How I Got In to Medical School (Practical tips. But really it was all Jesus.)

By the grace of God, I get to go to medical school at UT Health Science Center San Antonio starting July 2016! I love getting to talk to high schoolers and college students about how I got in and what advice I have! So I thought I’d type it up for anyone to access 🙂 I think a lot of health careers advising will probably say similar things, but maybe I have a fun spin on what specifically I did!

Step 1: Do you actually want to be a doctor?

Here’s the deal – doctors make good money but not tons. If you want to be loaded, don’t be a doctor – it’s a lot of work and school! The best first step is to shadow doctors. How do you do that? Well, here’s what I did – I contacted anyone and everyone I know who had a parent in the medical field. Literally I facebook messaged friends from high school, called my gynecologist, let my dad connect me with his friends – the works! It’s valuable to have both breadth and depth – to see different specialties and to spend quality time shadowing maybe one doctor! I shadowed lots of different specialties – literally just a couple of mornings a semester I would follow a doctor around. My weakness in my application was definitely that I didn’t have a ton of shadowing experience – only about thirty hours tops. My friend shadowed the same orthopedic surgeon every Friday morning for at least a semester and got in to med school as well 🙂 Ask them a lot of questions! In interviews, a lot of my answers had to do with things I’d seen from doctors I shadowed and things I talked to them about. I asked how they felt about changes in health care like the Affordable Care Act, what advice they had for a pre-med, why they picked their specialty, what they like and dislike, any particularly tough cases, etc.

So make the most of shadowing 🙂 I got a rec letter from a doctor I shadowed and he wrote me a GREAT letter! Be professional – get there on time and look nice even if shadowing surgery (I showed up in shorts and a tee for surgery day and there was a clinical shadowing opportunity that I couldn’t do since I looked hella shambly). And don’t be afraid to engage with patients if the doctor allows – if there is down time in an appointment, ask them about their day, how long they’ve been coming to this clinic, etc. In my rec letter, he noted the way I interacted with patients which I think is a strength of mine and could definitely be a strength of yours too 🙂

Be realistic – do you actually like hard science classes? If general chemistry 301 is kicking your butt, then your butt will for sure be pulverized by the time Biochemistry II takes a whack at it. There are some baller professions out there that are similar to being a doctor – nursing, physician’s assistant, occupational therapist, etc. – that take less schooling and less nitty gritty sciences 🙂 (but can equally if not even more rewarding and a better fit for you specifically!!) Also med school is four years of school plus four or five years of residency – so make sure you really want it before you take a ton of science classes and then realize every time you see blood you throw up 😦

Volunteering in a hospital can be fun, but in my experience I didn’t get a ton of patient interaction. I would definitely recommend shadowing doctors, because the best way to get exposure to doctor life is to see what days look like as a doctor and talk to people who are doing what you want to do 🙂

Step 2 – Make Good Grades

Okay everyone will tell you this. Med schools look at personal statements and qualities and experiences and whatnot, but honestly the bulk of your application is the numbers. If you have low science grades and/or a pretty low MCAT it will be really tough to get interviews 😦 I have something I call the Callie Harakal study method that I used in college and it helped me keep a high GPA! I’m sure it’s what most people are already doing J Here is a brief overview of the method:

  1. Keep up in class. Tbh I slept through like 20% of my classes, but I borrowed notes from a friend in these cases! Turn your phone off in class (or else you will be so bored and just play on it instead of paying attention! I know from experience…) and force yourself to engage with the lecture. The more times you hear the information the better!
  2. Ask questions! Ask them in class! If you don’t understand something, raise your hand! If you have a question, a bunch of other people might have the same one. Don’t be scared if it’s a big class 🙂 Also meet your professor with a legitimate goal – like bring in your homework and see if he/she will help walk you through how they solve problems. Or bring in specific questions – you will need professor rec letters! You don’t want them to just have to write one that’s like – oh yeah she was in my class I think and never did anything weird. I am pretty sure I pulled an A- in a class where I had a solid B because the prof knew and loved my little brother. Or I slayed the final. Honestly I’m pretty sure it’s the first one. Relationships count 🙂
  3. Start studying at least 3-7 days out. You don’t want to pull an all-nighter before the test. Booooo. Sleepy test taker = terrible test taker. Start early! Go find a coffee shop and hole up there. I work well in new places 🙂 Which is part of why I coffee shopped so hard in college. Start by combining EVERYTHING you know about the subject. Read the book, go over notes, lectures, practice tests, everything you can find. And write it down in color coding. It will take forever, but I think it’s worth it! Using different color schemes for different categories of information makes it a little more fun J So for example if you studied the proteasome in excruciating detail in biochem II from a prof who regularly wore Hawaiian shirts and sandals, then you would combine everything you knew about the proteasome from notes, slides, the book and practice tests (ideally all in one color scheme). Write it all down so all the info is in one place 🙂
  4. Here’s the hard part – take the info and play with it. Memorizing facts and a dollar will get you a very small cup of coffee max. Anyone can memorize – profs, especially in science classes, want you to understand the info so that you can use what you know to solve problems. I call this a fluid knowledge of the material – such that you can look at the info from different angles and in different scenarios and still get it. Reorganize it and condense it – find a way to present the material in a new way! New pictures, new order, etc. Make pneumonics and songs – I kid you not. The more you can connect new info to things you already know, the more you will be able to remember it on test day!
  5. Pace around and practice. I would pace my room talking to myself about the material! We know something best when we are able to teach it! So teach yourself! Explain concepts to yourself! Look at your notes and read them aloud a lot so you see your notes in your head 🙂 Then sleep well and eat well for your test! Also make sure to get exercise 🙂 It’s good for you and increases blood flow to your brain! Drink lots of water too! But not right before the test or you will have to pee…I’ve seen it happen, folks.

3 – Do things you actually care about

Every pre-med is ambitious and wants to spend a million hours fluffing their resume and interviewers know that. Med schools want to see that you can handle the rigor of their coursework, that you are dedicated to being a doctor and that you will be a valuable addition to their school! I do not like research – so I didn’t do any! But I love people, so a lot of what I did was working at camps, with kids, etc. Find things you love doing in college and stick with them. An interviewer told me once that they evaluated applicants’ “flight risks” – would they drop out of med school? I had several activities in college that I was super committed to for all four years, held leadership positions in, etc. so I had proven that I was able to commit to things – med schools like to see that 🙂

Don’t worry about joining pre-med organizations unless you want to. A lot of pre-meds join them too, so it doesn’t really stand out. Join organizations that you are passionate about! I did Ignite at UT – which is a retreat for incoming freshmen and I was an exec my junior year and loved it! In interviews I was able to talk about my experiences in Ignite, how much I loved it, and show how much time I committed to it. I was also really involved in music – I did show choir and played piano! Are you super in to softball? Then play! Ref! Do you love film making? Well major in RTF and make films 🙂 They love diversity! I majored in Plan II Honors and History – because they were fun! You’ll have to take about 30 extra hours of science classes, but who doesn’t love a double minor in chem and bio?

Seek new and exciting opportunities. Plan II had a newletter that I usually read and through which I found about neat things! I did the bridging disciplines program at UT for awhile – which is like a 19 credit hour program that includes hands on experiences and classes for like tons of neat concentrations! I ended up majoring in history instead, but through the program I interned for the healthcare division of a think tank, an experience which literally all my interviewers asked about 🙂 I also pass-failed a class in Spanish for Healthcare Professionals which has been super valuable especially since I am going to med school in San Antonio 🙂 Don’t get too tunnel-visioned in science and hospitals. Only volunteer in a hospital if the experience is enjoyable and valuable! I volunteered with my church for four years in the kids ministry and I want to be a pediatrician 🙂 So that was helplful!

Also get involved in academia where you enjoy it. I had some friends who worked for MCAT prep and they really enjoyed that and it looks great on a resume! If you love biochem, see about being a TA for it! See about tutoring or working for a tutoring company – if you can teach the material, then this totally shows that you know it J Also my friend was an RA and apparently that was a really great experience that he wrote about in his personal statement and is now studying an MD/PhD at Baylor College of Medicine.

I’ve heard that med school anatomy covers a semester of college anatomy in like two days. A lot of people were surprised that I never took physiology or anatomy! They’re not pre-reqs for most schools 🙂 Not for any as far as I know! Would it be good to take those classes? I think it certainly wouldn’t hurt! If you have extra room in your schedule, you can definitely pass-fail anatomy and/or physiology – another friend of mine who is also at Baylor did that! If you take it for a grade, you can show medical schools that you can handle the academic challenge which could help make up for some lower grades in science classes or show a knack for the sciences if you major in something besides science! But you can also take classes less explicitly related to medicine if they are interesting to you! Like nutrition through the life cycle to learn about food for all ages, or a human development class or class on family – you can take exercise science classes or ones on health policy 🙂 These will help you be a more well-rounded applicant, give you more experiences to draw from in your interviews, and literally just be fun and educational!

4 – take the MCAT once you have done all the pre-reqs

I have minimal input here since I took the old MCAT and never took a class. I did well enough on the MCAT to get in, but I think if I had put in more effort I could have gotten a better score! You don’t necessarily need to take a class – they cost a poopton! But I would definitely get access to online tests and practice practice practice. I bought a book used online and studied it before I took the MCAT. Honestly I took a practice test cold before I started studying and ended up with the same score the second time I took the MCAT. So obviously my preparation didn’t help a ton. You need to know the information, but you also need to be familiar with the way the test works and asks questions – practice well! Take some full length tests and also spend some time just doing shorter sections and then going over the answers. If you keep practice testing and making the same mistakes, then you’re not really helping yourself 😦 Look for patterns in missed questions, then think – how can I do this better?

Take it sooner than later – this way you have time to retake if you like! Ideally you just take it once and then be done with the thing 🙂 I took my second MCAT in like September of my application cycle so I literally got the last interviews at like three schools because my scores came in so late. Don’t do that 🙂

5 – make a baller application

Work on your personal statement the semester of the year you apply – probably spring of your junior year! May first the applications come out! You want to submit it as soon as possible since a lot of schools do rolling admission. My friend submitted like May (the) fourth (be with you) and had all of his interviews except for one done in like September. It was heinous. So have your ideas ready for your personal statement – maybe even have it done! Look at the application from the previous year – it probably won’t change year to year J Use those prompts to write your essays 🙂

When writing, get creative. I camped out at Mozart’s for like a day and wrote them! Everyone and their mom will try to get health professions staff to look at them, so schedule an appointment with them early if you want them to read it! Like literally in like March or April, using the prompts from last year. I waited to write my essays until May and it was like lol they are booked until 2019. I’m exaggerating but really. Be specific – what experiences do you have that led you to medicine? Apparently a lot of people have been affected by cancer and write about that. Although this is undoubtedly so tragic and compelling, I have heard that med schools are not super impressed by these essays 😦 Be specific if you have this sort of experience – what element of being a doctor was revealed to you during the time of suffering of a loved one? What did you experience as a patient or friend/family of a patient that is unique? Make a good opening line to your essay 🙂 I always try to start with a story – med schools read a crap ton of essays so make yours stand out 😦 Also be specific about why you want to be a doctor. Apparently everyone says they like science and want to help people so this won’t cut it. Try to reference as many specific details and experiences as possible! Use shadowing experiences – what did you like about the day to day of being a doctor? What did you like or not like about physicians you shadowed and how has this motivated you to pursue the profession? Don’t just reiterate your resume – interviewers will see this so you don’t need to repeat it! What did your experiences show you? How did they mold you? What does your resume not say??

And once again have fun! Can you create a theme that opens and closes your essay? Be memorable! You have limited space so don’t get crazy, but if you have a funny story, tell it (if it’s relevant). Essay readers are people too! Don’t be vague or you’ll just blend in with everyone 😦

6 – Shred your interviews

I made like 84 mistakes in interviewing but God is faithful and still let me in.

Do:

  • Wear a business professional suit. Look, if you like pant suits then go for it. I hate them and look like a masculine pear in them so I went with a cute jacket and skirt 🙂 Don’t be afraid to look cute! I had a yellow undershirt that I wore and had a navy suit! You don’t want to be obnoxious, but if you usually dress in bright colors, then maybe include a pop of color! If you love florals, wear a floral shirt with your plain suit 🙂
  • Get there super on time. Southwestern literally called me the morning of my interview because I was late and they were like – lol everyone else is here what are you doing.
  • Research the school! Even if it’s like your bottom choice, look in to the school and why you would specifically want to go there! Sometimes the school will give you their presentation before your interview – if they do, pay attention! Write down things that appeal to you! A lot of interviewers ask what you like about their school
  • Make eye contact 🙂 Your interviewer is a human too 🙂
  • Ask your interviewer questions! Ask them what they like about working at that particular school, what made them choose their specialty, etc. Because your interviewer is a human, too, they will appreciate it if you show them that you care about them too 🙂 Also you can tell when they love where they work which is part of why I liked San Antonio so much!
  • Be honest! Don’t try to give them the answer you think they want! One Southwestern interviewer asked me if I thought it was okay to break a rule and I was like – definitely! I explained why I thought that and she was super impressed with the way I thought about it.
  • Read books. Like in life. One interviewer asked me what I like to read and I read a bunch of books so we had some really great convos 🙂
  • Pretty much every interviewer will ask you why you want to be a doctor. If you say “I want to help people” they will inwardly cringe and write you off. Be specific and use examples! For example, I like that doctors move from patient to patient! When I worked at the think tank, I used my mind a lot but got up to “pee” like every hour just because I needed to walk around. Tell stories! I shadowed a c-section once and came very close to crying because I thought it was so magical.
  • Be prepared to tell them what you think will be difficult about medical school and being a doctor. Also include how you will overcome those things 🙂

 

Don’t:

  • Wear a half khaki half white dress to your first few interviews. You are supposed to wear a suit. Oops.
  • Tell your interviewer you want to be a graphic designer if med school doesn’t work out. Oops.
  • Forget what you wrote about at that think tank. If you have a neat experience in the medical field, maybe even make note of what you learned through it or re read what you wrote in the experience 🙂 That way you don’t look like a space cadet with your interviewer when she asks about what you wrote…

7 – Follow Jesus

Here’s the deal – at the end of the day, God is the one who opens and closes doors. If he wants you to go to Baylor, you will get in. If he wants you not to go to UT Houston, you will not get in there. If he wants you not to be a doctor, He will make it clear. If He lets you in to a school, praise the Lord! If He does not, still praise the Lord! Take a year off and apply again 🙂 How can you improve your application? Explore other alternatives, too! Maybe a career in social work or the non-profit sector would be an even better fit? All in all, whatever you do, do it for the glory of God 🙂

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