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Tips for Would-Be Med Students

By Lisa Gaw

There are a lot of things to keep track of when applying to medical school. Here are some tips (or things to consider) for prospective medical students

  1. Exposure: Take a peek into the world of a physician either in private practice or in a hospital setting, or both.  This provides affirmation for your decision to pursue medicine as well as provide a realistic view of what a doctor does.  Opportunities are many and include volunteering in a hospital, participating in clinical research, or shadowing a physician.  Ask the doctors you work with all your questions, find out how they got to where they are, pick their brains about different medical schools, how they balance family and work, etc.

  2. Pre-requisite courses: Researching and planning is crucial.  Talk with pre-med counselors or career counselors.  Visit medical school websites and find out what courses are pre-requisites.  Usually these include English, calculus, general chemistry, organic chemistry, biology, and physics.  The actual number of credits may vary from institution to institution.  Try your best in all courses you take whether or not it is required because your overall GPA is sometimes broken down to science GPA and non-science GPA.
  3. Hobbies and Interests: Stay active in the things that interest you.  If you've always been a part of student government, don't stop! If music keeps you going, keep it up.  Your hobbies and interests make you unique and this may be useful during the interviews.  I listed knitting as a favorite activity (I was part of a knitting group at a local yarn store in El Cerrito) and my interviewer at UT Southwestern asked me about it.  We spent the rest of the 30-minute session talking about our knitting creations.  She later emailed me a pattern for some booties she had knit her grandson.
  4. Service and Leadership: Build up your resume with contributions to the school or community.  Volunteer regularly at a clinic, hospital, local school, or with an organization through campus.  Be a part of school-affiliated associations and take on a leadership role in them.  Participate in research with a lab on campus, which can lead to your contribution to a paper that gets published in a journal.  I worked with two post-doctorates in a neurodevelopment lab that provided a source of reference as well as acknowledgement in a published journal article.
  5. MCAT: This standardized exam is computer-based and consists of four parts: verbal, writing, biological science, physical science.  The verbal section tests your reading comprehension.  The writing sample is made of two short essays focused on your response to a statement.  The biological and physical science sections tests your knowledge of basic concepts such as genetics, organic chemistry, general chemistry, current, etc.  Each section has a maximum score of 15 except the writing, which is scored on an arbitrary letter scale.
  6. Application and letters: I recommend starting to consider potential letter writers.  He or she ought to know you a little more than the student who sat in the front row of the class at every lecture.  They can be a mentor, the person you did research for, or the professor of a course you excelled in.  Be sure to ask early because professors are busy with their classes, research, and academic responsibilities.  You should have ready your curriculum vitae (resume) ready.  As the deadline draw nears, send your letter writers a Thank You note as a friendly reminder and to express your appreciation for their time.  Make sure you have the number needed for each program as this can vary as well as the necessary number of each one for the application process.
  7. Personal statement: Whatever you do, do not put this to the last minute.  My approach is not the only approach- but tweak it to your liking.  Just start writing about what you hope to accomplish by being a physician.  At some point, the rambling straightens out and the signs that have guided you to where you hope to go become apparent.  Once the draft is done put it aside for a while before reading it and making changes.  Repeat this until you feel comfortable with what you have written before handing it over to a few people to read.
  8. Interviews: Similar to applying for college, create a list of medical schools that include a few dream schools, sufficient reasonable schools, and several safety schools.  Consider tuition cost, location, class size, reputation, curriculum, and student life.  For example, my school was close to home, inexpensive, provided work-study, and allowed me to participate in IM softball and dodgeball (co-ed champs once in each!)

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