Tag Archives: Lesson Learned

Everything Wrong With College

It’s been another busy week of medical school for me. We are preparing for our comprehensive pharmacology exam, along with finishing up final exams in toxicology and microbes. There is plenty of studying to be doing, and I have also been busy working on a final presentation for my clinical elective. Yesterday, in fact, I spent my last day at the dermatology clinic. It just isn’t a Wednesday until I help the resident freeze genital warts. Too much info? That’s medical school for you ūüôā Thankfully, I gave an “superb” presentation (on a subject that isn’t even a tiny bit interesting, so I’ll leave that part out) so it’s safe to assume I earned at least a¬†letter of recommendation from her. Sweet. I take the time tonight to write about education, specifically college, so that I can piece together a short narrative¬†describing not only the problems with college education today, but also what it means to Americans as a whole.

Like most twenty somethings, I grew up with a pretty clear picture of what success in life looked like. It came from teachers, parents, school counselors, and other adults, but the message was the same: successful people went to college, got a degree, and then earned more money and were happier because they did. The not-so-subtle indication was that I, too,¬†should¬†go to college if I wanted to be happy in life. Smart people went to college, I was told, or at least college made people smart. I don’t know when this idea was perpetuated on Americans, but I suspect it was around my parents generation. My dad didn’t go to college, although the pressure to get a degree certainly existed when he graduated high school.

I played the game very successfully. After graduating top of my high school class, I took a full ride scholarship to a good state school. According to the “rules” I was taught when I was younger, I had won the game. I was virtually guaranteed four years of education and a degree of my choice (with no debt upon graduation). Of course, I started college in 2009. This was not a good time for the economy, and college graduates suffered for it. I spent my college years reading news stories about how hard it was for grads to find a job, and feeling secretly glad that I had a few years for the economy to turn around before I graduated. Despite this, my university set enrollment records for all eight semesters I attended. Of course, now I am in medical school and have nearly a decade of school still ahead of me, so take that with a grain of salt.

So now I wonder why people still rush to take out loans and attend school for degrees they may never use. I watched many friends amass huge debts and drop out after 3 years. I saw people waste huge amounts of time, money, and energy, and now they have nothing to show for it. I saw friends take a semester off and 4 years later wish they had stuck with it. So here are some of the things I wish people would really know about college.

1) Colleges Are Businesses

dollar for dollar

We are coming up on the time of year when high school seniors everywhere begin posting acceptance letters on Facebook, listing the college/university they plan to attend. That’s great for them, but it perpetuates a myth that sucks people in every year: that colleges are somehow exclusive. To put it another way, University of _______¬†actually wants you to attend their school.¬†There are a small handful of uber elite schools that are competitive to gain admittance (MIT, Harvard, etc). The other 99% of schools want you to attend because they need your tuition to make money. It doesn’t stop there, either. They need your fees, parking passes, textbook purchases, and other expenses as well. I’m not saying that these schools aren’t trying to give you a stellar education. Just know that they want to give you a great education¬†and also make money. But mostly the money.

2) College Is Not About You

This will be shocking to anyone who has seen any marketing materials for any school anywhere, been to college, or even heard anything about college, but I think it’s crazy that it goes unrecognized. Think about any university advertisement, and it’s usually some combination of the following ideas:

“Follow YOUR passion, pursue YOUR dreams”

“Create YOUR OWN major”

“Classes that fit YOUR schedule”

This was the third result after Googling “University Brochures”.

It’s like the whole school is expressly designed to help you along in life. False. The school wants you to pay money to them, or at least do something awesome later so they can get the publicity. Of course they’ll let you take a semester off. Of course they’ll let you do your degree in six years instead of four. Of course they offer online classes. They are a business and they’ll do what it takes to earn your tuition dollars.

If the version of success I learned in school is to be believed, your degree should show that you are qualified, diligent, hardworking, ambitious, or some mixture of those. If your degree is four years long and you are going to “normal” college (not night school or a non-trad), get it done in four years. Chances are that a marketing degree is not your passion, so don’t pretend like it is. Work hard, get your degree, and spend your extra time pursuing your other hobbies and interests. Those are also qualities that define your character, and while they may not be on your CV they will certainly impact your chances at landing your job/achieving your goals after school. This leads me to…

3)  College Can Be a Huge Waste of Time

College is not hard. You may hate me for saying that, but I’m telling the truth here. My degree was in Molecular Biology and a little bit of Chemistry, and I know that my four years of college were significantly more difficult than any of my peers. How do I know that? Well, I lived with them, and I know I spent way more time in class and studying than they did. So how hard did I work during school? Not that hard. Each semester I attended class for 20 hours a week and studied about 10 hours, sometimes 15 hours. That adds up to less than a normal work week. Also take into account that I lived on campus, so I had no commute. I also ate dorm food from a cafeteria that was 30 seconds from my room. We also went to school for 32 weeks of the year. I spent lots of time exercising, playing video games, and doing lots of whatever I wanted. It was great.

Fact is, college classes should not keep you busy. My class schedule was about as bad as undergraduate schedules can get, and I still managed to work all eight semesters, get married, earn my EMT certification, and complete an Ironman triathlon. My most memorable moments from college have nothing to do with school.

In this sense, I think college is actually bad for many young adults. As a country and a society, we are taking our most energetic young people and forcing them into a 4-year holding pattern. The 18-24 age group is full of young, talented, motivated, technologically competent, people who are the future of our nation. We are bright enough to have terrific ideas, and naive enough to not know when something can’t be done. But we¬†have to attend classes for just long enough each week to not actually get a real job, but not enough class that it’s truly “full time”. Those classes can range from being interesting (wine tasting) to being totally useless (most of my humanities courses), and after 4 (or more) years of sitting through classes, they will finally graduate into the real world, often with crippling debt.

This is the hardest part for me. I am (or at least I was) a perfect candidate for college. I’m naturally curious, enjoy learning, and am prone to obsessively mastering new hobbies and subjects. Yet after four years I had only one or two good professors who actually made the class worth attending, and honestly I was a little burned out. I have thought long and hard about what I could have done with those four years if I could have them back.

4) You won’t learn much during college

This might seem like a continuation of my last point, but it’s not. College classes are still largely taught in a lecture format, often in huge lecture halls. One of the few things I remember from Abnormal Psychology was that students typically remember only 5% of the material presented in lecture format (10% if multimedia graphics are used). This is a bad situation, even if you assume that the professor is awesome and the students care. Small wonder that employers are struggling to find qualified applicants among graduates that they interview. What happened? I thought that undergrad degree was the key to landing a good job? Now that everyone seems to get a degree, I guess not.

College has become like bonus high school. More and more people seem to be going to college, and it hasn’t been working out like we thought it would. Maybe this trend will reverse itself in the next few decades. I will certainly think long and hard before I help my future son finance a $80k degree. I get that college will always be required for some professions (hello medicine, law, etc), and that makes sense (sort of, I will someday write about that too).

It’s not that I’m too good for college, or that our generation is too good for college. It’s just that college isn’t good enough for what it costs. It’s not just the huge debt, it’s the years and time being lost as well.

If a college degree is the vehicle for success, it’s a taxi. It works great for getting you directly from one place to another, but if you just jump in and ride around for four years you’ll be broke and lost.

I need to stop writing now, and this seems like a good place to do it.

Thanks for reading!

As always, feel free to comment below or directly to my face at sortadrwordpress@gmail.com

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Habits

I have a Sunday afternoon ritual, one that has lasted for at least six years. After spending the morning at church and with the family, we get to the (potentially) best time of the week: Sunday afternoon. This wonderful time of the week can be spent doing whatever you want. Some of my favorites include napping, reading, cycling, watching football, and writing. This is why I can go an entire week without a post, but have a remarkable consistency on Sunday blogs. Unfortunately, none of these other activities are a habit for me on Sundays.

On most Sunday afternoons I come to terms with the assignments or exams due on Monday. I crack down and get started, only to be sidetracked by a blog or a funny YouTube video. During anatomy, we have a quiz or exam every Monday morning on the material from last week. That’s what I’m supposed to be studying for right now. During college I usually had lab reports due on Monday morning, and during Organic Chemistry the reports would regularly exceed 15 pages a week. One semester I completed a half-Ironman triathlon on Sunday morning, drove home during the afternoon, and then spent 3 hours that night finishing my lab report for the next day.

So I make a habit out of putting things off until Sunday afternoon, then trying to get them done quickly. It’s worked for me in the past, since I am usually pretty efficient and can pull a good grade out of last minute studying. I may have done myself in this last week, however. My birthday was last week, as well as the release of Call of Duty Ghosts, as well as some other extracurricular activities and generally gloomy weather that all combined to make me not very productive on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Now I have to dig myself out of this mess, which means time in the lab all weekend long and extra studying next week to catch up and stay caught up with new material. Yikes.

Thankfully, I have an awesome teacher to help me get caught up. In fact, she is probably the best teacher I have ever had, and I don’t even know her name. I’m talking about the cadaver I have been dissecting for the last month or so. Learning anatomy from textbooks and pictures is terrible. Learning anatomy in the lab doing dissection is awesome. We can learn with our hands, learn from our mistakes, and learn the critical relationships that could never be grasped by looking at a book. Whoever this lady was, she gave a great gift to our group of students.

A few days ago we held a memorial service for all of the 200 or cadavers donated to the medical school. All of the families came and packed into a Catholic church (which is super old, but beautiful). The medical students then honored those that gave their bodies through music, reflections, and a prayer from each of the religions represented in the class. It was really moving, and a great way to thank the families whose relatives donated their bodies. I volunteered as well, but didn’t do anything too special. I drove a golf cart from the parking garage to the memorial service for those who couldn’t walk. True story.

If you are driving one of these and wearing a suit with a nametag, you can go anywhere you want.

I have no idea who this lady was. How many kids did she have? What was she like? Was she a night owl or a morning person? Who were her friends? She is a complete mystery to me. The only things I know about her are that she made a generous decision to help students she would never meet, and she was selfless in her gift. That’s pretty special. What we received from her was the capsule of what was a person. We get the chance to look inside and see the structures that made her human. Ultimately, that’s the reason I am going into the lab on Sunday afternoon to study. I know that this chance I have is special, and I want to honor the people whose gifts gave me this chance.

Thanks for reading.

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How To Embarrass Yourself While Shadowing A Physician

So you want to get into medical school, right? At some point you will likely spend quite a bit of time “shadowing” physicians. This is a time honored tradition where young students get in the way of physicians and look silly for many hours. The idea is that time spent following actual doctors around can give you a glimpse into life as a doctor, so medical schools look for it on your resume. It’s one of the “unwritten” requirements to get into school. I thought it would be helpful if I made a list of things I wish I knew when I began shadowing. Of course, much like medical school, I think I am far better at humiliating himself while attempting to “shadow”, so this list is composed entirely of things to avoid. I’m not saying I’ve done all of these, I’m just saying it could be awkward if you did.

1) Constantly be in the way –

Pretend you’re me for an instant. Pretend you are at a dermatology clinic associated with a large teaching hospital. Following a few residents and an attending for a morning. So each clinic room is approximately the size of a closet. The patient, of course, sits on the awkwardly tall bed with the paper roll. Throw in one or two family members, the attending by the bed, and the resident on the computer, and you’ve got a full room. That’s when I show up. Since I’m a shade under 6’3 and am close to a comfortably pudgy 195 pounds, I take up quite a bit of space. That means I get to stand in the corner where the door opens, the corner behind the bed, or spread myself around the room so that we all fit. The trick in this instance is to think ahead. When you are ready to leave, open the door and begin leaving before the attending gets to the door and realizes they can’t open it because you are standing there. I tend to do a lot of shuffling. You have to learn this when you are the newbie in an operating room, when you are useless but the attending feels a need to get you in close. Space is tight at the table already, then I show up to lumber around the OR I feel extra awkward. Good times.

2) Sit in the wrong chair –

If you arrive first for your shadowing day (and you should always be early), you may be faced with a terrible dilemma. While waiting for ______ to show up, you will inevitably be left by yourself for some amount of time. This may be in the doctors office, maybe at a nurse’s station, but the worst is the clinic doctor’s area. This is the space where 4-10 computers are reserved for the physicians to use, and where you have to pick your chair. Take careful note of objects left near computers that might signal that the chair is “taken” by a regular. White coat draped over the back of a chair? Stay away from that. Coffee thermos by a keyboard? Don’t do it. The next part is looking not bored. If the doctor is late (the chances of this happening are very high), you should not whip out your iPhone and play Flappy Bird at full volume (even if it helps you play better). This is hard for me, since I have the attention span of a child as well as an iPhone with 20 fun games to play.

3) Ask Dumb Questions/ Never Ask a Single Question

You are spending your day with this person to learn. Realistically, you probably won’t learn or retain any medically useful knowledge during your visit, but the idea is to get exposed to the kind of work you might end up doing and make connections with the people currently doing it. Most doctors will make sure to ask you if you have any questions at multiple times throughout the day. This is important! You want to ask good questions so that A) Conversation flows nicely B) Things don’t get awkward and C) You avoid embarrassing yourself. Bad questions have short answers. “What time do you normally get here?” will get you a short answer and an awkward pause. Good questions take a while to answer and are pertinent to your clinic or specialty. They are also usually somewhat interesting if you actually listen to their answers instead of thinking about your next question. A great fallback question for me is to ask about the mechanism of some interesting symptom or disease you may have seen with them (in general, asking why things happen is pretty safe). The flip side of asking dumb questions is never asking a single question. You could come across as uninterested and not have as good of a shadowing experience. Have questions ready before you ever arrive.

4) Talk Too Much –

While shadowing a physician, you obviously want to get the most out of your day. However, they still have work to do.When they are busy, it’s best to shut up and follow along. Be their shadow. There is a pretty amazing range of experiences to be had when shadowing. On one end, some doctors allow students to participate actively in procedures. On the other hand, you may have to wait outside during certain visits. Don’t expect your heart surgeon to let you scrub in to surgery, reach in, and get your hands dirty. I got to do that in undergrad and it was awesome. If you talk constantly, you could very possibly drive everyone crazy and get sent home early for an obscure reason. Not cool.

5) Put on a show –

Let’s face it. When you’re shadowing, you really don’t know much about anything. It just comes with the territory. If you knew almost nothing, you’d probably be doing an actual rotation on that service as a third/fourth year medical student. If you’re pre-med, just be cool with the fact that you know exactly nothing. Don’t try to fake knowledge when it’s not there, and don’t try to act any specific way because it seems right. This applies to life in general, as well as shadowing. Shadowing is like trying on clothes. You want to see if they fit and if they look good. You want to see if medicine is something you could do for your life, and trying to be someone you’re not to fit in to medicine is like buying a pair of flip flops that are too large because they look cooler than the ones that are your size. You can wear them out of the store, but it’s not going to be fun walking to the car.

So there you have it. A friend at my medical school told me of a shadowing experience he had when he was a freshman in undergrad. The nurse in the OR mistakenly told the doctor he was a medical student, so the doc began quizzing him on some anatomy and histology stuff. Of course he knew none of it, but he was too scared to tell the doctor that he was a freshman in college, so the doctor went on this big rant about how terrible the next generation of doctors were going to be and how dumb medical students are these days.

Thanks for reading! Check out my blog at sortadr@wordpress.com, or email me directly at sortadrwordpress@gmail.com.

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Tales from Anatomy Part 2

As you may have noticed, it’s been awhile. There are lots of good reasons for not writing posts while in anatomy, and I am here to share them. Actually, I think I am doing pretty good at maintaining a normal lifestyle during the first half of this block. I have several classmates that live in the lab, study constantly, know everything, and are thoroughly miserable. I have studied a little, read a book for fun, and enjoyed myself for the last three weeks or so. My grades for the first exam have yet to be posted, so I don’t know how well this strategy has paid off.

Speaking of tests, we took a whopper of a test on Monday. It was the first half (AKA the top half) of anatomy in a giant afternoon of testing. Not only did we take a standard multiple choice test, we also took a practical test in the lab (identifying tagged structures on cadavers and organs) and a slide exam in a lecture hall (identifying structures from images projected on the front of the room). The written test was par for the course, since we have all taken a bazillion of those. The other formats were more difficult for me. First of all, they weren’t multiple choice. We had to think of the answer all by ourselves (and spelling also counted). Second, they moved at an amazingly slow pace. Ninety seconds per question is way more than enough time to either figure out the answer or realize that you don’t know the answer. I take tests quickly, and being forced to wait 82 seconds before I can go to the next question just drives me crazy.

As far as the course itself, I actually like it a lot. Dissecting is difficult and tedious and lots of work, but at the end of the day it is infinitely cooler than sitting in a lecture hall listening to metabolism lectures all day. The coolest part is being able to see all of the anatomy in three dimensions, oriented in an actual body, and begin to put all of the pieces together mentally. Anatomy can’t be learned by listening to a PowerPoint lecture of a muscle group, it has to be learned directly, seeing the muscles, tendons, and nerves together.

Dissecting takes a lot of time out of your day, and I think it makes us students confront our own humanity in a certain way. While we cut through organs, vessels, muscle, and tissue, the thought is constantly in the back of your mind that these same muscles and nerves were part of a person who loved, dreamed, hoped, and lived a full life. This person left behind a family and friends, but they thought ahead and left part of the stuff that made them human behind for us to take apart and look at first hand. That makes anatomy class a privilege, and it encourages me to make the most of my time in lab, so that I can take the most of this opportunity to learn.

The pace can be overwhelming. Most of the time we have no idea where we are supposed to be or what we are supposed to be doing (the “remodeling” of our course has left it a little short on directions). All things considered, it’s a pretty good time. It is interesting the division of labor among group members. With only three members per group, there is much to do and often too many hands. When we dissected the heart, for instance, only one person could work on it at a time. I have one lab partner who was an anatomy TA at his undergrad, so he is knowledgeable and talented in dissection. My other partner has never taken anatomy, and usually asks very basic questions like “Which one is the spleen?” I’m somewhere in between those two extremes. I can almost always tell when I’m looking at a spleen. So me and my awesome lab partner do most of the dissecting, while the not so helpful partner does the accounting to make sure we find everything and makes tags to place on the structures we identify. Most of us aren’t squeamish, but there are two kinds of people in anatomy lab. On chest day, we got to use a saw to cut through the ribs and get into the thorax. One kind of med student wants to use the saw, the other kind of med student plugs it in and hands it to me (or whoever wants to use it).

That’s all for tonight! Thanks for reading. As always, feel free to comment below or email me at sortadrwordpress@gmail.com

The World Is Hilarious and Sad

NOTE: It’s been a week since my last post. My bad.

I made an honest attempt at reading my entire inbox today. I get exactly 3 million emails a day on my medical school email, as well as a surprising amount of emails on my undergrad email (which I am slowly cutting off) and my personal email. Having gone most of the weekend without checking any of those accounts, then not catching up during Monday and Tuesday, I finally made an effort to catch up. See, while a majority of the emails I get are blasted to my entire class, and are mostly advertisements for events, classes, socials, etc, there are a few IMPORTANT emails that have to be detected. So I missed the one telling me NOT to come to my small group workshop today because the faculty member was sick. Just great.

So, faced with an unexpected afternoon off, I had several options. The most logical choice would be attempting to catch up on the library of biochemical pathways thrown at us during lecture this week, in a last ditch effort to pass Friday’s quiz. More attractive options included going home and sleeping, perhaps later followed by a run. Instead, I found myself reading the newspaper on a bench, enjoying the gorgeous weather outside today. While I may be a millennial, I do have this habit of reading the newspaper every single day (especially the comics and crossword). And so, ironically, I am more caught up on current events than I am lecture material, a situation medical students rarely find themselves in.

This happens all the time, actually

While I have the same chance of beating the average on Friday’s quiz that the Jaguars do of beating the Seahawks on Sunday (less than zero, for my non-NFL readers), there’s a lot going on outside the walls of my medical school that is ridiculous/tragic/interesting enough for me comment on. I promise this will be interesting even if you don’t follow the news or current events.

Let’s start small. My medical school is hosting a “poverty simulator” in a few weeks (I actually read that email). Some faculty noticed that most medical students have no experience living in poverty or low-income situations. Really? Gee, who could have known that a bunch of 20-somethings attending a private medical school likely came from middle class families? I picked up on that in my first week of medical school, before I even knew where the cafeteria was. To help us gain empathy for those with lower income, we will do a simulation where we have to pay bills, find childcare, contact agencies, and arrange transportation to a job (as well as maybe finding a job) based on scenarios that are given to us. So how long does the scenario last? 60-90 minutes. The sad part is that many patients in our city are living in poverty, but the best our school can do to help us learn to help them is a 90 minute class on a Friday morning with free breakfast. I’ve spent enough time in free clinics and outreach centers to know that there’s more to poverty than a lecture, but I will still probably go because there will be free food.

Next topic. There was much discussion among my iPad wielding friends last week about a certain article published in the New York Times by one Vladimir Putin. While many were impressed at the open tone of the article, I found it hilariously hypocritical and misleading. He references our alliance during World War 2 as if we were pals back then.¬†We may have been allies, but we certainly weren’t friends. Allies of convenience, if anything, but mostly we shared a common enemy. He also references that the conflict in Syria is fueled by “foreign weapons”.¬†And just who could possibly be supplying weapons to Syria? Who gets implicated every time North Korea, Iran, Pakistan, or other unfriendly countries begin acquiring weapons? RUSSIA! Despite this article, we are not friends with Russia. Period. The list goes on, but I will cut to the chase.

He makes one last point that will help me transition to the broader context of this article. He says that it is “dangerous” to encourage any people to consider themselves exceptional. Specifically, he means the idea of “American Exceptionalism”. In my mind that’s an adjective, not a theory. To argue that we aren’t exceptional is a little bit silly. Everything we have done in the last 100 years has been exceptional. We put men on the moon, won a bunch of wars, and provided the driving force for progress in science, medicine, technology, and civilization as we know it. Even things we do poorly are done horrifically. Not only are we the fattest country in the world, we are getting fatter FASTER than any country in the world. Not only are we spending our money quickly, we are spending MORE AND MORE money FASTER than other countr- you get the idea. Even Assad himself said in 2009 that there was “no substitute for the United States of America”. True story. There are very few countries in the world that can blow something up anywhere in the world in less than 24 hours, and no countries that could spend more money doing it.

When you step back even more is when it gets even weirder. It becomes more and more obvious that Obama is terrible at foreign policy. This second term has caused him to wade into the shallow end of international diplomacy, and he is already in way over his head. I like to think of his strategy lately as “leading from somewhere”. First, he declares that we will certainly do something about Syria. Then, he decides to ask Congress first (reversing a 150 year old precedent). Then, when he goes to Britain for help, they say no. Mind you, this is the first time since 1782 that Parliament has said no when the government asked for a declaration of war. That’s crazy! England has a long history of invading countries because there wasn’t anything good on TV.

The countries in red are ones that have NOT been invaded by England

The next step of hilarity came when an accidental remark turned into serious policy. Kerry (or maybe his hair) mentioned that Syria could just give up the weapons, and suddenly Assad (and suspiciously Russia) seemed ok with it. What? What? Since when has any country ever stockpiled illegal weapons against international law, then decided to just “give them away”. What is going on?

That’s really the crux of the issue. There’s a lot happening here that we don’t know. Lots of the intelligence is classified, and so the reasons that various governments have for making their decisions can’t always be public. It’s in situations like this where we need to be able to trust the people we elected to weather this storm and protect our interests. The problem is that I don’t trust Obama. I have seen enough in his last five years to doubt his motives and ability to handle a situation like this. If he would have appeared on the news in June to announce that Syria was stockpiling chemical weapons and we knew it, so we went in and blew them up, I could have supported that. I could also have supported a similar press conference two weeks ago where he explains that we won’t blow anything up in Syria, but that we will be watching closely and actively working to confiscate the weapons. I have a hard time supporting whatever Obama is trying to do right now. Side note: Putin used to be the director of the KGB, which is a nastier, meaner version of our CIA. Obama was a community organizer in Chicago. Who do you think will out maneuver the other?

Well that went longer than expected….and I’m not even done. If you are still reading this, perhaps I earned a like? Tune in later today for the rest of this long post.

I love this show.

How to Not Get Into Medical School

Since I have an exam tomorrow, it is natural to assume that I am doing lots of things that are not studying. We were given the entire day off to prepare for this exam, and I have managed maybe 4-5 hours of actual studying today. The rest I spent distracted for no reason, or helping my wife with stuff around the house. Now I’m writing, soon to go for a run, and maybe at some point study again.

I do want to touch on a topic that I think many people wonder, especially pre-meds that stumble onto this blog in the future. Also, I get asked this all the time by friends I made during undergrad that have been doing their AMCAS over the last summer. As an undergrad, I wanted to know how to get into medical school, and I wanted it straight from the source: the medical students. I figured that because they got in, they must have it figured out.

Then I got accepted into medical school and realized the truth. While there are some real lessons to be more successful, medical school admissions can be a pretty arbitrary process. It’s actually more of a crap shoot than you would like to think. I gave myself less than a 1% chance of getting in to my current school, yet here I am. My state school, where I considered myself very competitive (higher than average stats, etc) didn’t even put me on their waitlist. Why? No clue.

And so if you are looking for tips on getting in (and I know you are), I would like to refer you to anywhere else except this blog. I actually have far more experience being rejected by schools than accepted by them, so that will be my focus for this post. If you do these things, you will make yourself a much easier rejection.

1. Tank the MCAT.

I almost don’t want to start here, but I think I should. I’m not saying it’s fair, and I’m not saying I like it, but medicine is very performance based. Medical schools care a lot about the way you will perform on bigger and harder tests, and the best way for them to judge that is your score on your most recent test. There may or may not be a minimum score at your dream school, but my admissions directly told our class (quite honestly, I thought) that they make a HUGE first cut based solely off of MCAT scores. He acknowledged that there were likely great applicants in that category, but due to time constraints they had to draw a line somewhere. If you are currently pre-med, I’m sorry. This only adds to the stress associated with the test, and I get that. I want to encourage you that it isn’t that bad. Just don’t screw it up ūüôā

2- Do anything really stupid.

This should go without saying, but it happens fairly often and is really important. Do not cheat (or even worse, get caught cheating). If at all possible, do not withdraw from a class during undergrad. If possible, stay at the same school for four years. DO NOT GET CONVICTED WITH A FELONY. If you make it to the interview part of applications, your chances are much improved. At this point, they are mostly looking for red flags, and part of that search is a standard background check. Even misdemeanors can be red flags. Your goal is not to be perfect, just to give them less things to worry about when considering your application. They will notice things like withdrawals, and ask you about them, so either stick it out or have a good reason for it. This dovetails nicely with my next point

3- Fail A Class

It is nice to have a good GPA, but that’s about it. What’s the difference between a 3.7 and a 3.85 if the students went to two different schools, took different classes, and had different professors? Who knows? Who cares? GPA is dumb, and most applicants will have pretty solid GPA’s. A surprising number will have 3.9+. You don’t need a 4.0 to get in to a medical school, but if you fail a class (or a few) you will make life much harder. In undergrad, especially, there are so many ways to improve your score. Seek help from the professor, classmates, tutors, etc. Ask for extra credit, or ways to improve your score. Don’t bother your professor and beg for extra points if you get a B in Organic Chemistry, but make sure you work hard enough that you never find yourself begging for a C.

4 – Expect Too Much

I will tie this in to a talk our deans gave us on the first week. They told us that on the first exam, half of our scores would fall below the median (that’s just math). For most of those who scored less than the median, it would be the first time that has happened to us EVER. So by the same token, do not enter the application process convinced of your own superior abilities. Nothing will make you feel more inferior than meeting a genius in your class. I’m talking guys like William Hwang, absolutely legendary (think very hard before reading his bio). If you are considering medical school, you have probably been one of the smartest people in your class since forever. Realize that your class will be, on average, just as smart as you (or in my case, much smarter). Even if your uncle happens to be a Dean at __________ School of Medicine, just understand how many insanely talented people are lining up to pay them 40k per year to go to school.

5- Be Boring

So you’re a biology/chemistry/biochemistry major from __________ University? You volunteered at some clinics and hospitals, did some research in undergrad, and shadowed a neurosurgeon/heart surgeon/ER doc? You’ve also got a minor or two, some fun hobbies, and were involved in six different charities during college? EMT? On academic scholarships? Get in line! Ok, so I’m joking a little bit, but that is a stereotypical mold for medical students. Why? Personally, I think it’s a self fulfilling cycle. Medical schools accept those students because a majority of good applicants fit that mold, so the next cycle of good applicants also fits that mold, so medical schools accept more of the same kind……..repeating over and over again. Otherwise, I have no idea. The point of this is to try to do something interesting, so that you stand out a little bit more. I don’t mean doing¬†another¬†thousand hours of volunteer work, I just mean whatever it is that makes you unique is what you need to capitalize on. Make sure they understand that you also started a business, wrote a book, lived in another country for a few years, etc. I’m the only Ironman triathlete in my class. I don’t know if that helped my application, but I bet it didn’t hurt.

6 – Be a Tool

Doing all of the above will get you rejected from medical school fairly quickly. This last one has more to do with the school than with you. Your MCAT, Step 1, and other stats don’t tell too much about how good of a doctor you will be one day. Schools want to turn out good doctors, both because it’s the right thing to do and because it makes them look better, therefore making them more money. Our Dean told us (at the interview day) that they try to detect traits that can’t be measured, but that will someday make us good doctors. Translation = they try to sift out all the jerks and narcissists as best as they can. Don’t be that guy. I can tell you already that they missed a few, based solely off of a few students that crashed an otherwise productive study session I was having with some friends today. Plus, everyone has a story to share about some terrible doctor they’ve met before, right?

I hope that helped! In all seriousness, feel free to ask questions (or add your own advice) so that over time, somebody, somewhere, will somehow find this useful.

Now what else can I do before I study?

Thanks for reading!

I’m Predicting the Future

Friday was a good day for me. I received good feedback from a very intimidating surgeon who facilitates our small group project and scored well on our first exam thus far. I typically finish exams earlier than most of the class, which gives me time to sit around, read, and just generally waste time until everyone else finishes the test.

And so there I was, sitting in the lobby outside the lecture hall after my first exam, still shaking slightly from the extra cup of coffee I drank that morning, returning to all of my normal time wasting habits (Facebook, surfing the internet, etc). That is when I saw another trailer for Ender’s Game. Click the link if you haven’t heard about it yet. The movie is based off a fantastic series of science fiction novels published in the 1980’s. There are four in the series, and each one is distinctly different from the others. I highly recommend all four of them, even if you don’t think you like science fiction. My sister read them, and she doesn’t care at all for science fiction, but she thoroughly enjoyed them.

It also has Han Solo in it, so you have to go see it.

Not only is the book amazing, the movie looks like it was done really well. It has all of the ingredients to be a hit at the box office, except for one little detail. Orson Scott Card, the author of the series, is decidedly anti-homosexual. He has gone on the record¬†and made multiple comments regarding his views on homosexuality and politicals, and that has created controversy in the past. Of course, until recently, he has been only the author of a (relatively) obscure collection of books in science fiction. That is all about to change. His first book is about to become a major movie, and there are billions of dollars on the line, as the success of his first movie could well dictate whether or not the next three are made. Which they should. But that’s an entirely different discussion.

So here is what’s going to happen. I’m predicting the future right now. As we get closer to November, we will first begin to see articles about this upcoming movie, with little blurbs about how the author of the book is homophobic. This will morph into newspaper editorials, blog posts, and news specials about how his intolerant views just aren’t acceptable in modern society. Eventually, a boycott movement will be started, and we may even see people with signs at the theater during opening weekend. In fact, the storm is already brewing.

Everybody loves signs!

I can predict this months in advance because it follows a well established pattern. Do you remember the fiasco with Chick-fil-a last summer? I do, since I head there at least six times a week for delicious chicken sandwiches. The boss of CFA is Dan Cathy. His dad started the first CFA, and it remains a family business to this day. The family is openly Christian (and very generous as well). It should be no surprise that, when asked about their views on gay marriage, they were not exactly supportive of it. Not only did they support traditional marriage and Biblical beliefs, the non-profit arm of Chick-fil-a had given money to lobbying groups that fought against LGBT organizations. Several LGBT groups organized “kiss-ins” at local restaurants as a protest, but with the support of Mike Huckabee, everyone and their mom ate at Chick-fil-a on August 1st to support the company. Since I know several people who work at CFA, I also happen to know that they broke exactly every sales record ever set that day. Many places ran out of food, and still people lined up to buy waffle fries and drinks.

So I predict the same backlash against Ender’s Game later this year. What I can’t predict is the response. I don’t know if the Chick-fil-a mob will all go see the movie in a sort of counter-demonstration, or whether the controversy will generate more hype (and more profit), or whether the backlash will actually succeed in keeping people from the theaters, but either way it sucks. The CFA incident and Ender’s game both show a hilarious double standard in society today regarding homosexuality (and expressing your opinion, really).

I’m not supporting either side in this debate, either. Don’t get worked up over that. Get this. Orson Scott Card is a Mormon. It should be no surprise to anyone that he doesn’t support gay rights. Additionally, Ender’s Game really has nothing to do with homosexuality. At all. Even remotely. In fact, the major themes in the story will make those who see the movie think long and hard about the way they see the world. So when gay rights activists pick up on his beliefs and decide to organize a boycott of the film, they get coverage and support. Consider an opposite scenario, where I decide that Tom Cruise and his crazy practice of¬†scientology¬†is too much for me, so I organize a boycott of his film. Even if I got all of the Mormons in the state to boycott the film, I doubt I’d generate the firestorm that is surely coming this fall. That’s one half of the problem.

Now I arrive at my main point. Orson Scott Card could believe he worshiped a giant panda in outer space and I’d still see his movies, if they were good. The same first amendment rights that allow musical “artist” and general douchebag Macklemore to sing/talk his way through seven minutes of his own opinion is the same first amendment that lets Orson Scott Card or Dan Cathy express their own opinion. If you plan on skipping Ender’s Game because Orson Scott Card is “intolerant”, I hope you see the irony in refusing to acknowledge his view out of your absolute belief in your own. Tolerance, after all, is not a one way street. Get over yourself and try to enjoy a good movie.

Or don’t. Go make signs and demonstrate at your local theater. Who knows….you just might make it on the news.