Our guest today is Rachel, the Junior National Director of Pre-SOMA as she shares with us her story as well as some answers to common questions about Osteopathic Medicine as an osteopathic medical student or as a premed interested in osteopathic medicine. Listen in as she talks more about the application process, taking gap years, why DO should not just be a Plan B and more information about Pre-SOMA and how this organization can help guide you on your path to becoming a physician via the osteopathic route.
[01:24] Science = Medicine
When she was around 5th-6th grade, Rachel took interest in the sciences. Without any background in medicine as she was growing up, she didn't have enough knowledge of what day-to-day was like for a physician but merely an idea that popped into her mind.
As she got into middle school, Rachel focused more on science-type electives and enjoyed it. Because of her limited exposure to medicine at that time, she equated science only to medicine or medical school, and not to being a scientist, a researcher, a nurse, or a physical therapist.
When she got to high school, their school system had specialized public high schools where she applied to a medical scientist high school and got in. Throughout her high school life, she was all about being medicine and being a doctor and still had limited exposure to other sciences like nursing, physical therapy, dentistry, or a medical research scientist. In fact, they had a unique opportunity during sophomore year to go to rotations in the local hospital and followed around nursing staff and they got to shadow a doctor around for half of their senior year of high school. Rachel got to shadow a plastic surgeon. At that point, Rachel was convinced it was what she wanted to do.
[07:00] High School: Shadowing and Mentorship
The part of her shadowing experience (when she was in high school) that reaffirmed her decision to become a doctor was seeing a person in a white coat that can influence a person's life and the decisions they make for their health and their future. Plus, she got so inspired by the fact that she shadowed a plastic surgeon who was a female, has four kids, and still be able to raise a family while having a profound impact on people's lives.
Rachel also got to work for their family friend, a Hematologist- Oncologist, and she was in charge of filing and organizing medical charts and answering phone calls. She was then able to differentiate the work of a plastic surgeon from being an oncologist. Being able to see cancer patients being treated simply reaffirmed her desire to have an influence in other people's lives. Generic, as some would probably say, but she was profoundly influenced by and in awe of these people that she was motivated to achieve her career choice.
[09:45] College in NYU and Access to Premed Resources
Rachel got into NYU and was all smooth-sailing from there until she quickly figured out, being eighteen years old and living in the heart of downtown Manhattan, that she had no idea of what she was doing. She didn't know how to be in control of her studies or how to handle the rigorous premed curriculum. She didn't know how to study and stand out in a group of over 800 premed students. She just didn't know how to warm an impressive application that is acceptable enough to get into medical school. In short, Rachel wasn't happy with how college was going for her.
Her close friend in college was a premed and wanted to go to medical school but she was studying Nutrition and Food Studies at NYU. She loved the program so much that she felt she was learning all the basic coursework that could help her in medical school. She was also learning a lot about diet and food that may help certain health conditions. In case med school didn't work out for her then she's still a registered dietitian. And there wasn't actually much convincing from her to have her switch over to a Nutrition and Food Studies major and she did keep the premed coursework as well. Thinking she needed more one-on-one attention from her professors, she didn't really know where to start in terms of extra-curricular activities that she would both enjoy and look good on her med school application.
Because NYU was such a large university with so many correspondence being sent out and hearing different views from other people, Rachel didn't actually know how to access the premed and pre-health offices and their services for a good two years of college. And while there, she didn't really feel she got the right kind of support she needed. She needed hand-holding in the beginning but they were too grade-centered and grade-focused. If you're not getting A's in your premed classes then they won't encourage you to apply to med school and if you do, they can't help you because your grades are not great. (This is the nasty trick pre-health advising offices won't tell you that because in their minds you didn't meet the qualifications so they don't want to help you because then they can leave you off their stats and brag on their 98% acceptance rate to medical school.) Rachel wished that at least there was somebody there who could tell her another way to get into medical school but “there was only one way.”
[15:50] Course Correction: Strengthening Your Weaknesses
It took her till the end of her junior year to realize that she was able to seek tutoring for mentorship outside of NYU. She then decided it was wise to focus on what was weak on her application and take 1-2 years to strengthen those weaknesses. So she took two years off before getting into medical school.
To find out what was weak on her application, Rachel's mentor laid out everything out on the table and assessed her grades, GPA, extracurriculars, volunteering, and job opportunities (which she has done throughout college working in medical-related fields).
At that point, she has not taken her MCAT. Her nutrition grades were excellent and her Nutrition GPA was high. But her premed science GPA was not good at 2.7. This was what was needed to be fixed and what she had to focus on over the next 1-2 years before submitting her application. It was her undergrad GPA that needed some fixing so there was no need to take grad classes. So instead of enrolling in a postbac program, she decided to enroll in a local university (in New Jersey) and just register for high-level science courses. She then started building her course load and started registering for as many biology classes as possible. Initially, she was being told that she didn't have the prerequisites to be taking high-level science courses and through the advice of her mentor, she went to the office and stated her case to them, promising she will ace those courses. She took 60 credits of coursework that year and finished with a 3.999 GPA. At that time, her professors let her into his Microbiology lab so was able to do research while she was there.
[21:45] AACOMAS Application: Grade Replacement and the New Policy Change
On the AACOMAS application (for DO schools), for any classes repeated, you didn't put any credit hours in for the old class and then you put credit hours and the grade you got in your new class so that it's counted towards your GPA.
But there's a new policy change for the 2017 application cycle for 2018 acceptance where they're now doing how the MD application works wherein all the grades are counted all together to get your average. So your postbac classes are no longer going to replace your old ones. They're just going to be average.
Did she regret going to NYU? Initially, yes. But she realized being in NYU and in New York City was a unique experience for her since she got to grow up differently than he colleagues had. What she wished though was knowing that it's okay to take some time off before going to medical school so if she would have to do it all over again, she would have enjoyed studying Nutrition and Food Studies or any non-traditional type of major at a place like NYU and then she would have done a postbac program after she graduated where she's at her greatest level of maturity and focus to make it a great application.
[26:15] About Pre-SOMA and Its Roles to Osteopathic Premed Students
Pre-SOMA (Pre- Student Osteopathic Medical Association) is the undergrad division of the larger Student Osteopathic Medical Association, which is the student portal to the greater osteopathic community. They're the direct student voice of the American Osteopathic Association. The students are heard on issues that affect them both in school and their future career as physicians. Naturally, SOMA seeks to mentor and nurture those interested in applying to osteopathic medical schools. SOMA and Pre-SOMA are solely led by osteopathic medical students.
They spend the day rotating through hospitals or sitting through classes as well as volunteer their time at home to devote their energy to the organization's growth. Pre-SOMA currently has 1,200 premed members, many of which are part of 30 active chapters at universities nationwide. National Pre-SOMA works hard to promote osteopathic medical profession, increase the number of applicants to osteopathic medical schools, and promote support the growth of aspiring osteopathic physicians at all levels of education. Pre-SOMA is the equivalent of Pre-Med AMSA in the allopathic world.
[29:05] Are Osteopathic Schools a Plan B?
The biggest misconception of students about osteopathic medicine is that this it's your Plan B if you don't get to an allopathic school. It's better than having to go out of the country for medical school. Nevertheless, Rachel gets so excited to hear from premed students that they are solely and specifically applying to osteopathic medical school because of the philosophy it encompasses rather than just being a Plan B.
With Rachel's case, this wasn't a Plan B for her. Instead, she chose to apply to as many medical schools as possible to increase her chances of getting in. Osteopathic medical schools were the first ones to accept her so she knew they wanted her more than allopathic programs.
People who think this is Plan B are not enlightened to the philosophy that osteopathic medicine really encompasses. It is then their role to educate students that becoming a DO is not a plan B but a very special and exciting plan that they should consider being a part of. Rachel believes that she was truly meant to become a DO and to really embrace the philosophy it encompasses.
[32:55] Common Questions Related to Applying to DO Programs
The most common question that Rachel get from premeds is how they can shadow a DO because of the small ratio of 1:4 practicing physicians in the country and they tend to be more geographically-centered in some areas than others. Unfortunately, time is limited for Rachel to make a master list of DOs to shadow across the country. However, there are more practicing DOs than you think with about 100,000 DOs in this country. Please visit the AOA (American Osteopathic Association) website which is a valuable resource to search for listings of all the Osteopathic State Associations with contact information for each state.
What if they said no? Remain contacting physicians and their offices. Contact them in another way like showing up to their office and hand in your resume to the secretary. Rachel has done this several times and it opened up doors for her. Don't be afraid to cold call somebody and keep asking.
What if there are no DOs to shadow where you live? Then become a Pre-SOMA member so you can have access to events and activities in your area.
Is it important to shadow a DO to specifically watch OMT? Rachel personally thinks otherwise since you can actually watch YouTube videos on it or take online courses. Looking back at Rachel's shadowing experience with the DO Oncologist, he has never done OMT on his patients. Rachel thinks being a DO is beyond actual practice of using your hands for manipulation, but rather, living by the tenets of osteopathic medicine and the philosophy behind it. Osteopathic physicians are trained to consider the body as whole first. While you many not necessarily OMT with your hands, you can still practice medicine in an osteopathic way by taking time to consider the patients as a whole, physically embrace them, make them feel comfortable, and honor their space. Again, Rachel believes it's not necessary to watch OMT in terms of “cracking the nut” but to see the more holistic approach they give towards patients.
[39:50] How to Start a Pre-SOMA Chapter in Your School
If you're interested to establish a Pre-SOMA in your school or to see if the school already has one but it's just inactive, simply go to their website. Or shoot them an email firstname.lastname@example.org. Another way to get involved is to help Rachel with some tasks within the association.
If you're applying to a DO school and you have a leadership position in your extracurriculars about starting a Pre-SOMA chapter in your school obviously shows your interest in osteopathic medicine.
[42:00] The Hardest Thing for Premed Students
For Rachel, the hardest thing for a premed student and even for a medical student is being able to process all the information and “advice” that people give you, what the right thing to do is, and when you need to decide what the right thing to do is. It's hard to get lost in all the information and “advice” people give you. Just take idea from other people and take them for what they are but you need to be confident in yourself and in your application because, come interview day, they will see right through you if you're not confident enough. So be confident and be able to process the information and advice given to you but don't dwell in it.
[43:30] Other Ways to Get Involved in Pre-SOMA
There are other ways to get involved in and meet with osteopathic students and physicians throughout the country. Visit the Pre-SOMA website and you'll find Rachel there. Membership is free.
Get access to their events held every year. Just last Fall, they had the National Osteopathic Night Out where they had 70 locations across the country where premeds met med students over a cup of coffee and ask them anything and everything about osteopathic medical school.
Another upcoming event happens in April, The National ShaDO Week, where they have participating colleges of osteopathic medicine across the country opening up their doors to premed students and get the chance to live like a med student including attending lectures, participating in OMT lab, and meeting with admissions directors at their schools.
Another event in April is the DO Day on Capitol Hill where med students, osteopathic physicians, and everyone representing the osteopathic medical community goes to Washington D.C. and meets with Congressmen and Senators to discuss issues pertaining to the osteopathic medical community. They have two scholarships for premed students open for this event in early April. Check out their website for updates on how to apply soon.
Lastly, OMED is a big annual DO conference that hosts thousands of osteopathic physicians, medical students, and premed students. Get the opportunity to be able to rub shoulders with doctors and med students.
Links and Other Resources:
Dr. Ryan Gray: The Premed Years, session number 225.
Hello and welcome to the two-time Academy Award nominated podcast, The Premed Years, where we believe that collaboration, not competition, is key to your premed success. I am your host Dr. Ryan Gray, and in this podcast we share with you stories, encouragement, and information that you need to know to help guide you on your path to becoming a physician.
Welcome to The Premed Years. I'm glad you have taken some time out of your day to listen to this podcast today. This is going to be an important one to answer your questions about osteopathic medicine. I had the great pleasure of interviewing the Junior National Director of Pre-SOMA, Rachel, and she shares with us her story, and also a lot of the common questions that she gets about being an osteopathic medical student, about being a premed interested in osteopathic medicine, and so much more. Let's go ahead and dive right in.
Rachel, welcome to The Premed Years, thanks for joining me.
Meeting Rachel Abramczyk
Rachel Abramczyk: Thank you so much for having me.
Dr. Ryan Gray: When did you know you wanted to be a doctor?
Rachel Abramczyk: That's a loaded question, I've been getting it a lot recently from the premed students that I've interacted with over this past year. I guess it's pretty stereotypical in the fact that when I was around fifth or sixth grade I started realizing that I liked the sciences that I was learning in school, and the first thing that came to mind is, ‘Oh you're good at science, is that you can be a doctor.' You know that was very naive of me when I was younger but that's when the idea first entered my mind. And I didn't have any doctors in the immediate family; my parents aren't doctors, grandparents aren't doctors, so I didn't really know what it was like. We have some family friends who were doctors but didn't really know about much of what they did and what their day-to-day like. But it was just an idea that popped into my mind, so when I got older and went into middle school, I focused on more science type of electives, and was having a lot of fun. Again to me science equaled medicine and medical school, and not necessarily being a scientist, or being a researcher, or even being a nurse or a physical therapist for that matter. To me it was always equivalent to-
Dr. Ryan Gray: Why do you think that is? Because I think that's for most people, it's like oh science equals doctor.
Rachel Abramczyk: Right? Right I mean I don't know why. I think just from the limited exposure that I had to medicine at that point in my life, that was really the only thing that I could equate it to at that time. You know I was young at the time, I didn't necessarily know whether or not I was more of a leader, or I wanted to be more in control of my day-to-day as many physicians are. It was just the automatic equivalence to me that I really can't point out specifically. I don't know if it stuck out for you in your mind as to when that happened, science equals medicine, and not nursing or physical therapy.
Dr. Ryan Gray: It didn't for me, it was totally a different path for me, but that always seems to be the common theme from people. It's oh science, doctor, science, doctor.
Rachel Abramczyk: Yeah.
Dr. Ryan Gray: And I don't know if maybe because as we grow up, and we interact with doctors, and they're these cool people in white coats that give us antibiotics when we have ear infections and everything else, so there's this mystique about them. So I don't know.
Rachel Abramczyk: Yeah I think that definitely hits the nail on the head. There is this sort of mystique about it that's sort of authority that you strive to be and have one day as a professional when I grow up, I want to have such authority. And I just really didn't know much else about it, and I think that's kind of what kept me focused on wanting to achieve it, is that when I was young I didn't have anyone to talk me out of it per say. I had parents who luckily very, very, very supportive since day one when I said I wanted to be a doctor. And I went through middle school thinking that's what I wanted to do, and then I actually had a pretty unique experience in high school growing up along the Jersey School, the school system I was in in the county schools, they had specialized public high schools that you could be tested into, for lack of a better word, gifted and talented public schools. And I found out about a medical sciences high school, and I applied, and I got in. And I was so, so, so excited, and from that day forward again it was medicine, medicine, medicine in high school, doctor, doctor, doctor in high school. We had very limited exposure actually to nursing, to physical therapy, to dentistry, to occupational therapy, to becoming a medical research scientist. It was even in high school, we had the unique opportunity to learn about what it is to become a physician starting from rotations in the local hospital during our sophomore year, we got to follow around nursing staff [Inaudible 00:06:16] to taking on double the science course load as a high school student, taking a lot of AP courses in science and math, and we even had the lucky opportunity during our senior year of high school to- we were so excited to be able to leave high school early for the day to complete some sort of internship and actually follow a doctor around and shadow a doctor around for half of our senior year of high school. And I got to do it with a plastic surgeon and it was so much fun, and by that point as a senior in high school, again I was like, ‘This is what I want to do.'
How Shadowing Solidified Rachel’s Decision
Dr. Ryan Gray: What was it about shadowing and having those experiences that kind of reaffirmed in your mind that this early decision of, ‘Oh science doctor' is now like materializing into something real?
Rachel Abramczyk: Right. Again it was so cool to see the person in the white coat having such influence over a person's health and a person's life and the decisions that they make for their health and for their future. And what was even cooler about this doctor is that it was a woman. It was a female plastic surgeon, and I'm sure you've had discussions with other people on the podcast here about how tough it is to as a woman consider a surgical sub-specialty as a career. So she was just a great influence and so inspirational that if she can do it and have four kids, and raise a family, and be able to have such a profound impact on people's lives, then I can do it too. So she was a great mentor in that way for me. Additionally at the same time actually I was also working for a family friend. It was the closest doctor I knew to me at the time, a hematologist oncologist, and he offered me work in his office just for filing. At that time it was just paper charts everywhere in a very busy office so I was basically in charge of making sure all the charts were filed, and put away, and I was answering phones. You know it's definitely a different specialty from the plastic surgeon, and the kind of patients that they treated for the most part, so being able to see cancer patients treated as well just reaffirmed that I wanted to have this sort of influence in other people's lives.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Nice.
Rachel Abramczyk: So kind of generic but I was really profoundly influenced and in awe by these people so they were very motivating in terms of being able to achieve my career and pursue my career choice.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah so very- sounds like very standard kind of exposure, and falling in love with medicine.
Rachel Abramczyk: Yeah.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Did you- you went to it sounds like a great high school that exposed you to this. Did you go straight into college and straight through with no problems, no hiccups, and said, ‘This is easy, I've got this,' or were there obstacles along the way?
Rachel Abramczyk: Right so that's where my story becomes a little bit less bread and butter, a little bit less generic. I got into a decent college, I got into NYU, that's where I wanted to go. I thought it would be all smooth sailing from there, and I was like, ‘Alright I'll declare a really science type of major.' I started out with biology, of course like can I get any more generic? And it took one semester of college being eighteen years old, living in the heart of downtown Manhattan, and very quickly figuring out that I had no idea what I was doing.
Dr. Ryan Gray: In terms of what?
Learning How to be a College Student
Rachel Abramczyk: In terms of not knowing what I was doing- I didn't know how to be in control of my studies, and I didn't know how to handle the vigorous premed curriculum well. I didn't know how to study and stand out in a group of over 800 premed students because that's how big my classes were at NYU. I remember my general chemistry lecture was like 850 students, and our lecture was in the performing arts center at NYU, and we all had to take out our clickers for attendance. And I just didn't know how to stand out, and make myself shine, and really form an application that would be impressive and acceptable enough to enter medical school. After a year of just taking the biology, and the premed coursework, I wasn't completely happy with how college was going, and I ended up having a very close friend in college tell me that she premed and wanted to go to medical school, but she actually was studying nutrition and food studies at NYU. And she loved the program so much, she felt like she was learning all of the basic science coursework that could help her in medical school, and she was also learning a lot about diet and foods that may help certain health conditions. And she was on track just in case, if medical school didn't work out, on becoming a registered dietitian. And she actually- it didn't take much convincing from her to have me switch over to a nutrition and food studies major, and I did keep the premed coursework as well while I was at NYU. But the premed coursework remained for some reason for me very difficult to stay fluid in. I think I needed more one-on-one attention from my professors which was really hard to do studying in a massive sea of premed students there. I didn't really know where to start in terms of volunteering, and extracurriculars that not only I would enjoy but would also look good on my med school application.
Dr. Ryan Gray: So let me stop you there for a second. You're at NYU, not a small liberal arts school in the middle of nowhere. I'm assuming they had, or have pre-health offices and advisors. Was it something where you just didn't know the questions to ask and who to ask them to? Or did you just not get the support that you needed?
Rachel Abramczyk: That was- it was kind of a combination of both I'd say. I think the university itself was so large and there was so much correspondence being sent out, and so many emails being sent out, and hearing different views from different people, I didn't even know how to access the premed, the pre-health office and their services probably for a good two years of college. And I also didn't feel like they really- when I was there that they were giving me the support that I needed. I think I needed a little bit of hand holding in the beginning and they were just very grade centric, grade focused. They were like, ‘Well you're not getting A's in your premed classes. We do not encourage you to apply to med school, and if you do we can't really help you because your grades aren't great.'
Dr. Ryan Gray: That's the nasty little trick that pre-health advising offices won't tell you, is that because in their mind you didn't meet the qualifications, they don't want to help you because then they can leave you off of their stats and say, ‘Look we have a 98% acceptance rate to medical school. It doesn't include all these other people that we denied that had a 3.5 and we didn't think they were going to get in.'
Rachel Abramczyk: Right, exactly. And yeah, I had no idea that's how they worked there, so the few times I was there I left so discouraged. I did not want to give up my major, I did not want to give up my dream of applying to medical school, but I wish that I had someone in that office there tell me, ‘Well if you can't do it this way because your grades are like this, then let's think of another way that we can do this, and can make this work for you.'
Dr. Ryan Gray: No, there's only one way.
Rachel Abramczyk: God forbid they do that, God forbid they actually do their job a little bit more. So it took until like the end of med school when I did start picking up the books to study for the MCAT, like you asked, ‘Did you go straight through?' I did not. It took me like until the end of my junior year, beginning of senior year to realize through a mentor- I met with a mentor that I did see outside of NYU for tutoring for mentorship, that I decided it would be wise to focus on what was weak on my med school application, and take one to two years to strengthen those weaknesses, and that's exactly what I did. So I took two years off before getting into medical school.
Analyzing Application for Weaknesses
Dr. Ryan Gray: How did you determine what was weak in your application?
Rachel Abramczyk: So this guy took the time with me to lay everything out on the table. At that point we went over grades, we went over GPA, I did get in a bunch of extracurriculars, I did get some really good volunteering and job opportunities. I actually did end up working for money throughout all four years of med school in some sort of medical related field. I did do research in New York City, and then I also ended up working for the Department of Health in New York City which was amazing. I had a great time, but I also learned I didn't want to do public health at the end of it. So we laid out everything of my application. If we took a snapshot today of what your application looks like, what can we pinpoint that can be better? And for me it was- before that point I had not taken my MCAT, it was everything up until that point before the MCAT, and we saw that my nutrition grades were excellent, I loved studying nutrition and food studies, I had a 3.8 / 3.9 nutrition GPA. I would have gotten into any dietetic internship that I wanted to if I wanted to become a dietitian. But it was my premed science GPA that was not good at all. It was like a 2.7 which was embarrassing. I didn't even realize that because when you get your GPA calculated online through your transcript it's just your premed and your nutrition grades compiled together. So we took them apart and figured out what my premed science GPA was, and it was a 2.7. He said, ‘This is what we need to fix, this is what you need to focus on over the next one to two years before you submit your applications,' and that's exactly what I did.
Postbac Classes to Improve Application
Dr. Ryan Gray: So did you take postbac classes?
Rachel Abramczyk: Yeah, I- so I asked him first, and I get these questions a lot from the premeds that I speak to. I asked him first, ‘Well can I do some sort of Master's program? I'm in New York City, there are so many great Master's programs, I can go to Columbia. A lot of my NYU friends went to Columbia and other great schools for Master's programs.' He said, ‘Kid, Rachel, it's your undergrad grades that need improving. Why would you take grad classes if you need to fix that undergrad GPA box on your application?' So instead we decided that instead of enrolling in an official postbac program since at that point I really had completed all of my general premed sciences, we decided that I would enroll in a local university that has a good reputation and just register for a butt load of sciences courses. So I applied to Rutgers University being from New Jersey, be in-state, much cheaper tuition, and I got accepted three days later which was very exciting, and I started building my course load, and I started registering for as many biology classes as possible including cell molec biology, embryology. I decided to re-take physics because my grades at NYU weren't stellar, and that's where I started.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Okay.
Rachel Abramczyk: I did get some- for people who are listening, I did get some pushback from Rutgers. I was registering for a lot of 400 level biology courses, and they're like, ‘Rachel you don't have the pre-requisites. We understand that you graduated college but you don't have the pre-requisites to be taking such high level science courses.' So I went back to my mentor and I said to him, ‘Like what do I do?' He said, ‘Go into their office and state your case to them, and tell them that you will not let them down, and you will ace those courses.' So I went in, I met with the head of the biology department at Rutgers University, I said, ‘I will not let you down, please let me into these courses,' and that's what he did.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Nice.
Rachel Abramczyk: And I took sixty credits of coursework that year between two summer sessions, fall, and spring, and I finished with a 3.99999, I was very close to a 4.0, and at that same time one of the professors took a liking to me and he let me into his molecular biology lab and I did bench research while I was there too.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Nice.
Rachel Abramczyk: Yeah it was a good time.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah so you are in medical school now as an osteopathic student.
Rachel Abramczyk: Yes.
AACOMAS Grade Replacement Change
Dr. Ryan Gray: You were able to take advantage of this little known thing called grade replacement that the AACOMAS application used to have and now it doesn't.
Rachel Abramczyk: Yes.
Dr. Ryan Gray: I'm interested to know your thoughts. Like why- so you were able to take advantage of that and it helped you get into a school. Do you know your pre grade replacement grade and your post grade replacement grade?
Rachel Abramczyk: I'm actually not familiar with that grade replacement term, so I'm not sure if my grades were replaced or they were actually just built in and blended in on top of what I had already had.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah.
Rachel Abramczyk: But I know that before I took all those classes, I had around a 2.7 and in the end I had around a 3.5 / 3.6 science GPA.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah, so grade replacement for those listening that don't know, and for you, so on the AACOMAS application when you apply to DO schools, any classes that you repeated, you didn't put any credit hours in for the old class, and then the new class you put credit hours in the grade that you got, and so that was counted towards your GPA. And it's a new policy change for the 2017 application cycle for 2018 acceptance, is that they're no longer doing it. They're doing it the way that the MD application works where all of the grades are counted and they're just all averaged together.
Rachel Abramczyk: Okay.
Dr. Ryan Gray: So big change unfortunately for those that are in the process of going to a postbac, and all of a sudden are told, ‘Guess what? Your postbac classes are no longer going to replace your old ones, they're just going to be averaged.'
Rachel Abramczyk: Yeah it does make it harder. It can make it exponentially harder. I realized how hard after completing a whole degree, how much harder it would take to build up that GPA.
What Rachel Would Have Done Differently
Dr. Ryan Gray: What would you have done differently knowing what you know now, going to NYU, would you still have gone to NYU knowing that you wanted to be premed. Was it just too hard of a premed school, or would you have just not done the biology major and surrounded yourself with all these premed students?
Rachel Abramczyk: Right. I think first, my first thought was, ‘Oh I should not have gone to NYU.' I have a lot of friends who- since I did go to this premed high school, a lot of my friends who I went to high school with ended up at the state university like Rutgers and they were able to be rock stars in programs like that and go straight through to medical school. So that was my initial regretful feelings. Like, ‘Oh I should have done what they did, I should have just stayed in-state, experienced college differently in a big campus school, and have gone straight through.' But almost entering my fourth year in medical school, it's unbelievable to think how fast it's going by. I realized that being in NYU in New York City honestly was such a unique experience for me. I was able to grow up in a way differently than some of my colleagues had being for lack of a better word sheltered on campus schools, that I really don't regret having that experience being in New York- being in a large school in New York City. But like you mentioned, I kind of wish that I knew that it's okay to take time off, it's okay to take a few extra years before applying and going to medical school, that if I were to do it all over again, I probably would have enjoyed myself studying nutrition and food studies, or some sort of other nontraditional type of major at a place like NYU, and then I would have probably done a postbac program separately after I graduated so that I can really feel like I was at my greatest maturity level and had the greatest level of focus to make my application as good as possible.
Participation in Pre-SOMA
Dr. Ryan Gray: Okay, interesting. So again you're an osteopathic student now, and you kind of are a bigshot in the Pre-Student Osteopathic Medical Association world. What is your role in that organization?
Rachel Abramczyk: Yeah so Pre-SOMA, the Pre-Student Osteopathic Medical Association is actually the undergrad division of an even larger association. It's the Student Osteopathic Medical Association which is the osteopathic medical student's portal to the greater osteopathic community. And what a lot of even osteopathic medical students don't realize, is that we're the direct student voice to the American Osteopathic Association. So SOMA for medical students gets the students' voices heard on issues that affect them both in school and for their future careers as physicians. So naturally an organization like SOMA is going to want to be able to mentor and nurture those who are interested in applying to osteopathic medical schools. So SOMA and Pre-SOMA are nationally led by and solely by osteopathic medical students. So it's pretty busy. You know we spend the day rotating through the hospital or sitting through class, and then when we get home we volunteer our time to devote our energy and grow the organization. So Pre-SOMA currently has 1,200 premed members, many of which are part of thirty active chapters at universities nationwide, and national Pre-SOMA works hard to promote osteopathic medical profession, increase the number of applicants to osteopathic medical schools, and support the growth of aspiring osteopathic physicians at all levels of education. And we've had high school students reach out to us, we've even had professionals in their thirties and forties looking for a change in their career, and we are here to help guide people who are interested in applying to medical school, help guide them into successfully applying and getting in.
Dr. Ryan Gray: That's awesome. So for you listening, Pre-SOMA would be the equivalent of the Pre-Med AMSA for the allopathic world.
Rachel Abramczyk: Correct.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Alright so in your role, I'm assuming you get a ton of questions about osteopathic medicine, and I'm sure you're answering the same questions over and over and over again. So for this podcast, so we can answer the question once and just point people to this podcast, what do you think is the biggest misconception that students have when they're reaching out to you and ask questions about osteopathic medicine?
Biggest Misconception about Osteopathic Medicine
Rachel Abramczyk: I think the biggest misconception, I'm sure you have heard this before from other osteopathic students and physicians, is that this was plan B for us, and that, ‘Okay well just in case I don't get into an allopathic program, I'll apply DO, and if I get in we'll see what happens because it's still better than having to go out of the country for medical school,' and that's- I'm generalizing but that's a question I've asked recently, while meeting with med students- premed students who are interested in applying to medical school. That being said, I am so excited to hear from premed students that they are solely specifically applying to osteopathic medical school because of the philosophy that it encompasses rather than it just being a plan B. For me, it wasn't a plan B, it was just I'm going to apply to as many medical schools as possible so that I could increase my chances of getting in. And for me osteopathic medical schools, those were the first schools that accepted me, so I knew they wanted me more than allopathic programs. That being said, people don't realize that the people who still think that it's plan B, they're not enlightened to the philosophy that osteopathic medicine really encompasses, and that's why we're here to educate them, and enlighten them, and to teach them as to why becoming a DO isn't plan B. It's a very special and exciting plan that they should really consider being part of.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah I think your original discussion about plan B, it used to be that the philosophy- and if you go on certain student physician forums, that it still is. Like, ‘Oh your grades aren't good enough, apply to a DO school.' And it's funny because when you actually run the numbers statistically, it's harder to get into a DO school these days than an MD school. So I think more and more people are doing exactly what you did, that they're just increasing their odds and putting DO schools on the same level as MD schools and just saying, ‘You know what? I want to be a physician period. It doesn't matter what the letters are after my name, so I'm going to apply everywhere.'
Rachel Abramczyk: Right, and I do have to add something, which is just it comes full circle. I didn't even realize when I was young that the hematologist oncologist I was working for is a DO.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Oh nice.
Rachel Abramczyk: I didn't even realize that he's a DO, and he was in the first graduating class of my school actually, so he was so excited to find out that not only was I going to an osteopathic medical school, I was going to his school. So it's just funny how things do come full circle, and everything happens for a reason. So in terms of casting a wide net, applying to both DO and MD programs really increasing your chances of becoming a physician period, I'm a true believer that everything happens for a reason. So I'm a true believer, I was meant to become a DO and to really embrace the philosophy that it encompasses.
Biggest Challenge for Osteopathic Students
Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah, awesome. What is the biggest challenge for premed students that are interested in osteopathic medicine? What do you think is the biggest challenge for them to apply to DO programs without having much DO experience?
Rachel Abramczyk: Yeah that's a really good question. If you were to scour my Pre-SOMA email inbox right now, I would say the most emails that come in with questions from premed students is, ‘How do I shadow a DO?' Because right now DOs encompass only one in four to one in five practicing physicians in the country, and they do tend to be more geographically centered in some areas versus others. So me being from the northeast, there's a lot of osteopathic physicians here, same for other corners of the country as well. Since Pre-SOMA is run only by two osteopathic medical students, me and someone else who's a fourth year about to graduate, time is extremely limited for us to make a ‘master list' of DOs to shadow across the country because there's actually a lot more practicing DOs than you think. I think we just hit 100,000 DOs in this country which is awesome. I got an email from the AOA a few months ago actually saying that. And the answer that I usually have for these students is to go onto the AOA website, the American Osteopathic Association website. It's a really invaluable resource because they have the listings of all the osteopathic state associations and where there's contact info listed for each state. So for example coming from New Jersey and working closely with members of my state association, I know that these associations would be thrilled, they would be so excited to hear from these premed student and would most certainly give out the contact information of its active members who are willing to take students to come in to shadow. And a lot of the time these students follow up saying, ‘Well what if they say no, you can't shadow? Well what do I do next? I really want to shadow a DO before I apply to med school.' And the answer that I give to these students are often the beyond the lines of osteopathic versus allopathic medicine. I tell them to remain persistent and polite, and to keep contacting these physicians and their offices, contact them in another way like showing up to their office and handing your resume to their secretary. I've done this several times throughout my academic career, I continue to do it considering I'm going to be applying to residency soon, and in my experience it's definitely opened up doors for me and really hasn't closed any if you're polite about it.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah I think as premed students, as anybody, we're always skittish to cold call somebody and the fear of rejection is huge. And usually the response is no response, and I always tell students, ‘Unless they tell you no, they're not telling you no, so you need to keep asking.'
Rachel Abramczyk: It's so true. Yeah I mean and then another question that I do get is because of geography, of where DOs tend to have historically practiced, even though that's changing now because we continue to open up more and more osteopathic medical schools, the next question I get from them is, ‘Well what if there are no DOs to shadow where I live?' And that's understandable, but that's when I urge the premed students to become a Pre-SOMA member so that they can be open to events and activities that are going on in their area. So those are the general questions that I get.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Okay I want to ask a little bit more about Pre-SOMA in one minute, but I have another question that just popped up in my mind.
Rachel Abramczyk: Sure.
Dr. Ryan Gray: One of the big things I think in my mind that separates osteopathic physicians from allopathic physicians is OMT, like the kind of thing that defines you almost.
Rachel Abramczyk: Yes.
Is OMT Important for Premed Students to Observe?
Dr. Ryan Gray: But not every DO practices OMT. Do you think it's important for a premed student to shadow a DO specifically to watch OMT?
Rachel Abramczyk: I personally do not think that they have to specifically watch someone doing OMT. They can watch YouTube videos on that, they can take an online course on it if they want to. If I can go into a little story, looking back on the hematologist oncologist that's a DO, he never did OMT on his patients. And he probably could have, especially in trying to comfort cancer patients who were in chronic pain and had other problems, but I think being a DO is beyond the actual practice of using your hands for manipulation, and it's more about living by the tenets of osteopathic medicine and the philosophy behind it, and that osteopathic physicians are trained to consider the body as a whole first, and if I reflect upon my experiences with that doctor, the oncologist, even though he didn't necessarily practice OMT, the manipulation therapy with his hands, he still practiced his medicine in an osteopathic way, and that he really took time to consider the patient as a whole; about their social life, about what's going on at work, about what's going on at home, the way that he physically embraced patients and made them feel comfortable by giving them hugs or honoring their space when they desired it. So I don't think a premed student needs to necessarily see OMT done in terms of being able to crack necks, and do muscle energy, and to do cranial manipulation, but rather just see the more holistic type of approach that they give towards their patients. So no, I don't think they need to.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Alright, good answer. Alright back to Pre-SOMA. You mentioned that there are thirty chapters in the nation.
Rachel Abramczyk: Yes.
About Pre-SOMA Chapters
Dr. Ryan Gray: I find that inadequate. If somebody listening is at a school that doesn't have a Pre-SOMA chapter, and wants to start one, what does that process look like?
Rachel Abramczyk: That's a really good question and I completely, whole-heartedly agree with you that thirty chapters isn't adequate. We actually do have a lot more chapters but they have not been active for the past couple years, so we kind of take them off of that active list. That being said, the easiest thing that these students can do who may be interested in starting a chapter, being able to see if their school already has a chapter that might be inactive, is that they go onto our website, they go onto www.StudentDO.org/presoma and they click around, and there's a tab there, ‘Start a Chapter,' and the directions are pretty self-explanatory. They can also shoot us an email at email@example.com with the same question. Be like, ‘Hey Rachel, what's up? I heard you on that podcast, I'm interested in starting a chapter, could you let me know if my school already has one?' And we're more than able to help them out in that way. In fact another way for them to get involved is I actually have premed students helping me with those kinds of tasks. So I have someone in charge of my database keeping track of all the new members, and chapters, and he's a premed student applying to med school now. So every year we kind of turn over that committee of those premed students who help us in that respect. So just contact us, email us, we respond back really quickly, we're so excited to hear from you.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah and if you're applying to an osteopathic medical school and you have a leadership position in your extracurriculars about starting a Pre-SOMA chapter at your school, I mean that obviously shows that you're interested in osteopathic medicine.
Rachel Abramczyk: Yup.
Dr. Ryan Gray: What do you think is the- I guess let me ask more generally. Not osteopathic, not allopathic, what do you think is the hardest thing these days for premed students?
Rachel Abramczyk: The hardest thing for premed students. It's funny, I think the hardest thing for premed students still remains one of the hardest things for being a med student too, and it's something that I still experience to this day, is being able to process all the information and advice that people give you, and what the right thing to do is, and when you need to decide for yourself what the right thing or action to do is. You know you can have a lot of friends who are already in med school and be like, ‘Well I did X, Y, and Z, so you should do X, Y, and Z.'
Dr. Ryan Gray: That's why this podcast exists, because I don't just listen to one person, or I don't just tell my story and say, ‘This is how I got into school.' I talk to lots of people.
Rachel Abramczyk: I think that's the hardest thing, or hearing from people, ‘Well my GPA was a lot higher than yours, so that's why I got in,' or ‘My GPA is a lot higher than yours so I am going to get in,' and that's so not true. You know it's really hard to get lost in all of the information and ‘advice' that people give you. There needs to be a certain point and it's really, really hard where you need to gain the confidence and say, ‘Well this is me, this is what I'm going to do, and this is how I'm going to present myself. I'm going to take X, Y, and Z information from A, B, and C, and take it for what it is, see how I can apply it, but I need to be confident in myself and in my application because if you're lucky enough to get to interview day at a medical school, they'll see right through you if you're not confident enough. Or they may ask you, ‘Well why was your GPA kind of low?' Well what's your answer going to be to that? ‘Oh well my friends, they told me it was okay, or they told me it wasn't okay, I know it's not that good, but look where I am.' No you need to be confident in your answers and say, ‘Well look at all the other good things that I have done to bring you to the table today.' I really do think that's the hardest thing, is being confident and being able to process the information and advice that's given to you, but don't drown in it.
How Students Can Get Involved in Pre-SOMA
Dr. Ryan Gray: So Rachel, you talked about- or we talked about getting involved as a chapter if somebody wants to start a chapter. How else can a premed student out there start to get involved in the osteopathic world if they don't want to start a chapter?
Rachel Abramczyk: Yeah sure, so starting a chapter is one of the ways you can become involved in Pre-SOMA. But also there are other ways to get involved and to meet with osteopathic medical students and physicians all over the country, I'll guide you guys to the Pre-SOMA website, it's www.StudentDO.org/presoma, and on there you are able to join, our membership is free, and we have a few events that occur every year that are really, really exciting for you guys. This past fall we had National Osteopathic Night Out where we had seventy locations across the country where premeds met med students over a cup of coffee to ask them anything and everything about osteopathic medical school. We have coming up in April, National ShadoWeek, you see what I did there? Where we have participating colleges of osteopathic medicine across the country opening up their doors to premed students and to live a day in the life of a med student from attending lecture, to participating in OMT lab, and even meeting with admissions directors at their schools. And then also we have coming up early April is DO Day on Capitol Hill where med students, osteopathic physicians, anyone and everyone who represents the osteopathic medical community goes to Washington D.C. and meets with their Congressmen and Senators, and discusses issues pertaining to the Osteopathic medical community. We do have two scholarships for premed students open for this event in early April; that will be up on the website soon to apply to. And then lastly every year there's the big DO conference that's called OMED that hosts thousands of osteopathic physicians, medical students, and premed students, so there's a conference for everyone there. So this past year in Anaheim we had around 65 premed students come and they had a blast, and were able to rub shoulders with doctors and med students.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Alright again that was Rachel, the Junior National Pre-SOMA Director sharing her story and hopefully answering a lot of your questions that you have if you are interested in being an osteopathic physician. Remember DO versus MD, there really is no difference. A lot of the biases out here are premed biases. Yes there are still probably some biases among some elite residencies, but outside of that, go be whatever you want to be. If you are interested in osteopathic medicine, great. If you just want to be a doctor and don't care about what's after your name, great go apply everywhere. But know at the end of the day that no matter what's after your name, you're there to take care of patients, and if that means using some osteopathic manipulative therapies, great. If that means treating a head cold with some medications, great. DOs and MDs can do that. Obviously MDs can't really do the manipulation part, that is special for osteopathic physicians, but it's definitely something to think about. At the end of the day, MD or DO, you're taking care of patients.
So with that said, I hope you got a lot of great information out of the podcast today. I want to take a second and thank a few people that have left us ratings and reviews. We have one from Daniel here who says, ‘To Allison and Ryan Gray, I couldn't express how grateful I am to have stumbled upon this podcast four years ago.' Wow. ‘Since the beginning which was known as the Medical School HQ Podcast, your mission to inform, educate and inspire has resonated with aspiring physicians around the world, so thank you both so much.' That's awesome Daniel, thank you for that review, and glad we could be here to help spread that word.
We have another one here from Kain, Kainmed. This is actually Kain, he was on the podcast a while ago, and I got to meet him at UCF when I was there for a medical school admissions symposium. I got to go out to dinner with about fifteen premed students, and Kain, and I helped Kain prepare for his interviews and he was ultimately accepted at the University of Central Florida going to medical school there now. And he said, ‘This is the path to medical school. Just like it's never too late to become a premed, it's never too late to start using The Premed Years Podcast to guide you on your way to medical school. Unless you already are accepted, in that case congratulations. Ryan has produced an invaluable resource that will help you stand out from the sea of medical school applications. This is a must listen and it helped me earn a medical school acceptance.' Thank you Kain for that review.
Alright if you would like to leave a rating and review, I would love one, www.MedicalSchoolHQ.net/iTunes. What I would love even more is your willingness to share this podcast with somebody else. Remember we preach here collaboration, not competition, and so sharing this podcast with a friend isn't giving away all the secrets. You are competing against yourself, so I would love for you to share this podcast with your neighbors, with your advisors, with your classmates, whoever it may be that you think would be interested in learning about the path to medical school, and helping- having me help them on their path to medical school. So do that, I would love it.
Have a great week, don't forget to check out all of the other podcasts that we offer at Med Ed Media. You can check out everything at www.MedEdMedia.com.
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