Next up in our series of featured med school bloggers is an anonymous med school applicant who blogs at A Med School Odyssey. Enjoy this blogger’s thoughtful answers and use them to help you make your way through the med school admissions process.
Accepted: First, can you tell us a little about yourself – where are you from, where did you go to school and when did you graduate; and what prior degrees do you hold?
Med School Odyssey: I graduated from high school in 1995 and didn’t really get serious about college until much later in the early 00s. I wanted to study some sort of engineering, but had never taken algebra or trigonometry, both of which were prerequisites for calculus. I spent about 9 months teaching myself both so that I could take the entrance exam. I wound up not liking the engineering mentality and found that a hard science suited me much better, so I switched to physics and mathematics and have never regretted it. Currently, I’m working for a defense contractor while I finish my coursework, take the MCAT, and work on my application, which I will hopefully be submitting next year.
Accepted: How long have you wanted to be a doctor? From your blog I see you’re an older applicant — what motivated you to switch career paths at this stage in your life?
Med School Odyssey: How I got interested in medicine is an interesting story. I had never had any interest in medicine at all, even when I was in school. I can even remember laughing at the antics of some of the people I knew that were premeds, particularly their obsession with grades and lack of interest in science that seemed rather common. After I finished my undergraduate degree, I considered going to graduate school, but there
was no field of mathematics or physics which I found so interesting that I was willing to devote myself to studying for the rest of my life.
About three years ago, I decided to become a wilderness EMT. Given the amount of time that I spent biking, climbing, and hiking, I felt that some sort of training in wilderness medicine would make a lot of sense and it was something which I had put off doing for years. That was what first introduced me to the field in general. As part of our training, we were required to work several clinical shifts in the ED of some local hospitals and a couple of ambulance shifts. These were what really got me thinking about going into medicine. I started working through the premed requirements and figured that if formal study of things like physiology and biochemistry didn’t interest me, medicine probably wasn’t for me. Happily, that didn’t turn out to be the case.
It has been interesting, learning about the health care field. Since it was something which I had never really been exposed to, I had very little knowledge of the field of medicine. A lot of the things I’ve learned and seen have been strong attractors to the profession. Others aspects of the profession have been less attractive and sometimes it can be easy to look at the future challenges faced by medicine and get discouraged. But in the balance though, medicine offers all of the things I know I want in the field I choose to pursue: science, teaching, research, and an opportunity to serve others. The list of things about the medical profession which appeal to me is pretty long.
Accepted: How many medical schools do you plan on applying to? How important is attending a “name brand” program to you?
Med School Odyssey: I would imagine that I will apply to the normal number of schools. If I’m accepted the first year I apply, I will be starting the same time my girlfriend completes her residency. We intend to get married and relocate together, so the school selection is something we have been working out together. Several months ago, we went through a list of all the allopathic schools in the US and she removed all locations where she absolutely did not want to live. Once I have an MCAT score, I’ll refine the list more, take the remaining schools and make a candidate list based upon which ones have programs that interest me the most. Cost is also an important factor for us – after graduation, I don’t want my choice of residency to be affected by that, so a cheaper program is definitely a bonus.
Name recognition is not something that concerns me. From what I’ve learned about medicine, where a person does their residency is far more important than where they go to medical school. Ultimately, I’m concerned with going to medical school someplace that my wife and I will be happy and that will prepare for residency. The prestige of the name of the school on the diploma isn’t really something I think about.
Accepted: How’s the MCAT studying going? What resources/courses have you used, and which would you recommend?
Med School Odyssey: Studying for the MCAT is a real nightmare. If you’ve read much of my blog, you probably know that I was going to take it last September but chose to postpone. This ended up being a really wise choice – I took physiology and biochemistry this past year, and I feel far more comfortable reviewing the biological sciences than I did last year.
My recommendations for MCAT studying starts with really learning the material the first time around – the topics I have the hardest time with are those which I didn’t understand that well the first time around. A lot of premeds shortchange themselves cutting corners to get high marks, but don’t learn the material in the end. Preparing for the MCAT really should be reviewing, not learning. If you find yourself filling a lot of holes in your understanding, you should question whether you’re really going to be ready for the exam. I met a girl yesterday that had never taken physics and had fallen really far behind in her review course because of it.
As far as resources and courses go, it really is up to the individual. If you don’t have a lot of self-discipline, then a review course is probably a good idea. I’ve heard good and bad things about all the review courses and I doubt that the brand of materials a student chooses are really all that important in the grand scheme of things. My guess is that taking timed practice exams and an in-depth review of the answers is probably a lot more important than who wrote the review book you used.
Of course, you should take all of this with a grain of salt – I’ve yet to take the MCAT and won’t take an AAMC practice exam for another 3-4
Accepted: Have you gotten started on your AMCAS essays? Can you share some of your thoughts on the writing process — what did you write about, did you seek outside help, was it hard to write an essay after being out of school for so long?
Med School Odyssey: I haven’t started any of the AMCAS application yet. The institution that I’m doing my coursework at has a premed committee and, as part of the process for getting a letter of recommendation, I am required to complete a rather large application which includes a number of essays, similar to what are found on secondary applications. Most of the people I know that followed the committee letter route have agreed that it makes the application process a lot easier. I’ve never really thought about whether or not being out of school for a few years would
make writing an essay difficult. I write far more today than I ever would have in college, so if anything, I’m probably more prepared now than I would have been then.
Accepted: How long were you a saucier? What’s your favorite sauce? (I know that’s not med school related but…)
Med School Odyssey: I worked in restaurants on and off for about 7 years and stopped during spring break of my second year of school. It’d be tough to pick a favorite sauce, since it really depends on what it’s being paired with. A big turning point in my cooking career was learning to make mayonnaise and it is still something which I really enjoy doing. Since most Americans have never actually had real mayonnaise, it’s always a lot of fun to make it for others and see them enjoy it for the first time. Plus, it’s the base for a bunch of other sauces like thousand island, ranch, tartar sauce, and remoulade. If you’ve never had a pan-seared New York strip with real remoulade you’ve really missed out.
Accepted: Why did you decide to blog about your med school experience?
Med School Odyssey: I never really had a profound reason for starting a blog. I guess I just enjoyed writing and thought that others might be interested in watching my process of becoming a doctor.
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