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ATD 5: Adversity, References, Postbacs, MCAT Prep, & Interview Stress

Session 5

Today, we talk about comparing DIY postbac vs. formal postbac and taking courses both at a community college and a four-year university. What do medical school admissions committees think of them? We also talk about having those hard conversations with your parents about your journey as well as talking about traumatic experiences in an interview.

Ask the Dean is the first media project from my new company Mappd. It’s a technology platform that’s going to help premeds understand the process of getting into medical school.

Joining me is Mappd co-founder Rachel Grubbs and Dr. Scott Wright, our VP of Academic Advising. He’s the former director of admissions at UT Southwestern and the former executive director of TMDSAS.

Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

[01:09] Talking About Traumatic Experiences 

Q: How I should tackle the adversity challenge? Is it appropriate to share a traumatic experience and how I learned from it? I hesitate from mentioning it since it may not be something that I “could go back and do differently.”

A: It would depend a little bit on what the event was or what the traumatic experience was. But in general, that would be appropriate unless it’s something that you wouldn’t be comfortable discussing. The key here is what have you learned from the experience. Talk about what you learned from this and why having gone through that makes you a better person.

'You have to be prepared to talk about it in a way that's not going to make you too emotional.'Click To Tweet

If it’s part of your journey and it’s why you’re doing this, then you probably should talk about it. But potentially, there are some ways to talk about it.

And if you talk about it, don’t be too graphic. You don’t want to create images in the reader’s mind that would also be traumatic for them or distasteful or whatever. So you really want to focus not so much on the event itself. Just give enough details to make the reader understand the situation. Then move on very quickly to what you learned from it.

It is so important that we do tell our stories. But if we tell our story to someone who’s not ready for it, they get so pulled into feeling what you feel. And they get pulled away from this case of why medicine.

If you feel like you are far enough past your trauma, talk about turning pain into power or pain into empathy or pain into compassion. But if when you were talking about it, you’re still feeling a lot of that pain, they’re going to feel your pain too. It’s good on a compassion level, but not so good on thinking about “why medicine” level because that’s not the point.

Don’t just tell your story. Think about when and how you’re telling your story. And right now, the topic at hand is pursuing a personal statement. So why medicine? And that’s the question.

[12:53] Lost Contact with Advisors

Q: What should nontraditional applicants do for the contact information if it’s been a few years and the advisor is dead or in jail?

A: If they’re in jail, they still have current contact information. Most of the time, that occurs in a letter of recommendation or an evaluation letter. But if you no longer have contact with the person that you did this experience with then just say you don’t know where they are. Maybe just get some level of contact that somebody somewhere maybe can pull up a file that shows you were there to at least verify that you did it.

[17:34] DIY Postbac vs. Formal Postbac

Q: Which one is better, formal postbac or a do-it-yourself postbac?

A: The formal postbac programs sometimes have connections with medical schools. And if you do well in the postbac program, then you get an automatic interview at the medical school. They have those linkages. And this is the benefit of a structured formal program. Some students, however, can’t do that. They either can’t relocate or their money is an issue.

“If you're on a do-it-yourself routine, do it at a school that has a good general advising program for premed students.”Click To Tweet

If you have to take a do-it-yourself postbac, pick a school that has a good general advising program. They may not have a formalized postbac program, but you can take postbac classes there. By virtue of doing that, you have access to premed advisor or staff of advisors that you can work with. They can help you with preparing your application and choosing classes, and stuff like that.

Moreover, doing this at a community college may not be the best option for you. If you’re doing a GPA repair work, for example, don’t do it at a community college. Plus, you may be in a situation where you go through two or three advisors for the time that you’re there, and that would not be optimal.

That being said, the benefits are very relative to your own personal situation. What’s going to work for you in terms of location, costs, goals, and past experience? So this is a very individual decision. But generally, if you can’t do a formal formalized postbac program, don’t lament that you can create your own personalized program that will help get you to where you want to go.

At the end of the day, it’s you who will make or break it, no matter where you go. You have to put the work in. 

“It's the amount of work you put in on it. It's going to be the key.”Click To Tweet

[21:56] Taking Courses at Both Community College and a University

If you’re trying to paste together things because of scheduling or because of cost, that could be acceptable. A community college is an accredited institution. But it may not be optimal. But life happens and there are things where we won’t be able to reach the optimal. Whether that’s because of the cost, work schedule, or family obligations. And so you just work with what you got and do the best you can in pulling things together.

“If you have to do some of the work at community college, think about supplementing community college work with some advanced sciences at the university level.”Click To Tweet

Getting a 4.0 at community college and a 4.0 at university will give you credibility. But if you have 4.0 at the community college and you get to the university and you’re making B’s, then they might question your consistency.

[25:40] Studying for Biochem on the MCAT

Q: How do I self-study for biochem for MCAT prep?

A: Do just one subject at a time because if you mix everything up, that’s not going to prepare you very well. Start studying for as much of the test as you can now. And if it does mean, you have to skip some of the biochem, that’s okay. But at least mix everything else together that you’re ready for. And then just plan for more time doing biochem review closer to the end of the prep. And keep in mind that until you do that, your full-length practice tests may not really reflect your full ability. Because those scores are going to be greatly impacted by having biochem in three of the four sections.

With MCAT prep, keep switching it up. The key is usually you can self-study one subject. Max it out at that rate to make sure you’re getting stuff. If you’re missing more than one then you might not really be ready for your MCAT prep.

[31:37] Struggling with Mock Interviews

The goal of a mock interview is to understand that you can answer every question that comes your way. Stop and think for a second. And just understand that a lot of the times, the thought process of getting to the answer is more valuable than just the final answer.

Secondly, understand what your body goes through in that stress. Do you sweat profusely? Does your mouth dry out? So be ready for those situations during the interview.

“A lot of the times, the thought process of getting to the answer is more valuable than just the final answer.”Click To Tweet

[34:04] AP Credits and Dual Credit Courses

Q: Will medical schools accept AP credits and dual credit courses for prereqs? Can they be substituted for higher-level courses? Or should they be retaken?

A: This question comes up more with students fast-tracking their way through high school and doing a lot of AP stuff or dual credits.

If you know in high school that you’re on the trajectory toward medical school, just keep in mind that you need to take these courses at the university level and work through them.

Scott’s worry is that if you’re taking general chemistry in high school, and you’re getting AP credit for gen chem I and II, or physics I and II or whatever. Then by the time you get to the MCAT, you’re going to be so far away from that material. You have nothing to build on. And it’s going to be a real challenge for you.

And whether medical schools take them in, that’s a hit or miss. Some will and some won’t. So you have to be really careful about where you’re applying and what their standards are.

Ultimately, what parents have to realize is the end goal. Is the goal to save you $30 or $300 or whatever on tuition, or is the end goal to get you into medical school? Focus on the destination, not on these little itsy bitsy things along the way that you’re trying to save.

Rachel adds that there’s still enormous value in doing AP credits, and even dual credit courses.

“The harder the rigor of your course load, the better your chances at the more elite schools. It's not just about the stats, it's about high school rigor.”Click To Tweet

This is the same with a common question that students ask regarding doing an honors program. They’re worried if it looks good in an application or will it help them in the admissions process. And if you’re worried about this, then you’re in the wrong mindset to start with. 

The mindset should be that you’re doing this for the value of the experience it’s going to give. And honors programs are great, they add a lot of richness to your college experience. And if you want to do it, and you have the ability to do it, that’s great. But don’t do it because it’s going to look good in your application. Do it because you’re going to grow out of it. And you’re going to be experiencing courses and the depth of things that you wouldn’t get in the traditional classroom.

[41:45] Explaining Your Journey to Parents

Q: Any advice on how to navigate talking to your parents about medical school and explaining your path to medical school?

A: Unless they’re physicians or sometimes in a health-related field where they know a little bit of the process, no one knows what the heck you’re going through when you go through medical school. So just explain where you’re at on your journey so you won’t have to explain each time.

And this question leads to a bigger discussion about parents in general. Ultimately, it depends on what your relationship is with your parents.

It also depends on your parents’ background. If your parents are college-educated, they know a little bit about higher ed in their own experience. And so they get it and they sort of know about the pathway going into upper degrees.

But if you’re the first generation in your family to go to college, and your parents really have no clue about anything, that’s going to be a whole different level of conversation. Again, just be able to give them a primer on higher ed in general and how all this works.

The biggest tragedy is when dealing with students who did not want to go to medical school, and their parents were forcing them to do it. And this is just a tragedy. It’s either going to mean some really devastatingly, potentially traumatic experiences for the student. In the worst cases, the students go through medical school and end up being miserable in their careers.

[46:54] Here’s What Mappd is Currently Doing!

Check out as we try to demonstrate what we’re doing with Mappd. We’re still building the dashboard at this moment. So basically, students are able to add in their courses on Mappd.

Then you can also add in your extracurricular activities, shadowing experiences, as well as letters of recommendation. The hours are automatically totaled so that you can keep track of this.

Basically, Mappd serves as a diary of everything that you’re doing so that when it comes to applying, you know what you’re up to. We’re also going to add scores here for your practice tests and your medical school list. So when you go to your med school list, you will get information about the school-based on costs and other information. We’re going have all the secondary essays in here as well.

Once we have our dashboard built-in, you’re going to start to see that it’s not just information tracking, but reporting and analytics. Dr. Wright’s working on some algorithmic stuff, not in terms of the coding, but in terms of your personal advisor. From a class perspective, we’re pulling registrar data and we’re pulling every class they offer.

Since we’re still at our infancy, we gladly welcome feedback from students so we would know how to help you better.



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