Super Star Blogs!

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

Classroom Etiquette – Always Be on Your Best Behavior!

In speaking with premeds struggling in school or simply wanting to optimize their grades I have come to realize there are many causes that can hinder their performance. One area I always address is their behavior in the classroom. I believe in order to have made it to the college level nearly all students ae capable of doing very well. There are simply factors that some students capitalize on better than others. Below are the 5 tips I think are important to optimize one’s performance in the classroom.

  1. Show up to Class  Nowadays in this technological age there are many tools that one can use which sometimes makes it seem as though physically being in class is unnecessary. I believe going to class can be very beneficial for a couple of reasons. First, you will pick up material that you cannot obtain any other way. Getting to class early enough you can often times interact with other students as well as the professor. These students tend to be ambitious ones who can potentially supplement your knowledge. Make friends or at least develop acquaintances from this group. You will likely see them again in other classes or in medical school. This was the case for me. Being in class also lets the professor know who you are and this may be handy when you need that letter of recommendation.

     

  2. Strategically Choose Your Seat  There are many studies out there on classroom position and each has mixed results. It is hard to account for the confounding variables. I advise students to select a seat which is as far away from distractors as possible. It may not be wise to sit next to the exit or in an aisle seat where people will constantly walk by. Sitting at the back can be distracting due to movement and noises. If your neighbors are talkative then it would be best to pick up and leave that spot. Studies have shown that students who sit closer to the front and in the center tend to engage more in class. Be honest with yourself and try different locations to see what works best for you.

     

  3. Turn off or put Aside your Gadgets  It is important to remove anything that will disturb your focus in class. As hard as it may be, your GPA will thank you later. The average attention span for the average college student is about 10 minutes so the temptation to surf the web or check your email will be too great.

     

  4. Read Ahead of Time  Having familiarity with the subject will certainly make the classroom experience smoother. We tend to appreciate things more when we have a preview of what is to come. This is why movies have trailers. Likewise, books have preface and table of contents to give you an idea of what you are getting into. Going into a lecture blind can hinder the learning experience since there will be terms used that you may need time to look into. If you are prepared by reading ahead then you will know which areas you will need to pay a little better attention to. My recommendation is not to spend a lot of time pre-reading but simply get the main points down. Consider reading the chapter objectives or summaries to at least familiarize yourself on the topic. Or you may listen to an audio lesson while getting ready for class in the morning.

     

  5. Ask Good Questions  Before, during and after class is your opportunity to soak up as much knowledge as possible. Professors love to give out little joules to those students who show interest in the subject enough to come to class early and stay late. Often times, the questions one asks speak volumes about their understanding of the material. Do not be afraid to speak up and ask a question because other students are also wondering the same thing. This will also give the professor a clue as to how he or she is communicating the message. Although I encourage asking questions I do believe you should put some thought into the question. I personally believe there is such a thing as a “dumb” question and I think many professors (sometimes subconsciously) also agree. This again goes back to the previously mentioned areas. Doing the above will allow you to be prepared, engaged and focused enough to ask proper questions. Failing to follow them may lead to one of those “dumb” questions. These would include questions that were already asked or ones that 99% of the class already knows the answer to. A question should address a topic which will efficiently add to your knowledge in that particular setting. There are some questions that may be better answered by a book or a classmate rather than having the professor spend 10 minutes answering in front of everyone. Some questions may be better answered at a different time such as after class or during the professor’s office hours.

Getting the Most out of Your Premed Weekends

Weekends….everybody loves them! For the premedical student, they are like gold. When you become a doctor, they’re even more precious and can be thought of as diamonds! During the week, you spend your time in class, studying, playing sports, attending meetings, conducting research, and for some of you working. With so much to do, how do you decide the best way to spend your weekends? Here are some basic concepts that will help you make the most of your premed weekends.

Rest on the 7th Day. There are two type of premedical students. The first is the student that works all day everyday. This student is always going 110% percent with the firm belief that the person who works the hardest always wins. The second type of premed is the one that thinks he or she will simply be able to get into medical school because they have declared the premedical route. “As long as I complete the courses, I’ll become a doctor.” Both of these are the wrong attitudes to have. The key to success is working smarter, not harder. Going 110% is great, however, you have to take a break at some point in time, and when you do, you want it to be a real break. Taking off one full day each week, simply to relax and re-energize will do you more good than you could ever imagine. Also, please do remember that you need to earn this day off. In order to take off the 7th day, be sure you’ve worked hard the prior six days!

Reflect and Plan. Each week should end with a reflection of your performance the prior seven days and a plan for the next. In reflecting, you should ask yourself: (1) Did I use my time wisely this week? (2) Are there any topics covered in class that I don’t fully understand and need to revisit? (3) Did I put my passion to work this week (whatever it is that you are most passionate about in life, you should find a way to use it every week! In planning for the upcoming week, ask yourself: (1) How do I need to restructure my schedule to get the most out of this upcoming week, (2) Who do I need to connect with this week (strengthening your network should always be a part of your weekly plan) (3) How will I put my passion to work this week. These may seem like very basic questions, but the impact will be tremendous!

Hang out! Yes this is okay to do! It’s really just another way to network. In the section above, this concept is eluded to but not detailed. Networking is of extreme importance no matter what career you pursue. In the medical field, the lives of your patients, in some instances, may be affected by the strength of your network. For the college student, growing your network is done in large part by hanging out with friends and attending events. When considering the first concept above, “Rest on the 7th Day”, one could argue that hanging out isn’t necessarily resting. In doing so, you are building your social capital which will prove to be beneficial over the years to come. Take caution however not to do anything that will ruin your chances of getting into medical school. As an example, drunken fights at the frat party are a quick way to weed yourself out of the applicant pool.

Weekends can be used in an infinite number of ways. In the end, the key is simply that you are intentional with your time and pay mind to use it wisely. These simple concepts certainly won’t guarantee that you will become a doctor, but they will provide you with a framework to move one step closer by maximizing your weekends.

Letter of Recommendation: Commonly asked questions answered

1. What is a letter of recommendation?
A letter of recommendation or letter of reference is a document containing a writer’s critique of someone’s qualities typically in a positive way. Many premeds underestimate the importance of these letter. They can actually ruin your chances at getting into medical school if done incorrectly. According to a survey of med school admission officers at 113 medical schools, the letter of recommendation was ranked as one of the most important tools used to assess candidates.1¬¬¬¬ Most letter of recommendations speak highly of the candidate so a lukewarm letter can be damaging.

2. Who should I choose?
A letter writer should be someone who has spent enough time with you to comment on qualities such as your professional behavior, perseverance, leadership abilities, and academic skills in a positive light. You may consider choosing writers who can highlight different areas you excel at. Examples of writers may be your professor, employer, volunteer supervisor preferably in an area related to medicine and healthcare. A shadowed physician can be a good choice only if you have worked with him or her on more than one occasion. Do not select an obvious family member. Also, avoid selecting someone who knows little about you, is unenthused about writing for you or is unreliable.

3. When should I ask?
Start early in developing relationships with those you feel may be strong advocates and mentors. Let them know your goal of becoming a medical doctor. Keep strong bonds with professors by meeting with them occasionally during their office hours to update them on your progress. Ask at least 1 month in advance for a letter. You need to make sure they have plenty of time. Letter writers are humans too and they can easily procrastinate.

4. How should I ask?
Do not request for a letter directly by email, before/after class, or in passing. Instead, try setting up an appointment to meet in person so you can discuss your future plans with them. Do not simply ask them if they can write a letter for you. Ask him or her if they feel comfortable writing a letter which will be helpful in supporting your application for medical school. This approach may help you get a feel for if that person can confidently and happily do so. It also allows them the opportunity to back out if they do not feel strong about writing you a powerful letter. Remember, they are doing you a favor so do not demand a letter but instead request for one. Waive your right to see the letter since many prefer confidentiality and many schools also prefer this. Provide your letter writer with a neat folder including all the materials which they will need to write the best letter they can. This may include recommendation forms, your CV, personal statement and a cover letter with your name and due date. Make it as easy as possible for your letter writer.

5. What next?
Hopefully you have done all of the above and provided your letter writer with plenty of time. Now you can sit back and relax a bit. It is okay to follow-up with your letter writer in a polite and non-nagging manner. Always think of a back-up writer just in case one of your writers fails to write the letter in a timely fashion. Don’t forget to send a thank you note to your letter writers.

References:
1. Dunleavy DM, Sondheimer H, Bletzinger RB, Castillo-Page L. Medical School Admissions: more than grades and test scores. Analysis in Brie. 2011;11(6):1-2.

 

Written by Dr. Daniel

Image Credit: Pixabay

How Do I Find a Doctor to Shadow?

A common area that pre-medical students fall short is gaining adequate clinical experience. Many of you will have excellent grades, excellent extracurricular activities, and excellent confidence, yet for various reasons, your exposure to the field is very limited. This is understandable because, it seems there are more and more barriers being put in place which prevent students from shadowing. Ultimately, this leads to confusion and frustration for premeds. So, here’s the BIG question that I’m always asked; “How do I find a doctor to shadow?”

The solution to your problem is that you must get to the doctor and ask him or her yourself. When I was a pre-medical student there was a time that I couldn’t even find a way to volunteer my time in a hospital. I was willing to do anything; mop the floor, wash the windows, walk patients to their rooms…whatever it took! I just wanted to be in the environment of physicians but kept being met with NO’s. It took some time before I realized why there were so many NO’s! It was because I was not asking the physicians themselves directly. Going through volunteer offices and various other levels of administration was extremely ineffective for me. While they meant good, they didn’t have the direct authority to giveaway a doctor’s time. When I began connecting with the physicians themselves, I had more success (not enough for a premed, but it helped in medical school). I ultimately got my shadowing experience from a summer program and a research mentor who was an MD.
Here are a few suggestions to help you accomplish this:

1) Go to a private community clinic. Perhaps the easiest way to find a doctor to shadow is to go to a local private clinic. Here the buffer between you and the doctor is usually only one or two people. Family medicine doctors and usually given the accolade of being some of the most accommodating doctors. Physicians remember what it was like to being premed. We understand that shadowing is tough to come by and very important. Most of us are more than happy to take a premed under our wings.

2) Attend Medical School Lectures. A second rather simple way to find a doctor is to attend a medical school lecture (not one for students, but a lecture were doctors are presenting to other doctors such as Grand Rounds). These rooms are full of physicians, many of whom are committed to helping students succeed. The key here is that you must network and introduce yourself to these doctors. Immediately you’ll go on their “good premed list” because this is not typical of premeds. When you connect with a doctor, ask for his or her email. One day after the lecture, email him or her saying you enjoyed the lecture and plan to attend again next week (or whenever you can make it back). At the next lecture, try to sit next to him or her and afterwards, pop the big question…. “Will you let me shadow you?” Of course you wouldn’t use those exact words, but very politely ask if there would ever be a good time that you could come by a spend a couple of hours with him or her (don’t ask to shadow for more than 2 hours because it can become cumbersome for a doctor to have someone following them for a half or full day).

3) Become a Scribe. When I was a pre-medical student, scribing wasn’t a very big deal. As a matter of fact, I don’t think I knew what it was until I became a doctor. Now, it’s a fairly popular concept. Scribes are paid individuals (often premeds) who take notes for the physician while he or she is seeing a patient. This is a wonderful opportunity because you not only get paid, you get to be right in the middle of the action and form great relationships with doctors!

BONUS: Here’s an extra thought for you. If you can’t find a doctor to shadow, then find a Nurse Practitioner, Physician Assistant, Clinical Pharmacist, Radiology Technician, Nurse, just anybody who is in that environment. This will provide you with exposure to the field and by being in the environment, you can find doctors to connect with and set up future shadowing opportunities.

Shadowing is VERY important, not just because it looks good on you application, but because it gives you a strong sense of what physicians do. Don’t believe the TV dramas; it’s not really like that. Being a doctor isn’t an easy breezy walk in the park. The road to get there is long and stressful. You need to have an idea of what it is like before you start medical school. If you’ve had trouble finding a doctor to shadow, try some of the tips above and I’m guessing you’ll find success. Just be persistent and don’t give up!

Have you tried any of these techniques?  If so, how did they work for you?    Do you have any other tricks to score a shadowing opportunity?

What Should I be Doing as a Premed???

Nobody needs to tell you how competitive it is to get into medical school.  The road is long and tough!  According to the American Association of Medical Colleges, only 21,030 of the 53,042 applicants matriculated to medical school in 2016. This is equates to roughly 40% (and keep in mind, those ~53,000 students are already among the best in the nation). There is no doubt things are becoming more and competitive. Here are a few things you can be doing right now to boost your chances:

1. Get to Know Your Premed Advisor: Premed advisors are your friend! The moment you decide you want to pursue a career in medicine is the moment you should be setting up a meeting with your advisor. Most major academic centers have a pre-health advising group. These individuals are there to guide you to success. You’d be wise to take advantage of this resource!

2. Get a Mentor: It is essential that you have solid guidance. A good mentor should be a person who can offer advice and support for you because they have successfully accomplished what you aspire to do. You should have a short term mentor who recently took the same course, completed the MCAT or applied to medical school. At the same time, you should also have a long term mentor who can provide you with insight on the good and bad of medicine, connect you with other physicians and possibly write your letter of recommendation. You may consider asking your family doctor to serve as a mentor.

3. Set Your Goals: If you have not done so yet, grab a notebook and write down your goals. There are a few things to keep in mind when writing. You need to have short-term, intermediate-term and long-term goals. These goals should be measurable with targets and deadlines. Know what your goals are for the school year and the summer. Pick 1 or 2 people to serve as your accountability partners and share these goals with them. When you reach your goal make sure to celebrate and if you don’t, just dust yourself off and try again.

4. Get Involved: This is a broad area but this is what will set you apart from the tens of thousands who apply. With so many applicants to choose from, medical schools seek for well-rounded students. If you are not already one, you need to become a leader in an organization. If you find this to be too difficult then start your own organization on campus. Begin looking into local hospitals to volunteer at and start this as early as you can. This may open up doors for shadowing opportunities.

5. Google Yourself: Social media can cost or enhance your chances of making it to medical school. It is worthwhile typing your name in an online search to see what pops up. Many students deactivate their accounts or change their profile names when the interview season comes around. Many premed students don’t realize that social media can also be used to their advantage. For example, you should use PreMed StAR to build a positive premedical profile that medical school recruiters can easily find. Do not simply eliminate your online presence but instead, optimize it by putting yourself out there in a positive way. Take advantage of technology.

BONUS:
•Do Your Homework: Learn as much as you can about medicine. This is exactly what you are currently doing by reading this blog. There are many resources available to help you gain an advantage. Research the path to becoming a doctor, the different specialties that exist, the difference between an MD and a DO, etc. Be certain that being a medical doctor is your true passion.

Okay, you know what to do…get to work!

Tips for a 4.0- This is Your Semester

Well future doctors, it’s that time again!  Winter break has come and gone, and now we are in a new year!  Regardless of your gpa last semester (1.0 or 4.0), we’re all starting over for the new semester.  This semester you CAN get a 4.0!  It’s time to shine!  Sure, getting a 4.0 sounds wonderful, but it’s easier said than done.  Nonetheless, it’s possible!  Here are 5 tips to help you do it!

  1. Write Down Your Goal. Perhaps the most important thing pertaining to achievement is you must have something which you want to achieve.  If you don’t set any goals, then you will never accomplish any goals.  As a premedical student, your goal every semester should be to get a 4.0.  Yes, EVERY semester, you should aim for a 4.0.  Even if you made a 1.0 last semester, this is the semester that you can get a 4.0.  Try this out.  print out a large sign that says “4.0” and staple (or tape or hang) it above your bed, on your mirror, or your door.  Just put it in a place that you HAVE to see it every day before leaving.  Hold yourself accountable so there’s no escaping it!  The simple act of writing down the goal will make it real to you!
  2. Write down your Plan. Having a goal will only take you so far.  Telling yourself that you want a 4.0 has a nice ring to it, but means nothing without a strategy to achieve it. There are many ways to strategize a 4.0, but a few things you should address include: Who will you study with? When will you go to your professors’ office hours?  Which classes will you get a tutor for?  What strategies did students in before you use to do well in these classes?
  3. Socialize with the right people. Last week’s blog on “Friends” hits the nail on the head.  The people you are surrounded by will impact your level of success.  If you want to make a 4.0, hang out with people who make 4.0s.  This is not to say that you should get rid of your other friends, but rather, you should also have friends who excel in the areas of your interests.
  4. Pre-Read. Do your best this semester to have always looked over the material BEFORE class.  You do not necessarily have to master the topic, but you should never enter a lecture without pre-reading (or pre-skimming) the topic of discussion.
  5. Sit in the front of the class. This might be the easiest thing you can do which will provide the largest impact on your grade.  A simple change in your seat can make all the difference.  By sitting in front, you become more engaged in your own learning.  All the distractions from looking at people on their cell phones will immediately go away and the only thing you can look at is your professor and his or her slides.  Sit in front!

When it’s all said and done, if you want a 4.0, you’re going to have to work for it!  Tell you friends and family that you’ll be a little more busy this semester because it’s game time.  It’s challenging, but every good things requires sacrifice.  This is your semester!

 

Image Credit Pixabay

That’s What Friends Are For!

“Show me your friends and I will show you your future.: – Anon
“Birds of a feather flock together.” -Ancient proverb
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time around.” -Jim Rohn
“Do not be deceived: bad company corrupts good character.” -1 Corinthians 15:33

What do these four quotes mean to you? When asked by premeds for tips on how to make it to medical school, I always start with the tip I believe to be most important; choose the right friends and let go of the wrong ones. There is little to question here. Your friends will make or break your chances to reach your goals. The sooner you realize this and remedy it the better off you will be. I encourage you to list your five closest friends and determine which category they belong in (friend, associate, or neither). Here are some characteristics one should consider in this selection and elimination process.

1) Do they have similar goals as I do?  This in no way means that your closest friends should all be premed. In fact, I would highly discourage such a monotonous network. If you are aiming to become a professional (in this case a physician) then you may want to consider spending more time with people who have like-minded aspirations. There are many premeds I speak to who cannot appreciate what they are capable of achieving because no one around them has broken that barrier or has even set a goal to do so.

2) Are they positive thinking?  We have all encountered the “Debbie Downer” who constantly rains on your parade. While you don’t want someone around you who is overly optimistic and sugar-coating everything, it is good to have practical friends that offer a good balance and perspective of your challenges. A good friend should always tell you the truth (even when it hurts) but he or she should always aim to keep your spirits and dreams alive even during your darkest hour.

3) Is he or she looking out for my best interest?  Beware, there are many wolves in sheep’s clothing out there. A friend should be happy for you even when they don’t score quite as high as you did. They should inform you of tips they picked up from others and not keep you in the dark. In medical school, you will quickly become familiar with the word “gunner”. This is a descriptive term for students who are ambitious to a fault. They will step on each other’s toes, tear pages out of a text book so others miss out, and even befriend others simply to sabotage them. There are some premeds that behave this was as well so make sure to be cautious.

4) Is my friend focused?
You should not surround yourself with people who talk the talk but are incapable of walking it due to distractions. A focused friend will call you weekly to study. He or she will have short-term and long-term goals. It is always nice to have at least one “spreadsheet” guy or gal in the group. You know, the type of person who is very organized and goal oriented. A non-focused person will always tempt you with the parties and activities which will ultimately pull you away from your goal.

5) Do I feel like a better person when I am around this person?  There are some individuals we know we have no business hanging around. These are often the ones that your parents or significant other disapprove of. Be true to yourself. Is this person making you a better person all around? Do your other friends feel comfortable around this person? Are you constantly getting into trouble when around this person? Are your conversations primarily productive or counterproductive?

Again, I cannot emphasize how essential friends are in the successes and failures of premeds. This holds true for life in general. You must realize that you are competing with very bright and focused individuals. Surrounding yourself genuinely with the very best is just as important as ridding yourself of the bad influencers. I can certainly appreciate the quote, “if you are the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room”. This is a good indicator for when change is needed. Now, after all of this is said and done make sure you take and introspective look realizing that you too serve as a friend.

 

 

Written by Dr. Daniel

Image credit Pixabay

Going Back to School to Pursue Medicine for Non-Traditional Students

“Medicine is a step that should be pursued with caution and only after careful consideration”. This was the advice given to me by one of my mentors before I decided for certain that I wanted to transition 180 degrees from engineering to become a physician. The path to becoming a medical doctor is difficult, long, and in today’s world almost hyper-competitive! The journey is challenging, physically, emotionally, and financially.  It becomes especially difficult if you are a mid-level employee with a stable job that pays you a steady income with a comfortable retirement and benefits package.

Becoming a full-time student entails leaving that comfy desk job along with its perks to pursue a career choice that will not pay you a significant amount on which to support yourself, let alone an entire family for at least 4 years of schooling followed by a 3 year minimum residency. Also, there will be no comprehensive health insurance comparable to health insurance plans offered by most private employers, retirement (401K) package offered during the time you’re back in school or in training. Add to this the cost of a 4-year medical degree; the cost of applying to medical schools, paying for interview expenses out of pocket for both admissions and residency process and no wonder the average medical student is indebted with ~$250K in student loans!  Also, we need to keep in mind that the average young physician may not be able to start paying off some of those loans until 7 years after they started medical school.  These factors can weigh heavily and pose as deterrents for older non-traditional students who have been out of school for some time. Having kids or being a single income parent or divorce’ imposes further financial limitations. I personally thought long and hard, made a systematic pros and cons list, then after some time, made the leap of faith.

First and foremost, any nontraditional student needs to be honest with themselves and do a thorough assessment of their motivation behind pursuing a career in medicine versus something similar in another industry. If the goal is simply to make more money or follow in the footsteps of rich parents or a successful relative who may have a private practice, those goals can be achieved much faster and perhaps more easily in another field. Becoming a physician more than any other profession requires a practical and realistic understanding of all the perils, not just at the initial phase but well beyond admission into medical school. If the objective is simply to feel content in helping others, there are plenty of other avenues to achieve that.

In my case, my uncle who did not start his residency until he was well into his 40’s made that decision easier for me by telling me to ask myself an easy question, “do I lose sleep over wanting to become a doctor and do I truly believe that my goals and ambitions cannot be fulfilled and realized by a comparable job or field?” If the answer is a resounding yes, then I should not think long about it and make up my mind without regret. He (as well as some of the physicians I have shadowed) also advised me not to look back or harbor uncertainty.  Rather, I should work as hard as I can towards achieving my dream. I was also advised to have a constant reminder that no one else but me decided to make this decision and embark on this arduous journey. Keeping this in perspective will help you stay self-motivated and enjoy your new journey to become a doctor. Adult life can be complicated and full of tough decisions; the decision to partake the challenges of medical school need not be one!

Letters of Recommendation- 5 Tips for Premeds

Yes, yes, yes….we all know you’re great.  You’re the best premedical student in the world.  You’ve won this award, that award, and they even created a new award just for you!  You’re just so awesome!  Well, at least that’s what you tell the medical schools.  Sure, you’re probably telling the truth, but the medical schools also want to hear it from someone else.

As a premedical student, it is of utmost importance that you understand and appreciate the significance of your rec letters.  The truth is, a LOT of premedical students are just as good as you.  They’ve won awards, they have great grades and test scores, many have done research and published, etc. etc.  So, when you have so many students who are great candidates based on their individual accomplishments, the next step is to ask people who know you whether or not they’ll be good doctors.  This is why your letters of recommendation are so important.  You have to make them count in your favor!  Here are 5 tips to accomplish that:

  1. Care about people. This sounds obvious, but we’re going to say it anyways because it is the foundation of medicine.  If you truly care about people, it will be evident in your day to day interactions.  You’ll ask your professors how they are doing.  You’ll know if they have kids.  You’ll know why they chose their fields.  If you care about people, these are natural topics of discussion that arise early in a relationship.  Remember, your professors are human too and want to be treated that way.
  2. Keep in Touch. Often, the best letters of recommendation come from professors who have known you for some years.  You may have taken an entry level chemistry course your first semester in college and performed very well.  If you kept in touch with that professor and let him or her know how things were progressing for you on your premedical journey, you’ll get a better rec letter than the student who got your same grade, but didn’t stay in touch.  This again goes back to caring about people and building a relationship.  Keep in mind, most of what doctors do revolves around relationships with patients and colleagues.  You can be the smartest person in the room, but if you don’t know how to relate to people, it’ll mean nothing.
  3. Ask For Your Letter Early. A horrible mistake that many premedical students make is that they wait too long to ask their letter writers for a recommendation.  This is bad on multiple levels.  First, it puts you towards the back of the line.  This means that by the time your professor (or whoever it is writing you the letter) gets to your name on their list, he or she may already have letter writer’s fatigue (writing rec letters isn’t the most fun thing to do).  Second, it might suggest to them that you didn’t have your act together.  Whys is it that other students have already asked, but you’re just now requesting your this?  So, when should you ask for the letter?  6 months advance!  This will put you in front of the line, and also allows you to space out your reminders (professors have a lot on their plates and may need a nudge from time to time to get the your letter completed and submitted).
  4. Ask for an “Excellent” letter. Another key mistake premedical students make is that they ask for “a letter of recommendation”.  What they should ask is “do you feel confident that you can write me an Excellent letter of recommendation.”  If you ask your professor this question and he or she says no, then you should consider finding someone else.  Medical school admission committee members can read between the lines.  Sometimes, it’s not what your letter writer says that matters, but what he or she doesn’t say.  In a sense, these letters are coded so a “good” letter means you are an okay student, but an “excellent” letter, means you are excellent.”
  5. Say thank you. Every pleasant interaction should end with a thank you.  Writing a letter of recommendation takes time.  This is time that the professor could be using to do other things, but instead is spending on you. A simple thank you message goes a long way to strengthening your relationship.  Don’t think that once the letter is submitted you’re off the hook and can go about your merry way.  Some admission committee members will contact your letter writer to get more information if a question arises.  If the person reviewing your application happens to be one of these people, you want to be sure that your professor knows you appreciate the time and effort he or she put into the letter.

Keep these 5 items in mind as you approach your medical school application.  What you say about yourself is fine, but what others say counts as well.  Getting excellent rec letters takes a little effort.  It all starts with you performing well in the presence of your professors and building a solid relationship ahead of time.

 

 

Image Credit: Pixabay

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