Premedical Advice from an Expert: How to Find the Right School

Sanjay Aneja MDDr. Aneja is a former Yale School of Medicine Admissions Committee member and MedSchoolCoach advisor. He provided some advice for premedical students applying to medical school, including how to find the right school for every applicant.

Applying for medical school is a very tedious and difficult process so what kept you going through your personal journey?

I think understanding that medicine as a career is a process. For students who are applying for medical school, I think that they should appreciate the ups and downs of the process and I think if you are continually interested in becoming a physician and have a passion for taking care of patients then it really is worth it. It becomes rather difficult when students feel that after each step they are done. It’s never a complete process and once you appreciate that fact, the entire journey of becoming a physician and the constant learning process then that’s when it becomes a lot more manageable. I also think that everyone finds the right fit, the right medical school and opportunities are not limited by not being at the top schools. I think that’s an important thing to highlight to students. You can still take care of patients and be a great doctor even if you don’t go to your top choice. The most important thing is that you actually become a physician.

I also think that everyone finds the right fit, the right medical school, and opportunities are not limited by not being at the top schools. You can still take care of patients and be a great doctor even if you don’t go to your top choice. The most important thing is that you actually become a physician. 

You mentioned finding the right school. How can a student determine whether they’re a good fit for the school they are looking at and what do you think determines a good fit?

When I think about medical schools I would really think about trying to evaluate if you have a specific career goal in mind. I think when a lot of students are applying to medical school, they don’t really think about where exactly they want their career to pan out and I think that’s okay. In those situations I really do think that medical students should really go to the schools that afford them the best opportunity to have a diverse career. Often times those are the schools that are perceived to be ranked higher but at the same time I think that students are becoming more knowledgeable about medicine in their undergraduate education. I think that they are able to discern whether or not they feel like their career will be more academically focused; whether they’re more interested in research and teaching or interested in being clinicians whether it may be community practice or private practice. I think that in a world where you think that you are more academically focused you should go to a school that allows you to pursue scholarly activities. When I applied to medical school I knew that I was interested in an academic and research focused track so I was mostly looking at medical schools that offered me that ability within my four years of medical school. Alternatively, I’ve met students who had done research but it wasn’t something they were willing to dedicate their life to so for them, I think it’s important that they go to schools that are very clinically focused, has really great teaching and exposes you to a lot of patients so that you’re clinically strong when you become a resident. Lastly, when students become a little older, more often than not students have geographic preferences based on where they are from, significant others or spouses and obviously that would play into all of it. But I will say that I think that if you are coming out of an undergraduate school then geography is not as important because it’s more important that you find a medical school you will be successful at.

Okay. As an admissions committee member then, what is the biggest thing that you are looking for in a prospective student?

I think that when we look at students the most important thing to see is whether they have an idea of what they want to do in the future. Do they actually spend time to think about where they see their career? It’s not necessarily about seeing themselves becoming a specific type of physician like a paediatrician or an oncologist or if they see themselves practicing at a specific location but how they want to divide their time in the future. Do they see themselves primarily caring for patients? Do they see themselves primarily doing research? Do they see themselves teaching? Doing something very alternative like policy work or entrepreneurial things? It could be all of those things but I think having students who have an idea of where they want to be is really helpful because then we know whether or not our school can provide them the next step or the tools to achieve those goals. When we think about students in the admissions committee, it’s very easy if we see that the student has a plan and he needs to come to this school to achieve that plan and our school can provide the resources for him. It’s a lot more difficult to project students who are very unsure of what their future is and have not really thought about it so they just know that they would like to become a doctor or something in that context.

Combined Undergraduate and Medical School Programs

Combined Undergraduate and Medical School ProgramCombined undergraduate and medical school programs are very popular and becoming more so everyday. They are so very competitive. The amount of students applying to combined undergraduate and medical school programs (also called Direct Medical Programs and BS/MD programs) increases every year. This is because the competition to get into medical school out of college is tougher than ever, so many high school students feel it may be easier to get in to medical school out of high school. This isn’t really true though. Combined undergraduate and medical school programs are uber competitive, taking less than 20 applicants in most cases.

In general, a combined undergraduate and medical school program guarantees a student admission into medical school contingent upon certain criteria, specific to each program. Some programs require that students achieve a certain score on the MCAT (after their second/third year into the program), while others completely waive the MCAT although requiring a certain GPA to be met. Other programs require the MCAT to be taken but do not require any specific score (in other words, they want you to just take the exam but your score does not impact your admission into the affiliated medical school.

Almost one quarter of US Medical schools offer this combined BS/MD program for well-qualified high school students. As mentioned, often times, admission into these programs is more competitive than admission into the top universities.

Some of the schools that offer these direct programs include Northwestern, SUNY Stony Brook, Brown, Rice/Baylor, Drexel and many more. MedSchoolCoach offers a full array of services to help students gain admission into combined undergraduate and medical school programs. You can learn more about MedSchoolCoach’s combined program admissions at https://www.medschoolcoach.com/bs-md-programs/

Medical School Extracurricular Activities: Shadowing, Volunteering, Research, Clinical Experience and Leadership

Interested in understanding what an admissions committee is looking for from it’s applicants when it comes to extracurricular activities? MedSchoolCoach recently held a webinar on the topic! We’ve included the PowerPoint presentation below for your reference!

[pdf-embedder url=”https://www.medschoolcoach.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/MedSchoolCoachs-Quick-Guide-to-Extracurriculars.pdf” title=”MedSchoolCoach’s Quick Guide to Extracurriculars”]

Medical School Interview Questions and Answers

Sample Medical School Interview Questions and Answers

There are several medical school interview questions that you should be prepared for. While we recommend not memorizing answers, because this makes you sound like a robot, it’s important to think about these questions and their answers prior to your interview. Preparing yourself with our list of medical school interview questions and answers can help!

Tell me about yourself?

This is a question that is often the most popular start question. Rather than say what to do, it’s important what to avoid. Don’t give out your grades (saying you graduated “summa cum laude”, saying you got a 38 on the MCAT, etc). These simple statements quickly lead down the wrong path! Instead, focus on your family, your upbringing, etc.

Why medicine?

This question is obviously going to be asked. Saying you want to help people is not enough. MedSchoolCoach recommends that during your medical school interview, you lay out a brief timeline of how you came to the decision you wanted to pursue medicine (don’t simply say I always dreamed of it since I was little). Provide concrete examples and scenarios that have shaped you and made you choose medicine as a career.

Do not be afraid to talk candidly. If you overcame a personal tragedy, or a family member did and this truly led you to medicine, tell us about it. Don’t beat around the bush, unless it is sometime very sensitive. (Beating around the bush means saying your mom suffers from a disease and you were there for her rather than saying your mom suffers from cancer). If there are things that truly lead you to chose medicine as a career, we want to know about them honestly.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
This old-school job interview question still pops up from time to time, and can trip up even the most confident job interviewer. We do not expect you to have your entire career mapped out, or even your specialty choice. But, it’s nice to hear whether you are interested in academic medicine (say it, even if you aren’t), research, teaching, etc. Certainly avoid saying you want to be a plastic surgeon doing breast implants all day in LA (doesn’t come across great).

What are your strengths and what are your weaknesses?  How will you improve upon your weaknesses?

Create an honest list of what you think are your strengths or weaknesses and then pinpoint a couple you can remember. Practice your responses so that they sound natural and you are prepared for the question.

An example of a strength would be communication skills: “ I work very well with all kinds of people, and understand that everyone has different perspectives about projects and work tasks – so when I work with others I realize that everyone comes to the table with different priorities and objectives. I keep this in mind when I communicate tasks that need to be accomplished with positive reinforcement and awareness of what others are working on.”

For the weakness, pick one that won’t that is not going to disqualify you being a physician, and then follow up with – this is what really matters – the examples of what you are doing (or have done) to fix your weakness. The most important point here is to show that you learn from your mistakes and your weakness, and you are taking the corrective action to fix the situation – and stress that! For example, if the job does not require public speaking, you can say that your weakness is you are afraid of speaking in front of the public. Then tell the interviewers that you have joined a Toastmaster club or public speech course to overcome the problem. Remind them that when you identify a problem, you actively take actions to correct it, and that is how you do things.

What are the current challenges in current health care and what can we do to improve it?

This question will be asked and you need to have an answer. Read NYTimes articles, the economist, etc and understand the current health care climate and policy so that you can better answer this question on your medical school interview.

 

Stay tuned! We will soon be posting more medical school interview questions and answers!
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Essential Skills for Every Premed

Sarkar-380x380We recently sat down with Dr. Sarkar, a medical school admissions committee member and MedSchoolCoach advisor. He has a wealth of experience on the application process and gave us some advice that every premedical applicant should follow, including important advisor on volunteering as a premedical student.

What do you think the key skills are that any premed student should develop earlier in their education?

To get into medical school? The most important and essential skill is just developing strong communication skills. To be able collaborate with people, work with people from different backgrounds and to be able to understand people’s perspectives is really important. The only way you can do that is by exposing yourself to various different environments that you are not comfortable with so you can build on your communication skills and apply them.

Is there any one specific form of volunteering over another that you suggest our students take part in?

I think the most beneficial bang for your buck type of volunteering is something where you get to spend one on one time with the patient. I think any type of studying where you actually get to work with the patient without anyone else dictating the conversation allows you to independently grow as a person and see how you feel talking to patients.

I think any type of experience where you actually get to work with the patient without anyone else dictating the conversation allows you to independently grow as a person and see how you feel talking to patients.

Now when shadowing a doctor, what are the key aspects students should keep in mind? Is there anything in particular they should observe and learn by observing? 

So, when shadowing doctors I think its good to shadow a healthy balance of different physicians because different fields have a different approach to medicine. I think premed students should spend time in surgical subspecialties and medicine subspecialties to really appreciate the nuances that people have in terms of taking care of patients. When you are shadowing, really hone in on the conversation and see how the physician conducts themselves around their patients and how they build their rapport. The best and most effective medicine that gets practiced is by the people who can really make their patients feel comfortable around them so that their patients can open up to them and really tell them what they’re feeling, what they’re not feeling and how compliant they are with their medications and things that they aren’t necessarily following.

“When you are shadowing, really hone in on the conversation and how the physician conducts themselves around their patients and how they build their rapport.”

Could you please describe a typical workday in your specialty?

I’m an internal medicine physician and I work at a cancer center. So primarily I am in charge of taking care of hospitalized cancer patients, so I see a big variety of patients with all different types of cancer diagnoses. These patients are suffering from either progression of their disease or chemotherapy complications or new medical issues that arise. My day basically is spent on the floors managing these patients and trying to get them out the hospital so they can spend the majority of their time outside of the hospital environment.

 

Medical School Interview Question: Why Do You Want to Go to This School?

One of the questions that is commonly posed during the medical school interview is “Why do you want to go to this school?” While the obvious answer for many pre-medical students is “because it is a medical school!”, the more appropriate answer is one that demonstrates the applicant has some knowledge and particular interest in the school itself. In a perfect world, an applicant would have their choice of medical school, but with the reality of the competitiveness of admissions, applicants often don’t have a plethora of acceptances to pick and chose from. However, during the interview it is still important to convey why you are interested in that school and how it will complement your future ambitions.

To be prepared for this question, avoid providing a generic answer such as “there are lots of research opportunities” or “the community service program looks good.” The optimal approach is to provide an honest answer on how the school will suit your interests. To do this, do some research about the school prior to the interview and determine what they offer that is appealing to you. Do you like technology? Well this school offers a curriculum that is interactive-iPod based. Do you have an interest in primary care? This school offers a longitudinal primary care mentorship beginning the first year of medical school.

The best answer is to give specific examples of opportunities that the medical school offers to show that you recognize what makes them unique and that you will be happy if you get accepted there. Medical schools want to know that you will fit in and contribute to their student body, so if they don’t meet your interests, it may not be the best school for you. Although you may feel that you’ll go anywhere that sends the coveted acceptance letter, seek out each school’s opportunities that motivate and excite you. After all, you are unique and harbor distinct qualities, you want to be sure you will fit in and the medical school will fit you.

The Medical School Student Interview: What They Look For

medical-student-interviewersThe medical school interview day is often broken up into multiple parts, including an interview with a faculty member at least. However, almost all medical schools these days also include a student interview! This interview is with a current student at the school and it’s super important to your eventual success as an applicant. Why? The medical school wants to know that you will fit into their incoming class. There is no better way for them to do this than to have a current student’s perspective on you as an applicant. For this reason, the student interview for medical school may actually be the most important of all your interviews! We sat down with Dr. Cusak, a former admissions committee member and student interviewer who helped us understand how a prospective applicant can be successful on these interviews and how you can gain from them as an applicant!

What can you gain from your interactions with the current medical students on your interview day?

During your interview day, several attending physicians and professors currently teaching at the school will interview you. In addition to this, a current medical student will likely interview you. Sometimes this will be in a formal one on one setting and sometimes it may be more casual, perhaps over lunch or while giving a tour. They are likely evaluating you in similar ways to the other interviewers and are attending the admissions committee meetings as well.

While it is important to be on your best interview behavior with the medical student interviewer just like the rest of your interviews, it is also important to find answers to the big questions.

Many of you will be accepted to multiple schools. At the end of a long interview season, it will be hard to remember the pros and cons of each institution.

Here are the things to take away from the interview/tour/lunch time that you have with the students:

  1. Do they have positive things to say about the professors and physicians that are teaching them?
    Of course they may feel like a test was more difficult than they had anticipated or a professor covered too much information in one hour. Every medical student feels this way at one point or another! But are the instructors reliable? Do they respond to emails and seem to genuinely care about the education of the students? Are they responsive to the concerns of the students?
  2. Do they feel that they have enough volunteer and research opportunities?
    Thankfully, medical school is not only about studying! During your first two years in particular, you will want to have other meaningful activities to be a part of during study breaks. Maybe you want to volunteer at a health clinic or help teach science classes to grade school students. Perhaps you are interested in research and want to get involved right away. Does it sound difficult for the students to get involved at that institution?
  3. How do the students feel about their grading system?
    Every medical school is different. Some put the students in positions that they are more competitive with each other and some don’t even rank the students at all. Some people thrive off of competition and others are turned off by it. Think about what would be a better fit for you. Either way is acceptable, just know what you are looking for and get an idea of how the current students feel about it.
  4. Is there an overall community atmosphere?
    This is something you need to gauge yourself. Watch the students interact with each other. Even though they may be in a competitive situation, do they have advice for each other? Do they seem comfortable together? Do they talk about weekend plans and ways to take a break from studying together? Medical school is stressful and having a sense of community at the school is important. Try to picture yourself with the current students. Would you fit in?

After your interview day is over, it can be helpful to write the answers to these questions down. You may not make your final decision for several months and the details can get confused. Although there are many other things to factor into your decision like scholarships and location, the answers to these questions should be considered.

4 Things to Know Before Applying to Medical School

Any individual who wishes to become a doctor is likely sick of hearing about how difficult medical school is and how challenging it is to gain admission. If you’re the sort of person who sets lofty goals for yourself, you’re undoubtedly more interested in exploring what you need to do to get to where you want to be than you are in hearing that it’s not simple. Here are four key items to know before applying to medical school. Medical school is an arduous process that requires serious commitment, and if you aren’t sure it’s worth it, you may burn out.

What a doctor’s lifestyle is like

If your conception of what it’s like to be a doctor originates from Grey’s Anatomy or that medical outreach trip you took to Mexico, you may have a misinformed notion of the medical field. It’s important to know what you’re working toward, so locate doctors you can speak to about their careers. What do they like and dislike about their job? What is their home life like? What do they find rewarding about being a doctor, and what is challenging for them? If they had to do it over again, would they? Don’t be afraid to think honestly about the implications of their answers.
Why you want to be a doctor

There are a number of solid careers in the world, and medicine isn’t the right choice for everyone. Once you’ve developed an understanding of what you’re undertaking by pursuing an MD, spend some time trying to articulate why you wish to do so. What are the positive things drawing you to this field? What negatives exist? Why do the positives make it worthwhile, and how are you going to deal with the negatives? Why have you specifically decided you wish to be a doctor? If you intend to be involved in health care reform, what made you decide not to pursue a law degree? If you’re fascinated by anatomy and physiology, what made you decide not to pursue a PhD where you could possibly learn even more? If you’re drawn to the opportunity to develop relationships with people and aid them, why don’t you want to be a counselor or a therapist where you could potentially see them more often? Don’t be afraid to decide that you don’t have an ideal answer to these questions. There are plenty of strong career paths and not all of them involve medical school.

How you’ve proven you can handle the rigors of medical school

So, you hope to become a doctor? Making an informed, articulate decision about this involves a great deal of time. Once you’ve reached your conclusion, the next step is convincing a medical school to admit you. Institutions expect to fill their classes with students who will work extremely hard toward a long-term goal and who can handle the stress involved with such pressure. The obvious way to prove you can do this is by earning high grades and MCAT scores, but there are also other ways to demonstrate you’re a hard worker.

What about you personally would make you an exemplary doctor?

You need to prove to yourself and to the medical schools you’re interested in attending that not only can you survive medical school, you’ll make a great doctor, too. How will your personality mesh with the realities of a career as a physician? How will you strike a balance between home and work? How have you prepared yourself for this? Will you be able to empathize with patients? These are difficult questions, and you may not possess answers to all of them, but developing some sense of why you’ll do well will help you seem like a competent, well-informed applicant and will also garner you confidence as you work toward your goals.

Eric Secrist is a professional MCAT tutor and contributing writer for Varsity Tutors. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Biology from the University of Washington and is a current medical student at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University.

Least Competitive Medical Schools

What are the least competitive medical schools in the country? This is a question we at MedSchoolCoach get all the time. Let’s take it one step at a time. First, there is no really uncompetitive US MD medical school. Getting into any US medical school is a huge accomplishment. Even the “worst” schools have acceptance rates under 20%. So to peg a school as noncompetitive is incorrect. Now, there are some schools that have lower average GPAs and MCAT scores than others obviously, and this is typically what applicants refer to as the least competitive medical schools. Unfortunately, this does not really hold true. There are a lot of schools that applicants apply to with an average GPA and MCAT lower than theirs, but never get interviews at. There are many reasons for this. Remember, these schools are getting thousands of applications. In fact, the schools that are traditionally viewed as the “least competitive” or “safety schools” tend to get way more applications than a Harvard or Stanford. George Washington University for example (a great school anyway you slice it), gets over 10,000 applications. Same with Drexel Medical. The reason these schools get so many applications is that they publish lower MCAT and GPA scores, so applicants get excited and apply both as safety schools (for this with great stats) and as target schools (for those with lower stats). So with these schools getting thousands upon thousands of applications, they end up actually having a lower acceptance rate and are actually quite competitive.

One important factor to remember is that just because your average GPA and MCAT is right on target for a given medical school, that does not mean you will get in, or even be competitive. If a school publishes their average MCAT as a 29, and average GPA as a 3.7, realize that they are rejecting far more candidates with those numbers than they are accepting. There may be over 4000 candidates with a 29 or above applying to their school, but they are only accepting a tiny fraction of those. So just because your average MCAT and GPA is aligned with a particular medical school you cannot be assured of getting in.

Also, keep in mind that those medical schools with lower GPA and MCAT requirements are often state schools with heavy state preferences for their applicants.

The question remains though, which are the least competitive medical schools? We like to rephrase that question and say which are the medical schools with the lowest average MCAT and GPA. Keep in mind, all these schools are still great, but here is a small list of private medical schools (see the note above about state schools) which applicants with lower GPAs and MCATs should consider applying to:

There are more, but this is a basic list. Please keep in mind, each of these schools is exceptional and you will become a great doctor from any of them. Also remember that just because they look at applicants with lower GPAs and MCATs than other medical schools in the country, they are no less competitive.

Least Competitive Medical Schools in 2019

  • San Juan Bautista School of Medicine
  • Ponce School of Medicine and Health Sciences
  • Universidad Central del Caribe School of Medicine
  • Meharry Medical College
  • Howard University College of Medicine
  • Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine
  • University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine
  • Louisiana State University School of Medicine in Shreveport
  • University of Mississippi School of Medicine
  • Mercer University School of Medicine
    Morehouse School of Medicine
  • Northeast Ohio Medical University
  • University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine
  • Florida State University College of Medicine
  • Brody School of Medicine East Carolina
  • University of New Mexico School of Medicine
  • Michigan State University College of Human Medicine
  • University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences
  • University of Arizona College of Medicine
  • University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine
    Southern Illinois
  • University School of Medicine
  • Washington State University Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine
  • University of Kentucky College of Medicine
  • Central Michigan University College of Medicine
  • Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine
  • Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences F. Edward
  • Hebert School of Medicine
  • University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences College of Medicine
  • University of Nevada School of Medicine- Las Vegas
  • University of South Alabama College of Medicine
  • University of Louisville School of Medicine
  • Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine

Guest Post – 5 Tips for MCAT Prep

5 Tips for MCAT Prep

The MCAT: the daunting test that hangs over every pre-medical student’s head. Diligently studying for the MCAT is a signifier of one’s commitment to medicine, but students often find it difficult to prepare in a regimented, focused, coherent manner when they’re juggling a plethora of other demanding responsibilities, such as academics, extra-curricular activities, and of course, the medical school applications.

However, if students are proactive and strategic, they can prepare for the MCAT quite effectively. Readying oneself for the MCAT is as much about timing, repetition, and stamina as it is about knowledge and analysis. Following a few guidelines in the months leading up to the test can make all the difference in wholly preparing a student for success.

1. Sign up for professional test prep

Private test prep can be costly, but worth the investment. It is invaluable in that it provides students with myriad resources, including detailed review books that cover all necessary content for every portion of the test. Perhaps even more importantly, these forms of prep force students to be regimented by holding them accountable for thoroughly reading through the review books and completing assignments in order to get the adequate amount of practice needed. Following the structured lesson plan that professional MCAT tutoring provides can effectively jump-start students into studying with the appropriate practice materials by their sides.

2.   Start preparing early

This one may sound obvious, but the MCAT requires such a large quantity of scientific knowledge that it is imperative that students begin preparing several months before they take the actual exam. Furthermore, given that the science sections cover all of the introductory science courses that students take in college or post-baccalaureate programs, much of the material will not be fresh when students begin studying. Therefore, it may take much longer than one would think to review and master all of the requisite science content. Starting to prepare at least three to four months before the exam date is essential, as students need plenty of time to review, absorb, and apply the knowledge.

 3. Build stamina

Every MCAT test-taker will have reviewed the science material and practiced verbal passages ad nauseum. However, not every examinee will have built up the stamina necessary to get through the four-hour test without losing focus, and hence, making careless errors. Students must hone their endurance by taking at least 10 full-length practice tests prior to their test day. Doing this will reduce fatigue by making the actual experience of taking the exam less of grueling task and more of an intellectual exercise.

 4.   Schedule strategically

This tip is two-pronged. First, students should schedule their studying strategically. The professional test prep should be spent mastering the science material and practicing verbal passages. Only then should students begin taking full-length practice tests with regularity; this ensures that when students sit down and begin applying their knowledge, they can do so with confidence and be assured that the scores from their practice tests are indicative of their potential scores on the real test.  If students did not compartmentalize their studying and instead took full-length practice tests while learning the material, their practice would be nowhere near as productive or beneficial. Secondly, students should only take the test when they have enough down time to focus solely on the MCAT and nothing else (e.g. during the summer, winter break, spring break, etc.)

 5.   Time yourself

Often, students are prepared for the content and analysis that the test requires, but not for the time-pressure. One pitfall that students fall into is practicing passages and full-length tests without practicing pacing as well – eight to nine minutes per passage. Students get used to comprehending passages and answering questions at a comfortable pace, yet the test, along with the time it allots, is anything but comfortable. To maximize success and prepare oneself for test day, students must mimic the reality of the test as closely, and as frequently, as possible. This means starting to time oneself early on, perhaps after the first full-length practice test or two, and thereby getting used to the speed that the test requires.

The majority of a student’s MCAT performance relies on diligence, knowledge base, and analytical skills. However, these five steps are certainly key to students putting themselves in the best position possible for test day.

 

Author Garrett Greenan is a private MCAT tutor and contributing writer for Varsity Tutors. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Biology from the University of Pennsylvania and will be attending the University of Maryland School of Medicine in the fall of 2013.