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Think and Feel vs. Know

In applying to med school, interviews on September 28, 2009 at 5:59 pm

So, I just finished my first interview last Monday, and I must say it went pretty well (or at least that’s what I think).  In retrospect, I would admit that I might have slightly overstudied, however, I think that overstudying helped me feel properly prepared for any question that might be thrown my way.  For instance,  I thoroughly investigated various aspects of health care reform, from the history of health care in the US to the role of insurance industries and lobbyists in keeping the discussion of reform off the table.  Was I specifically asked for my views on health care in the US? No.  Did the topic of health care come up in conversation?  Yes.  Consequently, I was able to integrate the research I had done to make an informed, backed-up statement about…however brief it might have been.

I have two more interviews scheduled in the next two weeks and I’m trying my best to not let this first interview negatively affect my upcoming ones.  I was so nervous and confused about what would happen at my first interview that it drove me to do intense research and preparation.  However, now that it is over and I absolutely loved the school and I think I have a good chance of receiving an acceptance offer come October 15th (keeping fingers crossed), I find it ridiculously hard to force myself to study and prepare for the next ones.  I really don’t think it helps that I fell in love with the school and I honestly couldn’t picture a medical school that will help mold me into the type of physician I desire to be – it had so many unique opportunities available and such a loving and happy and unstressed student body and a wonderfully caring administration.  It is definitely my top choice now and any school I subsequently am blessed to interview at will be stacked up again it.

While it’s nice to know that I have potentially secured a spot at a school I love, it makes it difficult taking preparation for other schools seriously.  I am trying my best.  I do feel that it is important to make a truly informed decision, especially on something as big as medical school selection.  In order to accomplish this, it means I need to put my best foot forward for all schools and to act as if each is the only school I am being considered at.  Easier said than done.

What also isn’t helping is that the interview at this school was extremely laid back.  I felt like they were truly just trying to get to know who I am as a person, what my interests are, and assessing how well I liked the area and would fit in with their community.  In sum, it was a lovely, relaxing experience.  But, I’m no fool.  I know that not every med school interview is going to be laid back and solely focused on me.  I anticipate some will focus on (or at least touch upon) topics such as health care reform, issues in medical ethics, and current events.  Do I feel prepared for such a conversation?  As of yet, I’m not sure.  I do feel that I have a base understanding of such things, but I still don’t feel thoroughly prepared to engage in discourse on such subject matters.  But, will I ever feel ready?  My guess is no.  My guess is that I will never know exactly where I stand on anything.  I will never know every aspect of every feasible issue – I am only human and the sea of information (usually overwhelming in quantity and saturated with bias) is easy to drown in.  I do feel that I can hold a conversation well and that I have enough info crammed in my head to convincingly support my opinions.  There goes that 4-letter F-word again: feel.  Ah, feelings…can make you believe you’re sitting pretty on cloud 9, when reality says you’re slowly sinking down toward hades. lol. Or, vice versa for my optimists.

Guess I better step my game back up with this interview prep thing before my feelings of security lead me down a deceptive, self-assured path heading straight towards rejections and waitlists.  Yikes.  Now there’s a motivating image.  Time to get to it!

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Difficulty getting Research

In applying to med school, Rants on September 9, 2009 at 9:13 am

This post is, admittedly, about to be a rant…  Being a non-Bio major, non work-study, nontraditional student has made it incredibly tough to secure a research position.  Currently, I am working full-time, have a part-time job, am quietly looking for a third job (since no one wants to give me health insurance…), and am applying to med school, which leaves little time for anything else, let alone a research job, making this a moot point for me.  But, back when I was unemployed this summer, I applied to so many research jobs – all to no avail.  While in the end, I do feel that I am in the place where God wants me to be, I do still feel a slight headache come on when I think about my experience trying to gain research experience.

Let me rewind by taking you back to my undergraduate years.  Flash back six years as a college freshman.  I knew nothing about biology, let alone any particular area I’d potentially like to put more work into.  I came into college knowing that I wanted to be a psychology major (psychiatry is still a very real specialty option for me).  I discussed  the idea of research with an advisor.  At least at my school, and I’m not sure how other schools do it, they took the position of Only do research if it’s something you truly have an interest in and want to explore.  Don’t do it just to boost your application for med school.  Then again, how do you know you’re not going to like something until you try it?  Ok.  Slightly confusing, but I interpreted to mean that since I 1) had no background in biology, 2) was NOT going to be a biology major, and 3) my personality doesn’t align well with research (i.e. I get bored very easily, and monotonous activities that I see no real value to push the psycho buttons in my brain) I should pass.

By the time I finally became somewhat interested in the possibility of doing research, I was a junior.  Seeing how I had already decided I was taking some time off due to shear exhaustion, it didn’t seem too late to get involved in research.  Plus, our school was a pretty big-named school with excellent biomedical research facilities…so, I assumed it shouldn’t be hard to get involved.  False.  What I found was that most research positions on-campus were either requiring advanced biology coursework or classification as a work-study student…usually they wanted both…I was neither.  I submitted my resumes to a bunch of labs, but to no avail.  If they were interested in having me join their lab, as a non work-study student, I was expected to do it for free.  Now, perhaps if I had been a traditional non work-study student (i.e. mommy and daddy are loaded and paying for college and I truly didn’t need any money) then I would probably not have flinched at the idea of doing this work for free.  However, and this is a big however, I am broke.  I had a very special situation where a close family member passed away and left me money for my education.  Outside of that money that my undergrad institution happily, eagerly, and greedily sucked me dry of, I come from a family with very little income.  So, while I didn’t have to work to put myself through college (much respect to those that do), if I needed to do anything in the semester, I had to work for the money to finance those endeavors (i.e. gas money, food money, etc).  In sum, working for free, while knowing that not only did I need a paying job, but that others would be doing my same job for a fee was not going to fly with me.

Needless to say, no undergraduate research was done by moi.  Post-graduation, I was offered a research position at one of my professor’s office doing clinical research.  I remember vividly how excited I was.  It would be doing research on clinical decision making – a topic I was (and still am) thoroughly interested in.  This prof was my favorite undergrad prof, and I took two of his course, receiving As in both: Judgment and Decision Making and Medical Decision Making.  I still love the subject, and even read books touching upon it in my (limited) spare time.  He extended the offer, but I had to work through the people in his office to get the position.  To this day, I still do not know what happened.  I just remember having to interview for the position (yes, I had to interview for a position in my prof’s research group that he wanted me to work at), last-minute having the interviewer change to someone who was not an interviewer, then the woman in-charge of hiring like had a baby or a sick baby (I forget).  Thrown atop of this, I had a scheduled trip to Germany to visit my uncle for a month, so since they couldn’t seem to get it all figured out in the month or so after graduation, I slowed my pursuit of it.  After sending e-mails inquiring for updates and getting none returned (highly unprofessional!), I stopped showing interest in the position and took a boring, monotonous job at the local hotel to pay the bills while I MCAT prepped.  Shame how that worked out – I would’ve loved that job and been good at it too.  Ah well.  Once again, I am a firm believer that everything that happens is for a reason.  Lord knows I did everything in my power to secure that position and they were sloppy on that end.  Who knows.  If they were that disorganized in hiring, perhaps it would’ve been a headache working there and would’ve strained my relationship with that professor (who I still admire, who still admires me and my work, and who subsequently wrote me a LOR that I know was amazing).  Got to stay positive!

Flash forward to my post-baccalaureate program.  The only thing I would’ve done differently there would have been to ignore the advice of the advisors.  I was only there 3 semesters (summer – spring), and they told me that since I was overly involved in undergrad, that I should focus solely on my coursework while there.  I sincerely hope this doesn’t come back to bite me in the booty…  While the pay was horrible, and most research positions were still for biology majors and work-study students, I know a few people who were able to secure jobs.  But here’s my thing with research.  I know beggars can’t be choosers, but if I’m going to spend my time doing some monotonous activity to further research, I want it to be in an area I’m interested in.  And I have many interests.  The opps I saw repeatedly were sleep and mapping the tongue – neither of which were particularly interesting to me.  Plus, since I started in the summer, many of the semester positions had already been filled.  By the time they became open again, it was clear that the many of the people who had the position would highly recommend a friend to fill their place – boooo! Not fair!

I even applied to an entry-level research position (as in the job description stated no research experience required).  By now, I had taken multiple upper-level courses, so when the woman invited me in for an interview, I was expecting to be a shoe-in. False.  This was the straw that broke the frustrated camel’s back.  This woman (who could barely speak English) had the nerve to invite out to interview over an hour away only to say that they were actually not hiring at this point, as they had already filled the position with undergrad work-study, bio major students who had more extensive research experience.  Whew, I nearly lost it.  I wanted to smack her across her face and ask her 1) why’d you invite me all the way out here? 2) What good is previous research experience if this is an entry-level position (don’t think I didn’t see those lil’ undergrads lugging around boxes and organizing supplies in the background).

After that, I washed my hands of trying to secure a research position.  I really hope no one asks me about why I haven’t pursued research during any interview (although, I have a touch of clinical research experience), because it might set-off a frustrated rambling response.  I pursued it, it just didn’t reciprocate :/

Interview Preparation

In applying to med school, interviews on September 2, 2009 at 3:07 pm

Perhaps it’s just me kickin’ it into full anal-retentive pre-med gear, but between having a full-time job and trying to adequately prep for upcoming interviews, I am at a complete loss for free time.  To be fair, I don’t think it helps that I telecommute.  You see, when you work in a typical office, you know that your work day will start around 9am and end around 5pm.  Pretty straightforward.  Telecommuting is the complete opposite for me.  First, I am not a morning person unless I have to be.  Since I must get 8 hours of work in each day, it doesn’t matter if those 8 are from 9am-5pm, noon – 8pm, or from 11am – 10pm stretched out with little breaks strewn all throughout my day.  Give you one guess which of those three examples best describes my typical workday.  If you guessed the latter, give yourself a treat.

Many of those mini-breaks consist of me checking twitter, facebook, SDN, and my email (I’ve taken a step back from MDapplicants for a while!).  I use Barnes & Noble as my virtual office, just leading to even more distractions (ranging from the cute baby across from me, to the repulsive man roaming through the aisles, to the numerous books I can delve into when the words on my screen start swimming together in a sea of blur).  I try to stop work and switch to interview prep around 7pm-ish, which leaves me ~ 3 hours per evening to research and prep.  Except when mom calls and needs something picked up from Whole Foods (which closes at 10pm), thus cutting my time short – oh, this happens daily.

So, what am I studying?  I’ve read through all the typical books already: Barron’s, the US News and World Report’s, The Princeton Review’s, and Kaplan’s, as well as MD Rx and MD Confidential.  From these, I’ve generated a list of about 100 different questions that could possibly be asked ranging from personal questions, to academic questions, to questions in medical ethics, and current event topics. [In addition to these questions, I’ve found that the SDN site with interview feedback by school is very helpful in anticipating which schools as which questions]  Creating this list has been sobering.  I thought I knew myself and my intentions well, and I also felt I was pretty up-to-date with current events.  This list, however, has shown me just how little I know, or if I do know it, how poorly I am right now at effectively and efficiently wording my thoughts on such matters.  Subsequently, I’m giving myself crash courses in topics such as the history of the US health care system, managed care, and health care reform.

Some may think I’m overdoing it – and perhaps I am.  But, I would much rather be over-prepared and think the interview was a breeze, than to be under-prepared and receive a prompt dismissal via a rejection letter/email.

Everyone encourages me to just be yourself.  That’s obvious.  Who else am I going to be?  While I don’t want any rejections, if a school rejects me, I’d much rather them reject me than a false representation of me.  At least that way I know that I just wasn’t a good match for the school, not that I could have been a great match for the school, but since I was trying to “put on airs” and impress them the facade was rejected.

Alright, this has been a good study break.  Back to the books!

My First Interview Invite!!!

In applying to med school, interviews on August 29, 2009 at 11:06 pm

I’ve been meaning to post prior to this, but I’ve been uber busy with my new job and getting acclimated to my new routine.  However, I do have some great news!  This past Thursday, I received my first interview invite!! I actually received two that day, but found out about the second one much later.  Guess which school, of all the schools I’ve applied to, heard my cry?  Tulane! Waaaay down in New Orleans.  Ha.  If you all knew how much of a Northern girl I am, you’d probably chuckle at the thought of me applying to Tulane.  But, as I previously stated (or did I?), I thoroughly researched the programs at every single US accredited medical school and selected the programs I felt were most aligned with my personality, learning style, and career goals.  As it just so happens, Tulane aligned rather well with those items.  Plus, I know it’s the South, but New Orleans is such a unique city.  I’ve never been, but at least in my mind, I picture it a culturally rich town full or character…lol  This coming in the wake of the 4th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina (shame how devastated some of the area still is…thank you, George Dubbya and FEMA)  Granted, as a friend put it, I’ll need some intense A/C and a tazzer, but I think I could handle it.  So begins the intense preparation for the interview…

To all the anxious pre-meds that might ever read this, either now or in the future – nothing will decrease your anxiety during this process like the receipt of an interview invite.  I was such a wreck before this invite: compulsively checking my e-mail and med school status pages.  After I got the first invite (which I got while doing work in Barnes & Noble, causing me to silently wig-out for a good 30sec…lol), I immediately stopped checking my inbox.  In fact, had I not been on SDN that day, and been tipped off that my second invite school (Drexel) was posting invites on-line, I probably still wouldn’t know I had an interview there!  It’s like an enormous weight has been lifted from my shoulders.  I know this isn’t it, and that I must put a lot of work into these interviews, but it feels nice to know I actually have a shot.  I’m not naive.  I know that right after the interviews, the anxiety is probably going to shoot right back up until I hear whether I got hit with the acceptance, waitlist, or rejection.  But, for now, I’m sitting on Cloud 9!  Shoot, I even got rejected from Georgetown the next day (imo, their loss, not mine – it’s expensive too!) and hardly batted an eye.  I’m not going to lie, the first rejection stings a little, but having an interview invite or two to soften the blow is rather nice 🙂

Next up: finding a summer skirt suit for interviews and prepping for the multitude of potential interview questions!  I’m pumped.

Stay blessed everyone!

Noticing a Mistake too Late…

In applying to med school on August 18, 2009 at 8:24 pm

…can lead to panic!

But before that, a little more about myself.  I am a slightly non-traditional student.  I completed my undergraduate studies in 2007 and took some time off out of shear exhaustion.  I had overextended myself in undergrad with numerous activities, ridiculous schedules, partying, and no sleeping.  Before I continued on my path to the M.D., I wanted to take a breathe, re-evaluate my life, make sure this was the calling God has on my life (I had other interests I was considering), and just rest.  Some might look down upon my decision, but wouldn’t you prefer a doctor who thoroughly thinks out their decisions rather than rushing headlong into whatever is before them? I think so.

Anywho, when you add in trips, various employment, and full-time enrollment in a post-bacc and such, it is easy to forget everything you did in undergrad.  Today, I finally received my Drexel secondary and was in a rush to hurry up and submit it.  I quickly sped through it until I got to the various activities section.  After making a side list of all my activities, and filling in the different sections (i.e. medical volunteering, employment, and other volunteering) I realized that more than one of these I neglected to put on my AMCAS primary application. Ut-oh…oh no! No no no no noooooooo!

Am I subconsciously sabotaging myself?!?  I compared my Drexel list to my AMCAS list and then felt like an idiot.  I hope Drexel does not doubt the legitimacy of my involvement in these other activities.  So, you might be asking why I neglected to put these activities on AMCAS.  I think it was a combination of reasons.  First, some were from freshman year (’03), which was all of an eternity ago.  Since then, more important info has been stuffed into my brain. Secondly, I only put the activities down on AMCAS that were substantial to me.  While I might have a shorter list than some, most of my activities are 3+ years of involvement with leadership positions, I am hoping that will speak to my dedication and not to a lack of interest.

As I look around on SDN – such a love-hate relationship, I swear – and MDapplicants I see similar applicants with comparable marks getting interviews already.  You already know what thoughts are racing through my mind… What differentiates us?  Why are the AdComs un-responsive to my application?  Should I have been less honest and open in my secondary responses?  Was I not personable enough? And lastly, especially for applications with few-to-no essays,  Are they not even giving my secondary a real look because my primary isn’t interesting enough to them??? Ahhhhhhhhhhhh!  While I try to stay as positive as possible through it all, I’m not even going to lie; among the first emotional flashes I get is jealousy.  But, that’s just man’s flesh and sin nature lashing out.  I try as best I can to quickly squash that and go back to being happy for those who’ve received their invites.  I just have to hold on to my promises from God and know that in due time, which is in His time, I too will reap the fruits of my labor.  After all, all I need is just one door to open, just one interview, and just one acceptance.  God knows the school He has for me, and who’s to say He’s not going to make the final decision simpler for me by just opening up one school for me?  Only time will tell…

State Schools

In applying to med school, new jersey, Rants on August 15, 2009 at 10:59 pm

As I spent months preparing for this application process, I thoroughly researched every US accredited medical school.  Of course, as an applicant you are strongly advised to always apply to your state schools.  Me, I’m from New Jersey – born and raised.  In this backward, corrupt state that I do so love, nothing is as typical or even resembles the normalcy of other states.  Prime example – our medical schools.  Aside from the recent Touro medical school that opened in our state (or is set to open – I’m still not quite sure), the only state schools we have fall under the umbrella of the statewide institution known as the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (mainly referred to as UMDNJ for simplicity…however, most people get tongue-tied attempting to say the acronym).  I still don’t completely understand UMDNJ, I think it includes a pharm school, three med schools (2 MD, 1 DO), maybe a vet school, a school of public health?, and of course dental school and it is spread out between 4+ cities/towns in the state.  Anyways, it’s entire structure is confusing and it’s website is uninformative and non user-friendly…

Back to my qualms with my state school(s).  Granted, I feel somewhat blessed to even have a state school (although the ones lacking usually have some agreement with a neighboring state to give them some sort of preference), however, I really wish they acted like a state school…or at least the one I have envisioned in my ideal world.  When I look at, oh let’s say the big ol’ state of Texas, where their state mandates by law that ~80% of their entering class must be Texas residents, I get pissed.  Call me bitter, but this is in no way fair.  I know some not-so-bright people from undergrad who applied everywhere with not so nice stats and non-interesting backgrounds/ECs who got rejected everywhere outside of TX, but are now well on their way to becoming doctors because Texas takes care of their own.

One of my chief resources when doing school selections was the US News and World Report’s book on US medical schools [note: this is not the only thing I used to base my final list on…I’m much more thorough than that ;)].  In this, I specifically recall looking up both UMDNJ schools (MD) and reading that my state school(s)(?) only give slight in-state preference, and on top of this, (not stated in their book) they also give some preference to NY and PA residents. [note: I am unsure the validity of this, but since it’s in print, I’ll say its safe to say there is some truth to it]  Come on!  You don’t see NY or PA schools giving any special looks to NJ residents.  Jersey is the most densely populated state in the US, and as such, many med school applicants are from my state…meaning, in-state competition is high enough already, we don’t need to be competing again NY residents (which there are also a plethora of).  I keep looking on MDapplicants, and the amount of people I see from Cali, New York, [insert random state] applying to either UMDNJ-NJMS or UMDNJ-RWJ astounds me.  I mean, I know we’re a great state, but I didn’t expect people to be clawing to get into our med schools!

I just think it should be an all-or-none deal – if one state so choses to require an insane percentage of their med school class be in-state, all should have similar requirements (I do think 80% is a tad bit ridic, maybe more like 65%?).  Really, TX should just break off and become it’s own country!  At least I’m not a Cali resident…now, that’s a crappy draw!

The Idle Mind

In applying to med school on August 12, 2009 at 2:01 pm

I should be doing work right now.  But, since my boss has yet to send us our next project to work on, I’m sitting here in front of my Mac, shiftlessly searching through the internet for entertainment – and you know how that always ends…right back on MDapplicants and StudentDoctorNetwork (SDN).  I have successfully worked myself into a miniature nervous panic.

I submitted early, which is supposedly good – but will this backfire? Should I have waited until I secured a full-time job before I submitted secondaries?  Should I not have discussed my job leads on my secondaries?  At the time, the job leads seemed like guarantees, but both fell through (through no fault of my own).  My thought process was that I’d rather write about my potential leads (discussing them as so), than have nothing to put down in the “what are your plans for the upcoming application cycle if you are no longer in school,” which might have made me come across as a slacker.  Are the update letters I am drafting good enough to compensate for that change in information?  Am I panicking for nothing? Probably.  Should I have waited until mid-late summer to verify my AMCAS so that I could add certain activities to the application (like clinic volunteering, more doctor shadowing, etc.)?? Will my applying early and having to send update letters back fire and simply extend my application process by months instead of making it less stressful?  Will I have been complete to most schools by July, only to be put on hold for re-review in December??  Ahhhhh!

While the “hold” category is the equivalent of being in purgatory, it is certainly much better than a flat-out rejection (blessed to say I haven’t received one of those yet this application cycle).  However, I am highly uncomfortable in this limbo.  It’s like, I’m not quite good or interesting enough for the school to want to take the next step in getting to know me by inviting me to interview, but they don’t dislike me.  Having applied earlier than most, my hold category is more along the lines of, “we want to wait and see the caliber of other applicants that are applying and see how you stack up against them.”  If our economy wasn’t so horrible and I know people who might have normally taken time off are now applying directly because they know finding a job is tough, competition is tight!  How do I guarantee I get out of this sticky hold category? How do I ensure the AdComs are going to really re-read my application and my desire to attend their school?  I suppose the answer lies in update letters.  I just need to keep letting them know things I am doing that will increase my exposure, and remember to throw in a line or two about how the experience relates to my desire to attend their institution.  Dammit, early holds!  I have this unjustified feeling that they are going to set my file away and then accidentally forget to ever pick it up again 😦

In other news…I wanted to pull a Ghost Dad and reach through the internet and punch this kid in the throat last night on SDN.  Someone had posted a topic asking for advice on how to answer the “how would you bring diversity to our school?” essay question. The first answer was by this fool who said – let me just quote him:

Because I am a white male and really the only thing I can contribute to diversity is that I speak German, I added a funny bit at the end about how my town holds a record for something that is stupid.  I mentioned things about sports and volunteering and blah stuff, but I felt that its nothing that is actually diverse so I thought it would be funny and a change of pace for the adcoms. I havent received an interview yet though so i wouldnt really recommend it. But what do they really expect from a white male, the most discriminated group in the US now?

I absolutely detest the bitter.  In what world is the white male, the perpetuator and initiator of racism and prejudice throughout the world, throughout history, the most discriminated group?!?  Don’t even get me started on the silliness entitled “reverse racism.”