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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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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.


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?



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: You Can’t Afford Not To…

Gap-Year: You Can’t Afford Not To…

In my  attempt to become the living personification of Instagram, I’m going to share a cliché: I don’t believe in regret. Don’t get me wrong, there are decisions that I think would’ve made my life easier. But for the most part, I’m happy with who I am. I know that’s a small minority of people who enjoy that peace, and I’m eternally grateful for it, so don’t think me un-gracious or despondent with life.

Having said that, I have one regret about medical school- I should’ve taken a Gap Year, or two. Today, I want to tell you why.

When I was an undergrad, and before I got accepted to medical school, I thought of a gap year as a consolation prize, a participation trophy. You tried, but just missed the mark, better luck next time sport. I furrowed and bit my tongue when I heard of friends talking about “taking some time off” before applying to medical school, or even after being accepted (deferring as it were). Either a, lying to themselves and they were never going to become physicians-secretly giving up, or b, didn’t value the gift that they had received.

I was wrong. They were the smart ones-they saw something I didn’t. I should’ve listened.

Taking a Gap Year before medical school is arguably the best decision anyone can make after graduation day. Because you’re not ready. I wasn’t ready. Intellectually, sure, you can handle the work, but emotionally, relationally, experientially, identity-wise, and financially you are not ready for the challenge and burden of medical school.

I want to help you with the cost-benefit analysis of taking or not taking a Gap Year, to share with you my experience as best as I can. Hopefully, you’ll learn from my mistakes. I’m not sharing “how to tips” to make the most of your Gap Year. I’m probably not going to go into long diatribes about my own time in medical school. Heck, I’m not even advocating a blanket statement that everyone should take a Gap Year. I just want to help you count the cost of taking a Gap Year, because quite honestly, you can’t afford not to.

This week, I just wanted to introduce where I was coming from. Next time, I hope to share with you a little more specifically about why taking a Gap Year is a great idea, both for your mental and relational health.

Stay tuned for part 2…

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.

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