Key Skills for Every Pre-Med

As a premedical student, you have a lot on your plate. Between difficult classes, never ending tests, pressures to maintain great extracurriculars and do well on standardized tests, it can be overwhelming. But there are a few key skills that every premedical student should have which will help you get through these years with ease:

Adaptability and Social Skills
You will be working with many different types of people in medical school, in your residency, and in your career. It is very important to be able to adapt to changes, as different people will have different clinical styles that may or may not agree with your style. Especially in medical school, you need to be able to adapt to these different situations. You need to be able to take constructive criticism as a medical student, but it is also helpful to be able to interact with the people around you.

Time Management Skills and Efficiency
Because medical school and residency are a lot of work, develop the skill to prioritize the things that are important and those that can wait until later. In your study strategy, prioritize the things that are most important and the things that are most difficult for you. As a Resident, efficiency is very important because you need to be able to list out and complete all your tasks, and find a way to utilize the resources around you, including delegating tasks to others, to be done on time.

Your Personal Study Strategy
The last thing that I think is important to develop while you’re a premed is a study strategy that works well for you as a student. The same study strategy you used previously won’t work when you are presented with such a vast amount of information in medical school. But I think if you figure out what kind of learner you are, whether you are a visual, audio learner or you learn by doing or reading, and if you are the type of person who needs to know the details, this will guide the way you study, because there is a large volume of material to learn in medical school.

What Should You Do When Shadowing a Doctor in a Competitive Speciality?

We sat down with Dr. Korgavkar, a dermatologist in New York and MedSchoolCoach advisor. We wanted to find out what a medical student interested in a competitive subspecialty, such as dermatology, should be doing when they shadow physicians!

Dr Korgavkar, what do you think are the key aspects students should have in mind, while shadowing a doctor? Is there anything in particular that they should observe and learn?

Yes, I think a large part of shadowing a physician is not necessarily to see the technical duties they perform throughout the day but also to witness the nuances of medicine. They should pay attention to the patient-physician relationships, how physicians develop rapport with patients, how the doctors show they are listening to the patients, through their body language or other ways. These could also be things that might affect the patient’s care that might not be directly medical; thinking about the patient’s home situation, insurance, helping them to find a way to get the best health care within their own circumstances. So I think it is important to watch how physicians are able to do that. Also, think about whether that is important to you. There are a lot of people who enjoy that individual connection on a daily basis and almost need it to have a good day at work; while for some people it isn’t their primary goal. So you should question yourselves, ask yourself if you want to feel that individual connection, and rapport every single day with your patients.

So then what advice would you give to students interested in your specialty?

Dermatology is a very competitive specialty; it is very important for you to get involved early on to explore your interest. A lot of times medical students don’t have an interest in Dermatology or other competitive specialties like ENT. People who do know earlier on get involved in activities that will make their applications more competitive. These could be activities such as research, presentations and the like. So if you have a budding interest in something, get out there and get to know people, because connections are important; in specialties such as these, people usually know each other. You want to find physicians to shadow; try to get involved in research and exposure in the field in you want to follow. The other important thing to do for competitive specialties is to ask yourself prior to deciding to apply to it whether that is what you really want to do. It is very tempting to apply for a less competitive specialty, something on the ‘easier’ side. All residencies are very difficult; no matter what people ultimately think of that specialty. Dermatology residency is just as busy as internal medicine residency, which is what I did for my first year. But the most important question is what you really want to do for the rest of your life, because if you choose something based on competitiveness, or lifestyle you won’t be happy, you want to keep the bigger picture in mind.

“Before you decide to apply for a competitive specialty, ask yourself whether this is what you really want to do. All residencies are very difficult; dermatology residency is just as busy as an internal medicine residency. “

Great. Do you have anything else, any other advice for students looking to do a competitive subspecialty?

The main thing is to get involved early on. It is always important to find someone who is a mentor to you whether that’s a faculty member or even a resident or someone who has recently gone through the process. There are many nuances within competitive specialties that you wouldn’t otherwise know. It’s important to have somebody who could walk you through the major things.

Tips for Improving Your GPA From a BS/MD Expert

What GPA do I need for a direct medical program?

It’s no secret that colleges place a lot of importance on your GPA and SAT/ACT scores, but with BS/MD programs, their value is significantly more. With regular undergraduate universities, you can sometimes (but not always!) make up for a slightly lower GPA or SAT score with stellar essays and impressive resumes. With BS/MD programs, however, this is unfortunately not the case. The average GPA for successful BS/MD students is usually anywhere from 3.95-4.0 and SAT scores are usually 2500+. If your statistics aren’t within this range, then there is typically no way to “save” yourself with other notable accomplishments. BS/MD programs are really looking overachievers, and that means students who have high GPAs, above average SAT scores, convincing essays, and remarkable resumes. It’s never enough to just one or two from that list.

How can you prepare yourself for a BS/MD program early in high school? 

Having gone through the entire BS/MD process myself, I can tell you from personal experience that there might be times when the workload is overwhelming and your efforts seem fruitless. But if you stay organized and maintain a steadfast mindset, then it will all payoff in the long run. It’s not going to be easy, but that’s exactly why it’ll be so much more worth it in the end. Below, I’ve listed some of strategies I used that really helped me with my GPA scores throughout high school. Stay tuned for the next blog post topic being related to SAT tips!

Here are some tips to improve your GPA so that you can be as competitive an applicant as possible:

  1. Find a reason to enjoy studying

I’ve found that amongst my friends, the people who are generally the most successful are the people who actually do not mind studying all that much. Of course, there are probably a million other things they could be doing instead of studying, but when it’s something they have to do, they choose to make the best of it. And the most effective way to do that is to find something about studying that excites you. It’ll be different for every one, and so it might require a bit of trial-and-error, but that’s okay!

For me, personally, something about studying that really excites me is color-coding my notes. I love having a system of highlighting that indicates to me which color is representative of what. So, for example, everything I highlight in yellow is a vocabulary word that I need to know, everything I highlight in pink is a “very important” note, and anything I highlight in orange is either a topic I don’t completely understand or a question that I need to remember to ask my teacher. To some people, this entire process may seem time-consuming and unnecessary, but for me it works. At the end of a study session, I love flipping through all the notes I took and observing all the pretty colors on the page. And not just that, but I’ve also found that it’s a great way for me to organize my thoughts. So when I go to talk to a professor, I don’t have to waste time skimming through all my notes just to find that question I wanted to ask. Instead, I’ll just look for the orange highlight, and voila, there’s my question! Again, to some people this process is pointless, but it works well for me so I stick with it anyways. Even if it’s a quirky habit of yours that makes study fun, use it! Because at the end of the day, its not other people who are going to be studying for you, so who care what they think of your study habits.

  1. Choose your friend group carefully

Now before you think “Wow this sounds exactly like something my parents preach to me”, try to understand the relevance of this statement. Sure, it’s good advice for the whole “Don’t do drugs!” conversation, but it’s equally as important in regards to your GPA.

In high school, every body wants to fit in; the only problem is it’s a lot harder to fit in when none of your friends have the same priorities as you. So why not make it easier on yourself and associate yourself with people who understand why you spend so much time doing what you do. My closest friends in high school were people who had the same goals and interests as me; they too wanted to lock in research positions, secure high GPAs, and spend time volunteering at local hospitals. It’s not that we didn’t find time to socialize and have fun, it’s just that we chose to balance our lifestyle in similar ways. So when I had to turn down an invitation to hang out because I had a midterm to study for, my friends understood where I was coming from (because at some point in time, they had done the same thing).

Now don’t get me wrong and completely shut off the possibility of being friends with someone just because they don’t have similar goals or interest as you – it’s never smart to be closed-minded. Just be conscious of the factor of influence that comes with friendships. For example, I remember when I was in my second-semester junior year, I had all of a sudden developed really close friendships with a lot of people who were second-semester seniors. And while I valued their friendship and enjoyed spending time with them, I found myself neglecting work just to hang out with these friends. No one was really at fault here; it’s just that we were both at different points in our life. I was going through one of the toughest semesters of high school while they were breezing through one of the easiest semesters of high school. As a result, we had different priorities, but because I was spending so much time with them, I caught myself slowly wandering away from my priorities. Things like this will happen all the times when it comes to friendship and, well, just life in general. What’s important is that you’re able to catch yourself at the right time and make the necessary decisions and changes to find a balance between work and play.

  1. Find a study buddy/study group

Coming into college, I have found that one of the best ways to study for exams is with other people. Now this doesn’t mean you put off studying until the very last day then go to a study group and assume they’ll teach you everything you need to know for the test (you’d be surprised how many people do this!). Instead, what you should do is plan ahead and try to finish up your individual studying at least one day prior to the exam. That way, when you go to your study group or go to meet up with your friend, you’ll be prepared to both ask and answer questions. If you go unprepared, then neither you nor your friend(s) will really benefit from the study session; instead, both of you will spend your whole time learning the material (which is something you can do on your own) instead of applying the material to test-like questions.

The benefit of having a study buddy is the variation in perspective. Perhaps your friend caught a detail that you didn’t, or maybe they didn’t understand a topic that you can now explain to them. Teaching is one of the best forms of confirming that you really know what you’re talking about, so by studying with a study buddy, you’ll actually be testing your own knowledge.

  1. Make it an expectation, not a goal

By making a high GPA an expectation as opposed to a goal, what you essentially do is transform your mindset from “I want it” to “I need it”. When you’re thinking more along the lines of the “I want it” mentality, it’s easier for obstacles to get in the way of achieving your goal. If, however, you maintain an “I need it” mindset, then you are more likely to dig deep and find the inner motivation to overcome any obstacles that may try to hinder your success. You might still fall short, but your motivation will then only increase to make sure you avoid slipping up again.

Of course, some people might disagree with this approach, but from speaking from personal experience, I can confirm that this “expectation, not a goal” mentality has really geared me to achieve maximum success. Sure, getting one B on your transcript does not mean you are going to fail in life, but there is a possibility that it ends up being the difference between getting accepted or rejected by your dream BS/MD program, so don’t take it lightly!

Above I’ve listed three most important tips that helped me get the GPA I wanted. Stay tuned for part 2 of this topic, in which I’ll discuss two more GPA tips!