Monday, September 26, 2011

Prerequisites and Requirements for Medical School

I have surprisingly run into a few pre-medical students that don't know exactly what is required and what is recommended for applying to medical school. Sometimes, even advisors can give you a general overview, but not the specifics. This is especially the case if you don't have a dedicated pre-medical advisor. So, here is a list of what is required to apply to medical school and a few extras that the admissions people love to see. First, these are the bare minimum requirements at virtually every school:

  • Bachelor's Degree in any area of study
  • One year of Biology courses with laboratories
  • One year of General Chemistry courses with laboratories
  • One year of Organic Chemistry courses with laboratories
  • One year of Mathematics courses including Trigonometry
  • One year of English courses
  • Completed Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)

Notice that you don't need to major in Biology to become a doctor. Sometimes you may even have had a completely unrelated career before you switched gears and decided to pursue medicine. This is known as a "non-traditional" applicant which is what this blog is based on. Even though the list above is the bare minimum, you would be crazy to apply with just the bare minimum. To really be a competitive medical applicant that will be stamped, "Accepted", you will also need the following:

1. An MCAT Score of at Least 30
The maximum score you can achieve on the MCAT is a 45 while the average is a 24. To be a competitive applicant, you should have a score equal to or greater than 30. This is a very arbitrary number depending on which school you want to get into, but is generally accepted to be a "good" score. Sometimes you will see a score written as "30Q" with a letter after the numeric part. This is the score for the writing portion of the test but is usually ignored.

2. A Cumulative GPA of 3.5 or Greater
Most medical schools recommend that you have at least a 3.5 cumulative GPA to be competitive, which is an average of every grade you have received. There are different ways of calculating this, factoring in if you have retaken certain classes, but you should have at least a 3.5 no matter which way you calculate it. If you don't have this, take more classes, preferably easy science related ones to boost this number up.

3. Shadowing Experience
Shadowing is the process of following a doctor around and observing what they do on a day to day basis. You are a fly on the wall. This tells admissions that you are not disillusioned as to what doctors really do just because you watched seven seasons of "House M.D." Ask doctors in your area if you could shadow them and most likely you will get at least one enthusiastic, "Yes".

4. Clinical Experience
A lot of students find this hard to come by: Clinical Experience. Basically, you need to volunteer in positions where you are close enough to patients for them to sneeze on you. Admissions love to see this to know you are serious about your career. You can find these positions by asking local Hospitals, Hospices, Care Centers, or your own doctor for volunteer opportunities that will put you at arms reach of patients.

5. A Successful Interview
After applying to medical school and surviving the weeding out process, you will be given an interview. This is your chance to avoid giving admissions a reason not to admit you. The double negative sentence is because you are already partially, "in", but now admissions is looking for fatal flaws that they can boot you out of the process with. They will look for lack of empathy, lack of decision making skills or leadership, personality flaws, or even a lack of hobbies. Successful doctors all have general traits in common that the admissions committee recognize, and non-destructive stress reducing hobbies are one of them.

6. An Excellent Answer to the Question
And in your interview, the question is, "Why do you want to become a doctor?". The answer definitely isn't "Because I watch Grey's Anatomy all the time and I love it!" You must have a well thought out answer to this question. Most non-traditional pre-medical students like me have a burning desire to become a doctor, but may have a tough time forming it into neatly laid out sentences. However, this really needs to be worked out well in advance of your interview.

There are certainly even more bullet points that you can add to your resume that will increase your acceptance chances and this is not an exhaustive list by any means. Although, if you have all of the above, you certainly have a decent chance of getting into medical school.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Green Tomatoes

All summer long, I have barely picked one red tomato from my half dozen tomato plants. I have a bunch of green tomatoes but I hardly see ANY red ones. Here I was thinking that my plants were just slow or the squirrels were stealing them. Today I caught my dog (*red-handed* haha) eating a ripe, red tomato right off one of my vines. The juice was all over his furry face. It only took me all season long to notice that he is eating every tomato the instant they turn red. Bad dog!

Oh well, who needs fresh, juicy, homegrown tomatoes anyway... All I need are my MCAT books...

Friday, September 16, 2011

5 Tips to Studying for the MCAT as a Non-Traditional Student

So you are a non-traditional pre-med student and you have responsibilities outside of getting into medical school. How do you find time to study for the MCAT? I ask myself this question all the time. Between working at my day job, taking care of my house, cleaning up after my dog, and going to class, I find it real hard to study for that darn test. So I present to you, 5 tips on studying for the MCAT as a non-traditional student:

1. Set aside time for studying
This is obviously the first tip because it is the most important. You have to block out some time solely for MCAT studying. Otherwise, your other responsibilities will jump in front of your face and yell, "Me! Me! Pay attention to me!"... sometimes literally. You need to be able to tell them "No, this is MCAT time, come back later". I tell that to my dog all the time but he still doesn't get out of my face. The point is, set aside time and stick with it. If you have to, get away from everybody and find a quiet place like the nice boy in the picture.

2. Practice tests are better than complete content review
Taking a practice test and reviewing your mistakes gives a much better time to knowledge return than content review. I think of content review (reading through entire chapters of material) much like carpet bombing - you are wastefully covering a wide area of material and hoping you hit something. Taking a practice test is more like scouting the area first and then firing cruise missiles at the weak points. With a practice test, you will find your weaknesses, and then you review only material covering your weakness. In addition, comprehending and then answering questions takes a lot more brain effort than reading chapters. As a non-traditional student, time is minimal and you need to make your studying efficient.

3. Use the weekend for practice tests
The only days I can get good blocks of free time is on the weekends. If you are like me, take advantage of that by setting aside a certain time every weekend to do practice tests. Usually, I can't spare enough time for an entire full length practice test. No biggie, just break after one or two sections. However, make sure you take some full length tests leading up to the real MCAT so you can get used to the required endurance.

4. Use the week for review
On the weekdays, all bets are off. I may get 30 minutes one day, and nothing the next. Use the time that you have during the week to review your weak areas that you identified with your practice tests. Leave your books conveniently laying around the house so that you can pick them up and review at any time. I leave my MCAT biology book on the kitchen table for review while eating breakfast, a book on my nightstand, and even a book on my toilet. "While I'm here, I guess I can review..."

5. Use MCAT audio books
During my drives to work, I noticed I was wasting valuable time listening to radio commercials. I made myself a couple of CDs full of MCAT audio books such as "Audio Osmosis" and "MCAT Preparatory Course" and listen to them during my commute. I don't take notes but I found that it helped with certain areas. Physics material is hard to absorb through audio but the Biology section is great. I prefer "MCAT Preparatory Course" because the there is only one voice and it is soothing. Audio Osmosis was a bit more high strung than I would like.

Have fun studying suckers!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Physics Problem

Lately, I have been frequenting an online forum that every pre-medical student should know of: Student Doctor Network. The forum is great because it allows like-minded individuals to talk about the medical school application process and the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Recently, there was a post created on a specific physics problem that I thought was intriguing (because it is related to the MCAT). People posted a variety of answers and I thought I would give the problem a shot and attempt to get a consensus. I redrew the problem for purposes of this blog and here it is:

Which container experiences the greatest pressure at the bottom of the fluid?
  A.) Container A
  B.) Container B
  C.) Container C
  D.) All containers experience equal amounts of pressure at the bottom of the fluid

...Got it yet? Some say it is "A". Some say it is "D". I thought about this problem for a bit and came up with... it depends! If the height of the water column level in each container was the same with respect to the bottom, then the pressure would be the same in all containers. Answer D.


If the volume of the water in each figure was the same, Container A would experience the most pressure. Why? Container A would have the highest water column since the cross sectional area at the bottom of the flask is the smallest out of all the containers. Container C would have a slightly lower water column height than Container A. Container B would have the lowest water column height. Since there is more area at the bottom of the Container B, the water column would be lower than the other two containers because there is more space for water to occupy. Knowing that P = pgh, we can deduce that the container with the highest water column experiences the greatest pressure at the bottom of the fluid.
Answer A.

So if you picked answer A or answer D, you are correct. The answer just depends on what assumptions you make; hence the problem is ambiguous. That basically sums up my post I made on the Student Doctor Network forums. For reference, here is the actual link to the thread:

The more practice MCAT tests I take, the more I realize that my logic is often just plain wrong! And I even think I got a "C" in one of my Physics classes during my undergrad. So if you think you have a different answer or explanation, feel free to let me know - I won't be offended that you didn't succumb to my long winded argument.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Prerequisite Classes Complete!

I am officially done with all my prerequisite classes! One year ago, I started on my pre-medical journey. I started off with a Chemistry class in the summer and had a blast. After working full time for a couple of years, I was glad to be back in school for some odd reason. Granted, I was still working part time, but being in school gave me the satisfaction of knowing I was working towards a goal. The subjects strangely motivated me which was a sharp contrast to how I felt when I was a Computer Engineer undergraduate. Learning about the building blocks of the universe was oddly satisfying.

Here is a summary of my classes taken in the past year (Quarter system):
  • Chemistry II: A
  • Chemistry III: A
  • Organic Chemistry I: A
  • Organic Chemistry II: A
  • Organic Chemistry III: A
  • Biology I: A
  • Biology II: A
  • Biology III: A
My grades were all A's! I am ecstatic. This streak of good grades should pull up my crappy undergraduate GPA ever so slightly. My goal is to continue taking classes until I run out of money or I can achieve at least a 3.5 cumulative total. I also completed a research position with my Organic Chemistry professor this past summer doing some exciting work with organic compound synthesis. Hopefully admissions will see that I am finally getting my act together.

My next milestone is the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). I am going to take a quarter off from school to study for this beast of a test. This will also give me time to save up for another fat tuition bill. After the test, I plan on resuming classes at my local university. The one class I am really looking forward to is Anatomy.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Flying and Hang Gliding

The vantage point of a bird is truly a magnificent one, especially when you are in complete control. I am talking about the sport of hang gliding and I think it is a fantastic way to start this blog.

My name is TK and my goal in life is to be a doctor. It wasn't always this way, in fact, I used to daydream about creating video games. This ill-conceived goal led me down the path of obtaining a degree in Computer Engineering. After realizing creating video games wasn't going to pay my bills, I entered the web application programming industry. It pays my bills, but it comes with a price.

One thing they don't mention in college is how boring computer jobs really are. You sit at a computer for 8 hours a day and your body and mind whither away into a false sense of productivity. You take up new hobbies in order to instill a sense of purpose and excitement into your life. One of mine was hang gliding.

Flying is the most wonderful sport ever created. It really does contribute to your senses of purpose and excitement. If you feel like your life is stuck in a rut and you find yourself asking, "is this it?", let me share something with you. Go out to Google and search for "hang gliding near X" and replace "X" with your location. Not only is hang gliding the cheapest way to fly, it is exhilarating. You can do it almost anywhere; I've flown in the snow! Check this youtube video out, it gets me excited to get out and fly every time I watch it:

Blogs are a great way to share ideas and information with others. Hopefully I have shared flying and hang gliding with someone out there today. In the future, I hope to share my journey into medicine as well as the hobbies that keep my life engaged.