Advice to pre-meds, from people who have ďbeen there, done that.Ē
Thanks to Nick Newsom for sending me "Advice for pre-meds: from UTCOM, Class of 2008"
1) Make sure medicine is what you want to do. It is a long and difficult road. Though I love going through med school with my peers, I cannot think of anything much worse than enrolling in medical school only to find out that it wasn't for me. Shadow some physicians or volunteer at a hospital;
2) Take Kaplan for the MCAT;
3) Take some time off before med school. Do not be worried about jumping right into med school after college graduation. Take off at least a summer...maybe more;
4) If you can, take Physiology, Anatomy, Cell Biology/Molecular Biology, Biochemistry and Genetics along with the required pre-med courses. They will be very beneficial for BOTH the MCAT and first year of medical school;
5) Take some time between undergraduate and medical school (even if you defer for a year!) to pursue something you love that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with medicine! This will be the last time that you can freely do this;
6) "IF YOUR PROPENSITY IS TO PROCRASTINATE, DON'T!!"
ďBELIEVE THE PEOPLE WHO TELL YOU TO STUDY HARD
AND LEARN EVERYTHING YOU CAN IN UNDERGRAD (AND YOUR FIRST YEAR OF
8) Keep your senses of humor and humility.
9) Choose funny people for your dissection lab. They'll become your best friends;
10) C = MD;
11) Never say anything in an email that you wouldn't want the Dean to hear. People cut-and-paste like crazy.
12) Class attendance is NOT mandatory for first year. For some, it's not even a good idea.
13) Be cool. Better to earn a "C" with dignity than to act like a jackass on your way to an "A".
14) Don't join every club. Instead, become very involved in† one or two.† This will be important to discuss in your interview. Most honor societies are out there for your money. Only join honor societies that expect significant participation from you. Don't even consider an honor society that doesn't meet at least every other week and doesn't require you to participate.
15) Gain significant experience in the medical field. †Either volunteer on a regular basis (a few hours a week every week) or get a job at a hospital or doctor's office. This will also be asked about in your interview and is an absolute necessity.
16) Volunteer. You must demonstrate that you want to contribute to society in a meaningful way.
17) GPA is not the end-all-be-all. If you have a 3.5 BCPM, focus more on your extracurricular activities and volunteer work instead of going crazy trying to get a 4.0. If you have below a 3.5, study harder.
18) 5. Study for the MCAT. If you are taking it in August, 4 hours a day for 5 days a week for two months should be sufficient. Exam Krackers books are better than Kaplan and the others, and they cost about $100 compared to $1000 for the Kaplan class
19) The more biology classes you have, the more prepared you will be for medical school. However, take classes that you enjoy too.
†††††††† 20) Advice for pre-meds from a 32 year old father of three:
1. AGE: It's never too late.
2. FAMILY TIME: While I often disappear for days on end, I† still see my kids just as much as when I had a real job.† It's the time with my wife after the kids' bedtime that suffers the most.
3. FUNDING A MEDICAL EDUCATION WITH A FAMILY: Times are extremely tight compared to the fat days of a desk job, but we manage to eek by. Tip: Eat uncooked rice for a longer period of satiation.
4. SUPPORT AT HOME: As a married student, you MUST have 100% support from a well-informed spouse before you matriculate.† Otherwise something will suffer too much. Your dream Ė NOT your marriage - should be the one to fade. Having said that, at the beginning of my pursuit, my wife was far from being on board with the dream. Increasing familiarity with the process (from MCAT prep to private practice), with the opportunity costs (money and time), and with the payoffs brought her around to complete support.
5. MCAT PREP: Spring for a review course (Kaplan, etc.). The key: take every practice test question you can find. The other key (at least at Kaplan): watch the videos instead of attending the lectures. The teachers on the videos are the best of the best; the local lecturers are hit-or-miss.
††††††††† 21) In my humble opinion, grades and MCAT score were everything, and of course personality is important too, but easily measured by a FEW carefully selected extracurricular activities on your application and basically being yourself at your interviews. You donít have to do ten million activities; just a few so they know you are personable. †Grade wise in undergrad, I focused on taking classes that I knew I could make Aís in, thus keeping the GPA high, many would argue with this fact, but seriously a high GPA is key, i.e. donít take heavy biochem or physical chemistry if you might make a C or worse.. you know your ability to perform academically better than anyone. Try to avoid Cís like the plague, or else when you interview you'll have to explain them, and thatís annoying. When you get to medical school, it will all be hard, no matter what the academic background is. Worry about doing well in medical school AFTER getting in.
22) The significance of having done some research in the basic sciences (preferably federally funded by NIH or EPA, etc) and more importantly if the student presents a poster at a peer-reviewed conference (e.g. American Society of Microbiology) or publishes in a peer-reviewed journal (e.g. Journal of Applied and Environmental Microbiology), WHILE IN UNDERGRAD, that is a huge distinguishing factor in impressing the admissions committee. Donít ask me why, but medical school adcoms (and UT) seem to salivate over basic science research! If you have published or presented research in undergrad, that is a huge accomplishment that you can use to shine while talking about it in your interviews at UT (especially if the interview is with a basic science professor). Having a poster or publication is way more competitive than simply having "done some research". If you have a poster or publication, bring extra copies to your interview and leave them for the admissions committee. That will likely be a way for them to remember you and distinguish you from the other people interviewing.
††††††††††† 23)Get letters of recommendation from physicians who are UTCOM alumni who still know people on the admissions committee, I got these contacts from work experience in a hospital, or you can get them from shadowing the doctors in their fields.
†††††††††††† 24) Try to take the MCAT in the spring and get your AMCAS stuff in as early as possible. If needed, take the spring off just to study for the MCAT, take a prep course (I recommend Exam Krackers first, or alternatively Kaplan), do lots of MCAT practice questions. I recommended the AAMC tests and Exam Krackers questions (in my opinion the most similar to what was on the real MCATs I took). Also Exam Krackers has superb verbal reasoning practice questions that were way better and more like the real MCAT than Kaplan or Princeton Review verbal practice questions, IMO.
† 25) For UTCOM, on the MCAT, aim for at least a 28, two 9s and a 10 (or higher of course), and you can feel comfortable, but donít fret, my combined score was 8 verbal, 10 PS, and 9 BS (27) and I still got it in. People with 8s and 7s in one subset still routinely either get in sometimes or get in off the waitlist. If your GPA is high and your letters of recommendation and personality, work experience is good, and you get a low MCAT, simply retake it and donít work or take any classes, just study hardcore and your score will likely improve significantly. Then just apply and see what happens! Caveat: there are many people with below a 28 on the MCAT (me included) who get in to UT and become doctors.
† 26) Find out who is interviewing you and if they are a PhD or MD, what specialty or field they are in, and try to talk to them about stuff they are interested in, people like a reflection of themselves so they will remember people who they had stuff in common with
† 27) Send a thank-you card or thank-you email in a timely manner after you are interviewed (soon enough so that they will remember your name)
† 28) Try not to worry about what medical school is like until AFTER you've been accepted.. Then ask big sibs/faculty/peer mentors to tell you everything. Right now getting in should be the most important goal!
† 29) Most importantly, I recommend taking a year off completely before starting medical school, doing nothing academic. It is the one thing I wish I could go back and do, because you'll be as rested as possible and probably have more energy to consistently perform well on exams and step one vs. the guy who came straight in from undergrad (me) and very quickly got burnt out!!
††††††††††† 30) My advice to pre-med students (as it was the best advice given to me): Do something that makes you different from all the other applicants. Stand out from the rest and be able to put "what makes you different" into words...they could very well ask you this exact question at an interview and it's a good conversation piece. Just make sure you stand out from all the other "biochem majors with 4.0's." (No offense to biochem's with 4.0's--just a way to think about it.)
††† 31) Take a few biochemistry classes. I did not have any Biochem coming in, which made it harder. I had to study a lot more than those that had it. It can free up some of your study time to focus on the other classes;
††† 32) Take the summers off. You will have the rest of your life to work. Go on vacations, mission trips, spend time with family/friends/significant others, anything that you may not get to do once you get into medical school. The rest of your life is for work.† Take sometime now to enjoy things.
†††† 33) It's true that the more science background you have before you come to medschool, the easier the science classes will be. But, this will probably be your only chance to study English, Philosophy, or Anthropology, so take whatever you want. You DON'T have to major in Biology or Chemistry to get into med school. You'll also stand out more to the adcoms if you're not a "biobot."
†††† 34) Having said that, if you can add on an additional science class or two, I'd probably recommend Biochemistry, Cell Biology, or Histology.
††††††††††††† 35) Spend some time on your personal statement; it's important.
There. From people who have "been there, done that."