This interview is the latest in an Accepted.com blog series featuring interviews with medical school applicants and students, offering readers a behind-the-scenes look at the med school application process. And now, introducing Carter Duggan…
Accepted: First, can you tell us a little about yourself? Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad? Where are you in med school and what year are you?
Carter: I’m just about to finish my first year of med school at Indiana University School of Medicine. I chose IUSM because I was born and raised here, so this is home to me. In-state tuition never hurts. One thing that most people know about me is that I love to cook. When I was going off to college I thought I wanted to own my own restaurant so I went to Purdue University and got a degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management.
Accepted: That’s an interesting jump from hospitality to medicine! Can you talk about why you decided to attend med school?
Carter: This is a question I get a lot but unfortunately it’s the one that I am the worst at answering. It wasn’t that I stopped loving restaurants and cooking and then needed a fallback. Let’s be honest, med school isn’t something you do when you don’t know what else to do. The best explanation that I have is that it was something I had to do. I feel completely compelled to become a doctor but have a terrible time articulating why. I think in my case this is a classic example of “the heart wants what the heart wants.”
Accepted: Now as you’re nearing the end of your first year of med school, can you look back and think of anything you wish you would’ve known before starting med school? How would you advise incoming first year students?
Carter: Knowing what I know now, I wish I would have been a little more adventurous and energetic before coming to med school. People will tell you to have fun before school starts, and not to worry about studying and trying to get ahead. They’re absolutely right. I wish I would have taken their advice a little more seriously. I think it’s important that you try to do a few things that will be really difficult to do during your medical training like taking a big trip, if that’s what you like. You’ll be glad that you did.
As for when you actually start med school, again this goes back to having fun. It’s actually easier than you think to get into a routine of studying all day every day. But there’s a lot of evidence now that shows this is actually detrimental to your education. If you aren’t finding some time to eat right, sleep, exercise, have fun, etc. all those extra hours in the library are actually wasted.
St. Louis recently underwent a substantial curriculum change where students spent less time in class, were required to take a class on depression, and had to participate in extracurriculars. The results were astonishing. Not only did depression rates drop, board scores actually significantly improved.
Accepted: What is your favorite thing about your program so far? And if you could change one thing about the program, what would it be?
Carter: I love that IUSM is split between nine different campuses for the pre-clinical years. Each center has a different style of teaching, and students have the opportunity to go where they will learn the best. I picked West Lafayette, because classes are in a lecture format and the class sizes are really small (21 MS1s). Other campuses have different class sizes and they vary their teaching styles between traditional lecture, block, team-based learning, and problem-based learning.
The one downfall I see is that we don’t actually get to meet and interact with a large fraction of our class for the first two years. But we all have the opportunity to go to the main center in Indianapolis for third and fourth year if we choose, so that gives us the chance to make more connections.
Accepted: Did you go straight from college to med school? Or did you take time off? If you took time off, how did you spend your time? And if you went straight from college to med school, then when did you take premed courses, since you studied hospitality and not premed?
Carter: My route was a little more torturous. I decided to go to med school about two months before I was set to graduate. I had to spend a fifth year taking all the prerequisites. At the end of that year I took the MCAT, applied, and was accepted. I still had to wait the additional year to matriculate. During that year I worked full time as a scribe in the emergency room. It was probably the best job I have ever had and helped prepare me for med school better than anything else. All pre-meds should look into scribing if they have a chance. There are a number of companies out there that offer this position such as Scribe America and PhysAssist. [To learn more about being a scribe, please see “A Window into the World and Life of Medical Scribes.”]
Accepted: Looking back, what was the most challenging aspect of the med school admissions process? How did you approach that challenge and overcome it?
Carter: For me one of the hardest parts was accepting that I couldn’t do everything. There is a tendency to want to be in 8 clubs, have 4.0 GPA, score a 38 on the MCAT, publish 12 papers, and spend every holiday volunteering in underserved parts of the world. But there are only so many hours in the day, and you can’t do everything. I think your main focuses should be on your GPA and MCAT. Beyond that, pick two to four things that you really like doing and do them well. Interview committees don’t care so much about what you do, but that you do things that you’re passionate about and you do them well. For example, I don’t have any experience with research, but I don’t think that hurt me during the application process because I had other activities that showed that I was dedicated, hard-working, and passionate.
Accepted: Do you have any other advice for our med school applicant readers?
Carter: The most important lesson I’ve learned throughout my entire education is, “Don’t be an a$$%*&@.” Getting in and staying in med school is a long, hard process. You are going to need a lot of help along the way. Most people are willing to help genuinely nice people, but very few will go out of their way for you if you act like your better than everyone else. This is overall just a great lesson for life.
Accepted: Can you tell us about your blog? Who is your target audience? And how have you benefited from the blogging experience?
Carter: I started writing as a way to vent about the hardships of med school. It was almost therapy of sorts. It has slowly evolved as a medium for me to share my experiences, but to also give advice to those that are in a similar position that I am.
Going forward this summer, I plan on revamping my site to offer more “how-to” guides on various aspects of being a successful med student. There are so many things that that aren’t covered during our formal education but are just important. How to dress professionally for clinic. How to craft an appropriate CV. Proper etiquette for an interview dinner. These things matter but you won’t find them in any text books. For me, it’s a constant evolution. While I’m writing mostly to med students, I would love to reach anyone that could potentially benefit. Pre-meds. Vet or law students. Just about anyone.
You can read more about Carter’s journey by checking out his blog, This is Med School. Thank you Carter for sharing your story with us!
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