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Rejected? 5 Things to do now if you didn’t get into med school

Congratulations, graduates!  You’ve worked hard for the past few years and you deserve to celebrate!  But once the ceremonies, parties and barbecues have happened…then what?  Maybe you’ve already been accepted to medical school.  If you have, kudos to you.  See my post here https://mddreams.com/2015/10/15/10-things-you-need-to-do-before-you-go-to-med-school/ via @wordpressdotcom on getting the most out of your summer break before med school.  When I graduated from college I had a B.S. in Biology, but had no idea what I was going to do next.  I had been rejected from every med school that I applied to and had no backup plan.  If you’re like me, you may be bewildered, stuck and unsure.  Take a look at these tips and get back on your horse.

Don’t lose heart

You are still awesome!  As long as you are breathing, you can start again.  Don’t wallow in despair for too long.  Take a breather, but set a date as to when you will start on your come back plan.  If you’re feeling depressed, seek help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has trained counselors available to talk 24/7.  You can reach them at 1-800-273-8255.

Analyze things

Send a letter or email to the schools that rejected you to see if you can get some information on why they rejected you.  You can also talk to your school’s premed advisor to help you figure out what happened.  Did your MCAT score and GPA meet the requirements of the schools that where you applied?  You can find out these requirements using the MSAR https://students-residents.aamc.org/applying-medical-school/faq/buying-and-using-medical-school-admission-requirem/.  Did you only apply to top tier schools?  Did you apply to any safety schools?  A safety school might be your state school, the medical school that is affiliated with your college, or a school where you exceed their requirements for MCAT and GPA scores.

MCAT do-over?

To retake, or not to retake?  That is the question.  If your MCAT score wasn’t stellar, it might be in your best interest to take it again.  If you can get a higher score, it will definitely improve your chances for acceptance.  If you decide to retake it, consider revamping your study plan.  If you did not take a prep course, you may want to look into that.  I took Kaplan, but there is also Princeton Review and a myriad of other courses.  Some people swear by Exam Krackers.  Their home study materials are cheaper than the live review courses.  They also have a home study plan that you can adjust to fit your needs here:  https://www.examkrackers.com/MCAT/MCAT-HomeStudy.aspx.  If you can’t afford a prep course, there are free MCAT materials from the Khan Academy https://www.khanacademy.org/test-prep/mcat .

GPA

Take a look at your GPA from the standpoint of a med school admissions officer.  They are actually looking at your grade point average in 3 different ways.  Your overall GPA, your science or BCPM (Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Math) GPA, and your non-science or non-BCPM GPA.  See what they see by using this calculator http://prehealth.cas.nyu.edu/page/bcpmcalculator .  If you failed any classes, you may need to consider retaking them.  This is a great article that details the process and has links on how to repair your GPA http://hpplc.indiana.edu/medicine/AcademicRecordandGrades.shtml .  If your science grades are mediocre, you may want to consider a post-baccalaureate program to strengthen your science background and prove to admissions committees that you can handle high-level science courses.  You can find out more about post-bac programs here https://students-residents.aamc.org/postbacc/.

Do Something

If you plan to reapply, it may be tempting to only study for the MCAT and not do anything else.  This is not what admissions committees want to see.  You’ll need to do something to better your application for the second go around.  If you don’t have much shadowing experiences, you may want to seek out a physician to shadow or an ER or clinic that needs volunteers.  You may want to take a science course while you’re in limbo.  It never hurts to get a job, but try to make it something related to science or medicine.  I took Biochemistry and taught seventh grade Earth Science while I was reapplying.  You don’t have to do that, but don’t lie around in your parent’s basement for the next year.

If at first you don’t succeed, try…try again.  I got my acceptance the second time, but I know someone who applied to medical school 4 times before she got in.  There is hope, but you’ll have to ask yourself some hard questions and be willing to do the work once you figure out what needs to improve.  Never give up.  Good luck and Godspeed!

Personal Statements 101: Med School, Residency and Beyond

This is a guest post by Dr. Brenda Krygowski.

So you want to be a doctor but you’re dreading the personal statement? Look no further, help is found here: a culled list we shared as med students! Long considered the evil of any application, this doesn’t have to be the tiresome burden you think it is. Time to get out a notebook and a pen. By using the checklist below, you’re about to brainstorm a list of your unique history and traits. You can transform this information into the type of personal statement that will have attendings say, “Not only did I actually read yours until the end, but I remember what it said and I wasn’t bored out of my mind!” [the personal statement that caused those responses is included at the end of the checklist as an example for you].

A few tips and tricks though: read your statement out loud and have a handful of other people read it when you’re done to catch any typos, etc.  Although these personal statements usually get shoved in a file after application season is done, they can come back to haunt you (as mine did at the end of this blog post haha): my husband’s residency director read their personal statements at graduation! If you don’t put the effort in and merely write a paragraph or two, you will come across as lazy and people will talk smack about you when they meet after the interview to discuss if you’re a good candidate or not—so get out the elbow grease. And above all: pick a specialty that will let you sub specialize in the future in case you change your mind (as I did) and read the book “Stop Physician Burn Out” by Dike Drummond, MD after Step One, but before year three of medical school.

“Checklist” for the Personal Statement:

  1. Must fit onto one page (1 inch margin, 12 font, 3-4 paragraphs and a conclusion)
  2. What are the attributes, goals, events/experiences that have shaped you into YOUR personality, values and goals that you have/are today?  WHO YOU ARE must be conveyed.
  3. Needs to cover: personal issues, life changing experiences, family, and goals. What’s most important to your life?
  4. Not allowed: unusual, flippant, cute or crass writing/statements; do not state expectations (goals which the institute cannot provide: i.e. rural vs. urban vs. suburban or NEEDING to work with XYZ patients).  Do NOT talk about wanting to serve needy people after training (its cliche and tiresome to read).
  5. Do include professional experiences you seek in your attending years.  What do you intend to do with your career?
  6. Must stand out from crowd (no stress there, right?)
  7.  Talk about things you have done/interests that may spark a conversation or hold in common with interviewers.
  8. Cover stuff that is not found elsewhere in your application materials.
  9. Don’t repeat stuff found in Dean’s letter (if it can be helped).
  10.  Why do you want the specialty?   Why did you decide to go into Medicine? Become a doctor?
  11. How did volunteer activities influence your career choice?
  12.  Write positive things about self without inflating self or “puff-uppery.”
  13.  Recognize unique talents and traits.
  14.  Don’t compare self to others; don’t talk about weaknesses (look at strengths).
  15.  Why you’re best suited for the position of a (insert specialty) Resident.
  16.  In the end: is this what you think residency directors want in a candidate?
  17.  Do they care about things you wrote about?
  18. What attributes are they seeking? (they want you to be happy and productive in what you are doing). What do THEY WANT that you have? Have you expressed that in your essay? What you have done and how you will enhance their program?
  19. What does or doesn’t your personal statement draw attention to? Are you comfortable talking about all that it contains during an interview??

Seminal:  Highly influential in an original way; providing a basis for further development.

My seminal moment occurred during an afternoon in which I was the only medical person within a 15-mile radius.  I was partway through a two-month medical mission at a family clinic in Oaxaca, Mexico. She was a Mexican Indian Great-Grandmother, accompanied by females from the next three generations.  At first, she was the only patient.  She shyly approached and whispered in her Mixteco-accented Spanish: “My womb has fallen out.”  As I unlocked the clinic, the other generations filed in as well.  After performing a history and physical, I consulted the tattered Merck manual.  As I reassured her, she smilingly consented to return in the morning, when the real doctor was there.  Then the other women started to confide their family’s different health concerns to me.  As I spoke with them, the reason I had gone to medical school a year earlier was irrevocably confirmed: to be a family physician and take care of patients “from the cradle to the grave.”  I knew then that the variety in family medicine that had spiced my life until that moment would only continue to fascinate me if I pursued becoming a family physician.

Growing up in a family that valued multiculturalism fed my love of travel and languages.  Two weeks before medical school started, I accompanied my mother on our third mission trip to Cuba.  These and other travels in unpredictable environments increased my endurance and taught me flexibility.  In high school I had the opportunity to become a Rotary exchange student. Although I considered going to Spain to perfect my Spanish, I chose Germany instead.  The challenge of learning a third language was a better path to meeting one of my life’s goals: to become a well-rounded person.  As I worked hard to become fluent in German, I developed strong friendships with Germans that last to this day.  Living with a German family in which my host mother was an ophthalmologist allowed me to see what the life of one physician was like.  I was fascinated when she performed emergency eye exams in the television room.  Being exposed to that started me on the rewarding road to becoming a physician.

During my CC III Family Medicine clerkship, I felt like a contestant in a marvelous game show: behind every door was an exciting chapter in a mystery story that I had to solve or manage until the next installment.  It was my favorite rotation because it combined everything I love about medicine.  The other specialty rotations were enjoyable, but left me longing for the diversity found in family medicine.   Observing my Family Medicine preceptor reinforced my desire to become a family physician.  After thirty years in family medicine, he still had the same delight and enjoyment that I, a student, experienced everyday in going to the family practice.

I married my best friend in medical school a week after taking Step One of the USMLE.  My husband and I appreciate, support and inspire each other during the joys and frustrations of medical school.  He will be applying to Emergency Medicine residency positions while we participate in the couples match.  This fall, I hope to introduce him to my love of scuba diving when he accompanies me to the clinic in Oaxaca, Mexico.  We love to run, bike and camp together.

The delightful challenge of being a generalist in a world of increasing specialization is definitely what I want to do with my life.  In the future, I envision myself as either a preceptor in a private practice or in an academic setting.  I also see my husband and I continuing to volunteer in medical clinics in third world nations as opportunities arise.

B. C. Krygowski, M.D. holds bachelor degrees in German and Biology (she couldn’t make up her mind) and is a graduate of University at Buffalo’s medical school. She blogs at https://bckrygowski.com/.

Am I Too Old For Med School?

Medical students tend to be fresh out of college, or just a few years removed.  According to a 2015 article in U.S. News and World Report, “The mean age of students entering medical school is 24 years”.  But what if you’ve been out of college for much longer?  What if you’re over 30, 40 or even 50 years of age?  Is it too late for you to follow your MD dreams?  Maybe not.  Just because you aren’t a 22 year old Biology major doesn’t mean all hope is lost.  Sometimes the experiences a nontraditional student has is just what an admissions committee is looking for.  But there are several things to consider as an older medical school applicant, before you take the leap.

Family

My oldest classmate in medical school was 50 years old.  However, her sons were in their 20s and out of the house.  Do you have kids that will need childcare while you are in class or on clinical rotations?  Do you have a spouse or family member that is willing to help you?  You will also want to take aging parents into consideration.  Will they need someone in close proximity to care for them?  Keep location in mind as you are applying to schools. Decide with your family if they would be willing to move out of state with you, if you will only apply to local schools or if you will live apart during medical school.

 Finances

Medical school is all consuming.  You will not have time to have a job.  Medical school is your job.  That being said, think about all the possible resources you have to cover your financial responsibilities.  You may have to use your savings, apply for loans, or try getting a scholarship or grant.  If you have a spouse, can their salary cover all of your household expenses?  If not, you may need to create a new budget, downsize or go without extras during this time.  Start with this info from the AAMC to think through it.

 Scheduling

Medical school takes most of your time, energy and concentration.  You barely have time to take care of yourself, much less anyone else.  If you have a family, you will have to be a stickler for your schedule.  You’ll need to schedule family time, but also schedule study time and not let anything sway you from either one.  There is a huge amount of material to master during med school.  I stayed up studying into the wee hours of the morning almost daily.  You may be used to checking out at a certain time, but in med school there is a seemingly endless mountain of factoids to memorize.  You may have to learn to function better on less sleep.

Pre-requisites

Medical schools require their applicants to take a certain amount of basic science and math courses prior to matriculating.  According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) website, “At a minimum, students will likely complete the following types of courses: one year of biology, one year of physics, one year of English, two years of chemistry (through organic chemistry).”  You will have to check the Medical School Admissions Requirements or MSAR to find out what the specific requirements are for the schools that interest you.  For example, some may require Calculus or Statistics.  If you did not take those courses, you may be able to enter a post-baccalaureate program.  These programs will allow you to take (or retake) those basic science courses in 1-2 years.  Try this post bac search engine from the AAMC to find a program that’s right for you.

My med school class was full of people who’d had prior careers.  There were lawyers, engineers and people from corporate America.  I taught school for a year while I was applying for a second time.  Getting to and through medical school isn’t easy, but it is worth it.  Don’t count yourself out.  Never give up.

Jarita Hagans, MD is a Family Practice physician, speaker, freelance blogger and author of “MD Dreams:  Practical Advice for Every Stage from Premed to Residency and Beyond”. Find more info on mddreams.com. Connect with her on Facebook at MD Dreams The Book, on Twitter @doctorjarita and Instagram @jaritah

Premed Super Sheet:  30 Things Every Premed Student Needs to Know 

If you are here, then you or someone you know is probably dreaming of one day having an MD behind your name.  Here is a cheat sheet to get you started or propel you forward as you push towards that dream.  But first things first…do not allow yourself to get overwhelmed by this list.  It is not a “must do everything now” type of thing.  Think of it as forecasting.  A Farmer’s Almanac of sorts, so that you know what to expect in the future and what seeds to plant when.  I organized the tips into sections, depending on where you are on your premed journey.  You’ll also see some general tips towards the end of the list that can be useful to everyone.

High school students

  1. Summer Programs.  If you already know what you want to do in life, consider yourself lucky. Summer can be a great time to get some scientific experiences under your belt.  Go for those programs that are in your area of interest. If you’re not sure, or you have more than one area of interest, use this time to explore.  You can use these programs to find out if you like a certain career.  It’s how I found out that I hate engineering.  The website, http://pathwaystoscience.org is a great resource to find programs

2. Picking a college.  You may want to choose a college that has its own hospital or is in close proximity to one.  All premeds need clinical experience, and it will be easier on you if the doctor you are shadowing is affiliated with your university or at the very least, near your campus.

3. Scholarships.  Financial aid is fine but grants and scholarships are better, since you don’t have to pay them back.  Don’t stress if you aren’t a straight A student.  There are scholarships for everything under the sun.  You might get money for being left handed, being from your state or having one blue eye and one brown eye.  Start your search on petersons.com.

Freshmen

4. Premed Advisor.  As soon as you hit the campus you should run, not walk, to the Premed Advisor’s office.  I had a great one and she guided me all the way from freshman to med school acceptance.   If your school doesn’t have one, find a med student or doctor to mentor you.  You may also be able to get some assistance from the National Association of Advisors for the Health Professions at http://www.naahp.org/.

5. Premed Society.  Along the same vein, a premed society or club can be a wealth of information.  They may have guest speakers, information on research opportunities, test prep and can be a source of support.  If it doesn’t exist on your campus, create it!

6. Choosing a Major  Technically, you can major in whatever you want and still go to medical school.  As long as you get all your prerequisites in before application time, you can major in underwater basket weaving.  Per the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) website, “At a minimum, students will likely complete the following types of courses: one year of biology, one year of physics, one year of English, two years of chemistry (through organic chemistry).”  But check the Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR) manual to see specific requirements for every school.

7. Summer Opportunities.  There are tons of summer opportunities that can get you the research and clinical experience you need to be a strong med school applicant.  But the one I want freshmen to be aware of is the Summer Health Professions Education Program, or SHPEP.  It’s a fantastic program, but you can’t participate in this program once you become a junior.  This program is hosted by several institutions across the country.  According to their website, “SHPEP’s goal is to strengthen the academic proficiency and career development of students underrepresented in the health professions and prepare them for a successful application and matriculation to health professions schools.”  Check out naahp.org for a list of other opportunities.

Sophomores

8. Research. Even if research is not your thing, you have to do it.  Med schools are looking for this to prove that you can handle high level scientific thought.  They also want you to be able to contribute to the scientific community.  Visit the science departments at your university and pathwaystoscience.org.

9. Extracurriculars. Med schools are looking for well-rounded people.  They don’t want someone who is book smart, but doesn’t interact with patients or team members well.  Find some activity, sport, club or volunteer organization to participate in.  Don’t try to do too many, though. You don’t want your grades to suffer because you were student government president, playing volleyball and organizing a free clinic all at the same time.

10. What about your GPA? By now you have a handle on what’s going on with your grade point average and know how you’re doing compared to your peers.  But did you know that admissions committees break your GPA down into total GPA, BCPM (Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Math) GPA and non-BCMP GPA?  Use an online calculator to check yours so you can come up with a game plan if yours doesn’t look so hot.  You may even need to retake some classes that you did not do well in, to average things out.

 

Juniors

11. Letters of Recommendation.   Depending on what the class size is at your university, your professor may or may not remember you when it comes time for this.  Help them remember who you are.  Ask in person and give them your resume with a cover letter telling them what you need them to do and the deadline.  Put a small picture of yourself on the cover letter.  You also need to give them an AMCAS Letter Request form.  You’ll be able to print this form from the “Letters of Evaluation” section of your AMCAS application.

12. Personal Statement. This is one of the most important parts of your medical school application.  This is where you get the attention of the person reading your application and separate yourself from every other applicant.  You can start writing this before the applications open.   Go to my blog post, “Finish The Course” (https://mddreams.com/2016/03/30/finish-the-course/ via @wordpressdotcom) for more details about this.

13. MCAT Prep There are lots of ways to prepare for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), but you should probably start with the people who develop and administer the test, the AAMC.  Go here (https://students-residents.aamc.org/applying-medical-school/taking-mcat-exam/) to get official test prep resources and to find out how to register for the test.

14. Fee Waiver But what if I don’t have the money to take the MCAT?  Good news, there is help! If you qualify for the AAMC Fee Assistance Program for the MCAT, then you also get financial assistance with your med school applications.

15. Application Timeline Applying to medical school is a year-long process.  If you wanted to enter medical school in the Fall of 2018, you would have to submit your application in the Spring of 2017.  That summer, you would complete secondary medical school applications and wait for interview invitations to roll in.  Your med school interviews would take place in the Fall/Winter of 2017/2018 and then you would find out if you were accepted in the Spring of 2018.

16. AMCAS stands for the American Medical College Application Service.  Most U.S. medical schools participate in this centralized application service (Texas has their own).   Their website (https://students-residents.aamc.org/applying-medical-school/article/apply-to-med-school-with-amcas/)has a detailed instruction manual and videos about how to complete each section.

17. Choosing a Medical School  The first rule in real estate also applies here; location, location, location!  If you can’t stand the cold, then there’s no point in applying to Mayo in Minnesota.  Once you decide on an area or areas of the country, you want to check the Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR) to see if you meet that med school’s minimum MCAT and GPA requirements.  If your MCAT and GPA are not stellar, you will need to apply to more schools to increase your chances.  Apply to one dream school and always apply to your home school or state school.

18. Interviews If you are invited for a medical school interview, you are on the short list!  You made it past hundreds, and maybe thousands, of other applicants.  Now that you have a seat at the table, make sure you prepare.  Review sample interview questions online.  Practice with a friend or a mentor.   Make sure you learn about the institution and have genuine questions prepared.

19. International Medical Schools There are several respected medical schools in the Caribbean and other places around the world.  But before you take that leap, do your research and see if their students do American away rotations.  You also need to make sure that their graduates are not having difficulty getting placed in U.S. residencies if you are planning on practicing medicine stateside.

Seniors

20. Post-Bac Programs These types of programs can be useful if you did not take the pre-requisites for med school or if your pre-requisites are too old.  Post baccalaureate programs can also be helpful if you did not do well in undergrad and need to prove to admissions committees that you can handle upper level science courses.  Some will also provide MCAT preparation, research and clinical experiences.

21. Gap Year Some students decide to take a year off between college and medical school.  But you definitely want to have some structured activities built in, so it doesn’t look like you were goofing off the entire time.  One option is a medical mission program like Gap Medics and Doctors Without Borders.  You could also travel abroad with a service oriented or language immersion program.

22. Non-Traditional students You may feel that you don’t fit the mold of a typical med student due to your age, major or previous career.  No worries.  Schools are actually looking for a diverse class with varied interests.  Don’t be discouraged if you aren’t a 22 year old with a B.S. in Biology.  You might be just what they need.

Universal Advice

23. Communicating with Professors Don’t wait until your grade is sinking to make sure your professors know and like you.  Use those office hours.  They get paid to teach you, so wear them out!  Go to them for anything you don’t understand in class.  Get them to explain to you why you got things wrong on every quiz and test.  Let them know in no uncertain terms that you want and need to do well.

24. Tutoring There is no shame in needing a tutor.  Most schools have tutors through the different departments.  If not,  just grab someone is doing well (or did well) in that class and beg.

25. Studying Everyone has different studying styles.  You’ll need to find out what yours is quickly.  I was one to walk around the library socializing when on a study break.  But when it came time to really hit the books, I needed perfect quiet.  Monday through Thursday, I was in the basement of the library from 8 PM until.  Set a schedule and stick to it.

26. Self Care If you don’t have a non-academic outlet, you will go insane.  Find something fun to do. Mine was volunteering, going to football and basketball games and poetry.  Exercise and nutrition remains important as well.  You need to keep your energy up.  I ate my fair share of crap in college, but I balanced it out with fruit and veggies.  Learning how to calm yourself is a great skill to develop now.  The website beginmeditating.com has some good tips.

27. Finances Say no to credit cards.  You do not want to ruin your credit and have that hanging over you as you try to get a loan or an apartment for med school.  If you must, get a prepaid or secure credit card that is attached to your bank account so that you can’t spend what you don’t have.

28. Mental Health Becoming a doctor can be an overwhelming process.  Don’t be ashamed of getting help if you are feeling depressed or anxious.  Most schools have counseling through student health or support services.  The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has counselors available 24/7 at 1(800)273-8255.

29. Social Media Be careful what you post.  Even if you have your privacy settings on friends only, those people can screenshot, save or share your pics and posts at any time.  If you wouldn’t want med schools to see it, don’t post it.

30. Stay hopeful. The best thing I ever did for myself was to work at self motivation.  I heard something once that said in order to achieve a goal, your mind’s eye needs a picture.  You need to visualize yourself becoming a successful doctor.  I used to put inspirational quotes and articles on my dorm room wall and look at them daily.  Find what works for you and never, never, never give up!

Jarita Hagans, MD is a Family Practice physician, speaker, freelance blogger and author of “MD Dreams:  Practical Advice for Every Stage from Premed to Residency and Beyond”. Find more info on http://mddreams.com Follow her on Twitter @doctorjarita and Instagram @jaritah

 

5 Last Minute Ideas to Boost your Pre-med Profile During Winter Break

Most normal college students are focused on finals right now. After that last exam, they’re going to travel home and hang out, sleep, party and watch an obscene amount of TV.  But you? You are not normal.  You are a pre-med beast!  But what if you didn’t plan anything for this year?  That’s okay.  You do need some rest and relaxation.  But I wouldn’t necessarily vegetate until January.  Here are some last-minute things you can get involved in that will boost your resume and give you some sweet experiences

Volunteer

It may be too late to be a volunteer at your local hospital back home, depending on how stringent they are with background checks and volunteer applications. But it doesn’t hurt to try.  Most hospitals have a volunteer office that you can contact.  Other options for volunteering include homeless shelters, soup kitchens, nursing homes, senior day programs and churches.  Call or send an email now to see where help is needed.

Draft your personal statement

If you are starting your med school app in Spring of 2017, May will be here sooner than you think. You don’t have to get it polished, but you can get a good draft going over winter break.   Go to my blog post on med school applications to get an idea of what should be in it. https://mddreams.com/2016/03/30/finish-the-course/

Apply to Summer Programs

The next time school breaks, you’ll be on it so you can travel abroad or rub elbows with doctors in clinics or hospitals. You may even find a mini med school type program. This webpage from the National Association of Advisors for the Health Professions, Inc. http://ow.ly/qSko306KyR7 has a great list of summer opportunities to get you started.

Shadow 

You may not be able to find a lengthy clinical experience at this late date, but even a few days would be better than nothing.  Ask around and see if anyone you know is familiar with a doctor that would allow you to do so.  You could even ask your primary care doctor back home.  Contact them now.

Update your resume

Every time I update my resume, I have to think really hard about what I did when.  While you’re off, you might as well insert the new activities that you did over fall semester. That way, you won’t have to strain your brain when it’s time to apply to med school.  Keeping an up to date resume will make it easier to fill in the extracurricular activity section on the AMCAS (American Medical College Application Service) application.

Good luck on finals.  I hope you have an enjoyable and productive winter break!

Jarita Hagans, MD is a Family Practice physician, speaker and author of “MD Dreams:  Practical Advice for Every Stage from Premed to Residency and Beyond”. Find more info on http://mddreams.com Follow her on Twitter @doctorjarita and Instagram @jaritah

Five Scary Things About Being a Doctor

October is here and it’s time for Halloween, scary movies, ghost, ghouls and goblins. Here are a few things that your doctor experiences that are way more terrifying than Jason or Freddy Krueger.

  1.  You can’t know everything.
    What if that person who is short of breath is actually having a heart attack? What if that innocent cough is actually a sign of lung cancer? What if that medicine I prescribed for my patient’s pain makes their stomach bleed? These are the types of things I worry about every day. As a doctor, you have an idea of what you think might be wrong. But you can’t be 100% sure. So you ask questions, run tests, pray and try to sort it out. It may seem like your doc is doing the most, but they’re just worried about you. Bear with them when they want you to get blood drawn, go for an x-ray or come back to the office. It’s not that they want to waste your time or collect another co-pay. They’re just trying to make sure they don’t miss something that will cause you to wake up dead.

2.  You have to move towards danger.
Being a doctor means being an essential employee. But it’s not just about going in on Columbus Day, Christmas or New Years’ Eve. The nurses will probably have a potluck to make you feel better about that. What I’m talking about is natural disasters. Hurricane? You’re going in. Blizzard? You’re going in. Mandatory evacuation? Not for physicians. On those days that no human being should be outside, your doctor is probably on their way to the office or hospital. No matter how terrifying the weather, they have to be in place. As one of my colleagues used to say, “These patients aren’t going to see themselves”.

3.  Exposure to infectious diseases.
Staph infections, HIV, Hepatitis and Herpes are all in a day’s work. Sometimes when I’m eating my lunch or using the restroom, I wonder if I washed my hands well enough to remove every virus and bacteria I’ve come in contact with. Then, there’s the possibility of needle sticks or body fluid that sprays or squirts in your direction. Protective gear like gloves and eye shields are your friends. But handwashing is the real MVP. I probably wash or sanitize my hands 40 times a day. My hands may look like Medusa, but at least it reduces my chances of infection.

4.  Emergencies.
The best part of medicine is that you never know what’s going to happen. The worse part of medicine is that you never know what’s going to happen. When I did my surgery internship, I worked at a Level 1 Trauma Center. There was a helipad on the top of the hospital, and you never knew what kind of disaster was going to be flown in. You would get a page and hear over the loud speaker “Trauma. ETA 5 minutes.” You would then have five minutes to get from wherever you were in the hospital to the trauma bay, don your gown and gloves and get ready for action. It is scary being the person at the end of the ambulance ride! No matter what is going on, you have to be the one to fix it. Though I’m no longer about that life and probably won’t have any people with gunshot wounds or partial amputations strolling into the office, I still come in contact with the unexpected. Mixed in with the colds and rashes are people with strokes, heart attacks and any number of critical problems. These folks will have you running, sweating, shouting orders and calling on the name of the Lord. But all’s well that ends well, right?

5.  People die.
No matter how great a physician you are, people die. It’s what they do, and there’s nothing you can do about it. You never get used it. But if “there’s no crying in baseball”, then there’s definitely no crying in medicine. You have to suck it up and do your job. I remember calling to notify the family of my first patient who died. It was rough. I think they were calmer than I was. When I hung up the phone, I cried. I decided on that day that I could not cry every time someone died. I would never be able to do my job. You steel yourself against your emotions, comfort the family and take care of your other patients. You can always cry on your way home.

Medicine is a sometimes a scary job, but somebody’s got to do it. Over time, you develop coping mechanisms and systems to help you deal with the fear and the stress. Even though this career is filled with death, disease and uncertainty, it is also filled with life, health and joy. I would not trade it for the world.

Jarita Hagans, MD is a Family Practice physician, speaker and author of “MD Dreams:  Practical Advice for Every Stage from Premed to Residency and Beyond”. Find more info on http://mddreams.com Follow her on Twitter @doctorjarita and Instagram @jaritah

 

Showtime: 10 Tips to Shine During Your Med School Interview

You’ve done the hard work, busted your butt in those classes, taken the MCAT, completed the application and jumped through all the hoops.  Now the day of reckoning is coming…it’s interview season.  But I don’t want you to get nervous.  I want you to get excited.  You are one step closer to your dream of becoming a doctor!  With that in mind, here are a few tips to help you stand out in those interviews.

  1.  Review your own resume and personal statement beforehand.

You’ve done a lot of great stuff in these past few years and you may not remember all the details.  Look over it again. Remind yourself why you’re awesome.  Your interviewer may ask you about some research you did during freshman year.  Be ready to talk about anything in your application or personal statement.

2.  If you have any grades or test scores that aren’t stellar, be ready to explain them.

If your dog died or you had your gallbladder out and failed Organic Chemistry on the first go round, they need to know that.  Briefly tell what happened and what you learned from it.  Spin it into a positive.

3.  Try to get a friend or professor to mock interview you so you can get used to talking about yourself.

This way you can practice making eye contact, smiling and making the person sit across from you feel warm and fuzzy before your actual interview.  You’ll get used to telling your story and answering tough questions so that it won’t be so nerve-wracking on the big day.

4.  Limit yourself to one alcoholic drink if there is a pre-interview dinner or luncheon.

 You want to make a good impression.  If you can’t speak clearly or think logically after drinking one drink (raises hand) then don’t have any.  Stick with the Sprite.

5.  Dress conservatively.

What do I mean by conservative?  Blue or black suit, neat hairstyle, minimal makeup.  You can do one pop of color (in a handkerchief or a necklace, for example) and that’s it.  Now is not the time to debut your fashion choices.  There will be plenty of time for that after you get in.  You don’t want them to look at your clothes and wonder if you can be a serious student.

6.  Arrive early.

There will likely be a group of students being interviewed at the same time as you.  You don’t want to be the last person in the room, or even find out that they started the tour first without you.  Call ahead to confirm the time and place where you should arrive and get the phone number of a contact person in case you get lost.

7.  Relax your mind.

You’ll interview better if you’re not stressed out.  Pray, meditate, do whatever you do to relax yourself.  Think about taking some earbuds to play some relaxing music or motivational speaking before you go in.  I love this motivational speech mashup:  https://youtu.be/AFGWnqNf6t0 .

8.  Ask questions.

They’re not just interviewing you, you are interviewing them.  You may be spending the next four years there, so you need to find out if you like the place.  Read through the website of the school where you’re interviewing and write down any questions you have.  If you can find out beforehand who is interviewing you, look up their profile and academic interests on the website.  Find out as much as you can before you go and use the interview day to fill in the blanks.

9.  Hang out with some students.

Some schools will have students interview you or take you on a tour of the school.  You can ask them questions, or pull aside random people and ask them how they like it there.  Try to hand around a little after your interview and observe the students in their natural environment.  Peek into classes, the library, computer lab, common areas.  Do the students look generally happy?  Can you see yourself hanging out and studying with these people?

10.  Make contact after the interview.

Make sure you get your interviewer’s email or “snail” mail so that you can send them a thank you note or email.  It’s a common courtesy that goes a long way.  It also gives them one more positive impression to help them remember you as they discuss you with the admissions board.

 

If you need more info, go here https://www.amazon.com/Concise-Mastering-Medical-School-Interview/dp/0692442375  to check out “A Concise Guide to the Medical School Interview” by one of my colleagues Dr. Regina Bailey.  Also, feel free to contact me on social media (details below).  As always, good luck and God bless!

Back to School: 5 Things Every New Med Student Needs to Crush It!

Med school usually starts in August, and if you are a new med student you could be feeling overwhelmed. No worries.  Here are 5 tips that I wish I knew when I started.  It’s going to be awesome! Go forth, young Jedi, and conquer!

First Aid for the USMLE  

First Aid is the bible for a first year med student.  It’s one of the things that most people use to study for the USMLE (United States Medical Licensure Exam).  I don’t think I used it to its full potential. If I had it to do over again, I would read the sections that corresponded to my coursework while we were studying that topic and make some notes in it.  That way, I’d have a more complete study guide when it came time to study for step 1.  You probably shouldn’t use it alone to study for your med school courses.  Try to find out where your professors test questions come from (things said in class, the official textbook, old tests) and make sure you know that.  Then you can fill your brain with USMLE nuggets.  Disclaimer:  Do not use First Aid as your only study material for the USMLE. Go to this link:  http://www.nbme.org/Students/sas/sas.html and do the self assessments so you can figure out what knowledge gaps you have towards the end of your 2nd year.  Design your study plan based on that. It wouldn’t hurt you to do these practice questions, either:  http://www.usmle.org/practice-materials/index.html.

An Hourly Calendar

I was, and still am, a huge nerd and have always liked making lists and schedules.  But I took it to a whole other level during med school.  I had an hourly calendar that I printed out and filled in every minute detail of my life.  I broke down my study material into what I was going to do each night.  For example, 8-9 PM: Review today’s Anatomy notes, 9-10 PM: Read Gross Anatomy chapter 5, pg 27-32.  I even scheduled time to eat and sleep.  You don’t have to be as OCD as me and color code each activity with a different color pen, but you need some sort of system.  You need a long-range plan to help you keep up and excel.  Try this link https://www.template.net/business/schedule-templates/24-hour-schedule/ and scroll down to find a calendar that suits you.

Pre-made meals and study snacks

I would have died if it had not been for China Wonder and Negril.  But man can’t live off of fried rice and jerk chicken alone.  Sometimes you need food and don’t have time to go get it.  I’m sorry to say that I ate a lot of Hot Pockets, Chef-Boy-Ardee and tabasco Slim Jims during med school.  Those foods and a daily Mountain Dew are probably the reason why I have high blood pressure and acid reflux today.  Meal prep was a foreign concept to me.  I wasn’t really cooking much at that time. Do better by yourself.  Cook a large batch of something (spaghetti sauce, rice and beans, soup) and put it in plastic containers on the weekend.  Even if you don’t cook, you can buy that stuff pre-made or get a rotisserie chicken.  Then get some fruit and pre-washed salad to go with it. Because believe me, you do not want to waste precious study time washing lettuce.

An upperclassman mentor

My school had a program where every 1st year med student was assigned a 2nd year pal to give them study tricks, their first year books and the old tests.  Disclaimer: don’t get the old tests if it’s against your school’s policy.  If your school doesn’t have a pal system, you may remember someone from when you interviewed.  Or there may have been a 2nd year that was part of your orientation that seems receptive.  That 2nd year student survived what you’re getting ready to go through, so pick their brain (and maybe their bookshelf).

Study buddy

You’ll want to identify someone pretty early on that has similar study habits as you.  You don’t want to pick someone who has a photographic memory and is done studying in half an hour if you need to pour over the material for half the night in order to get it.  You also need a support system to keep you going when times get tough.  But mostly, you’re going to need someone to hit you when you start falling asleep and you have 100 more Histology slides to memorize.

Jarita Hagans, MD is a Family Practice physician, speaker and author of “MD Dreams:  Practical Advice for Every Stage from Premed to Residency and Beyond”. Find more info on http://mddreams.com Follow her on Twitter @doctorjarita and Instagram @jaritah

It’s Go Time!

July 1st is a day that means nothing to most people.  It seems to be just another day between them and their 4th of July vacation.  But in the medical community, it is a changing of the guards.  July 1st is the official first day of residency across the United States.  If you are completing residency, congratulations!  If you are starting residency, it’s time to get your mind right.  Here are some tips to help you get ready to grind out.

 

  1. Stock your work locker/storage with extra underwear, toiletries and snacks. Get some frozen or canned dinners for home for the days when you are too tired to imagine cooking
  2. Figure out some ways to get your exercise. You need it to keep your mood and your weight stable.  Think about joining a gym or the YMCA.  Explore the area. There may be a walking/running trail near your hospital or your home.
  3. Put your bills on auto-pay. You will be too tired to remember to pay them manually.
  4. Get a little notebook for call night. You’re only one person.  Therefore and ergo, you won’t be able to save everyone all at once.  You’ll need to write down the patient’s name, room number, problem and the name of the nurse that called you.  Check them off as you deal with them.  This will help you with morning report or morning rounds as well.
  5. Start rounding early. Take personal responsibility for knowing everything there is to know about your patients.
  6. Document, document, document. If you do or say anything to a patient, write a note.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be in the SOAP (Subjective, Objective, Assessment and Plan) format, but write something.  If you can’t prove it, you didn’t do it.
  7. Unless there is an emergency you can’t handle or you don’t know what to do, try get as much information as possible before you call your superior. If you are an intern, then the senior resident on call is your superior.  Do not call your attending without speaking with the resident first.  Especially in the middle of the night.  It’s protocol.
  8. Read about your patient’s conditions. The info will stick better if you have a mental hook to hang it on.
  9. Be respectful. Not only to your attendings, but to your fellow residents.  Don’t dump work that you could and should have done, just because it’s close to the end of your call.  Give a proper sign-out so that your colleagues can have all the pertinent information that they need to care for the patients you are handing over to them.
  10. Get a mentor.  Your program may assign you a faculty mentor, but if they don’t choose one.  Try to pick one that has similar academic interests or that you personally vibe with.  You need someone on your side to help you navigate this thing and to stand up for you.

Enjoy these last few days of freedom.  Good luck and God bless.

Jarita Hagans, MD is a Family Practice physician, speaker and author of “MD Dreams:  Practical Advice for Every Stage from Premed to Residency and Beyond”. Find more info on http://mddreams.com Follow her on Twitter @doctorjarita.

Premed Resources to Help You Get In

  1. American Association of Medical Colleges

The AMCAS (American Medical College Application Service) is a centralized application service for most U.S. Medical Schools.  AMCAS info and application can be found on the AAMC (American Association of Medical Colleges) website.  This is the site where you will actually complete your application.  You can also read about or watch tutorials on the different application sections.  This can help you ensure your application is completed properly and in a timely fashion.

https://students-residents.aamc.org/applying-medical-school/applying-medical-school-process/applying-medical-school-amcas/

  1. Science GPA Calculator

While you’re preparing your application, peel open one of those transcript copies and take a look at your science grade point average.  My first semester of college was pretty rough academically.  The transition from a high school to college was anything but smooth.  I went from a straight A student to a C student.  I earned a 2-point-I-can’t-tell-you GPA.  I spent the rest of my time there trying to fix that.  When I finished, my grade point average was pretty good, over 3.5.  But my science GPA was much lower. The science GPA includes all your courses in biology, chemistry, physics and math.  Check out this tool http://prehealth.cas.nyu.edu/object/cas.prehealth.gpacalculator on NYU’s premed site to help you see what your potential med school will see when they look at your application.

  1. Premed Consulting

My premed advising office was pretty awesome and I leaned on them heavily during the application and admissions process.  If you don’t have one or you just need some help with your med school application, you might consider using a consulting company.  They can help you revise your personal statement or secondary essays, hone interview skills and present yourself well on your application.  Check out the doctors over at  http://www.upwardacademicconsulting.com/ for help.

  1. Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR)

There are basic requirements for medical school that you need for every school, such as biology and chemistry.  However, some schools differ in their requirement of upper level courses.  Math is the bane of my existence, but I had to take calculus because some of the schools I wanted to apply to required it.  Med schools may also differ on the minimum GPA and minimum MCAT score they will accept.  The Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR) is an online database of US and Canadian medical schools.  You can purchase it for $27 over at AAMC for Students, Applicants and Residents.  Use the information about your dream medical schools to guide you as you plan your coursework.

Jarita Hagans, MD is a Family Practice physician, speaker and author of “MD Dreams:  Practical Advice for Every Stage from Premed to Residency and Beyond”. Find more info on http://mddreams.com Follow her on Twitter @doctorjarita.