I am a miracle made up of particles and in this existence I'll stay persistent and I'll make a difference and I will have lived it - Medicine for the People

All In A Week's Work

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

I've been incredibly busy lately, a common refrain in the majority of my posts, I know, but as I was thinking about what I could write about next on this blog I realized it might be helpful to detail exactly what I've been so busy doing, especially for those of you who are in the midst of the application process yourselves. Keep in mind that my schedule and activities may vary widely from yours and that's OK, doesn't mean you're doing anything wrong so no need to get concerned! I just like to stay occupied :)
A typical week for me goes something like this:

Mondays I have Physio so I get into work a little later than usual since I go straight from there to class. I leave at 6 and walk about a block away to the building that holds my classroom and sit through a 3 hour lecture. I don't get home until around 10 and by then I pretty much just collapse into bed. Maybe I have a snack. OK I usually have a snack.

Tuesdays are more relaxed so I get to come home and catch up on household tasks that may have fallen by the wayside. I try to schedule vet appointments for in the evening or meet-ups with friends for then.

Wednesdays I go into work an hour early so I can leave early for volunteering at Lurie, which is the highlight of my week (post coming soon!). I get home after 7 and even though that's not incredibly late I'm exhausted every time.

Thursdays are my writing days (although sometimes I try to sneak some time in on a Wednesday too!). Usually I'll pen an article for the Almost Doctor's Channel or send updates to schools that allow electronic submissions. Occasionally I'll just come home and watch some Grey's because, you know, gotta have some me time.

Fridays I either babysit or try to cook. I've recently gotten more into trying new recipes and it's been so much fun. I generally consider myself more of a baker than a chef but I'm really enjoying learning to make exciting dishes that I never would have tackled before.

And that about sums it up! On the weekends I study, hang out with my adorable kittens or try to get out into the city. Also obviously I study, run errands, go grocery shopping, all that good stuff gets relegated to the weekends or squeezed in during lunchtime at work. It keeps me on my toes but I like having so many things going on! I'm also looking to add some shadowing hours to my resume so that's another thing I need to make time for! Although I'm a bit crammed, I'm loving it all and am excited to share with you how it all goes.

Interview Season

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

It's finally feeling truly like Fall in Chicago and I'm really missing the warm, sunny days I spent at the beach as I hurry into work bundled up in my coat and boots. Normally I would be feeling rather melancholy, faced with the prospect of a long winter indoors but as it is I'm much too busy to spend any time brooding over the death of summer. It's Fall and that means that interview season has begun in earnest! So far I have received interview invitations from Hofstra, Boston University, UVM and, just last week, UIC. On Tuesday, September 31, I flew back to the East Coast (which was a nightmare of cancelled flights and rescheduled interviews) to attend interview day at BU and then Hofstra and it was an amazing, exhausting, wonderful experience. I stayed on in New York City for the weekend following a Friday interview at Hofstra and met up with some college friends for a fun mini-reunion. I ended up flying back to Chicago Monday morning on the red-eye and making it to work, bleary-eyed on roughly 5 hours of sleep (half of which was on the plane so it barely even counts). I then had to go class after work so I didn't actually make it home until almost 10 PM!
It's been a very long and tiring week but I wouldn't trade it for anything and being away made me really appreciate coming home to my cozy apartment and adorable kittens. Oh yes, I have two kittens now. I decided that Rufus (kitten #1) needed a tiny friend to grow up with and keep him company so I adopted Lizzie Bennet, a beautiful gray tabby who keeps Rufus on his toes. She's a feisty little lady and her and Rufus are so adorable together it's incredibly distracting, I'm shocked I ever get anything done when they're around to cuddle with me on the couch.
Another reason I've been incredibly busy lately is that I've started volunteering at Lurie Children's Hospital. I want to save talking about it for another post but suffice it to say that I look forward to my shift all week and have really enjoyed it so far. On top of that I have a new class (physiology!) which has a hefty amount of required reading per week so I'm planning on shutting myself in with some tea and snacks this weekend and studying extra hard to get up to speed.
With everything going on (all exciting things!) it's been difficult to keep up with writing on this blog but I'm always happy when I get a chance to sit down and update you all. If anyone is interested in specific interview day posts for any of the above four schools I'm glad to oblige, just let me know in the comments!

Kittens, Adorable Kittens, Tabby Cat
Rufus & Lizzie being friends

Hellooooo New York!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

I've been keeping this news a bit under wraps but I actually got my first interview invitation a while ago and (huge surprise) it was from Hofstra! Hofstra is a new medical school in Long Island which was started within the past three years (they don't actually have a graduating class yet). While for some this might be a huge negative, I actually think this means the school won't be mired in the same kind of issues surrounding worn-out curriculum and ineffective teaching methods that many of the more well-established medical education institutions face. There's already a ton of information on the internet regarding Hofstra's programs and their Step 1 scores are crazy high which is a pretty good indicator that their small group rather than enormous lecture teaching approach is working. I'll be flying out in October for a Friday interview date and I'm really excited!

New job, new apartment, NEW KITTEN!

Monday, August 18, 2014

I've been pretty busy over the past few weeks with oh so many things but I am happy to say that life is finally beginning to settle down (at least, enough for me to be able to get a quick post in!). Despite the absolutely cutthroat rental market in Chicago, I was able to find a wonderful apartment in the perfect area and finally moved in this weekend. Of course, as usual, there are a few maintenance things that I've already noticed need to be taken care of but I am thrilled to be in a new spot. Adding to that is my excitement and happiness over adopting a tiny ball of fluff otherwise known as Rufus O'Reilly, ginger orphan kitten (please see portrait below). On top of that I just started a new position at Northwestern that I didn't want to post about too early in advance (last Monday was my first day) AND I've been working hard on applications and sending in updates to schools. So basically I've been crazy busy! As everything has started to wind down though I've been thinking a lot about some topics that I really want to open up a discussion about and I have some serious issues on my mind regarding the application cycle and medical school in general so I hope you will all be on the lookout for my next post because I would love some feedback on what I have to say. Oh and please prepare yourselves for future pictures of tiny Rufus because I've already taken about 100 on my phone and I can't fight the need to share them his adorable face with the whole world!

Cat Tax, Adorable Kitten, Tiny Kit

So You Want To Be A Doctor

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

If you muck around on the internet long enough you'll discover there is a lot of negativity about having a career as a physician nowadays. People will throw around a lot of statistics or tell stories about the struggles of working in medicine. I recently read this article which stirred up a bit of controversy because of the inflammatory subject content. I personally was bothered enough to write a response here and I'd love to hear what you guys think!

It's That Time of Summer

Friday, July 18, 2014

You know, that time when ALL THE SECONDARY INVITES come rushing in. I'm very grateful to be receiving them but I'm also really distracted by the sunny afternoons and blue skies that are beckoning me to come sit outside or go for a bike ride or spend the day at the beach.
Because I didn't want to spend all of my time stuck on my laptop writing endless application essays, I decided to switch up the way I handle my secondaries this year. Instead of giving myself a few days to complete an app I cut my turn-around time down to 24 hours. This means that, at the most, my goal is to submit a secondary application within 24 hours of getting that email asking me to complete one.
Managing my time has definitely helped but the biggest time saver has been a result of re-using essays. I'm not sure what the internet has to say about that subject but I'm a big fan. At the end of the day, there are really only so many ways I can talk about the same subjects. Writing five different and unique essays on my happiest memory is exhausting so instead of having individual essays for each school, I started off the application season by creating several pieces that can be adapted to most of the common questions that are asked.
Several of the repeated themes I've been asked to expand upon include: how I would contribute to the diversity of [University X's] student body, what is my biggest failure and how did I deal with it, and what achievement has made me the most proud. Having essays at-hand that I can edit to fit the question is so much better than starting from scratch every time. Of course, there are some applications where I can't do this (coughLoyolacough) but for the most part it's been incredibly helpful to have a head start on the topics.
If you're trying to dig yourself out of a pile of apps don't be discouraged, it isn't too late to use the same method described above. I would suggest taking a day or two to write a few essays (I like to keep them down to a paragraph or two) that fit the usual prompts. Try to keep them short and succinct but make sure they have depth and a powerful message - you don't want to bore your reader but you also don't want to write a few lines about nothing. Then, when you get a secondary prompt that is similar to an essay you have saved, try to adapt it to fit word count/specific requirements of the question etc. Oh and if you're getting frustrated just listen to the song at the top of this post because it's wonderful and it gives me such a happy summery feeling, it'll put you in a better mood immediately.

Improving My Application Part III

Monday, July 7, 2014

This is going to be a fairly short post because I've got a very busy schedule of applying to ALL THE RESEARCH JOBS IN CHICAGO today. Since I took time off to dedicate myself to MCAT studying I wasn't able to work and now I am looking very diligently for a new project to get involved with (so if anyone knows of anything and wants to throw some suggestions/recommendations my way please feel free to do so!).
ANYWAY, back to the subject at hand. The third thing I did in regards to improving my application was to ask one of my supervisors from my last job at Northwestern if he could write me a letter of recommendation. I'm applying to a lot of schools in the Chicago area and having a strong letter from a physician who not only works at Northwestern Memorial but is also a faculty member at the Feinberg School of Medicine seemed like it would be a definitely plus in the improvement category. I figured since I was applying again it would be good to shake things up a bit and include a new letter instead of just recycling all of my old ones. If you're in the same boat then I encourage you to do the same! Asking for a letter of rec can be a bit intimidating but just remember, your work should speak for itself and as long as you did your best, your teacher/supervisor/coworker will see that and, in most cases, be very happy to write you a letter that extolling your virtues and supporting you as a candidate for medical school.
Adorable Kitten, Some Cuteness For Your Day
this kitten has nothing to do with letters of rec but it's SO CUTE it deserves a spot in this post :)

MCAT Study Materials/Courses (This Is Not An Endorsement!)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Hey everyone! I have been getting a lot of feedback about using ExamKrackers and wanted to clarify the reasons why I chose them. First of all, they offered courses available in my area. Secondly, they were not the most expensive course which was important because I was on a budget. Even better, they offered a payment plan. Finally, I had used their books before and really liked the way they explained difficult concepts.
I just want to note that I have had friends score very high on the MCAT using other methods including home study plans and other prep courses such as Kaplan. I personally really liked ExamKrackers because I felt they were comprehensive without going too in depth which I feel is a failing of a lot of the prep out there. EK was great because they taught me exactly what I needed to know and didn't confuse me by providing me with a lot of background information that wasn't necessary. I did supplement my studying by using Berkeley Review books in addition to the ExamKrackers material that came with the course (mainly for General Chemistry and Biology). I also used the Princeton verbal practice booklet which was extremely helpful and I bought the EK 1001 Questions in Physics book because I struggled a lot with that subject (consequently, my score in PS went up the most. I went from a 7 to an 11 which was unbelievable to me).
Ultimately, I think the best thing about the course I took was the instructor. Emily was incredibly patient, helpful, and seemed to really care about our success. We had a fill-in instructor one day who was really nice but I just didn't like his teaching style as much. Emily brought in additional practice problems to help us with our problem areas and was never annoyed when I asked her to go over something for the 3rd time because I simply wasn't getting it. Having the one-on-one type tutoring was incredibly helpful because while I have no problem getting myself to study alone, I would often get stuck and wouldn't have anyone to turn to so I'd end up skipping important topics that would come up later.
One last thing - after having taken the MCAT three times (and now considering myself somewhat of an expert on the cursed thing) I have to tell you that I think success is a matter of understanding the exam. It doesn't matter how well you did in physics or orgo, you have to learn how to take the exam. The questions are not the most difficult, but they are tricky. I loved EK because I felt like they taught me how to hone my intuition about all of the MCAT topics so when I came upon something I completely didn't understand, I was still able to find the correct answer because I recognized what the question was asking instead of getting caught up in the confusing information being presented. Of course, you also have to have a solid background in the sciences and the only way to develop your intuition is to study REALLY REALLY HARD but I think taking the course really helped me stay on the right track.

Hope this was helpful for all of you who haven't taken the exam yet or are thinking of re-taking! I'd love to help if you have any questions so please comment or tweet at me and I'll try my best to answer.

Improving My Application Part II: Cracking the MCAT

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Yes Gif, Jimmy Fallon, Fallon Tonight

I was planning to wait until tomorrow to write this post but I am so overcome with happiness that I can't help but to share it. 
Some of you may know that I've struggled a lot with the MCAT. Finding the time to study while working full time/taking classes, battling the stress and anxiety inspired by the exam and wrestling with the physical sciences section were only a few of the factors that made this one standardized test such a nightmare. The first time I took it I knew I wasn't ready. I actually almost canceled my seat a few days before my test date but by then it was too late. I resigned myself to a disappointing score and was actually surprised when I ended up doing pretty decently. I knew I could do better though and quickly signed up to take it again in a month, figuring I'd be able to do better by taking extra time off to study and not having a class to deal with. Unfortunately I also ended up moving a few days before the exam, which turned out to contain almost every single topic I was particularly weak on. When I got that score back my heart plummeted into my stomach. I had done even worse than before. Again, it wasn't such a bad score as to exclude me from getting into (or even getting screened out from) most institutions, but it felt like a huge personal failure because I knew it didn't reflect my intelligence or my ability to learn.

Ariel, Disney, Sad

Needless to say, the entire experience was horrible. Unfortunately, after not getting into medical school after this past application cycle, I realized I was going to have to go through it all again. This time I finally broke down and allowed my parents to pay for an MCAT prep course, something I had tried really hard to avoid. Additionally, I made the big decision to take time off of work and just devote myself to studying. This was a very novel concept for me since I'm always doing five things at once and trying my best to be perfect at them all. If there's anything this process has taught me, it's patience and the importance of slowing down and dedicating yourself to a few things at a time that you can do properly instead of a million things you end up doing poorly.
After a lot of research I decided on the Examkrackers company. They offered classes in my area and had a good reputation for teaching the basics. I didn't want anything super fancy, I just wanted some help to reach my potential. I really felt like I could do better and was determined to give it one last shot.
The class itself was grueling - 8 hours a day in a classroom with only a lunch hour and a few short breaks feels interminable when you're studying physics and orgo. Luckily I had an amazing instructor and the class was so small it felt almost like I was getting one-on-one instruction. From the very beginning I abandoned any pretense of shyness. I asked every stupid  question I could think of. If I didn't understand something, I asked the instructor to go over it again (and a third time, if needed). I didn't even care if I sounded dumb, all I thought about was how this was my last chance to prove to everyone (and myself) that I could succeed, that I could do better.
EXAMKRACKERS, MCAT Prep, Medical School
I highly recommend these guys if you're looking for a comprehensive prep course!

I scheduled my third and final MCAT exam for May 31st, one week after the prep course ended. When the day rolled around, for the first time, I felt a quiet confidence. Don't get me wrong, as I walked into that testing room my palms were sweaty and my stomach was roiling, but I also felt like finally, I was ready. I was prepared and I was going to kick butt. 
When I walked out of the climate-controlled testing room after four hours I felt the complete opposite. I was a mess. The exam had been incredibly difficult, I had barely answered all the questions in the physical sciences section and there were several questions from verbal that I couldn't stop dwelling on. As I waited the long weeks for my score I went from one extreme to the next. Sometimes I felt confident that I had done well, after all, my practice exams were all in the 30s at the end, surely I had done somewhere in that forgiving range? Other times I felt despondent and convinced that I had done worse than even my lowest previous score. 
Then, today, my score was released.
I took one look at the page and started crying (and screaming, sort of scream-crying?). I had scored eight points higher than the last time and six points higher than my lowest score. That is so many points. I can't even describe how I felt (feel) because it's so wondrous. I am so proud and so happy that finally the hours (and weeks, and months) of hard work have paid off. I am so excited for schools to see my new score and to know that it's more than competitive, it's damn impressive. 
If you've made it to this point (and I salute those of you that have, this has been a saga), I want you to take one thing out of this - DON'T EVER GIVE UP. Don't take what you read online to heart. You can go as far as you push yourself. If you know that you are better than the numbers on your application then change them. I cannot encourage you enough. Just take a deep breath and take the plunge, you won't regret it.
Don't Give Up

The Hardest Part...About Applying to Medical School

Sunday, June 22, 2014

I'm not sure if I've mentioned before how much of a Coldplay fan I am but I unabashedly love Chris Martin and his beautiful voice and music. Last night "The Hardest Part" was stuck in my head and it led me to ponder "the hardest part" of the application cycle. Having gone through it once already, I feel like the most difficult factor to deal with was the constant waiting. The entire process is marked by this persistent theme. First, you're waiting for your MCAT results, then you're waiting for the AMCAS application to open up, after that you have to wait for your primary to be verified, your application to be sent out, and secondaries to come to you. As you start getting interviews the waiting gets even harder because you're either waiting for invitations (which is terrifying, what if you don't get any? what if you've done all this work for nothing? these are the thoughts that will run through your head), or you'll be waiting for your actual interview. After your interviews you have months and months to wait for an admissions decision. It's enough to drive anyone mad, honestly. The problem with waiting is that there is no way for you to improve upon it. You're stuck in limbo, at the mercy of someone else and all you can do is constantly check your email to see if you've received an update. It's exhausting and unfortunately there is very little I can tell you to make it better except that you will get through it. It's particularly daunting to consider that I will have to go through this a second time (those of you who are reapplying will know exactly how this feels) but it's almost better because now I know that I can get through it. Now I know that I need to stay busy, stay occupied and try my best to remain positive and I recommend that you try that too. I promise, it will help! Oh and maybe have a listen to some Coldplay while you're at it ;)

Improving My Application Part I

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

I've gotten a few comments from readers asking what I did to improve my application the second time around and I thought today would be a good day for a post on this topic.
When I didn't get into UVM I was contacted by one of the dean's of admission who offered to discuss my application with me. What followed was a difficult but incredibly informative and helpful phone call. This dean went through the weaknesses and strengths of my application and encouraged me to re-apply. She was critical but also very kind and I'll never forget how good it felt to have her tell me she had no doubt I would make an amazing doctor someday. The biggest piece of advice she gave me was to take more classes if possible, to show that I could excel at higher level sciences. I've touched on this briefly before but I struggled with the classes in my post-bacc program for many reasons, not the least of which was piling too many things on my plate at once. When I finally figured out not to spread myself too thin, it was a bit late to salvage my GPA. The one bright spot was that I had taken a biochemistry class and done very well because I had arranged my schedule/commitments in a way that gave me plenty of study time. With that in mind, I was interested in taking an anatomy and a genetics course if possible. I figured I should stick to one at a time (in order to not overwhelm myself since I was also working full-time). I enrolled in a single semester anatomy course at Northwestern (actually it was over one trimester) and I really enjoyed it. Unfortunately I had some difficulty with the professor, which I think may have just been due to the way the class was set up (a large majority of our final grades were the result of a single research paper which I didn't feel our professor was very clear on and there was some frustration due to lack of communication). Regardless, I truly enjoyed the subject content and worked really hard and ended up with a great grade. It was very refreshing to feel like the work I was putting in equaled the feedback I was getting out. After adding this class to my AMCAS application this cycle my science GPA went up, which is something I'm really happy about. Although it didn't change by much (since it was only one class), I'm mostly proud that the classes I've taken that most closely resemble the coursework that I'll be encountering in medical school are the ones I've done the best in. I've taken it as yet more proof that I'm ready for the challenges that I'll face as a medical student. 
If your main issue with your application is GPA, I would definitely consider taking an additional class or two. Although you might not change your overall numbers much, if you do well you will be able to show admissions committees an upward trend, which is important and noteworthy in and of itself. I would recommend choosing a class that you're actually interested in and maybe one that has some bearing on what you'll be studying in medical school. The admissions dean I spoke to recommended an anatomy class, physiology, genetics or microbiology and suggested that those would be helpful to have taken (any background information will definitely make difficult classes easier later if you've already seen some of the material!!). 
I'm planning on taking another class (hopefully genetics!) in the fall and ideally will be able to send an update to schools with an official grade before the end of interviewing season. I've had several friends do the same and they said it may have helped get them off the waitlist and officially accepted. 
Stay tuned for further posts detailing what else I did/am doing to improve my application!!

AMCAS Verification: How To Get Those Apps in Early

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Today I was thrilled to receive notification that my AMCAS (primary) application has gone out to all of my designated schools. This was extremely exciting mainly because last year it took over six weeks for my primary to be verified which was agonizing because during that time I had friends who were filling out secondaries and already getting interview invites. This year it took less than ten days! A reader recently asked what I did to improve my application as I apply for this second round and while I'm excited to share with you all the things that I improved and added to my resume I also want to stress the very real and deep importance of getting your applications in early.
Last year I wasn't quite as on the ball as I had wanted to be. I dawdled with my application and didn't send in my transcript requests quite early enough. I ended up submitting my primary a mere few weeks after it opened and somehow still ended up stuck in line behind thousands of other applications that were waiting to be verified. What I didn't think about was how this affected my chances for success. Although I believe that a large part of being accepted is a numbers game as well as a mixture of other factors (your readiness, how you come across in your application, your research hours etc.), I think there's also a strategy to applying. You won't receive any secondaries until schools have processed your primary so the sooner you get that in, the sooner you can finish your individual applications. For example, turning around a secondary within 1 or two days puts you ahead of all the students who decide to wait a week or so to submit theirs. This means that your application is put into a smaller pile to review. It's easier for you to stand out when you're being compared with ten other students versus one hundred other students. 
The upshot of this whole post is, if you haven't gotten your primary in yet then DO IT. NOW. Don't even finish reading this post just get cracking. Or maybe finish reading this post if you're stuck and aren't sure how to proceed.
I think the biggest thing that people struggle with is the personal statement and I'm going to let you in on a little secret. Don't listen to all the crazy people online who say contradictory things like "don't get too personal" or "do lie and say you've wanted to be a doctor since you exited the womb." All you need to do is be sincere. Be genuine and honest and adcoms will be able to tell when they read it. They'll get a better idea for the kind of person you are. Definitely don't just reiterate what you've already discussed in your activities section. Think about the meaningful experiences that have brought you to today and this application and weave a narrative. You don't have to be too rich in detail but make sure your essay flows. Have a friend or two read it. I say friend here and I mean friend, not some doctor that you shadowed or some fancy professor who you think will be able to give you some magical advice on how to edit your essay so that you'll definitely get in. Your friends and family know you the best of all and will be the most helpful when it comes to the one piece of writing that is supposed to encompass you as a person and explain your passion for medicine to medical schools.
OK NOW you guys can get to it. Good luck! It's not as hard as you think and trust me, the feeling when you hit that submit button will last you all day :)

Applications, AMCAS, Medical School

When It Rains, It Pours

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Medical School Applications, Stress, Frustration

I've always really liked that saying and I think it's generally true. Maybe this is because we tend to notice things in groups. Like when you're already having a bad day it's easier to find fault in more things or if you're feeling really great about something you're more likely to be happy about other little things you might not have paid attention to normally.
The reason I bring this up is because during the [re]application process there will be good days and bad days and usually they'll be extreme. Yesterday, for example, was a bad day. I'm still waiting on one of my recommendation letters to be sent in (if you're reading this, YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE! jk jk I love all the people who wrote my letters but still, I'm working on a deadline here), I've been applying to all the research jobs available in Chicago and having very little luck, and to top it off I'm starting to get a bit concerned about managing application costs.
During weeks like this it's important to remind myself to slow down a bit and focus on the good, like getting my application in early which was HUGE. I've been checking the AMCAS site every day and I should be verified by the end of this week which is amazing considering last year it took over 6 weeks for verification and I only applied a few weeks late. I've also been making a list of essays that I can pre-write so that when my secondaries start coming in I'll be able to turn them around in 24-48 hours (this, at least, is the goal). So if you're in the same boat then take a breath and relax. This is a marathon, not a sprint. We'll get there!

"BOOM!" or "What Happened to JournalistDoingScience?"

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Explosion, Medical School Rejections, Overwhelmed

The above gif (which is hilarious because I'm pretty sure this has happened to me multiple times) is the perfect embodiment of my feelings regarding the last application cycle: first, I was excited (delicious diet coke!) then I was overwhelmed (OMG THIS IS SO STRESSFUL) then the bottle fell off the table and exploded everywhere and made a mess and I don't know where I'm going with this metaphor anymore.  I joke, I joke, but real talk - last year was tough. After finding out that I didn't get into UVM I was very low. I felt like a failure and it was really difficult for me to share with all of you guys what had happened. Then there were a million other things going on that quickly took over my attention until the idea of writing a "What I've Been Doing Lately" post seemed really daunting and I couldn't get started. BUT I realized over the past few weeks how much I miss writing and how nice it was to feel connected to the pre-med community online and I'm really excited to be back on the wagon!
I'm happy to relate that I bounced back pretty quickly after not getting in. Probably because I had told myself all along that there was a possibility I would have to apply again and also because I realized that just because I didn't get accepted didn't mean I didn't have an amazing list of accomplishments to be really proud of. So very soon after the bad news I got my  head back into the game and started brainstorming what I could do to improve my application. I'm going to save the actual list of things I did for another day but suffice it to say I was really busy! I will tell you that one of the biggest things I decided to do this time around was apply as early as possible. This is why I got up at an ungodly hour on Tuesday to review my entire application before submitting it at 8:30 AM on the dot. Unfortunately I ended up submitting it about half an hour later than originally planned because I lost my credit card (typical me) and was running around trying to find it for a good 30 minutes but I'm very happy to say that I got my AMCAS app in on the first day and am just waiting for it to be verified! 
Anyway, I'll keep this short and sweet but it feels so good to be back :) I want to thank everyone who emailed, tweeted at or commented to tell me how much they like my blog and appreciate what I have to say. I really can't tell you how nice it is and how much I love to hear from you all! I wish you all good luck on your applications (if you're applying this year) and promise that I'll be writing a lot more regularly from now on!!

Sending Some Love

Friday, February 14, 2014

I've been so busy writing articles for The Almost Doctor's Channel (as you can see from my profile here) that I haven't had time to update my own blog! Since it's Valentine's Day, I wanted to send some love out to all of my wonderful readers who still keep up with me and let you all know that I'm determined to do better!

I'm not a huge fan of the consumer approach to today but I do like the idea of using this "holiday" to tell the important people in your life that you love and appreciate them and that's what I want to do for you guys. When I started this blog I had no idea that it would be received with such interest and warmth by so many. The comments that I've received and the feedback I've been given has been amazing and has helped me through some difficult parts of the application process.

I can only hope that I've been able to do the same for all of you. Have a beautiful day.

Heart, Happy Valentine's Day, Love

Q & A Session - Post-Bac Studies, Nontraditional Routes, Taking a Year Off

Monday, February 3, 2014

I was recently contacted by an undergrad who is interested in doing the same Harvard post-bac that I completed and after back and forthing over email a few times I realized that a lot of his questions were probably quite common and maybe it would be helpful to put them here along with my answers in case anyone else was interested in hearing about my experience in more detail than I usually offer up in a typical post. It's difficult sometimes to get insider information on courses or programs that you're interested in. Most forums I've encountered either don't have anything that's actually helpful or they're just extremely negative and discouraging because the kind of people that post on them are disgruntled or unhappy with their experience and their viewpoint is hugely biased. For my part, I tried to be extremely objective when I wrote these answers out so I hope you all find them useful! And of course, if anyone has further questions please don't hesitate to contact with me through this blog or on Twitter or via carrier pigeon (whichever way works best for you). This is an incredibly long post so I added some pictures/gifs to break it up and (hopefully) entertain!

Q: I am currently a senior at a liberal arts college in MA. I had initial intentions of going to medical school before starting my time in college, but that quickly changed after my first year was complete. It wasn't until my junior year that I began considering other alternatives such as a Physician Assistant program before finally coming to the realization that medical school was the ultimate goal. Unfortunately, I passed up a good amount of time to take the medical school requisites and have only taken Gen Chem 1/2. I am currently in the process of applying for research assistant positions in the Boston area as it is close to home and hopefully at an academic teaching hospital to get my tuition reimbursed to a certain extent. I have been applying to a lot of Partners locations as well as BU School of Medicine. In the event I get offered a position through a Partners affiliate, I would plan on taking classes at Harvard Extension School during the evenings. This is where I thought your input could be useful.
How did you come across this program and what other programs in the area did you look in to? I think this program in particular is a great option for me because it offers the opportunity to take classes when it works with my schedule as opposed to completing all the courses within one academic year. In your case, what courses did you take and when? Working full time, did you find taking two courses in one semester to be overwhelming at all? Along these lines, do you think medical schools look down on this approach to taking a reduced academic load while working as opposed to taking a full course load without working? Also, how were the professors in the program? My classes during my undergraduate tenure have been very, very small (~25 students/class) in comparison to some of the class sizes offered at Harvard. How do the students typically do in the classes who aspire to go to medical school and what types of grades do you need for sponsorship through the program? 
Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch, Help

A: I had a lot of really great people encourage and support me when I was thinking about doing a post-bac so it's nice to do the same for someone else. Your story is really not that unusual. There are a huge number of current medical students who majored in something completely unrelated to the science field and only later decided they really wanted to pursue a career in medicine. I think your plan to get a research assistant job is fantastic but I would also make sure to get some clinical experience. Schools who interview students in your situation in particular want to make sure that you're really dedicated and that you haven't just changed your mind on a whim - they want proof that you have experience in a clinical setting and that you still want to (or are even more determined to) pursue medicine.
I would also definitely recommend getting a job that will help pay for classes. I didn't end up doing that until now (I work at Northwestern and am taking an Anatomy course) but I had friends who did at Brigham & Women’s and it worked out very well for them.
I heard about the Harvard post-bac through a coworker whose son had done it and had actually met his wife through one of his classes. I did a bit of research about the program but honestly didn't really consider going anywhere other than Harvard because even though it's the extension school it's a great name to have on your application. I didn't end up completing my "certificate" because I applied before I had finished the number of courses required for sponsorship but I did take quite a few classes there. I had pretty low/average undergraduate grades (I was a COM major and they didn't really matter when I was planning on being a journalist!) but I still was accepted into the official Health Careers Program so unless you literally failed half your undergrad classes you should get in. It doesn’t really matter if you are officially in the program or not anyway unless you really want to get sponsored (For those of you who don’t know, Harvard will “sponsor” your application for a fee if you get above a certain GPA in their post-bac which basically just means they will write you a committee recommendation letter that’s all official and comes from the University and looks good on your application). If you aren’t in the program you can still take as many courses as you’d like as an at large student, which a lot of my friends did.
The classes are VERY large and lecture-style but the labs are smaller and I actually had a great experience in a few of them (depends on the TF's. If you get a chance to choose I have some recommendations!). I struggled in the courses not because of the material (except for Physics) but mainly because I didn't have enough time to dedicate to straight studying. I was working full time and taking two or three classes and it just wasn't working out well for me. Ultimately I ended up taking one class and having a full-time job and that was much easier. I think if you are already used to studying for difficult science classes you could juggle two classes and work but I didn't give myself the time to ease into it and that was definitely reflected in my earlier grades. 
Puppies, Baby, Adorable

Q: In regards to the classes, how easy was it to seek out help from either the professor or the TA given the large class sizes? I'm so used to being able to stop into office hours whenever I'd like with little to no line to get my questions answered. Also, in terms of recommendations for the med school application, or maybe it's just my undergrad's requirement, but I believe they require a letter from a from a science professor. Is there any chance at all that at a place like this, you have any shot of getting a decent letter of recommendation from a professor or is there no interaction? Finally, do you know if admissions committees for medical schools take into account whether you took all the courses in one academic year, which may prove you're ready to handle the medical school curriculum, or can you take the classes piece meal without being penalized? 

Ryan Gosling, Cute, Funny

A: The classes really varied in terms of getting help. I had a very hard time in Physics and the first semester felt like there was no one who could do a good job explaining things to me. The TA's (called Teaching Fellows, TFs at Harv) were very, very smart but I felt like their ability to actually teach was quite limited which was frustrating for me because Physics is not an intuitive science in my case. I had friends who found outside tutors they were very happy with but I couldn’t really afford that so I ended up just getting help from whoever I could at the moment. On the other hand, there were some classes where the professor was very available, incredibly helpful and held regular office hours (Biochemistry was a particularly good example and I ended up getting a recommendation from the professor who taught that class). I also felt like the Gen Chem and Organic Chemistry courses were very well handled and there was always someone there to ask for help if needed. Definitely take advantage of office hours and I'm sure it won't be difficult to have several options for recommendations.

In response to your question regarding medical school admissions committees, it seems like you're really concerned that your nontraditional approach is going to be looked down on in some way. Please don't think that. Everyone that I have spoken to, both of the schools I have interviewed at so far and all of the friends I have who are currently in medical school have said many times that it doesn't matter what path you take to get to medical school, what is important is that you are able to show them your passion for medicine and your ability to succeed in a busy and stressful environment. For you, this may mean trying to get a publication while you are taking two classes. Being able to juggle work AND school is an incredible accomplishment and is absolutely not looked down upon. It's just not the reality anymore that most students apply to medical school straight from undergrad. More and more students are coming from varied backgrounds where they had to take one or two classes at a time while working to support themselves. In no way will you be penalized for this and if anything, many of the professors and admissions experts I spoke with are impressed when they see someone who is able to do well in both areas. The key is to not bite off more than you can chew so that you are succeeding as both a student and in your work environment and I definitely had a bit of trouble initially learning that lesson. You want to be able to show definitive proof that you had just as full a plate as a normal student (full time job + classes is even more than a typical full time student workload) and that you were able to do well regardless (good grades + work accomplishments such as a poster/presentation/author credit on a paper). Hope this helps!
Motivational, Funny, Cute

Public Service Announcement - Take A Break From Stressing Out and Watch This Adorable Video!!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

This is for all of you stressed-out premeds who haven't heard back from schools yet, who just got ANOTHER rejection or who are waiting to find out if you've been accepted after a recent interview. This post is also for all of the M2s in schools across the nation who are gearing up to take the Step 1 exam (I know some schools take it early and some have a few months to go but anxiety knows no boundaries).

Here is a video of what my friend and I like to call "raccooning." It's fairly obvious after you watch it what we mean by this term - it's when you are snuggling someone so intensely and with such affection and they are just sitting there with a look on their face sort of like "I'm too tired and comfortable to make you stop but you're being ridiculous and I am not going to respond to your gregarious outburst of savage snuggling."

Know what I mean? I'm sure some of you have been there and if not, well, I bet you'll still enjoy this super cute video. After viewing, I highly recommend going and finding a friend and re-enacting the scenario because you will both end up feeling much better, I promise!

Interview Day At UVM Part II

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Here it is! The much-awaited (I'm sure) follow up to my initial post about my experience interviewing at the University of Vermont College of Medicine.

I left off at lunch, which, after touring the school and sitting for long periods of time through several diferent talks was very much welcome. We were lead down to a cozy cafeteria where a group of M2 students met with us to discuss their experience at UVM and answer any questions we had. First of all, the food was quite delicious and if I remember correctly some of it was locally sourced/organically grown which I really appreciated. Secondly, the M2s were so incredibly welcoming and eager to answer any and all of our questions no matter how inane they may have been. I definitely took advantage of having a first hand resource to talk about the school so before I knew it our lunch hour had passed and it was time to meet back at the office to be taken to our interviews.

I don't want to talk in specifics about my interview because I honestly don't even remember what exactly we talked about the whole time but I DO know that it was the most wonderful, unique, and encouraging interview I have ever had. My interview was a woman named Anne Sullivan whose daughter was attending UVM Med and who had been working at UVM for a number of years. What struck me most about our interaction was that she was genuinely interested in getting to know me and learning my story. She had all of my application materials but referenced them only occasionally because she was mainly concerned with finding out about my life off paper. Our discussion, because it was a discussion really, beyond anything else, made such an impression on me that I can't quite articulate how I feel about it. Not only did I feel like my accomplishments and successes were acknowledged, I felt like my interviewer was able to get the true measure of me as a person and that was something I hadn't experienced in an interview before. 

After the interview (there was only one) we were taken on a guided tour of the Fletcher Allen Health Care Facilities but I was honestly so mentally exhausted at that point that I didn't retain much except the vague recollection that the hospital was beautiful and spacious and there was a weird quilt sculpture in one of the halls. 

Because all of the interviews and tours were at different times, we all ended up meeting back at the admissions lobby at different times but happily were surprised to find that the staff had put out cider and doughnuts for everyone! It was a taste of home and I was very impressed with the suble touches present throughout the day that reminded me I was in Vermont. 

The last hour of the day was dedicated to a debrief with Dr. Janice Gallant (Associate Dean for Admissions) and a few other faculty members. We went around the table and discussed our impressions of the school and our "take-away" from the day. I was able to meet for a few moments with Dr. Gallant and discuss holistic review and was surprised at how quickly she was willing to engage with me. 

The last thing I want to say about this experience is that it really showed me what it means to be a part of a school that cares deeply not just for their students, but for their applicants as well. I think UVM did a particularly amazing job of conveying that and it's proof positive that they are such an excellent, successful, and high-caliber medical school because of this attitude. 

Fletcher Allen, UVM, UVM Med
Fletcher Allen

Interview Day At The University of Vermont College of Medicine

Friday, January 3, 2014

I'm sure many of my poor readers have lost hope that I would ever actually post this but GUESS WHAT, YOU WERE WRONG! And that's good news for everyone :)

Unfortunately I underestimated how incredibly busy I would be for the holidays with work and a very much needed trip to Boston to visit friends during which I did not get anything productive done (unless you count R&R which I think is pretty important!). I finally arrived home yesterday after a very long and convoluted return journey that included an unplanned stopover in Minneapolis due to a mad storm buffeting Chicago and although there's about a foot of snow outside I'm really glad to be back.

Mostly though, I'm glad that I finally have time to sit down and write about my UVM interview! I know it's been a long time in coming but better late than never I suppose.

I have to admit that I was incredibly nervous for this interview for several reasons. One being that I had to travel to get there and during the winter flying, especially to tiny airports in New England, can be very unreliable. Also, the disappointing news I had recently received from Rush had really been quite a blow to my self-confidence. Having a school reject you outright (as opposed to just putting you on a waitlist or, ideally, accepting you) is akin to having someone important that you like and respect very much tell you point blank that you aren't good enough to fraternize with and it's more than a little tough to get over. I know that's not the truth of it but that's just how it feels. With that in mind, I'm sure you can imagine my anxiety at the thought of going through the same process of interviewing at a school that I was really interested in and then facing the possibility of being rejected again. 

Early on in the day, my experience at UVM quickly dissipated all of those feelings. I had arrived in Vermont quite late so I didn't attend the optional class with a medical student that was offered and instead got to campus around 8:45 AM. I checked in at the admissions office and then had a few minutes to wait and mingle with other students who were also slightly early. There was an M2 (I think?) that several students had attended class with around to answer questions and I just hopped right into the discussion which didn't faze her a bit.

At about 9:30 AM the group of us (which had grown to about 16, maybe?) were ushered into a small conference room where we were greeted by a representative from the admissions office. I have to say here that Liz was without a doubt the friendliest person I have ever encountered during this application cycle. I had emailed with her previously regarding a question I had about my application and her prompt and helpful response was very much appreciated. It was very clear during her introduction that she was genuinely interested in making the process as stress-free for us as possible and I appreciated her attitude so much. It was truly refreshing. She immediately put everyone at ease and the relief in the room was palpable when she explained that UVM was really looking to make the day a positive experience for everyone.

The rest of the morning proceeded much like it had at the Rush interview. There were talks with a representative from financial aid, the dean of medical education, and (most interestingly) someone from technology services. This is where I got hooked. Not only does UVM have an amazing and unique curriculum that they are incredibly proud of, they have a history of utilizing technology to assist students in learning as effectively as possible. I won't go into details of the VIC - Vermont Integrated Curriculum - except to say that they are constantly working to improve it (you can take a peek at some info here) and that while some of their practices and scheduling may be unusual when compared to other schools, UVM's results, scores, and satisfaction rate among students are impressive to say the least. Most of all though I was impressed by the opportunities and encouragement for research and assisted learning. When we heard from a woman who worked with the office of technology I was excited to see that the medical school was intent on taking advantage of the latest and greatest in modern tech for learning as well as for research. I'm interested in informatics research so I especially liked that they heavily focus on use of electronic medical records, meaningful use etc. As a bonus, they provide laptops to every student free of charge, a fact that I particularly appreciated since they offer full service for your laptop throughout your four years at the school and I am notoriously terrible with electronics!

After the talks and a lot of sitting we were taken on a tour of the college of medicine which was probably my favorite part of the whole day. UVM boasts a high-tech sim lab as well as state of the art classrooms and I was undeniably impressed by the facilities. It was so comforting to look out the windows and see such beautiful and familiar territory - Fletcher Allen, Lake Champlain, the mountains. I felt like I was home. The best part of the tour came right at the end when we were introduced to the MAP (Mindful Awareness and Practice) room in the student lounge aka the napping room. I think it was then that I fell in love.

This post is getting pretty long so I'm going to cut it off here and pick up with the rest of the day starting at lunch with an awesome group of M2 students. As always, feel free to comment!

UVM, University of Vermont, College of Medicine
Did I mention the campus is beautiful?