knew I was not doing well in anatomy, and needed tips on how to study. The afternoon I walked into his office, I could tell that he had seen many students before me with similar concerns. After telling him my problems with keeping up with the material, he looked me right in the eye and told me the last piece of advice I ever expected to hear. “No matter what you do or how much you study, you will never, EVER know everything.” I remember feeling surprised, and continued on with how much trouble I was having with memorizing the muscle attachments of the hand. He interrupted me by saying, “Breanna, do you ever plan on becoming a hand surgeon? The only instance where you are going to need to know every single muscle of the hand is if you have to operate on a patient after years of training.” He then went on explaining how I need to cut my losses and focus on the material that I felt more comfortable with. And although I left the meeting feeling just as stressed as when I went in, I knew deep down that he was right.

From that point on, I tried my best to forgive myself while I was studying. If I came across minute details that I just could not remember, I reminded myself that there was no way I was going to know the answer to every single answer on the test. After anatomy lab one day, I found myself listening to a classmate talk to me about how she was convinced that she was behind and would never catch up. Even one year later, friend who I perceived to be one of the smartest people in my class confessed to me that he thought that he was the dumbest one in the room during the first few weeks of medical school. I realized that my fears were not unique, and that even the people who seemed to know it all had their doubts.

I wish I could say that this realization was my turning point during my medical school career, but forgiving myself for my weaknesses while studying is a skill that I am still continuing to work on.

Now I would be lying if I said that I did not feel angry at myself for forgetting a fact that I knew I studied in the past or for getting a pimp question wrong. That is something that we all struggle with but don’t always admit to others. I even found myself listening to a senior physician on morning rounds telling me about studying for his board exams and how he continuously feels humbled by how much he does not know about medicine. Again, I realized that no matter what I do or how hard I try, I will never know everything. Even the greatest physician in the world will still get questions wrong. We all feel like the dumbest person in the room sometimes. We all feel guilty when we spend an hour surfing the web instead of studying for our board exams. And we will all forget things. We are all human, we are all incredible, and we all just have to give ourselves a break.

Premed Study Strategies: What I Wish I Had Done Differently

Premed Study Strategies: What I Wish I Had Done Differently

I remember arriving at college. My parents moved me into my not so spacious new dorm room, said their goodbyes (a tearful one from my mom), and were pretty quickly on their way. I was excited to explore this foreign land, but also a bit apprehensive. I thought I wanted to go into medicine (along with seemingly three quarters of my class), but was not entirely convinced. Either way, I knew my academics were important. With the start of classes, I fell back on my high school study strategies (I thought I knew premed study strategies), most of which were not the most efficient. Throughout undergrad, I adapted these, but not as quickly as I should have. Here is how you can learn from my mistakes.

 

Figure Out Your Learning Style

This refers to how you prefer to interact with information. For example, you may be an auditory learning, learning best by listening to a professor’s lecture. Or perhaps it is the professor’s slides that que you in best, making you a visual learner. Most likely though, you are some combination of learning styles. There are online quizzes where you can determine this, but you can also use your own judgement. What do you seem to prefer? Once you have answered that, put it to the test. Incorporate that particular learning style more heavily into your studying and evaluate the results. Note, your preferred learning style may change over time, no worries! Ultimately, this heavily influence your premed study strategies.

 

Always Employ Active Learning

This is as opposed to passive learning. Passive learning is when you nonchalantly sit in a lecture hall, the professor’s sweet, silky voice washing over your ears. Or it is simply gazing at slide after slide after slide. Active learning is when you organically recall the information. Refer to my post praising the free online flashcard system Anki for the extensive data on how to best retain information. No surprise, it includes active studying. Beyond Anki, there are several ways to utilize active studying. You could do practice questions. If the professor does not provide them then crack the textbook or even make them up yourself. See if you can stump your friends! You could also summarize your notes out loud. I am currently teaching my cats microbiology!

 

Don’t Over-Resource Yourself

This isn’t as much of a problem in undergrad as it certainly is in medical school. Nonetheless, it is a good seed to plant. You are bombarded with information from the lecturer, which may or may not extrapolate beyond the power point (another source of information), and then there is the book and an array of potential handouts. You may have time in undergrad to rifle through all of these sources, but you definitely do not in medical school. Moreover, you need to start implanting the skill of realizing where the value is. If the lecturer is garbage, then look elsewhere. If you can find everything you need in the book, then why go to class? Learning premed study strategies is about streamlining the process of getting the information from all of these places into your head.

 

Condensation, Condensation, and More Condensation

Whatever your learning style or combination of learning styles ends of being, you will no doubt be confronted with a lot of information initially. This only gets more daunting, as each medical school lecture feels like you have been bulldozed. This tidbit will instill a vital survival tool though! Practice weeding out the important information. Initially, this will be educated guesses, but hints from professors, old exams, or your results on current exams can guide your future guesswork. Basically, if you are taking notes from a textbook or reviewing a power point, your interpretation of the information is not going to be verbatim. That would be silly. Condense it to the relevant information, which is more efficient in the moment, but also when you review it later.

Discipline

This refers to a myriad of things. First, I highly recommend checking out our post on the Pomodoro technique. Essentially, you set a timer for a set amount of time and then study furiously. When the alarm rings, you grant yourself a 5 or 10 minute break. Then the process continues for as much stamina as you have. Ultimately, the goal is to work up to an hour of religious study per setting of the timer. This allows you to retain information better, but is simply more efficient than jumping between Facebook and the task at hand for several hours. Along the same lines, choose your study environment wisely. Is it an environment that will allow something like the Pomodoro technique to thrive, or will you constantly be interrupted?

 

Collaborating?

Because your study strategies should be active, not passive, I do not believe that much collaborating should occur. If you simply take someone else’s notes for a lecture, then you did not have to listen to your professor speak and weed out the important information. This task is active. Moreover, the organizational scheme is less likely to make sense to you. Although it requires more work up front, you benefit in the long run. Studying in groups is different though. This can be turned into an active process by quizzing each other and explaining difficult concepts to one another. It is nice to converse with humans every once and awhile, as opposed to my cats. Ultimately, a little group studying is just what premeds need to keep some sanity too.

 

Developing a Healthy View of Competition

Premeds are naturally competitive, but it is also instilled from the moment we begin undergrad by the ridiculously competitive nature of getting into medical school. While this is stressful, embrace it in a positive way. Think about your classmates as propelling you to new heights. If medical schools had an 80% acceptance rate instead of one closer to 5%, would you study as hard? Definitely not! Moreover, the accomplishment would mean so much less. Embrace the competition and also praise those around you. By building up those around you, rather than tearing them down, you take the pressure off of yourself. This allows you to realize all of the qualified candidates that there are instead of putting yourself on a pedestal and being disappointed with rejection. Once accepted to medical school, regardless of your undergraduate experience, things become very collaborative. Study guides are shared on Facebook and people will spend time with you on difficult concepts that elude you. Why would it be any other way? After all, we will all be colleagues one day!

By Bryan Miles

Gap-Year Part 2: Why Taking A Gap-Year Will Make You A Better Doctor…

Gap-Year Part 2: Why Taking A Gap-Year Will Make You A Better Doctor…

This is it, Gap-year, the sequel. This is the Empire Strikes Back of our series on the awesome value of Gap Years. I’m gonna be honest though, I’m more of a Jedi guy myself (Ewok haters back off), but Empire is obviously the better movie, so I suppose this essay has a lot of hype to live up to.

In my last post, I shared just a brief summary of why I believe that taking a Gap year is the best decision you can make. Chances are, if you missed that last post, this one will seem like it’s coming from nowhere. Go read that one, and then come back. Go ahead, I’ll wait 😉

You’re back, okay good, I was getting worried for a minute. Sorry, that’s the overwhelming social anxiety talking. Anyway, this week, I’m gonna dig into the value of taking a gap year when it comes to your emotional health and your relationships. Let’s jump in, shall we?

Emotion

Think of this as a catch-all: emotional health, mental health, spiritual health. Let me be clear before we start: pre-meds are incredibly strong people. It takes more grit than many pre-meds realize to get through the rigorous challenges of preparing for medical school. Undergrad takes a lot more out of pre-meds than we realize. If you’re like me, while you enjoyed undergrad, you probably weren’t exactly having the time of your life in the same way some of your peers seemed to be.

Undergrad was a lot of work, and your mental health, your identity probably suffered.

Trying to figure out who you are, your future, your passions and interests, and excelling academically. It’s exhausting. The problem is, while we pre-meds are really good at a lot of things, we suck at two things: taking it easy, and humility. Stress and emotional anxiety become the “new norm”, and being the highly adaptive samurai-wizard-geniuses we are, it’s bizzare and strange to slow down. Use gap years to slow down, to recoup, to stop lying to ourselves. That’s where the humility-specifically about our own limits and weaknesses comes in. Take a gap year to take honest stock of your mental well-being, because I can assure you, you will not have the luxury of time while in medical school. I admit it, I was way more tired after finish undergrad than I allowed myself to believe. I’m not proud of it.

I’m not tired- I’m Superman darn it! I should be able to handle this!

Admit it, you feel a little bit like this too. It’s okay, you’ve probably earned that feeling in many regards. You just came off one of the most rigorous undergraduate careers possible, and you won. But the truth is, you’re probably weaker than you realize. You’ve been fighting for so long, it just seems normal.  Learn to relax, to become sane again. A gap year affords you opportunity to rediscover what real emotional stability, what low-stress feels like (and yes, applying to medical school is stressful in its own right, but we’re talking relative stresses). Do yourself a favor- return to your place of rest, your Batcave. Regain your sense of well-being, remember what it feels like to not be stressed. Get some mental health hit points back, because you’ll need them for the herculean task ahead.

Relationships

Every relationship I know-be it friendly or romantic- has suffered at least in some part while in medical school. That isn’t to say that if you don’t take a year off your person, your people will suddenly and spontaneously combust out of your life. But medicine has a way of chipping at the cracks in the relationship, causing rust and rot, festers where you thought you were strong. So be aware, and plan accordingly. I’ve seen more than my fair share of failed relationships in medical school.

There is no way to ignore that medicine asks a lot not just of you, but your people too. You need to realize that.

You need people who are willing to put up with your crap on a monthly, daily, weekly basis. To be okay with your long absences- physical or otherwise- from their lives when you study. People who find tactful ways to share with you when you inevitably drop the ball, without throwing life off-track. Those are the sorts of people we need to surround ourselves with before medical school. Use your gap year to galvanize those relationships. Build into and invest in the people you hold dearest. Have tough conversations with your people about the future. Obviously, it’s not possible to fix every problem in a relationship in a single year, or even two or three, but taking a gap year is an incredible opportunity.  This is the time you can really focus in on the people you care about the most. The hopes is that when the time comes, those relationships can pass through the crucible without cracking.

Check back next week for the last part in this three part series, where we talk about the value of gap years when it comes to experience, identity, and finances.

By Matthew Wright

Develop Resiliency: A How-to Guide

Develop Resiliency: A How-to Guide

What is resiliency?

Medical schools say they desire this in candidates and in response applicants strive to demonstrate this quality in their written application, as well as interviews. Easy enough, just talk about how you recovered from a significant setback, whether it be in your personal life or career. The more important question though, is not how we portray this quality, but instead how we develop it. Some may say it is inherent and fixed, but that could not be further from the truth. I believe it can be refined and needs to be refined to prepare you for the challenges ahead. What follows is how to develop resiliency.

 

Past Achievements

Doubt is an interesting phenomenon in that it can creep into everyone’s mind, even the most elite. Given the humbling nature of medicine, its breadth and lack of mercy in presentation, I assure you that even the most badass physician has had to stare it down. When this happens, look to your past achievements. In my mind, past success is the greatest predictor of future success. If you are a premed, you have likely begun the process of crafting your resume, including research, volunteering, shadowing, work experience, etc. There are definitely notable achievements buried in here. If you are a medical student, don’t forget that your body of work earned you matriculation over literally thousands of qualified candidates. The point is, in times of uncertainty, lean on your past. I guarantee it significantly outweighs a single poor event and should illustrate your ability to triumphantly bounce back.

 

Fake it Until You Make It

This mantra permeates all aspects of life. There is a reason though, it’s true. Faking it until you make it is all about projecting positively. In clinic, given my limited knowledge base thus far, I feel like an imposter. I wander around in my short white coat, take histories and examine patients, and then present to my preceptor. To put it bluntly, my presentations are horrible. However, if I focused on all that I did not know and all that I was doing wrong, it would weight me down. Instead, I zero in on what I do know. This allows me to calmly connect the dots and recognize the strides I have made. I know that this attitude will serve me well going forward because I won’t have “made it,” being defined as a competent physician, for at least a decade.

 

Faith

This is not faith in any sort of a religious sense, but rather a deep seeded belief that everything is going to work out. That is different for everyone. For some, it may encompass balancing competing demands in your personal life and work. For others, it may focus more so on matching in a specific specialty. Faking it until you make it plays into this some, in that you may not have an organic belief that everything will be okay. No matter, saying it to yourself enough times will cement it as a natural response. Ultimately, this takes a tremendous amount of pressure off of yourself because you focus on the things inside of your control, rather than those outside of it.

 

Life, especially within medicine, is a roller coaster. Therefore, you will need to rely on these tactics time and time again. I alluded to the badass physician who still combats insecurity. Writing this has been therapeutic for me too, normalizing my intermittent feelings of doubt and reminding myself of the tools to squash it!

By Bryan Miles

How To Do Well In Medical School – 3 Reasons Why You Need A Daily Task List

How To Do Well In Medical School – 3 Reasons Why You Need A Daily Task List

Medical school is chaotic. You are balancing school itself, the extracurriculars helping to propel you towards a residency, maintaining the relationships that comprise your support network, and not to mention basic human necessities like eating, exercising, and showering. Just reading this sentence can cause your mind to swirl. So, here are three reasons you need to make a daily task list and start your own medical school organization.

 

1. It Reduces Anxiety

As I alluded to above, medical school is anxiety provoking. I would argue that daily task lists actually reduce this anxiety and should be utilized by everyone for optimal medical school organization and performance. You take a mess of tasks and neatly organize them into discrete, digestible components. Moreover, once your list is made, there is nothing to worry about. It is time to buckle down and start crossing things off.

Side Note-A Running List Furthers Anxiety Reduction

Continuing on the above thoughts, additional tasks will undoubtedly come to mind while diligently working through your list. No problem, have a running to do list next to your daily tasks. This is simply a place to write down thoughts as they organically present themselves. For instance, if you suddenly remember that you need to call your mom or complete a pre-class quiz, just jot that down on your running list. Now your mind is not distracted with thoughts of that and you are able to better focus on whatever task may be at hand. Note, this is to be utilized for short-term things you intend to complete that day!

 

2. It Increases Productivity

I honestly believe organization increases productivity. You have complete control over your daily task list. Therefore, you can set your priorities and create a roadmap for the day reflecting this. In our Finding Your Focal Point piece, we discussed the value of goal setting. This holds true here as well. You are essentially setting goals for the day, rather than haphazardly accomplishing tasks. While the later may seem just as efficient, I assure you that long-term, meticulously charting out your path to success is more optimizing.

3. It Provides a Sense of Accomplishment

Unlike undergrad, which is generally filled with endless tasks, such as assignments and papers, medical school is just the opposite. Most semesters consist of a few rounds of tests or a mid-term and a final. That only equates to a few boxes to check off. In the interim, you are persevering through vast amounts of material with no defined starting or stopping points (other than the exams of course). This can weight on your psyche. To combat this, I started creating more boxes to check. For instance, my daily task list includes things like watch Microbiome lecture or review sexually transmitted infections lecture. I don’t know why it is so satisfying, but I absolutely love crossing things a to do list!

Your turn:

Daily Task List

  1. Read: How To Do Well In Medical School – 3 Reasons You Need A Daily Task List
  2. Starting making Daily Task Lists

 

Pre-Med Research – Do Med Schools Require Research Experience?

Pre-Med Research – Do Med Schools Require Research Experience?


Is Pre-Med Research a Requirement? Yes or No?

If you know me in the real world in any context, you know I love research. I was the kid who was excited when he got a chemistry set for his 5th birthday. It was only much later that I realized my passion for serving and caring for people directly. Even then, I’m hoping for an 80/20 career split between lab and clinic.

Heck, I’ve gone on record saying I should’ve pursued a PhD in physics before med school. And given the now horrified look on your face, dear reader, you’d probably expect me to answer the question posed in the title of this essay with a resounding yes, of course. Well, not to disappoint or to break with  dogma (scratch that, I hate dogma, unless it’s the fact that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell), but you don’t have to do research to be a successful medical school applicant. You hear that? Research isn’t required to get into medical school.

A Thirst for Knowledge

Got that? Good, now we can go home, right? Wrong. Please don’t misunderstand-research is my heart and passion-something I encourage everyone student to at least dip their toes into before and possibly during medical school. It is the lifeblood of the most meaningful advances in medicine-thank God for penicillin. My problem is that we students have conflated research experience with a thirst for knowledge and innovation. Make no mistake, these two things are not the same. The former is something to put on a CV (and can at times demonstrate our hunger for information). The latter is an inherent quality: it cannot be taught, and it must define in part or in whole, the life of any physician.

While every good physician should at their heart be a scientist- hungry to ask questions, push boundaries maybe scientific research is not for you (bench or otherwise). AdComs use research experience as shorthand for our intellection, to see if we can ask deep, probing questions and work through to answer these questions methodically and with perseverance.

Often, it’s decent shorthand. But honestly ask yourself, are you doing research to check a box, or is it because you have a genuine passion for asking hard, often unsolvable questions? That’s what you’re career as a physician will inevitably be-to ask questions of yourself, your patients, systems of people and processes, diseases- and move forward towards finding answers. I ask you, if you don’t have this passion, is a career as a physician the one for you?

Another Way

But here’s the thing: research is not the only way to demonstrate the hunger, the longing for knowledge that plays as magnificent countermelody to a physician’s passion for people. If working at the bench or in the dank-basement doing chart review isn’t for you, demonstrate your love for questions in another way.

Perhaps that’s starting a club or program on campus to address a problem, or working on a service project of your own design where you ask the question, or perhaps it’s starting an innovative business. I don’t really know what else is out there. But show that you can ask questions. Demonstrate to the AdComs that you’re more than grades, more than a love of people (though that’s also key)-show them that at your heart, you are a challenger, a question-asker, a problem-solver; someone who dives headlong into the unknown and is unafraid to keep moving forward.

So no, you don’t have to do scientific research to become an awesome candidate for medical school. What you must have, I think, can best be described as an explorer’s mind. Research just happens to be a convenient way to prove it. If you love research, great. Even so I encourage you to think more deeply, to ask yourself in what other ways you can express your inquisitive spirit, and how that spirit will make you a scientist, doctor, and human. No matter what, never lose your fire for discovery, future physician.

Have anything to add or simply have an unanswered question? 

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