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

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