Finding the perfect activity

Section 1: What are my options?

There are a lot of reasons to immerse yourself in extracurricular activities during and after college. As I mentioned in my other post, you should pursue your passion but still meet the status quo for leadership experiences. Regardless of what you pick, your experiences are essential to help you get in. Did this experience help you learn more about yourself and the world in a way that will make you a better doctor? Or did you validate your reasoning for choosing to pursue medicine for the rest of your life?

To help guide your extracurricular experiences, I’ve provided examples of typical activities that will get you thinking about what you should pursue to stand out as an applicant.

Scribe

  • Why do it: Scribes work mostly in the ED but can include other settings, like family practice. You’ll receive a lot of exposure to the clinical setting, especially the patient-physician interaction.
  • What to write about in your essay: This is a good source for stories and insight into the medical field. It’s pretty cliche to write about an action packed scene (heart attack especially) so instead, try writing about the minor details you noticed that really improved patient care.

EMT

  • Why: Great way to get direct, meaningful patient care experience. It’s easy to get certified, but harder to find a job. It’s best to pursue this during college since many places nearby will offer their emergency services to pick up drunk college students on a Friday night. It can offer an alternative path if medical school doesn’t immediately workout.
  • What: See “scribe” above. Working as an EMT is one of the more diverse clinical experiences. Try writing about something the reader wouldn’t expect, e.g. not about the ambulance racing with adrenaline rushing, but the long hours sitting in the ambulance waiting for a call, or the very non-emergent rides like transporting old ladies from a nursing home to a hospital.

Peace Corps/City Year

  • Why: Structured programs will help you understand what service is, beyond a typical volunteer experience during college. You really gain perspective of the challenges of making a lasting change in communities.
  • What: Cliche to write about how moving/humbling/life-changing/eye-opening/(insert any cliche medical school essay word here) it is to work with underprivileged kids or families. Think about what you noticed about the systems and circumstances that put children or whole communities in a particularly disenfranchised situation.

Research

  • Examples: Bench/Pipetting/Wet lab, Clinical research, Chart reviews
  • Why: Lots of variety here and it’s important to get involved during college. Be willing to accept an unpaid position if you want to work with more tenured researchers. It helps if you can analyze data and write! It might be easier to get involved in basic science labs, but pick something that you are passionate about and find interesting.
    • Tip: Bench research – potential to have your work be used in future studies and thus perpetually have your name on it.
  • What: Writing cliche: You fell in love with the scientific process, and now you want to dedicate your life to lifelong learning. Awesome writing topic: the nuances of your research or field that tickled your fancy in medicine.

Scholarship and Achievement

  • Examples: Fulbright. Rhodes. Truman. Marshall. Local merit scholarships
  • Why: This is a good way to officially show that other people have already recognized your talents. Dr. Atul Gawande, a surgeon at BWH, was a Rhodes Scholar who worked with a congressman prior to medical school.
    • Tip: Apply for scholarships. Search for them! I ended up getting recognition at my college as one of 100 promising seniors among the ~10,000 students in my graduating class because it was small and not highly publicized.
  • What: If you reached a point where you can write about this, you are probably smarter than I am. This recognition probably doesn’t need further explanation in your application as it already demonstrates your achievement. Consider touching on this subject if you accomplished something significant but be careful about your tone with humble bragging.

Passion Project

  • Examples: College sports team, Thespian, Marathoner, Artist, Musician etc.
  • Why: Theodor Billroth, a famous surgeon known for his procedures in abdominal surgery was equal parts surgeon and musician. These activities that require discipline will show your dedication to training for hours, be it manual dexterity or triple axel jumps.
  • What: This category is all about discipline, training, and performance. Essential qualities for a surgeon. Hours of dedicated practice are impressive, whether it’s solo or (even better to write about) with a team. It may be cliche to write about how team training and performing is similar to health care team. Instead, your writing could include vibrant details of your training to demonstrate passion.

Employment

  • Why: Holding a job will not only bring you monetary benefit, it will demonstrate maturity and financial independence.
  • What: There are a lot of observations to be had in a job, particularly about human interactions, service, and what motivates you day to day. Although it may be a paycheck for most of the time, a position throughout college or after college can show ownership and responsibility – mature qualities necessary in a medical career.

Volunteering

  • Why: Volunteering can show that you have dedication to the community that you are in. That being said, some volunteer positions may be more rewarding than others. Though it seems like general hospital volunteering is the most appropriate choice, students find themselves uninspired while wiping surfaces and stocking supplies. Look into organizations around you and find ones in your city that you align with. I volunteered at a nonprofit called Health Leads that was so rewarding that it eventually became a full-time job.
  • What: Find an organization that you align with and feel passionate about. It will come through in your writing if you actually care about the organization you volunteered for. Try not to write about how rewarding it was, but speak to the relationships and experiences you had there, particularly astute observations you made.

Section 2: Picking the perfect combination for you

There’s no right answer or right combination. I know hearing this doesn’t help at all when you’re anxious freaking out about picking the “right” one. It’s really all about working on two skills that will help you for the rest of your life: writing and people skills (or if you think about it, just one skill: communication).  From emails to applications, you’re portraying yourself in all your communications. You can participate in all of these activities, but it’s through your writing and then people skills (interviews) that you will be judged. Without good communication skills, it would be impossible to maintain a successful long distance relationship during medical school. Trust me, I made mine work.. And now we’re engaged!

Takeaways:

  • The mundane can often be richer than the melodramatic.” It’s refreshing to read about someone through their description of the Torrefacto coffee bean aroma nudging him out of bed every morning, rather than the adrenaline pumping CPR that many essays may already cover.
  • Pick a few things that genuinely energize you. It’ll be these activities that keep you pumped after a full day of classes. Being excited about an activity, and I mean really feeling it, is what kindles passion. Your thoughts will come racing like a fire hose when it’s time to write about the experience.

 

Have any ideas that you want me to expand on? Comment below!

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3 things that got me into medical school

My journey to medical school was longer and more arduous then I could have ever imagined. Although I was accepted on my second attempt, there were years of hard work and research that brought me to the door of medical school.

During college, a combination of extracurriculars, girls, and partying all led me astray from the path to medicine. I had to face the hard realization that my strong desire yet mediocre credentials were not enough to get me in. Post-college, I sought out a number of opportunities, from work in a non-profit to a masters program. Below I will lay out the experiences that shaped my application and eventually landed me into medical school. My hope is that my lessons will help you succeed on your path towards doctorhood!

***Disclaimer: I am not a professional consultant for medical school applicants. Each application and experience is different and the notes below are what personally helped me get there.***

1. Make smart decisions in college

College:

In college I majored in international studies, fully aware that this is not a traditional major for premeds. It was something that I was interested in and something I wanted to pursue. In f act, the easiest way to stand out on your application is your major.

Tables 1 and 2 demonstrate that applicants in the 2016-2017 application cycle whose major was in humanities tend to have slightly lower GPAs and MCAT scores.

Table 1: Applicant vs Matriculant Overall MCAT Scores based on Undergraduate Majors 2016-2017*

table1

 

Table 2: Applicant vs Matriculant GPA based on Undergraduate Majors 2016-2017*

table2

 

As you can see, the differences appear to be small – indicating that a science major is not necessary to matriculate.

Although it may seem that a science major is the obvious choice, there are other factors that contribute to matriculation. Below in Table 3, the major that is most likely to matriculate is a humanities major, 6% points more likely to matriculate over the average matriculation rate. Compared to the most common major, biological sciences, a humanities major is 7% points more likely to matriculate.

Table 3: Matriculation % Based on Undergraduate Majors 2016-2017*

table3

Leadership:

When I was in college, I didn’t look at this kind of data even though it was available years ago. I focused on leadership opportunities across campus both in extracurricular clubs and my own fraternity. I thought that leadership experiences would help me stand out within a crowd of applicants, but I later realized that most matriculants are leaders. Leadership positions are now necessary to be a qualified applicant, just like the hours of health-related volunteering. What helped me stand out as an applicant with mediocre academic numbers, was my master’s degree, research project, and extensive experience with a non-profit.

2) Be realistic, make a Plan B

MCAT:

My MCAT score was not very high, even after multiple attempts. My first attempt at taking the MCAT was after studying while abroad, while the second attempt was after taking a Kaplan course that following summer. Both of these attempts were during college, a period in my life when I never dedicated myself to a structured study plan. Both times, my scores were below the mean MCAT score.

I was realistic about my overall application so I committed to taking the test once more. I attempted my third and final time after the first year of my master’s program, during which I finally established a regimen to sit down and focus on studying for hours at end. Though it took three attempts over three years, I was finally able to score above the mean matriculating score.

Since my college GPA and initial MCAT score was below the mean for the average matriculant, I looked for ways to improve my application. My premed advisor in college wasn’t helpful – I was told my credentials were not strong and that was that. I enrolled in an EMT course during my senior year as a Plan B after graduation. I scoured StudentDoctorNetwork (SDN) for advice. As you might have already heard, SDN is notorious for trolls but there are lots of precious nuggets as well. Having already completed the prerequisite course, I found an expensive but promising route.

Special Masters Programs (SMP):

SMP exist mainly to boost your academic qualifications for medical school. If you already completed your prerequisite courses, have an average MCAT, and your undergraduate GPA is not above 3.5, this program is for you – I would call this the “not quite” range. Academic improvement always helps, but so does aptitude from the start! The main difference between an SMP and a Post-baccalaureate program are the courses that you take. Post-bac programs are used to take the prerequisite courses, whereas SMP are medical school courses. Both programs will help you improve your MCAT score.

I gained several things from the SMP:

  1. A strong work ethic in order to succeed in medical school courses, especially as my “second chance.” As I mentioned earlier, this new mindset helped me to do well on my final MCAT attempt.
  2. Stronger premed guidance, given that the director and my advisor are faculty of a medical school.
  3. An overall stronger application with a significant research project, demonstrating my understanding of lifelong learning in medicine

The SMP I went with was Boston University (BU) School of Medicine. I chose this program for a few reasons:

  1. “Higher” tier medical school
  2. Boston area = “prestigious” hospitals to work with
  3. Raw chances:

They report that 70% of the graduates are admitted into a US medical school, with 20-30 students in the program accepted into BU. With 180 students per medical school class, that means that just being in the BU SMP program gives you a 17% chance of being in their next entering class. Given the 2.5% matriculation rate of US medical schools, just getting into the SMP already gave me almost 7 times the chance of getting into medical school.

3) Be passionate!

Work:

During the SMP, I got involved with a nonprofit called Health Leads. It provided a unique opportunity for students to work directly in patient care. The work resonated with me so I put in more hours, and eventually networked enough to land a job at the main office.  While I was applying to medical school after my SMP, I spent a gap year working for Health Leads. This experience left me with an unfamiliar but resounding sense of passion and a great story, both of which are important to have as an applicant.

In summary:

Make smart decisions about what you get involved in. Find good mentors who inspire and guide you down the path you desire. Find a passion early and pursue it wholeheartedly – it will help you build a great story as an applicant. Remember to be realistic with your application – have a plan B,C, D, etc. Only the most extenuating circumstances can overcome mediocre academic performance. You are most likely not a shining star, and the sooner you realize it, the quicker you’ll get into medical school. You have to work hard to make it into medical school, and even harder to survive it.

 

 

*Adapted from https://www.aamc.org/download/321496/data/factstablea17.pdf .