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

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!!