Agraphia Medical Tragicomedy

12Jan/09Off

How to get into medical school

Every so often I dig into my treasure trove of things I need to write about. I actually wrote this draft 4 years ago, fresh into medical school, and finally decided that it's high time to help some bloodthirsty sycophants ingratiating suckups eager young premeds out.  And so, without further ado, I present...

How to get into medical school... advice from someone who's done it.

Medical school is tough to get into - everyone knows that.  One of the reason it's tough is that many people simply don't apply smart.  They get mediocre grades in college, bomb their MCAT because they stayed up all night cramming for it, don't have anything interesting on their CV because they were too busy studying, and get a recommendation from a prof who teaches Intro Bio to 650 students.  Sound familiar?

Lets start with the basics.  These are the things you would hear from your premed advisor, if you had one.  Not just because "that's the way it's done", but because each thing I'm about to talk about has a very specific purpose.  There are huge books on this subject, but frankly, all you really need to know is crammed on this one page.

For the sake of argument, I'll be your admissions committee member for the next few minutes.

Volunteer experience

You need to do volunteer work. You need to do volunteer work. You need to do volunteer work. If you do not do volunteer work, you will never get into medical school. Ever. Don't do "volunteer work" with your doctor father at his plush plastic surgery practice. Dole out food at a soup kitchen somewhere and moonlight at a retirement home with batty old ladies. Or, even better, find a scribe position - this is what I did, and it puts you FRONT LINES with patient care.  I firmly believe this is why I got into medical school.

Why are you doing this?  Because it gives your application weight - you've dabbled in the morass that is modern medicine, and you still know you're interested.  Perhaps more importantly, it tells me that there's a shred of human decency in you.  A caveat to the "need to do volunteer work" rule: it doesn't have to be volunteer if you find something else medical-ish (want to be a pathologist?  Work for the county coroner.  Emergency minded?  EMS/paramedic is always a great route.  Cardiology?  Do research with the local university).

Seriously.  It cannot be emphasized enough how important experience is.  The average age of matriculating medical students is 24.  That means that MOST med students took time off, and MOST of them will have some sort of experience with the medical field.  If you don't, I will wonder why on earth you're applying, and how you know you aren't going to lose interest.  Because people do.  And then they become washed-up asshole surgeons, only in it for the money.  I'm not kidding.

Groovy personal statement

Aside from volunteer work (actions speak louder than words!) this is the most important thing you've got. Write your personal statement about something you find interesting, and read it like a bored admissions member. You need to be so convincing that I - as your admissions liason - cannot bear to live with myself if I do not accept you. I need to think to myself "Hey, this girl really sounds really interesting, and seems like she's got a good head on her shoulders.  Plus, that anecdote about helping grandma find her dentures... oh man.  Rolling on the floor with that one."

Along those lines, don't lie. Don't pretend like you found deeper meaning in emptying bedpans. I know you didn't. You know you didn't. When you write your whole personal statement about how awesome it was when ol' rheumy-eyed Agnes shat all over you while you were helping her to the toilet, I will roll my eyes, say "bullshit", and mentally cross you off my list.  I'll also make fun of you when the committee meets.  And the last thing you want is the admissions committee laughing at you.

Along these lines, remember one thing above all.  You are not applying to a faceless institution.  There is a person on the other end of that electronic application, and that person is me.  If your personal statement is boring, I will not care if you get in.  Your personal statement is the one part of this application that you have generated yourself.  It is your voice.  It is the explanation of WHY you are forcing me to spend 30 minutes reviewing a file with your name on it.

Good Grades

Here's where we start getting into the murky stuff.  If you can get all A's, great.  Assuming that you didn't (I didn't!), know that I care because good grades show that you can work within a system. Getting A's and B's means that you can handle whatever workload has been thrown at you in college. You can be the nicest person in the world, but if you aren't able to pass Anatomy, you can't graduate.  At my med school we took 6 years worth of graduate-level coursework crammed into 2. This is why you need to be able to pass in college.

Good MCATs

I don't mean that you need to get a 42. Don't go getting 12's and assume you'll get in, though. The beauty of the MCAT is that it's a standardized test.  It's an objective way for me to tell how well your grade-inflated school (Harvard, I'm looking straight at you) has prepared you.  Get a 45 and theoretically you can handle medical coursework. Your classmates will make fun of you for being a nerd, though.  It's a tradeoff.

Good recommendations

This is the least important thing you will submit. When I write you a rec, it will say "Premed undergrad blah blah blah has worked in my lab for blah blah blah and is a good student blah blah blah I like him blah blah blah". Everyone has nice recs. Yours don't mean anything special. Oh, and don't submit 10 letters. I will be required to read them all and will get PISSED at you.

How To Get Into Med School: The Conclusion

My parting words of wisdom are about the application itself.  I know it's hard to do, but always keep in mind your audience.  I try to do that every time I write something.  In your case, your audience is me.  You are trying to befriend me through the pages of your application, and convince me that you:

a) want to go to medical school
b) are smart enough to go to medical school
c) will be a doctor that I will want to work with - and can trust
d) are not going to lock yourself in the library and live next to Frankie the homeless guy for the next 4 years

You get one shot.  Make sure everything fits together - if you mention you like to prepare sushi, put it in the personal statement.  "When I'm not at the hospital, I come home and make sushi for my friends".   Really?  Well that's pretty cool.  Sounds like you'd fit right in.

Comments (7) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Also…do something interesting in one way or another otherwise I won’t remember it all two weeks after I review the files when the committee meets.

  2. I’m not sure I agree about the recs. If you can get a glowing 1 or 2 from someone who REALLY KNOWS YOU, that will stand out, since as you pointed out most come from a bio class where you were one of 650.

    Also, I didn’t volunteer. But that was one of the reasons I was encouraged to apply MD-PhD. It was an easier sell. I got into MD programs as well, but fortunately it didn’t come to that.

    I think the most important thing is to do something you love, and take it really far. Show you have leadership experience. Be different in some way. And yes, if you are 22 and NOT different yet, take some time off and do it then.

  3. I agree, but I suspect that a truly glowing rec that makes or breaks an application is rare. Lyle, your thoughts?

  4. You’ve got a great blog. I stumbled across it and enoy the way you write.

    Out of curiosity, may I ask what your gpa/mcat scores were?

  5. Also, spell check your application.

  6. Zac — I do think you’re right. I was reading a blog that was talking about mentorship the other day, thinking to myself: How did this person have a real “mentor” at age 14, and a different one through college? I was lucky to have one at age 26.

  7. Great post. It feels like the applications never end. My experience:

    1. i didn’t volunteer all that much, but i also applied when i was 25-26 and had four years of research at a well known institution under my belt. even then, i think not having had real volunteer experience worked against me.

    2. can’t remember my personal statement… doubt it was all that memorable.

    3. my grades the first two years of college sucked ass. second two years i did well. at my post-bac i actually got a C in bio. but then again got A’s in orgo. Moral of the story is, grades aren’t everything.

    4. MCATS were good.

    5. recs were great ( i think?)

    All in all, I think the application process is a crap-shoot. If you are gonna do anything, follow Zac’s advice.

    Now, how do I get into residency?


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