Super Star Blogs!

Premed G.R.I.N.D.

Anybody who knows me knows the high value which I place on hard work.  I am a firm believer that if you want something in life, you should never expect anybody to give it to you, and you should grind to get it.  Grind!  It’s such an excellent word isn’t it.  As a matter of fact, it’s one of my favorites.  When I’m invited to speak at various events, you’ll often hear me use it somewhere in my presentation.  There’s just something about that word that carries an immense amount of power.  But my question to you is, do you grind?  If so how?  Let me tell you how I G.R.I.N.D.

G stands Goals.  I set a lot of these and write them down so I can’t run away from them.  On this very laptop that I am writing this blog, I have a document of goals.  The first step in accomplishing something  is to have something to accomplish.  Set your goals, write them down, and tell a friend.  As a premed, a simple goal might be, get a GPA higher than the average medical school matriculant.  Or, get 20 shadowing hours this summer.

R stands for Resolve.  This is where the power of positive thinking comes in to play.  There is absolutely no point in setting goals if you don’t resolve to achieve them.  You must believe in yourself and commit to resilience.  You’ll get knocked down multiple times along the way, but once you resolved to make it happen, only you can choose to stop.

 I stands for Information.  We live in an age of information.  Never before have we had such ease of access to knowledge.  The old excuse, “I didn’t know” doesn’t work anymore.  Once you set your goal and resolve to accomplish it, you need to gather the necessary information to make it happen.  So you want to publish a research paper huh?  Well, do you know how to conduct the research?  Do you know what journal to submit your manuscript to?  Get the knowledge.

N stands for Network.  Nothing great happens without a team effort.  Michael Jordan didn’t win a championship, the Chicago Bulls organization did.  Show me your five best friends and I’ll tell you how successful you’ll be.  To accomplish your goals, you must have people in your network you can help you along the journey.  You want to be a doctor?  Are you surrounded by doctors, or future doctors?  You’ll only go as far as your network takes you.

D stands for Discipline.   Goals, Resolve, Information, and Network…none of these mean a thing if you aren’t disciplined enough to do what you are supposed to do.  Premedical students often ask me how they can know if they are smart enough to become a doctor.  My response is typically, “That’s the wrong question to ask.”  Most of us are smart enough, the real question is, are you disciplined enough.  The greatest in life are the most disciplined.

This is how I G.R.I.N.D.  everyday.  It is my basic approach to success which I am now sharing with you and pray you implement in your life.  I’ve chatted with enough of the PreMed StAR students to understand your doubts and frustrations about the premedical journey.  It’s a tough road and can get really ugly along the way.  But just know that you’ve got a strong network of future doctors alongside you.  Support one another.  Share resources, ask questions, and do it together.  Through this Premed G.R.I.N.D., you’ll become a better person and in the end, there’ll be a white coat with your name on it.

Congratulations to Haley! Premed of the Week! – May 1st 2017

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.  I am a college freshman majoring in Chemistry with a Pre-Med focus. I want to follow in the footsteps of my great grand mother, grand mother and mother and pursue a career in medicine. Like my mother, I would like to eventually become an Emergency Medicine physician. I am the national ambassador for Artemis Medical Society’s National Pre-Med Club initiative. I believe that for our generation one of the major civil rights issue of our time is in healthcare and that is the fight to end disparities in care.

In addition to medicine, I am interested in music and spoken word. I play the harp and enjoy writing and performing my original pieces. I also enjoy fencing.

2. Who was your favorite teacher in school and how did he or she impact you?  I was homeschooled throughout my high school years. My mother helped teach me my STEM courses and oversaw my entire education program. Because of this she is my favorite educator. Having my mother serve as my teacher and school administrator was an amazing opportunity to see how much she truly cared for me. To see how much time and energy she put into my education made it easy to realize how important my education should be to me. She inspires me.

3. When did you first decide you wanted to become a doctor and why?  I come from a very long history of strong women who have worked in the healthcare field. My great grand mother left Texas for California to escape the racism of Jim Crow and pursue a career as an LVN. She worked hard to ensure my grandmother would have the opportunity to pursue greater dreams. My grandmother would go on to earn her bachelors degree in nursing and receive her MPH from UCLA. My grandmother used that education to provide a foundation for my mother to take the next step and become a physician.

My mother would go on to attend Xavier University of Louisiana and graduate with honors with a degree in Chemistry. She attended USC Keck School of Medicine and would become the first woman chief resident of her Emergency Medicine residency program. My mom is truly inspirational. She has worked hard to give back and even found time to create Artemis Medical Society. She has organized a national tour with Disney known as the We Are Doc McStuffins campaign and was honored by Disney with the naming of Doc’s mother character as Myiesha McStuffins. I was very fortunate that I did not have to look far to find the role model I needed to help me find my way to medicine.

I want to join my mother, grand mother and great grandmother in helping make a difference in our world. We will never end health disparities if we dont get more students interested in medicine and have them become the diverse physicians our society deserves.

4. What area of medicine are you interested in? I am interested in Emergency Medicine, Oncology and Neonatology. I want to be in a specialty where I can make a difference in people’s lives. I strongly believe we need more diversity in these type of specialties to help end disparities in care.

5. What’s the coolest experience you’ve had so far on your premedical journey?  The coolest part of my premedical journey has been working with my mother through Artemis Medical Society to advocate for greater physician diversity. I have had the opportunity to serve as the national ambassador for the pre-med club initiative, give presentations and help encourage more students of color in my generation to become physicians.

6. What is your favorite book?  My chemistry book. Its a love hate relationship. LOL

Actually my favorite book right now is Who Stole My Cheese?

7. Tell us one thing interesting about you that most people don’t know.  The one thing most people dont know about me in my current academic setting is that I am a 14 year old college freshman. Sometimes one classmate will ask me if I am 17, but most people seem to believe I am 18 years old. I appreciate that because it allows me to feel like a normal college student and I can focus on studying and getting ready for the MCAT and applying to medical school. Now where did I leave my Chemistry book?

Doctor Yourself!

Premedical students, medical students, residents, physicians… None are immune to medical disease. We are actually at an increased risk for some of these diseases yet they are not talked about nearly enough. In fact, sometimes medical conditions are hidden or ignored in order to avoid the stigma they may hold. In the end, we are all human beings and we also suffer from the same diseases the general population suffers from. As leaders and future leaders in the medical field, we ought to set good examples and practice what we preach when it comes to those conditions we can prevent and manage.

For most premeds, college is the first time they have lived away from their parents for a prolonged period of time. This results in liberation and new responsibilities. College is well known for parties and peer pressure is very prevalent. If one is not careful, very bad habits may form that will only get worse in the future. These certainly include alcohol, drug and tobacco abuse. According to one national survey involving college students age 18-22, 60% of those asked had drank alcohol in the past month and almost 2 out of 3 engaged in binge drinking during this time­1. This is especially important since physicians suffer from substance abuse disorder at a slightly higher rate than the rest of the U.S. population. Between 10-15% of physicians suffer from one of these disorders2. Maybe House M.D. isn’t so far-fetched after all. The best thing to do is to avoid habits such as binge drinking, smoking and use of illicit agents. Friends that are heavily involved in these are leading you down a dangerous path.

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are most commonly diagnosed in young adults. According to the CDC, half of the 20 million new STD cases are diagnosed in people aged 15-24 and 26% of all new HIV infections are seen in a similar age cohort. In 2015, the CDC found that the cases of gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis in the US had reached an all-time high. Given the close living quarters and classroom exposures, many students are at risk for other infectious diseases. It is important to stay up to date with vaccinations including the meningococcal conjugated vaccine, Tdap, HPV, and influenza.

A number of chronic conditions may arise in the premedical student. Autoimmune diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid diseases, type 1 diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease tend to affect the young. Asthma, seizure disorders, sickle cell, and other disabling conditions affect many students. Some of these may be exacerbated by the stress of school and illnesses making it difficult to study and focus as a student at times. These are very serious conditions that often times motivate the premed student to pursue medicine but must be managed well in order not to greatly affect their chances of matriculating. It is important that students with chronic medical conditions not place their studies or anything else over their health. Find time to see a physician at least annually even if you feel you are perfectly healthy. Furthermore, mental health is a topic that is being more and more discussed. It is true that premedical students, medical students and physicians all have a higher rate of depression than their counterparts3. The rigorous training environment faced during training can negatively impact depression and other mental disorders. Developing healthy habits now will prepare you for the potential challenges ahead. These habits include partaking in extracurricular activities that allow you to interact with other students, getting enough sleep, avoiding drugs and alcohol, and learning to reach out for help when needed.

The obesity epidemic often takes a backseat to other high risk behaviors on campus but it is a very serious and growing concern. There is a great neglect for addressing obesity on many campuses but some are catching on.  With growing use of social media, high stress environments, and the eat-on-the-go diet (vending machines and fast foods) premeds can easily fall into an unhealthy cycle and begin putting on weight. Eating disorders are often seen in this age group and can be very difficult to address without counseling. It is important that students begin developing healthy habits of eating a well-balanced meal and get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate to physical aerobic exercise. It would be best to establish this now because during medical school these things will likely become even tougher to accomplish. One study, actually showed patients had a negative bias towards providers they perceived as being overweight or obese4. Patients were less likely to follow provider’s instructions and tended to change providers more when they felt they were overweight or obese.

As future leaders in the health field it is important that you set good examples for others. It is also important that you take care of yourself and seek help if needed. You only have one body, so you are the only one responsible for making it last.

Congratulations to Kavisha! Premed of The Week! – April 24th, 2017

Join us in Congratulating Kavisha! 

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.  I am currently a junior at the University of Connecticut (UConn), pursuing a dual degree in Physiology and Neurobiology and Accounting. Usually, this statement raises a few eyebrows, but I believe that the business aspect of my education will allow me to successfully reach my aspirations of becoming a physician who serves her community through ethical healthcare, while working to reduce the health disparities, provide education on preventative methods, and continue to develop an integrative and holistic approach to better serve patients. Having grown up in Newington, CT as a first generation student, I have developed accountability and compassion as two of my strongest personal virtues. As an extrovert, I thrive off of the energy of others and crave social experiences. This coupled with my innate curiosity have allowed me to partake in a wide range of activities. My interests are immensely varied, and I am genuinely passionate about many things, especially education and learning; I will be graduating UConn with 200 credits. I have a particular interest in service, and strive to contribute as much time as possible to campus and community organizations. In my spare time, I am fond of cooking and improving my photography skills, and have recently begun pursuing painting.

2. Who was your favorite teacher in school and how did he or she impact you?  My favorite teacher in school was Mr. James Kravontka, the history teacher at Newington High School. He not only made history interesting, but also encouraged students to lead meaningful lives. From him I learned to always know the why behind anything I do. Having kept this advice in mind has allowed me to be conscious and mindful of my actions on a daily basis. By continuously asking myself ourselves why I am doing something, I am able to find the things in life that align with my ore beliefs and values. Most importantly, following his rule of why has allowed me to grow as a person, and develop a broader perspective.

3. When did you first decide you wanted to become a doctor and why? I first decided that I wanted to become a doctor in high school, after shadowing Dr. Elizabeth Simmons, an Ophthalmologist at UConn Health. Each interaction with a patient made me realize that treating and healing patients through medicine is what I wished to do as well. She was an excellent physician, and her work was impeccable. What struck me the most were the relationships she had with her patients and her staff. These interpersonal relationships and the collaboration between the professionals had really drawn me to the career, because I genuinely enjoy spending my day with others and working with a team. Since then I have continued to enrich in various health related activities, but have also tested the waters in other areas of study, and these experiences have further affirmed my decision to pursue a career as a physician.

4. What area of medicine are you interested in? It’s okay if you don’t know yet. As of right now I do not know which area of medicine I wish to pursue. After having shadowed doctors in multiple specialties, I’ve become interested in many of them, and am keeping all options open for the time being.

5. What’s the coolest experience you’ve had so far on your premedical journey?  The coolest experience I’ve had so far on my premedical journey was the UConn Health Disparities Clinical Summer Research Fellowship Program. While the program included conducting research at the National Alliance for Mental Illness and shadowing doctors, the most fascinating and eye opening part of the experience were the trips to Hartford, CT. I was exposed to parts of Hartford that I had never known existed despite having lived five miles away – parts where there isn’t a grocery store for miles, HIV runs rampant from the use of unclean needles, and homelessness has no shock factor. I felt like I was contestant on a reality TV show who was placed in a remote location without the tools necessary to navigate my way back. This was the beginning of a new journey for me; a journey to gather the tools and knowledge necessary to help alter the health-care ecosystem for disadvantaged patients.

6. What is your favorite book? My favorite book is The Road To Character by David Brooks.

7. Tell us one thing interesting about you that most people don’t know. Something that most people don’t know is that I’ve travelled to 57 countries. Everyone travels for different reasons, and my urge to travel comes from wanting to be exposed to different cultures, and to understand the values and beliefs of people in different countries. The best part of all these experiences was talking to locals to understand their views of the world, learning about the experiences of their lives, and becoming immersed in cultures so different from my own.Traveling has furthered developed my sense of curiosity and continual learning. Through these experiences I have come to value differences, challenge my own assumptions and those of people around me, and become more culturally aware. The experiences I have had, and the discoveries I have made have allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of my own place in the world, and has solidified my personal values and ambitions.

Should I do a Post Bacc? – Three Things to Consider

It must be that time of year again.  Over the past couple weeks, quite a few students have asked me about pursuing the structured post bacc route.  Some students have decided to put off medical school for a year, while others are still waiting on the acceptance letter to come in.  Needless to say, this is time of stress and anxiety for many people and figuring out what to do during that gap year is a key contributor.  The reality of the medical school application process is that there are many different roads to get to the same place and the post bacc route is one of those roads.  Each year, thousands of students enroll in post bacc programs, typically with the intent of improving their chances of getting into medical school.  Post bacc however is a major commitment, so what types of things should premeds consider when deciding whether or not to do a post bacc?  Here are just a few things to keep in mind.

  1. Structure: I am often asked whether it is better to do a DIY (Do It Yourself) post bacc plan, or enroll in a structured program that does not grant a degree.  This is a difficult question which I liken to whether or not someone should take an MCAT prep course.  In  my opinion, it comes down to how disciplined of an individual are you.  Just like MCAT prep courses, post bacc programs tend to offer a certain structure that is difficult for many people to achieve on their own.  Besides the classes that you take, structured programs tend to offer other resources such as counseling, seminars, and prep courses for the MCAT.  These are all things you could do DIY style, however it might be a little more challenging to accomplish.
  2. Finances: Most post bacc programs aren’t cheap. I would say this is the biggest drawback in that it poses a very real risk.  The simple fact of the matter is doing a post bacc program does not guarantee you acceptance into medical school.  I have seen some students go into serious debt and come out with not much to show for it.  Every student considering a post bacc should ask themselves this question, “How will I handle this debt if I do not get into medical school?”  Thinking back to my premedical and medical school days, I did not have a good appreciation for the burden of loans.  Now that I’m on the other side paying them back, I know they’re real.  One thing to keep in mind is that whether or not you get your MD/DO, your lenders are coming for their money…with interest!  The one bit of solid advice I can give you on this topic is absolutely DO NOT do a post bacc if you are not 100% confident you are willing to work harder than every other premedical student to ensure you get into medical school.
  3. Degree Offered: Obviously, anytime you work hard for anything, you’d like something to show for it. I did not do a post bacc, but had I, my preference would have been to enroll in a degree granting program (i.e. some post baccs offer Masters degrees).  Even better, I would have preferred to enroll in a program that has guaranteed medical school admission if certain criteria are met (e.g. GPA and MCAT goal).   This third point links back to the finances.  Having that extra degree may not only increase your chances of getting into medical school, but also gives you an extra credential that would be useful should you take another gap year.

Gap year planning is never easy but it is essential if you are serious about becoming a doctor. I recommend that premeds who have subpar GPAs consider post bacc programs as an option, but before applying, make sure you have considered the 3 items above.  Also, remember that admission officers don’t bite.  As a matter of fact, we have some very friendly post bacc admission officers who are recruiting with PreMed StAR and I am sure they’d be happy to answer your questions (they know MUCH more about the process than I do).   A great many of doctors have traveled this road and are now happy doing what they always dreamed of!

 

Image credit pixabay

The Fire Hydrant – Transitioning from premed to medical student!

Your first year of medical school might be the most challenging year of your entire academic career. You will likely get hit mentally, emotionally, financially, and physically. It’s like drinking out of a fire hydrant! With so many things coming at you at once, how do you handle it all? There will be new environments, new faces, and new material that you must adapt to while restructuring old relationships habits. Making the transition from being a premedical to medical student isn’t always easy. You need to plan ahead and make sure you are prepared. Here are a few areas of change and transition that you should prepare for.

 

Environment:  Finding a new place to call home for medical school can be tough. Many premeds sneak in a few weekends to visit the campus and view real-estate. Some buy their first home, rent apartments/condos, or move in with family or friends. You will need to look into factors such as distance from campus, nearby distractions, cost, and safety. Many medical student and housestaff vehicles were targeted in my apartment parking lot because their white coats were left out on the seats. This always caught the attention of the local addicts searching for prescription pads or those ignorant to the fact that med students are broke. You want to choose a safe location where you feel comfortable driving or walking to at odd hours of the day. The last thing you want to worry about while in medical school is getting robbed! Research your environment very well since many hospitals tend to have a few rough areas in the vicinity.

Relationships:  Medical school will affect every relationship you have. Plain and simple, your friends, significant other, and family will likely not understand the dedication medical school demands of you. The hard truth is that many relationships will not survive due to distance and lack of quality time needed for growth. This may actually be a good thing for some but may also be very painful. I have witnessed a number of friends call it quits with their long-time girl/boyfriends but I have also seen others leave medical school because it hindered their relationships. And then there are those who came into medical school somewhat prepared for the challenge. They continuously informed their loved ones about what to expect, set their priorities, and actually grew stronger with them through the journey. At the end of the day, many students come to realize that it was better for them to break some bonds and strengthen others through the process. That’s just a part of life.

Class Demographics:  The medical school body may not look exactly the way you expected. It certainly wasn’t the student body I was prepared to meet. My class was a very diverse group of students mainly in their early to mid-20s. Most surprising to me was how socially adept the majority of the class was. This wasn’t the studious crowd I was used to seeing in the library at odd times but rather they were the intramural athletes, student organization leaders, and fraternity/sorority members. Be prepared for a lot of partying in medical school. These people will share a special bond with you. You’ll be surprised just how much you will like your classmates and how many lifelong friendships you will develop.

Studying:  Attempting to drink water nonstop from a fire hose…that’s what learning in medical school is like. You will quickly learn that premedical studies were child’s play compared to medical school studies and begin wishing there were more hours in the day. Learning the best way to study so much material will be a challenge initially but be careful not to stress over it. With time, you’ll figure out what works best for you! Also, it is important to filter all the advice you get. Everyone seems to have the “best” strategy for your studies. Many first-year medical students fall into the trap of buying nearly every book in the book store simply because someone else recommends it. It is very easy to spend more time researching which books to buy and how to study that you do actually reading the book itself. These books aren’t cheap by the way. By the end of the year, hopefully you will have begun to develop concrete study habits that work well for you.

These transitions might be tough, but they are definitely doable. What you want to avoid is med school shock. Go in knowing what to expect and things will be much better for you!

 

Recruitment Fairs – Making a First Impression!

This year, we have had the opportunity to attend a few premedical conferences.  They’re always wonderful events and the excitement of the students is palpable.  One of my favorite things to do at these conferences is to take note of the students who stand out above the rest.  I always ask myself, what is it about that student that made him or her stand out among several hundred other students? Why is it that I will actually remember that particular student, but will forget most of the rest.  After attending such conferences for over a decade now, I know what the answer is.  The memorable students are the ones who came to the recruitment fairs prepared!  The entire purpose of recruitment is to build relationships.  Well, it’s pretty tough to do that if the recruiters won’t remember you.  Here are three tips to ensure you make a lasting first impression at recruitment fairs.

  1. Hand out your business cards. There is a very good reason why CEOs and Presidents carry business cards.  They know not everyone will remember them, so they make it easy for them by giving them a small piece of paper with their name and basic information.  This is networking 101, you have to carry business cards working to build a professional relationship with people you are meeting for the first time.  On the flipside, also be sure to ask others for their business cards so you can remember them.  Here’s a little trick I learned way back when.  Immediately after getting someone’s business card, write something down to help you remember them.  For example, if the person is a Duke basketball fan, write that down on the card.
  2. Ensure that your resume or curriculum vitae is up to date and available. This is another essential to ensuring people remember you.  Students who have organized and presentable resumes or CVs are considered impressive.  This is true because a great many premedical students haven’t even made their resume or CV.  At a recruitment fair, you want the recruiters to know you are among these impressive students.  In the past, some students would carry their resume with them at the fairs.  While this is still a good thing to do in many instances, it is not as powerful anymore given sites such as PreMed StAR that allow you to keep an online profile which you can share with recruiters.  The important thing to note here is that you should maintain an updated resume or CV.  When speaking with recruiters, be sure to tell them you would like to share your resume/CV and if they are open to that, find a way to get it to them.
  3. Send follow up emails. Again, this is networking 101 but you would be surprised how many students actually do it.  The answer is not many.  I meet countless premeds throughout the year in various arenas, many who desire mentorship or other opportunities.  The conversation typically ends with them saying, “I’m definitely going to email you Dr. Dale.  I really appreciate it!”  What percentage do you think actually email?  I’d say less than 10.  Keep this is statistic mind when networking with medical school recruiters.  If you remember to send them a quick thank you email, you’ll be among the few and might end up on their short list of recruits!

Many premeds have the wrong understanding of what a recruitment fair should be.  For most, recruitment fairs turn into informational fairs.  As a premedical student, you want to do everything you can in order to stack the deck in your favor so you not only get into medical school, but you get into the school of your choice.   Following the three tips above will put you one step ahead of the crowd!  This is your first impression and you need to make it count.  Smile, have a firm handshake, and execute on the tips above!

 

Bullseye! More Than Perfect Numbers! – My Interview With Two Medical School Deans

3.98 GPA, 518 MCAT Score, 150+ hours of clinical volunteering, 75+ hours of shadowing, president of a premier pre-medical club, and five semesters of undergraduate research experience are the credentials of a student who was DENIED admissions to medical school. If you are a premed student reading this article right now, I am sure that your blood pressure is rising and stress level is at an all-time high. However, neither should be occurring because getting into medical school requires more than just the right numbers. As a premed student myself, I have always turned to peers for advice on what medical schools seek in their applicants. However, premed students overlook the most reliable resource available, medical school admissions committee members.

This article provides two, very credible perspectives on medical school admissions. The Campus Associate Dean for Campus Integration and Academic Enhancement, Dr. Leslie Lee, and Associate Professor of Medicine, Dr. Howard Cohen have been on the admissions committee at the AU/UGA Medical Partnership for many years and have excellent advice for prospective medical students.

As premed students, we constantly struggle to balance our commitment to healthcare and also show diversity in our interests. Dr. Lee states that students should show an awareness of current healthcare issues and pursue interests that they have a strong passion for. An example of this would be volunteering consistently with Habitat for Humanity while also keeping up to date with conflicts between the Affordable Care Act and the American Health Care Act. The key is to be able to show that you are an active citizen and a dedicated, lifelong learner.

Another question that premed students ponder over is what attributes medical schools look for in their applicants. Dr. Cohen looks for two fundamental characteristics in applicants: at the forefront is a commitment to serve humanity and the other a desire for a long term career in medicine. It is important to shadow physicians in clinical and hospital settings to understand the degree of commitment that healthcare requires. On the other hand, Dr. Lee looks for humility, compassion, and intellectual curiosity in applicants. Premed students are by far one of the most academically inclined groups of students on campus. Unfortunately, one quality that this group lacks is humility. It is important to know that while you may know a lot and have earned high achievements, there is still a long road ahead, much more to learn, and many levels to keep climbing.

Premed students in their first two years and final two years of undergraduate studies are stressing about the same goal, getting into medical school. This should not be the case for the former group. Dr. Lee and Dr. Cohen both agree that college is a time to explore your passions and discover new talents. They encourage you to take courses unknown to you and to not put blinders on with preconceived notions. A student who has explored his/her options before finalizing upon medicine will have a breadth of experiences that they can expound upon in an interview. Dr. Lee states, “Put yourself out there and create life stories that you can talk about.” For upperclassmen getting ready to apply to medical school, do not shy away from considering gap years. If you can take time off, do it and pursue dreams that you could not otherwise if you were in medical school. This time will not come back again, so do not let it go. Do not feel pressured by what others are doing.

If you take away anything from this article, it should be that the road to medical school is not a “one size fits all” ordeal. It is a process where you are allowed to develop yourself into a unique individual and show the world that you are more than just the right numbers.

 

 

The Nontraditional Student

Looking back on my medical school days, the students that still stand out tend to be those that were just a little different. There was the student who sat at the front left who always had the most up-to-date gadgets, asked a ton of questions and was always the first to assist the lecturer when their slides or computer malfunctioned. I recall the student who on the first clinical skills session taught many of us how to draw blood the right way. And I can’t forget about the stoic guy with the buzz cut who would always hush the class when we were getting too rowdy.

So, who were these folks? They were all nontraditional students in the sense that they were older and had careers prior to entering medical school. The first gentleman was in his mid-30s. If memory serves me correctly, he previously worked in the tech department on Broadway. The second student worked as a nurse for 5 years before deciding she would switch careers. The last gentleman served in the military prior to entering medical school. He was married and had two precious kids. These students added a very unique and valuable touch to our class which enhanced the rest of our learning. They were problem solvers, leaders, and were not afraid to ask tough questions.

The average age for matriculants to both osteopathic and allopathic medical school in 2016-2017 was 24 (according to both AAMC and AACOM data). Far and wide, medical schools greatly appreciate what these typically more mature students have to offer to their environment.  There is no substitute for the real-world experience these students bring.  Experience allows one to understand work-life balance, finances, recovering from failures, prioritization, etc.  The list keeps going.   The maturity and diversity that non-traditional students contribute to the classroom can’t be replaced.

The nontraditional route offers unique challenges. First will always be self-doubt. In my opinion, this is the most crucial barrier to overcome. If you don’t have confidence in yourself then you will not be ready for the nay-sayers. As a nontraditional student, you may battle with the time it will take to begin practicing and the length of time you will have to practice once training is done with. Returning to school can be intimidating since the classroom environment has evolved from the simple notebook and pen to more technologically advanced and interactive sessions. It may also be tough sitting in a classroom with younger and (quite frankly) sometimes less mature co-students, professors, residents, and even attendees. Nontraditional students almost always sacrifice a lot to follow their dreams. This may mean taking a huge pay cut (or I should say pay elimination), relocating, or putting off family plans. Returning to school will be challenging, but once you have convinced yourself it is completely worth it then go full steam ahead and don’t look back.

So back to the students I previously brought up. What became of them? The first gentleman struggled during his first year and had to take a few years off from school d/t health issues with his wife. He ultimately returned to school and graduated with his MD. The second student was very successful during her clinical years, feeling right at home on the wards. She did however run into a few behavioral problems primarily due to the fact she was used to doing things a particular way and was not afraid to let the (sometimes younger) nurses and residents know the “right way”. Our last student graduated with little issues academically. He did face some social stressors and got divorced during medical school. Last I heard, he and his wife remarried (each other) and are now again a happy family with their beautiful kids. There were other nontraditional students in my class and I recall at least 3 of them going on to become AOA (Alpha Omega Alpha) honorees.  This is the most prestigious award for medical students.

My advice to nontraditional students is to first count the cost. Medicine is a great and rewarding field and you likely have unique qualities you can add but make sure you prepare for the many challenges that will come. Capitalize on your nontraditional path to medicine and use this as a strength. Despite your experience and qualifications, stay humble. Do not be the “know it all type” that thrives on making others feel inferior. Prioritize wisely. You will need to remember that others around you (spouse, parents, friends, children) will have to learn to gradually adapt to your new lifestyle and it may not be easy for them. I wish you the very best of luck on your journey.

 

 

This blog was written by Dr. Daniel

The 21st Century Premed – Information Overload! Separating Good Advice From Bad Advice!

Premeds don’t acquire information the same way they did 10-20 years ago. Just think about it, how many times have you actually gotten up and gone to the library to get information about medical school? With the advent of YouTube, Facebook, and various other social media platforms, the ability to obtain information is easier now than ever. That’s a wonderful thing…well, it’s wonderful assuming you know how to vet the information. In this day and age, how can the 21st century premedical student know what’s reliable on the internet? The truth is, you may never know if everything you read is solid, but there are some things you can do to make sure you’re on the right track.

1) Know the basics! As a premedical student, there are certain basic things that you must know. For example, what is the average grade point average of a medical school applicant? What is the average gpa of a medical school matriculant? What are the prerequisite courses necessary to apply to medical school? Do these courses vary from school to school? These are some fundamental bits of knowledge that all premedical students should research on their own, directly from the sources that produce the primary data. For allopathic medical schools, you need to find this information at the AAMC website. For osteopathic, this information will be on AACOM’s website.

2) Know the credentials of the people providing the information. All of your information does not need to come directly from a doctor, admission committee member, or premed advisor, but you should have an idea of who the people communicating with you are. Knowing the credentials of these individuals allows you to ask the right questions to the right people. For example, there’s only one group of people you’d want to ask the question, “What is it really like to be a doctor?” Yes, you can ask anyone and they can tell you what they’ve heard or read, but only doctors can give you an answer based on actual experience.

3) Confirm with a trusted source. Every premedical student needs to have at least one mentor who is a trusted resource. This person should have a proven track record of navigating the premedical journey (either as an advisor, medical student, or doctor). Anytime you come across something you are not certain about, ask your trusted source. There’s too much on the line for you to accept bad advice!

In this day and age of the internet, there is a lot of inaccurate information circulating in the premed world. You can’t avoid it, but you can be wise and protect yourself from bad advice. Remember, it’s your responsibility to fact check everything. Not using online forums to acquire information would probably be a very bad choice in the 21st century. Take advantage of your access to information, but be sure to do so wisely!

 

 

Image credit: Pixabay

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