Today, we chat with a student about her gap year and the app process. She has taken some time off- and wants to know how to overcome & apply to med school.
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[00:21] Question of the Day
“I’m currently in my gap year. I was in a stage of a hiatus and I was wondering if this hiatus would negatively affect my medical application.
As I was in the process of my MCAT study, my last living grandparent passed away from a stroke. It just completely destroyed me and my study momentum. And I just didn’t want to do anything. I don’t want to study. I don’t want to do anything. I just want to be with my family back in Korea. I just want to be with my friends and wind down a bit. And maybe in a few months, I’ll get back into studying.
But then eventually, it didn’t really happen. Because I moved back and forth from Korea to the States two or three times in that span of a year and a half. Then in that process, I also lost my aunt to COVID.
Again, that feeling of helplessness and not wanting to study came back to me. And now I am here. I did nothing to prepare for medical school during that time. Now that I’m going back into preparing for medical school, I’m studying for the MCAT and getting clinical experience and volunteering.
I feel like that whole time has been a bad time for my medical application and that it’s going to negatively affect me. I still want to be a doctor and I still want to do this whole process. I’m just not sure how I need to combat this. And to get me to go moving forward in my process.”
[03:11] Be Human!
The pressure that we’re putting on students to get into medical school is just ridiculous. You’re supposed to be living life and going through a normal mourning period of losing two family members. But then you have that fear of how it’s going to affect your chances of getting into medical school.“You are allowed to be a human being and you are allowed to mourn, process, and go through whatever you need to go through.” Click To Tweet
It’s okay that you took some time off from “preparing” for medical school and continuing to do these activities that are going to show you want to be a physician.
A lot of schools will ask about that in their secondaries. For instance, what you’ve been graduating from since you’ve graduated. And so, that’s where you put there that you took some time off to be with family.
The far majority of schools are going to understand that. And the ones that don’t understand that means you don’t want to go to those schools anyway. Because if something else happens and you lose another family member, they’re not going to be empathetic enough.
That being said, you could still keep your foot in the door in the medical world. It doesn’t have to be your gap year. You can go explore and do things. Life happens sometimes and that’s okay. You didn’t plan to not do anything. It just happened because you were taking care of yourself and being with family and friends and all that stuff. There’s no perfect way to do this.
[06:46] Is It Okay to Apply Next Cycle?
Q: “Since I am starting clinical experience and taking my MCAT. If I were to apply next cycle, would it be okay to apply next cycle? Or do you think I need to build more upon my application (get more volunteering and shadowing)? Should I pursue a postbac or SMP and then apply? Or is it wise to apply for the next cycle?”
A: As of this recording, “next cycle” is basically almost a year from now. Assuming you are doing your clinical activities and other stuff, you’ll have basically a year under your belt when you apply. Anticipate those hours as well from when you go to when you start medical school. That’s plenty. And so there’s no concern regarding that because you have another year to continue to do it.
There are bad things because of COVID, yet the silver lining with COVID is that a lot of students didn’t get clinical experience. They didn’t get shadowing because of COVID. And so, they’re trying to play catch up and scramble to do these things. Therefore, a year under your belt is perfectly fine to do that.
[08:23] Should You Do a Postbac?
Back on Episode 491 of The Premed Years Podcast, I had a great conversation with Dr. Joon Kim from Keck Graduate Institute. He is the director of a postbac program there.
Postbac and SMPs are really just for those who need great repair or the career-changers and you don’t have any science classes.'If your GPA is not good enough that it doesn't give medical schools the confidence that you're academically able to do well in medical school, then you need a postbac or an SMP.'Click To Tweet
If you just lack activities then you don’t need to spend money on a postbac or an SMP program. If you’re on a downward trend or on a rollercoaster trend, then you may need a postbac to show that you’re competitive enough for medical school.
This is something that Mappd can help students with. It’s our online platform that allows you to enter all of your grades, all of your activities, and all that stuff. Then chat with one of our Mappd advisors and they can give you some more detailed feedback.
[10:02] Online Postbac vs. In-Person Postbac
Historically, doing a postbac in-person is probably the safest bet, not necessarily better. And then when COVID happened, medical schools taught their students online. So it would be very hypocritical for a medical school not to accept an online postbac program or online SMP.
That being said, humans being humans, they’re going to have their biases, they’re going to have their preferences.“In-person is preferable, and probably the safest. But if an online program works the best for you, then it would probably be good enough at most schools.”Click To Tweet
[12:28] Shadowing Experiences Outside U.S.
Q: “I’m getting a lot of my shadowing experience out of the country in Korea. I don’t know how American medical schools will look at that. The thing is I also want to know if there’s ever a possibility to work in Korea if there’s the chance to. And so, I was wondering what you thought about this? Or should I reach out and go do more shadowing in some American hospitals?”
A: U.S. shadowing is preferred and it’s the ideal because the whole point of shadowing is to understand the day in the life of a doctor.
While doctoring and taking care of patients is going to be very similar, what you’re not seeing in Korea is the complicated U.S. healthcare system.
You need to see the day-to-day struggles that physicians have in taking care of patients because of our broken health care system. And so, that’s an important part of this process is making sure that you understand that you know what you’re getting yourself into.
Q: For people who apply cycle after cycle after cycle, how did they get their letter of recommendation? Did they ask the same professor? Or was it more like they asked different professors? Because I’m afraid that some professors might reject your requests after asking so many times. What’s the process of other students that you’ve seen?
A: Typically, you’re not getting a new letter. You can go back to the same professor for a letter with the confidence that they wrote you a strong letter. Because if there’s any doubt that that person wrote you a strong letter, then I wouldn’t ask them again the next cycle.
The best case scenario is you are confident that that person wrote you a strong letter of recommendation. You stayed in contact with that person over the application cycle. Then you reached back out to them saying you didn’t get in this cycle. Then ask if they could resubmit their letter with just an updated date on it.
They may want more information from you and you may want to give them more information about what you’ve been up to over the last year or so. Hence, you’re not typically having them write new letters every time. That would be a lot of extra work for them.
[15:50] Cutoffs for Letters of Recommendation
Q: “My university professors have very strict requirements to get letters of recommendation. I was planning on applying to postbac, but it didn’t happen. I was reaching out to a lot of professors I have been in contact with. I have been to their office hours, and I did fairly good in their classes. But I was not able to acquire a letter of recommendation from them because of their strict requirements and their cut-off since you had to have 95 or above to get a letter of recommendation.
A: That’s completely irresponsible, especially if you know them. They’re trying to protect their workload and go out on the only people who have high grades.
At the end of the day, you just have to do what you have to do. Reach out to schools as to what kind of letters of recommendation they allow in terms of the letter writers.
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