Medical School Q & A

So it’s been a while since I last posted, but I thought this might be a relevant one considering some of the questions I’ve been asked in the last few months regarding undergraduate opportunities, medical school applications, interviews and physician shadowing.

Q: I was wondering how should I approach doctors to shadow or volunteer at clinic. I’d like to shadow/volunteer but don’t know any doctors that are willing to take pre-meds in _____

A: It’s really hard to shadow physicians as an undergraduate. That being said, I would first reach out to family or friends in the medical field. If that’s not a possibility, I would either look up physician emails and phone numbers and just reach out to them to ask if you can observe them for a day or two. If you email 50 people, there’re bound to be at least 1 or 2 positive responses. OR reach out to medical students who are working on research projects that you’re interested in. It’s always great to have keen, interested undergraduate students helping out, and you can ask them to introduce you physicians that they work with. This is a great way to expand your medical network AND build your resume with a publication (or at least an acknowledgement on a publication).

Q: What’s a good way to gain more patient exposure in undergrad?

A: In terms of volunteer opportunities, to be honest, I feel like volunteering in hospitals is kind of useless since you don’t get much patient exposure. A couple things I did during college:

1. I interpreted for low-income clinics serving immigrant communities. If you speak another language, check if your school has an interpreting program like mine – you get tons of patient contact, exposure and can also network with physicians.
2. I went on a medical volunteer trip to Peru, which was life changing. I had such an amazing time, was able to actually perform many procedures, and they give you a lot of liberty regarding what you can see. I would highly highly recommend going on a trip, even if as students, we’re basically useless and are there to learn 🙂
3. I volunteering for a complementary care centre serving cancer-affected women. They provided things like acupuncture, herbs, massage etc., that are not necessarily “medical care” but all of the patients were affected or had been affected at one point by cancer and were undergoing medical treatment. You could also look for something like this, as again, you get a ton of patient exposure and you really get to communicate with the patients. It was a really great experience and something I did for 2 years pre-medical school!
4. I worked on a clinical research project in the hospital; I can’t say I really enjoyed this, but I basically had to deal with patients every week to collect data. This is another avenue you can look into!

 

Q: What are some tips for medical school interviews?

A: So since we’re in the thick of medical school interviews right now, here are some important (but fairly intuitive) things to remember:

  1. PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE. Whether this is with current medical students, with your friends who are applying to medical schools, with Facetime, with physicians etc., it’s important to know how you’re going to answer the popular questions like “what are 5 words that define you,” “introduce yourself,” “tell me about your greatest strength and your greatest weakness,” “what are some challenges you’ve faced and how did you overcome them,” “how would your friends describe you?” And the like. They’re pretty obvious, but if you come up blank during your interview, that’s going to look bad because other people will be prepared.
  2. THAT BEING SAID, DON’T BE A ROBOT, AND DON’T SEEM “TOO REHEARSED.” Make sure you come off as genuine. No one likes robots or people who memorize “all the right answers.” During MMIs, draw on real world examples and anecdotes. Don’t be afraid to brainstorm situations in which you’ve _______ and put them into a memory bank to be used for later.
  3. READ! I would recommend “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande, “Doing Right” and “The Woman who Wanted to Die”
  4. RELAX! Of course, everyone tells you to be yourself. That’s true, in the sense that you want to be the best version of yourself! Come prepared with good manners, be kind, compassionate, social and display good leadership qualities.
  5. MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE PEOPLE YOU’RE INTERVIEWING WITH! More than likely you’re going to see the same groups of people over and over. Take the time to make some friends, you’ll probably see some of these people again!

Q: How do I find resources for MMI questions?

A: Some schools will send you out a document with sample questions. READ THIS and practice answering these questions in 8 min. Otherwise, just look online, there’re tons of question banks available, but I would go with published questions from previous years first. Don’t waste time or money on prep programs, it’s really unnecessary. MMI stations go by so fast, I promise you won’t even have time to feel nervous!

Q: What’s medical school like? Do you have time for activities other than school?

A: The answer is YES. I can’t even describe how much I love medical school. It’s like undergrad, but with a much much smaller class (140 on my campus), more individualised attention (6 people per tutorial group), flexibility in your schedule (I have around 15 hours of mandatory class a week, the rest can be made up through our medical school portal) and the time to pursue extracurricular activities, research projects and community outreach. I definitely have more time than I did in undergrad, but I also have better work-life balance, I’m able to sleep more, and I’m overall a happier being than I was in junior year. It may not be like this at all medical schools, but I feel like I have staff and faculty support to pursue my interests here.

Q: How soon do you have to choose a specialty?

A: So this is something I’m not really qualified to answer, since I’m only in my first year. Currently, I’m leading toward plastic surgery, or at least something in the surgical field. That being said, A LOT of my classmates have no idea what they want yet. If you don’t know in your first year, you’re in the majority! That being said, because my program is truncated to 3 years, most people will have to decide pretty soon, especially when we start choosing our electives for clerkship. A good idea is to decide early whether you’re interested in 1) Medicine or 2) Surgery. From there, you should do tons of observerships during your first couple years of school to find something you like. Surgery is often glamorised, but remember that most specialties demand long hours, 12-24 on-call shifts, back-breaking work, long residencies and a lot of scut work while studying.

Q: Are you worried about your student debt?

A: Yes and no. Banks will lend you $250k for medical school, since it’s unlikely you’re going to drop out and run away to a foreign country. That being said, you definitely don’t have to and SHOULDN’T use all that money while you’re in medical school. I would say on average I spend about $3-4k on cost of living per month, and tuition is $27k a year. That totals to about $60-70k a year. Pretty expensive, but according to my financial advisor, I should be able to pay that off 5 years after residency (or 10 years after if I want to pay it off really really slowly). So don’t worry about getting a job in medical school or scrimping and saving, because your classmates WILL want to go out and have fun, and you should have fun too! Be proud of where you are and how hard you’ve worked to get here 🙂

These are just some questions that I thought were particularly relevant. I just came back from Japan, like, yesterday and I’m a little bit jet lagged. As always, if you have any additional questions for me, shoot me an email, a tweet, or add me on instagram to follow my adventures in medical school.

GOOD LUCK AND DON’T STRESS!

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2 months into medical school: It only gets better (I promise)

I have an exam tomorrow morning on cardiology, but being exhausted from a day of classes, an ENT horizontal elective and research and mentorship meetings, I feel like I deserve to procrastinate (if only for a little while to write this).

I can’t believe it’s already been 2 months! Between classes, interest group meetings, volunteering, finding research opportunities and spending time with friends, it seems as if I started just yesterday. After getting our white coats last week, medical school really seems more “real.” I guess with that white coat comes a sense of responsibility and privilege. Walking across that stage, you realize both how truly lucky you are to be a medical student, and also the immense, daunting responsibility that you’ll take on once you graduate in 3-4 years.

I feel so fortunate to be able to attend McMaster. We’ve finished respirology and we’re almost done cardiology. In the next few months, we’ll also be learning about hematology, GI and Nutrition, Endocrine and Metabolism. There really does seem to be an overwhelming amount of information to know, but since we’re finally learning things that are practical, it seems like much less of a burden than say, physics or general chemistry. Once again, I have to be an advocate for our problem based learning. I love reading cases each week, setting objectives with my tutorial group, and discussing difficult topics and puzzles. At least for me, it’s much more effective than simply didactic lecture-based learning.

UPDATE: I started this a few weeks ago, so now we’re into our hematology unit!

The leaves are changing colours, and it seems like in the blink of an eye, it’s almost winter break! I’m so excited to see my friends again on the west coast, but these last few months of medical school have been a dream. Like the type-A that I am, I’ve thrown myself into two research projects (fingers crossed that one of them will be published by 2016!), the surgery interest group, horizontal electives and of course, making sure my social life doesn’t suffer horribly. Now I’m just rambling, so to end this post I’ll give a bit of practical advice for the interview season and maintaining your sanity 🙂

  1. Be the best possible version of yourself. Everyone knows to dress appropriately, smile, make eye contact, be confident etc., but instead of being yourself, show them why YOU deserve to be at their school. There’s no sense in treating your interviewer like a friend or colleague, because they’re not. They’re there to evaluate you and to see how you’ll fit into their program.
  2. THAT BEING SAID, remember that YOU’RE also there to evaluate THEM. The school has invited you to their hallowed grounds because they’re interested in getting to know you in addition to making sure you choose them when the time comes. Most people (who are accepted to medical school) are accepted to multiple medical schools, so make sure you choose one where you’ll be happy. Culture really is important, especially if your school is in the middle of nowhere.
  3. READ!!!!! Can’t stress this enough, don’t think that simply bringing yourself is enough. Read books on medical ethics, read literature on the school you’re interviewing at, read “Doing Right” (EVERYONE reads this book).
  4. NETWORK! If you know someone at the school you’re interviewing at, make sure to contact them to ask for insider’s information! They might have a gold mine, but you won’t have access to any of it if you don’t reach out to them.
  5. BOOK YOUR INTERVIEWS/FLIGHTS EARLY. Seriously though, tickets get really really really expensive the later you book them. Also, slots for interviews get booked up really quickly, so you don’t want to miss out and be bumped months later.
  6. GO A FEW DAYS EARLY to take in the neighbourhood, meet up with students who go to the school, go to events hosted by the medical students and ultimately, get a sense of whether or not you can see yourself in that city/town for the next 4 years.T
  7. TRY AND BOOK INTERVIEWS NEAR EACH OTHER IN ONE TRIP. This will save you time and money, especially if you’re applying directly and won’t have any time off. This saved me from failing physics in my senior year (which would have been pretty devastating post-medical school acceptance)
  8. CONTACT SCHOOLS AND SAY “YOU’RE IN THE AREA.” Let’s say you’re flying from New York to California for an interview at UCSF. Chances are, UCSD, UCD etc. are going to want to interview you too! Just send them a polite email telling them you’re going to be in the area and see if they have any slots open. Doesn’t hurt to ask as long as a) you’re not annoying and b) you’re not lying.
  9. BE OPEN TO EVERY SCHOOL. Don’t write off a school because it’s ranked far lower than the other medical schools you’re interviewing at. Maybe you’ll find that it’s a better fit for you in the long run, or that they have programs other schools don’t have, or just that it’s in a city you absolutely love. Go into everything with an open mind, because that’s how you’ll find the best school for you.
  10. HAVE FUN! I think I talk about this a lot. But that’s because it’s IMPORTANT. In medical school, you will have a life. You’ll have friends, fun, traveling, sun, and if you have good time management, you’ll also have more than enough sleep. That being said, if you don’t love what you do and you’re terrified of 3-4 years of hard work, dedication and constant studying FOLLOWED by 2-5 exhausting (but rewarding) years of residency, maybe medicine isn’t for you.

That’s all for today. Please feel free to contact me with any questions, concerns or feedback that you have! I LOVED this process, and I promise it’s hard and somewhat terrifying, but also immensely rewarding.

YAY FOR MMI’s (They’re 99% painless, I promise)

**NOTE: THIS IS AN OLD POST, BUT IT MIGHT BE HELPFUL FOR ALL YOU CURRENT APPLICANTS**

Sometimes I wonder what medical schools are thinking. How on earth did I get an interview at the Michael G. DeGroote McMaster University School of Medicine?

The way they determine if you get an interview is fairly unique, at least so far as I’ve encountered during my application process. Your interview candidacy is determined by the following formula: 32% GPA, 32% Casper score and 32% your MCAT verbal score. If you’ve attained a Masters or PhD, you get an extra 1-4% bonus (so I guess the rest is out of 96%).

I remember my Casper test pretty vividly, since it was the same morning as the Nike Women’s Half Marathon back in October. You can schedule your exam on the morning that you want; there were two choices when I signed up, Sunday October 19th and Wednesday, October 22nd. Since Wednesdays really aren’t that convenient, I chose the Sunday morning at 9am (I’m a morning person) slot. The format of the Casper is interesting. There are three paragraph answer spaces on each page and a topic, question or situation that you need to answer or address through the three paragraph questions. This was actually quite fun, it’s 90 minutes in total, no breaks in between, and you can do it in your pajamas, which is great! Click here if you’d like to learn more about the Casper.

I guess I did ok on the Casper? I was just notified of my interview offer this morning (Wednesday, January 21st). My GPA isn’t great, 3.7 overall, 3.6 sGPA. Too many years at UC Berkeley has resulted in a less than stellar academic record. This seems to be earlier than the other Ontario schools and U of Calgary, who stated that interviewees would be contacted in February. For McMaster’s there’s only 1 interview date on Saturday, March 21st (I think that’s spring break weekend, so I guess I can go crazy after :)).

After the interview, your acceptance is based primarily on your MMI (you can read more about this in my other post). It’s 72% MMI, and around 15% each for GPA and MCAT. Therefore, make sure you practice! I’m reading Doing Right, by Philip C. Hebert right now and it’s a pretty interesting read on medical ethics and controversial topics!

Knowing that flight prices go up the closer you are to flying, I booked my flight today from San Francisco. However, it was still a little over 600 dollars. I’m flying into YYZ, which I highly recommend (Toronto Pearson International Airport). Hamilton’s airport is much smaller and it’s a few hundred dollars more to fly directly in. Also, there are more housing options in Toronto (via AirBnB, hostels etc.). I mapped it and it’s only a 48 minute, 32 mile drive from Toronto proper to Hamilton, ON.

Anywho, I’m pretty excited, and I’m glad I get two shots at the MMI! The first is UBC’s in Vancouver, BC on February 7th, so it’s coming up quite soon! The only thing is, I’m missing quite a bit of school in the next few weeks due to a pre-medical fraternity trip to Lake Tahoe, Vegas trip for my friend’s birthday, interviews at St. Louis Medical School in Missouri, UBC and McMasters, as well as Greek Christian Conference in Indiana for Valentine’s Day Weekend (I’m not religious, but I think it’s important to keep an open mind when it comes to religion!). I will definitely update on how the interviews go when I come back!

I love questions so please feel free to contact me if you have any questions on the Canadian or American medical school application process!

UBC: Just finished my first MMI!

I can’t believe my first MMI is over! It seems like just yesterday I was booking my date and looking into airplane tickets (interview invitations were sent out on December 3rd for the early applicants). It was a little nerve-wracking, but I’m really glad I chose the 11:00 am slot. There were 3 slots each day, on Feb 7th, Feb 8th and Feb 21st and Feb 22nd. In total, I think about 600 people were interviewed based on how many people were there during my slot.

In my interview group, most people were from Canada (except me of course), there were people from Calgary, Toronto and UBC. It seemed that most people were a year out of college and had taken this past year to prepare their application and work. I would say it was about 40/60 (university seniors v. graduates). There was also a student who had already completed his masters in my group.

In terms of the actual stations, there were 11 in total and 1 rest station. We were told to go register between 40-25 minutes before our interview slot, but when I arrived there at 10 am, half of my group had already checked in . The medical school students who were helping out that day were really nice and friendly, and willing to answer any questions we might’ve had about the medical school. They couldn’t tell me too much about the new curriculum however, since they’re still on the old one, but currently, UBC has a systems based learning approach, where the first and second years are devoted to basic sciences, and the third and fourth are clinical.

At 10:40am, we were brought into the auditorium for a debrief and to calm our nerves. Then, at 11am, we were ushered into the area where we would go from station to station for an hour and forty minutes. I actually really enjoyed all the stations, you can find examples of what they might ask online (you sign a confidentiality agreement before you interview). There’s acting, addressing different scenarios, logic, ethics and more “fun” questions. The time went by quickly, and we were directed where to go after each station by the medical school student volunteers. You can tell when each station is over by the little bell that goes off in each room. It’s pretty subtle so for the first station, my interview and I just looked at each other to see if we had imagined it.

At 12:40, all the stations were complete and we were shuttled outside for a 14 minute break. This was time to use the bathroom, drink some water etc. Then, we entered another auditorium for the writing component, which was 30 minutes. You have do some analysis and demonstrate that you’re able to write at a college level. Nothing too difficult, it’s a lot like the English Provincial that everyone has to write in grade 12.

After the writing station, which was over at 1:37pm, we had the optional site preference presentation, and following that was the medical school tour. All in all, the interview takes about 4 hours with the interview, writing component and optional parts.

I actually had a great experience, everyone was friendly and helpful, and I didn’t feel confused at any point in the process. Good luck to anyone else who’s interviewing here, let me know if you have any questions!