Get ready to read about our next med school blogger, “Little Red Med,” who blogs at Stray Thoughts. This anonymous blogger attends a U.S. school and shares her experiences with us here. Thank you Little Red Med!
Accepted: First some basics: Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad? What year are you in med school?
Little Red Med: I’m from central Pennsylvania and went to Penn State for my undergraduate degree, where I studied Psychology. I just began my 4th year rotations, though I’ll actually graduate in May 2015 as I’m staying an extra year to do a master’s in public health.
Accepted: How did you decide on your current school? What were some of the important features you were looking for when applying to med school?
Little Red Med: My school essentially chose me. I made some huge mistakes when applying to medical schools (not the least of which was that I only applied to high-ranked schools – BAD idea for anyone! Don’t be arrogant like me – no matter how good your scores are and what you’ve done in your life, there are a ton of students out there who have done things that are more amazing than you. Also recognize that, in a lot of ways, the US News rankings are relatively meaningless when it comes to the kind of doctor you, personally, want to be). In the end I only got into one school. BUT – it worked out great and I love it here!
Here are the things that I SHOULD have investigated when I was applying, because these are the things that are actually important to me:
• Is there a commitment to underserved populations? Is the school affiliated with a public hospital and/or VA? Do students work with a lot of patients who are uninsured/on disability or Medicaid? Are there student-run free clinics where students can get hands-on experience serving underserved populations? What other opportunities exist for students to serve the community?
• Do students train in a large tertiary hospital that receives lots of referrals from smaller facilities? Smaller, more rural hospitals tend to see less complicated patients as they lack the resources to care for the sickest patients. It’s not absolutely necessary to train in a larger hospital but I think it adds a great deal to your learning experience – you see some of the rarer things that you might not see elsewhere!
• What is the patient population like? Are the patients that students work with mostly upper middle class white people, or is there a good diversity?
• What does the school do to make students into good doctors, outside of teaching them facts? What is their ethics curriculum like? Do they make time for patients to come in and talk to students directly about their experiences? Are they sensitive to LGBT issues and do they teach students how to appropriately address the issues that LGBT face?
Accepted: Did you go straight to med school after finishing college? If not, what did you do in between?
Little Red Med: I took 4 years “off” between college and medical school. When I graduated, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I completed all the necessary pre-med requirements as an undergraduate to “keep my options open,” but I had no real desire to apply to medical school at that time. I joined the Peace Corps straight out of college and taught math and science in Kenya, then worked as a research technician in a biomedical engineering lab at Georgia Tech for awhile, then left for Africa again to teach in Liberia.
Accepted: Do you have any pre-med school clinical experience? How important do you think that is for med students?
Little Red Med: I had zero clinical experience before medical school – in fact, I had only set foot in a hospital twice before in my life. This was a HUGE problem for some schools – at one school, the interviewer told me “why don’t you get some clinical experience and re-apply for next year?” (NOT what you want to hear in the middle of an interview that you’ve flown across the country for!) Clearly, it was not a problem at the school where I ended up. At the time, I thought I was more interested in working in public health than being a practicing clinician, so clinical experience wouldn’t have altered anything and my school respected that (though things change – I’m now 100% committed to making direct patient care a huge part of my future career). But in retrospect it would have been a good idea to get at least some clinical experience, and I would definitely recommend it to students who are considering a career in medicine, unless you have a really solid reason for wanting to go to medical school that does not involve being a practicing clinician.
Accepted: What was the most difficult part of the med school admissions process for you? As a successful applicant, can you share some advice about how you approached and then overcame those challenges?
Little Red Med: I took rejections way too personally. No matter how great you are, you will get rejected from at least some schools. In retrospect, I ended up exactly where I belong and I’m understand why the other programs rejected me – they did so because it wouldn’t have been a good fit for either of us. My advice is, don’t take rejections personally. Look hard at your application and try to figure out why you were rejected from one school or another. What is it about your application that tells the school you were rejected from that you were not a good fit? Think seriously about the reasons YOU want to be a doctor, and make sure that comes through in your application and that the schools you are applying to have the same goals and values as you. Of course, sometimes you won’t know why a school hasn’t accepted you, and that’s frustrating. Sometimes the problem is your grades or your scores, and that’s difficult. Make a backup plan. EVERYONE should have a backup plan – it’s not defeatist, it’s practical and mature! If you don’t get in to your #1 school this time around, will you reapply to school next year? What will you do in the meantime? If you do take some time off, make sure you are doing something that YOU want to do, not something that you are doing just because you think it will help you to get into medical school.
Accepted: As someone well into your med school studies, can you offer some tips for med students who will just be starting out in the fall?
Little Red Med: There are a ton of incredibly smart and talented people out there, and they’re highly concentrated in medical school. If you are going to med school, you’re almost certainly used to being well above average academically. This may not be the case in med school! Half of med students are below average. You may find yourself in the middle of the pack or behind the curve for the first time in your life. You may actually fail courses for the first time in your life. That’s OK! True, if your grades and scores aren’t the best, you might not get into that high-ranked Dermatology residency you had your eyes on. But you WILL be a doctor eventually. Keep your eyes on the prize – remember why you wanted to go to medical school in the first place. You can be ranked 100th in your class, and still be a fabulous doctor. The best doctors aren’t necessarily the ones that score highest on exams.
More practically – if you’re a returning student like I was and your studenting skills are a bit rusty, a timer will be your best friend. Set the timer for 50 minutes, and if you start to get distracted or surf the net, stop the timer immediately. After your 50 minutes is up you can take a 10-15 minute break. Then re-set the timer and start all over again. Worked wonders for me 🙂
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