Thursday, September 08, 2005

Nice Little Chat

Bravomedic Blogger wrote:


I was reading the “Grand Rounds” at your blog. I’m currently 17 years old and want to go to medical school. I’m also a volunteer at a local rescue squad. Do you have any suggestions/tips for getting into medical school? My blog at http://bravomedic.blogspot.com explains the rest in case I’m forgetting something. The important stuff is toward the bottom.

Thanks in advance, 


On 9/6/05, Joseph j7uy5 <joseph.j7uy5@gmail.com> wrote:

First, since there probably many out there with this on their minds, I’d like you permission to post your email, and my response, on my blog. If that’s OK, please email me back. Having said that, here goes:

1. After reading your blog, I would say you are off to a good start, however:
2. It is not necessary, nor even desirable, to have every aspect of your life revolve around medicine.  Volunteering in a medically-related field is great, but just about any kind of volunteer work will make an impression on the admissions committee.  What they want to see is that you are a self-starter, that you don’t just waste /all/ your time, and that you have some inclination to help others.
3. It is important to show some degree of /balance/ of interests.  If everything you do relates to medicine, that just shows that you really really want to get in to medical school.  But being a physician requires a /sustainable/ lifestyle.  Involvement in art, music, sports, debate, chess club, whatever, shows that you have at least some ability to keep a rational balance in your life.  As a physician, you’ll need that.  It also shows some versatility and adaptability; both are very important traits in any of the helping professions.
4. Keep abreast of current social issues in medicine.  I remember that a med school interviewer asked me what changes I foresaw in the practice of medicine, over the next decade.  I was able to say that there would be a big change in reimbursement (HMO’s were just getting off the ground, then), and that the average age of the population is going up, so there will be a greater demand for geriatric specialists.  (I guess that was the kind of thing they were looking for, since they admitted me.)  It shows that you are beginning to understand that, /as a physician, you play an important role in your community, and in society as a whole./  It is not sufficient to know a lot of jargon and have good technical skills.
5. Speaking of jargon, it is important to be able to communicate clearly.  I am much more impressed by a medical student who can explain to a patient that taking too much Tylenol is bad for the kidneys, than one who tries to explain to a patient what interstitial nephritis is. In my opinion, the best way to learn communication skills is to read a lot, from a variety of topics; socialize a lot, with a variety of people; and write a lot, about a variety of topics and in a variety of styles.  That, in fact, is one of the reasons that I blog about all different topics, not just medicine.  When you write in your blog, think of it as a craft.  When you read something that strikes you as being well-written, take a moment to figure out why that is.
6.  Learn to take maximum advantage of whatever opportunities you have. In your volunteer work, ask yourself /first/ how it can help you become a better person, /before/ you ask yourself how it can help you get into medical school.  If you find yourself having to take a class in Shakespeare, ask yourself how that class can help you become a well-rounded, well-educated citizen.
7.  College: study what you are interested in.  Follow your instincts when you choose some of your electives.  Pick classes that you have heard have great professors, even if those classes don’t relate directly to medicine.  Spend time at your professor’s office hours.  You don’t have to be having trouble in the class to take advantage of that. College is your one and only chance to get a good Liberal Arts education.  They’ll teach you the medicine that you need to know in medical school, as long as you have the prerequisites from college.  The one thing I might add is that it is a good idea to take statistics, even if the medical school does not list that as a prerequisite.  Also, it is a good idea to participate in a summer research program, if you can.
8.  Learn how to learn from role models.  Despite the media emphasis on high-tech advances in medicine, medical education is still pretty much an apprenticeship.  You learn as much from watching how your professors act, as /people/, as you do from memorizing everything in a textbook chapter.  Watch how your elders deal with others.  Watch how they deal with stress.  /Ask/ them how they do these things.  Some people will be better mentors for you than others.  Learn to sense this, and spend more time with the ones who are good mentors for you.  Notice that some people are good listeners.  Pay attention to how they do it.  Watch two people conversing.  See how conversation works...or how it fails.
9. MCAT: MCATs have changed, and will change again, so I’m not sure I can give specific advice.  For example, when I took it, calculators were not allowed.  Therefore, when I studied for it, I did all the calculations by hand.  (I think that has changed, though.)  If there is an essay portion, practice writing essays by hand, if that is how you have to do it on the test.  Be sure to learn what you can about the test  before you take it.  There are some general pointers, that apply to any test.  The two factors that are the best predictors of success on any standardized test are: vocabulary, and algebra.  You have to be really  good at algebra.  Why?  Because if you are not, then many of the chemistry and physics problems are actually two problems in one: the math problem, and the science problem.  If you are so good at algebra that the math part of the problem is utterly transparent for you, then  you can focus just on the science part of the problem.
10.  Of course, #10 is the most important.  Do not go to medical school if you are not absolutely certain that it is the right thing to do.  That is as big of a mistake as marrying someone, when you are not sure  if you should.  At age 17, there is no way you could understand how big of a mistake that is.  Take my word for it.  Or ask your parents why it is such a big mistake.  Or ask any adult whom you respect.  They will  all tell you the same thing, assuming you have good instincts for deciding whom to respect.

There’s a lot more I could say, but one rule of good communication is:
keep it short.

Comments, anyone?  I’ve never actually served on an admissions  committee, so I actually am not the best person to ask.  Try asking the same question at some med student blogs.  There are a few in my sidebar.  If you get some good advice, let me know what they say.

Good luck,

Bravomedic Blogger wrote:

Thank you. Sure, you can post it.

I’m not totally “shaped” around medicine. I’m on my school’s tennis team, I’m the salutatorian of my class, and like to think that I’m pretty pretty good at math and science (took AP Calculus and AP Physics and got a 5 and 4 respectively). The reason I only got a 4 on the physics is because my class didn’t cover thermodynamics or nuclear physics (about 20% of the test), so I must’ve done well on the other parts.

I already have some research involvement. I have a mentor for biomedical engineering who I work for. As for vocabulary, I’m in my 5th year of Latin.

Thanks again,


Good.  You are off to a great start.  Biomedical engineering is a great field.  In fact, I almost enrolled in the program here at University of Michigan, but decided to go to medical school instead. 


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