Get ready to read about our next med school blogger, Joshua Wienczkowski who blogs at Mountain Med Student and will be starting med school at East Tennessee State University James H. Quillen College of Medicine this July. Thank you Joshua for sharing your experiences with us and for all of your excellent advice!
Accepted: First, some basics: Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad?
Joshua: I grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan my whole life and moved to Nashville, Tennessee when I was 21 (I’m 26 now). I took a circuitous path to college, and didn’t come to school as a full-time student until I was 23 at Middle Tennessee State University, where I study Biology and Physiology with a minor in Chemistry (like every other Pre-Med), and graduate in May.
Accepted: How many med schools did you apply to? Why did you choose East Tennessee’s College of Medicine?
Joshua: Draw a line from Michigan to Florida; find every medical school within about 4 hours of that line, and I applied to it! The total came to 14 schools, 12 of which I filled out secondary applications for.
I chose the ETSU Quillen College of Medicine because I honestly felt (and still feel) that’s it’s the best medical school in the country – for some people. I absolutely loved the intimate class size of 72 students as well as their student to faculty ratio of 1:1, which is unheard of.
The location is absolutely breathtaking as well. Being right at the pristine foothills of the Appalachian Mountains really struck a chord with me, because it offers an active lifestyle outside of medicine with hiking, kayaking, fishing, running, and everything else you can do in the mountains.
Among many other reasons, I really connected with the student body as well as the admissions committee. Quillen is unbelievably dedicated to their students, and I felt like I was part of the family before I even had an acceptance letter. The day I got accepted, I removed my application from every other school I was being considered for.
Accepted: What are you most looking forward to in becoming an M1 this summer?
Joshua: Starting medical school! I’ve been working towards this my whole life, and to get an acceptance in November like I did means sitting around and waiting for the action to start!
But truthfully, I cannot wait to meet my new family for the next 4 years. Our class has already connected pretty well in person and through our Facebook group, and we certainly are a hand-picked bunch.
The dynamic of our class excites me, and I can’t wait to start this journey with all of them. This may be a little weird, but I’m actually incredibly excited about gross anatomy as well. It’s the first course we take, and I’ve been told that it’s where you begin to discover if you’re a surgeon or not.
Accepted: What were you doing, professionally or otherwise, before you went to college?
Joshua: I’m a bit of an odd duck, and did the whole “education and profession” thing backwards. Long story short, but I signed my first record deal when I was 18, and then worked for the label for about 3 years until they were indicted by the IRS and filed bankruptcy. I lost everything I owned overnight, and ended up working on a TV show about fresh water sailing (the obvious choice, right?).
This was the time that I decided to moved to Nashville, and I signed a songwriting contract on music row, which lead to opening a recording studio with a co-writer. I also worked in professional touring, and hosted a lot of music’s red carpet events.
I finally left music for medicine, and have been a full-time college student since. When I graduate in May, I’ll be wrapping up 2 years of research in molecular evolution, and then will hopefully be off to Maui, Hawaii to teach basic sciences for a program that helps under-served high schoolers who want to pursue science in college, but maybe aren’t competitive just yet.
Accepted: What motivated the career switch from the music industry to medicine?
Joshua: My personal statement was largely focused on this transition, and it stemmed from several aspects of my life experience. With songwriting and music, my intention was to always help people navigate the twisty-turvy ups and downs that life can bring. From weddings to loved ones passing, I always wanted to capture the human condition in word and melody in hopes of fostering growth as well as alleviating the maladies that can plague someone’s heart. Eventually, I realized I was just a modality in the bigger picture of helping people, and didn’t see my impact on society as something that carried significant weight.
I wanted that bigger picture. I craved it. In addition to this, when I reached the pinnacle of my career, I was surrounded by a lifestyle that wasn’t conducive to changing the world like I originally planned on doing with music. Being surrounded by sex, money, drugs, and alcohol made me want something better in life, and I wanted to help people, not just make them feel better for the time they heard a song. So, I packed my bags, and here we are!
Accepted: Can you talk about the impact clinical exposure has had on you? Do you think it’s a MUST for med school applicants?
Joshua: ABSOLUTELY, clinical exposure is a must for med school applicants. How would one know for certain if they wanted to be a chef if they never stepped foot in a kitchen and flambéed a leg of lamb?
My clinical experiences were amazing – I was fortunate to work with the same team at Vanderbilt for two years in an experience I can only describe as the show House, M.D. I learned about differential diagnoses, how to manage chronic illness, the importance of communication, and really about the lifestyle of being a physician. I learned the in’s and out’s of healthcare delivery, and how to establish the unique relationship that happens when you step into the exam room with a new patient. I also worked at Vanderbilt Children’s with another amazing team for a year and half, and I really discovered how much I wanted medicine.
I’m ambitious, but under the guidance of my mentor, he lit an insatiable fire that had me riveted every time we stepped into clinic together. My clinical experiences are what pushed me to gun for the highest grades in my classes, and kept me motivated, because they were a taste of the finish line in the marathon of medical education. I’ll ask two questions for Pre-Meds, 1. If you’re passionate about fishing, why are you reading this and not on a lake fishing? 2. On the same token, if you’re passionate about medicine, why are you not in a clinic every chance you can get?
Accepted: Can you share some med school application tips with our readers?
Joshua: Of course! Right now, be journaling constantly. You met a really interesting patient that had an impact on you? Write about it. You volunteered recently for an event to raise money for cancer research? Write about it. Your AMCAS application ends up being about 17 pages long, and you have the opportunity to write an immense amount of information for medical schools to read. It’s important to be able to articulate those events. Also, I was desperate for resources regarding what specifically medical schools want in the application. I spoke with over 20 admissions committees, read I don’t know how many books, and found the following information below. The most important thing in writing all of this is DO NOT LIE, THEY WILL FIND OUT.
Regarding your 15 experiences, they need to be written in this format:
-What was your title/role/ what did you do?
-Give an example of something unique that stood out to you during this experience like a patient you connected with or how much you loved mentoring kids as a camp counselor.
-How did you grow from this experience? “From experience X, I learned how to Y or gained personal skill Z.”
To bridge experiences and letters of recommendation, you can have 3 experiences as “most important,” which allows you to expand on those experiences. You should absolutely have a letter of rec. correspond with each of those 3 most important experiences!
I’ve found medical schools want around 5 letters. You should seek 2 from physicians, 1 from your university (committee letter), and 2 personal letters (either former employers or volunteer coordinators, etc.). Letters of recommendation should contain the following information, and you should absolutely send this to the individuals writing your letters:
-How do you know me, how long, and in what context?
-Personal characteristics that you’ve seen that you feel qualify me to be a physician.
-Would you go to me as your physician or send your family to me?
-The letter should be about what feels good, not what looks good.
-First and last statement/paragraph should be a flat recommendation or not recommendation.
Your personal statement should be exactly what it sounds like – personal. Tell your life story! This is your chance to show admissions committees exactly who you are as a person, and what brought you to the decision to pursue medicine. It should be written over a lengthy time period, and every single person that knows you really well (professors, family, friends, physicians) should read it and give you feedback. It’s ok to set it down for a couple months, and come back to it when you’re ready. The characteristics that medical schools are looking for when reading your personal statement are:
In order to prepare for writing all of this information, go read a bunch of medically related books to get your gears turning, and your passion about medicine up. A couple of my favorites are Body of Work by Dr. Christine Montross, Complications by Dr. Atul Gawande, Hot Lights Cold Steel by Dr. Michael Collins, and The House of God by Samuel Shem.
Accepted: Why did you decide to blog about your med school admissions experience? What have you gained from blogging?
Joshua: I decided to write because of several reasons. First, I am a writer. As a former songwriter, I have an insatiable itch to put words on paper or whatever medium will deliver those words the most effectively – I even ended up in the 99.9th percentile on my MCAT Writing Section because of this. Second, I really didn’t find any good resources online that were current or useful when I was preparing my application. There were blogs, but they were outdated; there were forums, but most had just as many questions as I did, or said things like “I have X MCAT, Y GPA, Z shadowing hours, and A research, what are my chances of getting in?” – it was all very delinquent, and not constructive in any manner. The books I found were vague at best.
To be honest, I felt given my writing history, and my passion for mentoring people, I didn’t have a choice in starting my website. I’m still building it, but the traffic that I’ve gotten has just blown my mind. Today alone, I had multiple visitors from seven different countries, and it just keeps growing. There are people out there looking for well articulated pre-medical advice, just as I was a year ago, and based on feedback, I’ve been able to provide valuable insight into what it really takes to be in the top 3% of applications to medical school that get accepted.
What I’ve gained from writing on an online format (instead of a songbook and the radio) is an outlet to talk about the ups and downs that come from applying, getting accepted, and waiting anxiously to start med school. This summer, I’ll delve into what 34 graduate hours of medical education per semester will do to someone’s psyche.
I think everyone needs healthy ways to decompress, and writing about my life experiences as well as running are great ways for me to do just that. I’ve also built a small community of people who are always emailing with pre-medical questions, and I love being able to offer constructive advice because let’s face it, pre-med advising is not consistent across the world, and I love being able to pay forward all the hours my mentors poured into me. The adage I’ve been told in medicine is “watch one, do one, teach one,” and I’m doing my best with my current abilities to envelop that philosophy.
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