Next up in our series of featured med school bloggers is Ryan Nguyen, a medical student at the Western University College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific. He blogs about his medical school experiences at WhiteCoatDO and also ran PracticalPremedfrom 2010-2012 to document his application journey and strategies. Enjoy Ryan’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?
Ryan: My name is Ryan Nguyen and I grew up in Huntington Beach, California. In 2012, I graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a B.S. in microbiology.
Accepted: How many med schools did you apply to? Why did you choose the Western University College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific?
Ryan: I applied broadly to 30 schools all across the country. WesternU COMP was one of my top choices from the very beginning due to its location and history of placing graduates in strong residency programs. On my interview day, I got a strong sense that WesternU students were well supported but also challenged to realize their full potential as future healthcare leaders. This pushed me to choose WesternU over the other programs where I had acceptances.
Accepted: What is the major difference between osteopathic medicine (a DO) and allopathic medicine (an MD)? Did you only consider osteopathic programs?
Ryan: According to the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, osteopathic medicine “provides all of the benefits of modern medicine including prescription drugs, surgery, and the use of technology to diagnose disease and evaluate injury. It also offers the added benefit of hands-on diagnosis and treatment through a system of therapy known as osteopathic manipulative medicine. Osteopathic medicine emphasizes helping each person achieve a high level of wellness by focusing on health promotion and disease prevention.”
Additionally, Harrison’s Principles Of Internal Medicine states that “the training, practice, credentialing, licensure, and reimbursement of osteopathic physicians is virtually indistinguishable from those of allopathic (MD) physicians, with 4 years of osteopathic medical school followed by specialty and subspecialty training and [board] certification.” The major difference in curriculum is that DO schools teach 300-500 hours of Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine (OMM).
Applying to both MD and DO schools was an easy choice for me as I had both incredible allopathic and osteopathic physician mentors through my premed years.
Accepted: What do you think is the smartest move you made during the med school application process? What do you think you could have done better?
Ryan: I knew my stats weren’t going to wow any admission committees, so I put a lot of effort into interview preparation. For each interview, I’d spend a couple hours researching the school’s specific SDN Interview Feedback site as well as the school’s official website. This gave me a feel for the type of questions they asked and what they were looking for in applicants. Did they focus on being at the forefront of the research field, producing the next generation of healthcare leaders, or bolstering the nation’s primary care workforce? From this, I tailored my experiences into specific talking points I could strategically bring up during the interview. For example, if a school’s website said they were looking to produce healthcare leaders, I’d make sure to bring up a specific example of a time when I took initiative and was a leader.
Another strategy that helped for interview prep was doing mock interviews with a couple different people, all with different personalities. I’d give them a cup of coffee and a list of commonly asked interview questions, but also told them to ask any other question they felt was appropriate. These mock interviews were where I really developed my interviewing style, as I could get instant feedback on answers and mannerisms. For example, when I briefly mentioned in passing that I’d like to get involved in healthcare policy in the future, one of my mock interviewers grilled me for five minutes to expose that I didn’t really know much about the topic. After that experience, I worked on becoming a more disciplined interviewer and sticking to my strong points (and also reading more about healthcare policy). Over time, these sessions allowed me to “warm-up” and walk into my real interviews with confidence.
I think something I definitely could have done better during the application process was managing my nerves and mental state while waiting to hear back from schools. Especially while waiting post-interview, I became a nervous wreck and a bit of a pain to be around (just ask my girlfriend). The thought that a decision could come through email/phone/mail at any moment was nearly always lurking in the back of my mind, and it was definitely a mental distraction I could have managed better.
Accepted: Have you had any exposure to the medical/healthcare field or clinical experience? How important do you think it is to experience the world of medicine before deciding to become a doctor?
Ryan: The summer before college I worked the front desk of a medical clinic and I also spent a year volunteering in the Emergency Department of the local hospital next to my school. However, the best clinical experience I had, by far, was volunteering and interning for a local non-profit, Doctors Without Walls-Santa Barbara Street Medicine. The doctors, nurses, and other professionals volunteering for the non-profit would go out of their way to help students, and the experience was incredibly rewarding. If you find yourself stuck in a rut in a typical medical experience, I’d highly recommend getting involved with a non-profit in your area!
Accepted: Can you tell us about your two websites? Who is your target audience? Why did you decide to blog about your experience?
Ryan: Bored and frustrated by the “typical” premed experiences I was getting in college, I started PracticalPremed in 2010 to engage with other premeds online. For some reason, people actually enjoyed reading my blog, and so I started posting more articles about the strategies I used during the application process. PracticalPremed is ideally for medical school applicants, and the thank you emails I get from readers make all the work put into the website worth it.
WhiteCoatDO is a brand new website I launched to document my journey through medical school. With the number of osteopathic medical students growing every year, I wanted to create a resource for future DO students to read. I’ve found blogging to be a fantastic creative outlet, and hopefully one day I’ll be able to parlay these experiences into a book.
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