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How To Get Into Medical School

How To Get Into Medical School

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How To Get Into Medical School

how to get into medical school, medical school acceptance,
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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!!

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MCAT Study Tips – How I went from the 50th to the 90th percentile

MCAT Study Tips – How I went from the 50th to the 90th percentile

MCAT | 11 min read

MCAT Study Tips – How I went from the 50th to the 90th percentile

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Just like any other premed, I dreaded the MCAT. Dreaded is not strong enough of a word to describe my angst though. Dread is something you face when doing an unpleasant task, such as shopping for myself. Simply thinking about the MCAT elevated my blood pressure. Although not as effortlessly as I had hoped, I did survive the MCAT and eventually matriculated at the Medical College of Wisconsin. What follows are my MCAT study tips for doing so yourself.

Tip #1: Assess your strengths and weaknesses

The new, 2015 MCAT is broken down into 4 sections. Everyone taking the test has a unique background. Someone with a PhD in biochemistry likely has the luxury of not studying for that section, while an English major has an advantage in the critical analysis and reasoning section. Critically evaluate your strengths and weakness with regard to the respective MCAT sections (fortunately most MCAT prep programs begin with a diagnostic test). Then, incorporate this into your study schedule, spending more time on your weaknesses and less on your strengths.

Tip #2: Pick your content overview resources appropriately

The MCAT tests you on an overwhelming amount of material. Therefore, you are going to need a solid content overview. MCAT test prep courses differ greatly, from a comprehension in person class to online delivery where you go through at your own pace. These are pricey (I paid more than I would like to admit for one during my first attempt) and in my opinion, not necessary unless you lack the discipline to push yourself (in which case I worry about you in medical school haha). Like I said, I paid a lot for the online course my first attempt and regretted it. The content overview I got from that was no different than what I got from simply buying the books (for only a few hundred dollars) for my second attempt. Moreover, I was then able to obey Tip #1 (Access your Strengths and Weaknesses), glossing over the sections I viewed as strengths. This is harder to do if the delivery of the material is outside of your control, as it is in classroom courses.

Tip #3: Reduce, reduce, reduce

While going through the content, it is imperative you reduce it (in terms of volume), in your own fashion. There is simply too much information to know. Therefore, you need to condense it, which will require educated guesses, and commit that bit to memory. There are several ways to accomplish this. Some people like to handwrite outlines, others like to type them. Some people are fans of notecards. Personally, I am in love with the online flashcard system Anki (stay tuned for a future post on this). This skillset will pay dividends in medical school, where once again, the amount of material is overwhelming and you must reduce, reduce, reduce.

Tip #4: Practice questions are your best friend

While diligently going through my online MCAT prep course the first go around, I got bogged down in content. This distracted me from doing the invaluable practice questions. Unlike any test you have been exposed to, you need to know more than content to succeed on the MCAT. You need to be comfortable with the style in which it tests you and recognize the myriad of traps it sets. Failing to do this, I scored in the 50th percentile initially. In my second attempt, I made sure not to overlook practice questions. These can come in a variety of forms. Since taking entire tests is draining, I bought books that had sample sections, such as the chemical and physical foundations of biological systems section. In addition to this, I would do whole tests. Going back to tip #1 (Assessing Your Strengths and Weaknesses), these were an opportunity to do just that. I analyzed which topics I got wrong and directed my studying appropriately. Ultimately, these tactics allowed me to score in the 90th percentile my second time.

Tip #5: Studying too long is a recipe for burnout 

Your length of study depends on the starting point I alluded to in tip #1 (Assessing Your Strengths and Weaknesses). Some of you will have this mapped out for you, thanks to your MCAT test prep courses. I would caution you not to study longer than 8 weeks. By that point, you have more than likely reached saturation and will only negatively impact your score. A sample study schedule may look something like this: up to a month of content related studying where you follow tip #3 (Reduce, Reduce, Reduce), followed by up to a month of following tip #4 (Practice Questions Are Your Friend). The second month may look something like this: devoting one day each week to a particular topic (remember there are four). This is amenable to personalization based on tip #1 (Assess Your Strengths and Weaknesses). On these days, you do sample practice sections. For instance, Monday may consist of 3-4 sample chemical and physical foundations of biological systems sections. While reviewing each section, tally the topics you struggled with. You then have your blueprint for what topics to study the rest of that day. Somewhere during the week you need to fit in a full length practice test in, as well as a separate day to review it (the length of the new test makes it hard to do both tasks in the same day). Again, utilize this as a roadmap for your studies. Note, this sample schedule is for someone with two months set aside for studying. If you plan on studying amidst other activities, the content overview can be spread out over more weeks. Lastly, take one day off each week! It will allow for some rejuvenation and prevent burnout!

Tip #6: Break your day up

Unfortunately, the very nature of MCAT studying can be isolating and depressing. It is important you continue to do the things you love to lessen this. For me, that was working out and spending time with friends and family. Although I was studying 10 plus hours a day, I made sure to work these things in to keep me sane. I can guarantee that if you cut everything, but studying out, you will be miserable. This will translate to quickly burning out and ultimately performing worse.

Tip #7: To study with others or not to study with others 

This is a difficult one. Studying with others can do one of two things, either stress you out or provide some solidarity. Answering this question could best be answered by assessing how you do studying with others for college courses. Ultimately though, you are going to have to be the one to learn the material, so you will need to spend a lot of time with it personally.

Tip #8: Believe in yourself

No one is going to be able to do this one for you. The MCAT is intimidating, along with all the other elements of getting into medical school, but you have to believe that you are capable. This will give you the willpower to get up every morning and push through the material. More importantly, this will allow you to keep fighting when practice exams beat you down. My sisters made fun of me, but I taped a piece of paper that said “Believe” above my bed while studying. This was the first thing I looked at every morning and the last thing I thought about each night. It helped me fake it when there was not an organic sense of belief. Whatever your own spin on this may be, do it!

Tip #9: Retaking the MCAT

This is a gray area that could have its own blog post entirely. What I want to touch on is the fact that retaking the MCAT should be looked at as an opportunity. I definitely did not feel this way when I got my first test result back, but in retrospect it forced me to critically evaluate my first attempt and also tested just how bad I wanted to get into medical school. It motivated me to what I felt was my true potential. As I said, I went from the 50th percentile to the 90th percentile. Retaking the MCAT was a blessing in disguise for me and there is no reason you can’t make it one too!

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