In today’s episode, Ryan talks with Neal Christopher, a current 3rd year medical student at Western University of Health Sciences, College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific.
A non-traditional medical student, Neil has switched careers after working as a minister for several years. Being tech savvy and having had experience working at a Mac store, Neil has shared some tips and apps to make your medical journey as a student become more efficient and time-saving.
Moreover, Neal also talks about the success and challenges along his medical journey including his involvement in the political side of medical school, getting rejected at an allopathic school, and juggling the roles of a husband, a father, and a medical student all at the same time.
Here are the highlights of the conversation with Neal Christopher:
- Being a former Mac employee and the power of Mac tech in efficiently writing reports
- Neil’s life before the medical school as a minister
- His Aha! moment when he realized he wanted to go to medical school
- Applying to 12 medical schools, offered 7 interviews, and took 5 of them
- Getting accepted at 4 out of 5 interviews
- The advantages of going to osteopathic schools
- What made him a successful premed student having been away from school for so long
- The beauty of premed: Define how you tell your story
- The biggest thing Neil learned in telling his story
- Choosing the right classes to avoid making mistakes.
- Giving his wife the veto power during the premed process
- The huge changes in transitioning into medical school
- Getting involved in medical school politics and learning from that experience
- The importance of communication skills
- To become more of that person that you’re meant to be, not less
- DO vs MD: What the future projection may be 20 years from now
- Changes and controversy in allopathic residencies: The ACGME Merger
- Selling yourself to a DO school
- Osteopathic philosophy does not belong to DOs only
- The importance of awareness to osteopathic philosophy
- Neil’s hardest obstacle in his journey: Time management
Time-Saving Tips and Apps for Better Efficiency
- Quick wins using a calendar through PDFs
- Using a slide editor – iAnnotate app
- Notability app – typing while the audio is recording
- VLC Player – Playing back lectures at double speed
- SpeedUp TV – iOS app for speeding up videos
- Inkling – buying books by the chapter (also a free chapter for each book)
- What you use effectively for one course may not work for another, so you have to change your habits and/or technology from course to course.
- Pick one or two. Get really good at them and get the content down. Don’t mess around with the tech too much.
Some pieces of advice for premed students:
- Pick where you do your courses. Your choice needs to make sense so you don’t make any mistakes once you begin your official premed journey.
- You have to let some things go in order to be successful in others.
- If you want to go to DO school, have a position on your view of what you think is osteopathic philosophy. Be aware of the historical influences.
- Remember where you’re headed.
- Do what it takes to be successful. Meet those goals. And don’t forget that ultimately, you’re headed towards patient care.
Links and Other Resources:
Listen to our podcast for free at iTunes: medicalschoolhq.net/itunes
iAnnotate app: www.branchfire.com/iannotate
SpeedUp TV: www.speedup.co.id/speeduptv.php
Next Step Test Prep: Maximize your MCAT score and get $100 off their tutoring program when you mention that you heard about this on the podcast or through MSHQ
Dr. Ryan Gray: The Premed Years, session number 102.
Hello and welcome back to the Medical School Headquarters Podcast; 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.
The MCAT is changing in 2015 and January is your last chance to take the current exam. If you are one of the few students that has a seat before the MCAT changes, you need to listen to this. You want to maximize your score so you don’t have to worry about retaking the MCAT as a completely new test. Visit our partners at Next Step Test Prep and find out why one of our Academy members said she, “Received more value than what I paid for.” If you are taking the current exam before the end of January, 2015, mention you heard about Next Step from the Medical School Headquarters Podcast, and get $100 off their amazing one-on-one MCAT tutoring. Again, that’s www.NextStepTestPrep.com.
Our guest today is Neil Christopher, a current third year medical student at Western University of Health Sciences, College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific. He’s a very nontraditional medical student, having switched careers after working as a minister for several years. We’re going to discuss why he switched gears, how he navigated going back to school, and some of the bumps and trials along the way. Neil, welcome the Medical School Headquarters Podcast, thanks for joining us today.
Neil Christopher: Well thanks so much for inviting me, and congratulations to you for having so many episodes and filling what is a great need. I listened to a podcast that used to be out there, I don’t think it is anymore, on my journey and they need something like what you’re providing. For those that are still trying to get in, and even in the first couple of years of med school. So congratulations and thanks for helping so many others.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah, thank you. Yeah, it’s exciting to be over 100 episodes now, it’s crazy to think we’ve been doing it this long.
Neil Christopher: Well I’m a student and I still listen every now and then, so a little bit of a fan boy here, but I’m glad to be here.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Awesome. So the first question I have to ask you, is if you’re a Mac or a PC guy?
Mac Versus PC
Neil Christopher: Well, I started out with PC, but I am a raving unapologetic Apple user through and through. During my transition as I applied to medical school, having a family I needed some income and I actually went to work for Apple for three years in business to business consulting and sales, and had a great time there but yeah, I pretty much can’t use anything other than Apple and get a little frustrated if someone tries to force me out of that mold because I don’t have time to learn new stuff right now.
Dr. Ryan Gray: That’s awesome. I have this philosophy or this theory- it’s not really a philosophy. I have this theory that if the healthcare world went Mac only, prescription errors would decrease by half, mortality in the hospital would decrease by half, physician satisfaction would double; I think if we get PCs out of there, everybody will be better.
Neil Christopher: Yeah, I don’t know if medical errors would go down, but certainly the efficiency of the electronic medical record would definitely increase, it would better. I just came off a rotation in emergency medicine where I was showing the physician some shortcuts that I use, and I was so much faster at generating notes than the physicians were that just due to the technology and not having to constantly learn new stuff.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah, I just showed Allison how to use a text expander program for her PC at work, so she’s digging that.
Neil Christopher: She is.
Dr. Ryan Gray: We’ll geek out more tech stuff in a little bit. But you mentioned your emergency medicine rotation, right now you’re third year osteopathic medical student at-
Neil Christopher: That is correct.
Dr. Ryan Gray: What you would consider the longest medical school name ever, Western University of Health Sciences College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific.
Neil Christopher: You did it in one breath, congratulations.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Not to be confused with ‘of the Atlantic.’ But there isn’t one. So that’s good. So that’s awesome, and we’ll talk about your current status now as a medical student. But you worked as this Apple guy, this Apple guru, during a transition. So you had a prior life prior to being a medical student. So you’re a nontraditional student which a lot of the listeners are. Let’s talk about your past life. What did you used to do?
Past Life of Neil Christopher
Neil Christopher: So yeah, I am a nontraditional student. I’m currently 39 years old, so very nontraditional. I’m actually not the oldest person in our class, there were four students older than me. The oldest was 52 during our first year.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Wow.
Neil Christopher: Yeah, so all his kids were grown so he was in a different place than me. But yeah, I was actually a minister for a church- for a number of churches actually, and then I always knew that I was going to go on and do a Doctorate in something. Thought it was going to be a PhD in Philosophy or Ethics or something like that. And I was sitting in a post-Master’s degree graduate class seminar, and we were going over philosophy of science and some different arguments. And all of a sudden kind of my whole journey kind of came together in this one moment, and I realized that what I loved was translating knowledge into people’s lives. And whether that is as a pastor, or as a physician, I am able to do that. The source of knowledge may change, but impacting other people’s lives is really what I’m good at and I’m way too extroverted to be a bench scientist or something like that. So it all made sense, I thought I’d been in school so long at this point, that a semester of post-bacc science classes wouldn’t throw anything off. I tried it, I loved it, I got into a genetics- a research, some bio-informatic stuff combined with that, and just had a great time and ended up going forward and applying to I think twelve medical schools. I gave up on allopathic schools pretty early due to my age. One of the assistant directors of admissions from one school actually said he would never admit someone with my background. Not quite sure why, I assume it was because some sort of perceived anti-scientific vent or something like that. I really don’t know what he meant. But one of the nice things about the osteopathic schools is they really value diversity, they really value an age span, and they definitely don’t punish you for coming from a different path, and they actually encourage it. Assuming that you meet the basic requirements to get into medical school. That’s not going to change. That’s not going to change.
DO Versus MD
Dr. Ryan Gray: That’s disappointing to hear that a dean or an assistant dean, or anybody associated with a medical school told you that, and it’s kind of more disappointing that it came from an allopathic school. I would- my personal opinion is that is one person’s opinion and not necessarily a DO, MD thing, that you’ll run into that possibly not everywhere in the MD world, but probably more than the DO world.
Neil Christopher: I absolutely agree with that Ryan, and looking around I probably should have expanded my options. There are some, you know, I mean there’s Loma Linda which is a religious medical school, there are some Catholic medical schools. There’s plenty of other options out there. Again having the family, that put some additional restrictions on where I could and couldn’t apply. But I applied ultimately to twelve schools, was offered seven interviews, I took five of them, and was ultimately accepted at four of those five. So I had some options which was nice, and thankfully I didn’t actually have to move. But that’s kind of my journey of getting into medical school.
Dr. Ryan Gray: So obviously a very successful premed path. Let’s talk about briefly what do you think made you a successful premed student having been away from school for so long, and something totally different than the hard sciences?
Neil Christopher: I think having success in the other areas helps because what they don’t want to see is that you tried a career or two and you were bad at one of them or both of them, or you were mediocre at one of them or both of them. They definitely want to see some sort of success. And what’s nice about being a premed is you get to define how you’re going to tell your story. And I think the biggest thing that I learned in telling that story, is when you present- whether it’s your written statement, or whether it’s your elevator speech, or whatever it is, your response to the interview questions; they all need to point in one direction. They also need to be true, but they need to point in one direction, and if that direction shows how all of your past is pointing towards this new journey that you’re going to go on through medicine, you’re much more likely to get in and be viewed as favorable and you want it to kind of make sense and they’ll go, “Oh yeah, I can see how these things were pointing you towards this.”
Dr. Ryan Gray: That’s a good way to kind of wrap it up to state that. I like that.
Neil Christopher: I mean you’ve still got to have a basic MCAT, you’ve still got to have a basic science GPA, that stuff is not going to go away. Even on the osteopathic side, the scores keep going up. I know at Western our current MCAT scores is actually- this year’s class coming in, the dean just told me the other day it’s higher than a number of other schools around the nation, both allopathic and osteopathic. So you know, you’ve got to have those basic requirements, but outside of those, you know having a story that makes sense and points you in that one direction will help.
Choose Classes Carefully
Dr. Ryan Gray: What is your thought on how a nontraditional student like yourself, somebody that’s in a totally different career that’s listening to this and has that dream of going back into medical school. What’s the first step that you took that maybe you would recommend somebody else take to start down that path?
Neil Christopher: I would say they really need to pick where they’re going to take their classes carefully. While there are plenty of places that offer the classes from online to community college to do it yourself post-bacc to a formal post-bacc; your choice needs to make sense. I actually had to decide between a very formal post-bacc with about an hour and a half of traffic from one of the California state schools, and one that was literally just down the road. But you didn’t get a degree at the end of it, but it was affiliated with another medical school. And I chose less traffic so that I could have more study time and a little bit more family time. And so picking where you do those courses, not making any mistakes- any big mistakes at least, once you begin that official premed journey if you will, is pretty important. Everyone is allowed some mistakes along the way because no one looks perfect on paper. But at some point you have to show you’ve made a decision and you got the right advice from someone along the way. And from that point, you aren’t really making too many mistakes.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah. Okay. So you went and you applied to these schools, you interviewed at a bunch, you got accepted at a bunch; you have a family, you have children.
Neil Christopher: Yes. Yes.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Talk about those decisions and where you decided to go to school, and how that affected your family, and let’s talk some family stuff.
Impact of Family
Neil Christopher: It is pretty important to me not to lose that and- I had a number of goals. One was to graduate from medical school happily married. If I couldn’t do that, I would like to graduate from medical school married. And if I couldn’t do that, I’d like to just stay married. And so you know, I gave my wife a veto power during the premed process. So at any moment prior to starting medical school, she could tell me no. And that’s not something that other people might be willing to do but for me that was important for the kind of person I wanted to be. And so she thought about it long and hard I’m sure, she never told me no. And so knowing that I had that support and also letting her know pretty clearly that once medical starts you can’t change your mind. So she had more than two years to make that decision; but once it started she may have wished she made that decision on some particular days. But we had already kind of agreed and negotiated ahead of time. Also knowing that I’m not going to be at the top of the class and giving up on that dream, that happened very early on. I think it was the first Anatomy test of first year. And just realizing that my view of success has to be defined, you know by me and what I’m trying to get to and the kind of physician I want to be is- you know yes it would be nice to be at the top of the class and everything but that’s just not going to happen. And so learning that my identity is more of this multi-skilled type of physician that can be successful in different ways, and I’m okay with that now.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Awesome. Talk about the transition into medical school, and as a nontraditional student going through a post-bacc, how that change was perceived. Was it a drastic change, or was it as easy as you thought it would be?
Neil Christopher: No, no it was not easy at all. I think- you think MCAT is hard. You think it’s hard. And-
Dr. Ryan Gray: When you’re in the middle of it, it is hard.
Neil Christopher: Sure. Yes, everyone’s pain hurts to them. And it is hard, but it’s everything- every shift seems to be an order of magnitude harder. You know it’s not just times two or times three, you’re moving the decimal. And it’s hard to conceive and everyone says that it’s like drinking from a fire hose and all this stuff, and it’s all actually true. I guess it’s like lawyer jokes. When you go to law school, they’re all actually true. They really are that bad, I’ve heard. So but medical school really is as difficult as you think and you know being nontraditional, being post-bacc, you know the change in your schedule and your diet- I mean just one of the big changes is I was pretty active triathlete and I’d even done some half Iron Man type events. And I gained 39 pounds of obesity in those first-
Dr. Ryan Gray: Not pure muscle?
Neil Christopher: Yes, not muscle. There was no muscle in there. Just because I couldn’t- I couldn’t do everything that I wanted to do and that was the biggest change I think from those first two years, is just realizing yes I’m willing to make those sacrifices and make those changes, but you can’t do everything that you want to do. And so you have to let some things go in order to be successful in others. And that was the biggest part of the change for me.
Dr. Ryan Gray: That’s good to know. So you’ve gotten very involved in politics at your school, and being the student president second year.
Neil Christopher: Right.
Dr. Ryan Gray: What made you get involved in that side of things?
Neil Christopher: Well, without getting into all the specifics of why, I mean one of the big things was just you know, medical school is so stressful and there’s different types of faculty and administrators at every school. And some of them are pro-student and some of them are kind of anti-student and wonder why the students are even there. And the vast majority of them are probably just kind of neutral about the whole situation. They’re there to do their research or work their clinic, or see patients, or whatever they’re there to do. But some of the policies definitely could be changed; this would be true at every school. And we had a policy about- actually about Apple tech and they wouldn’t support it. And you’d look around the classroom, granted we’re on the west coast, but 70%- almost 70%, I think it was 67% of our class was using Apple stuff and they refused to support it in the IT department. And so I said, ‘Well that’s something I can get changed,’ and you know, no one ran against me and so there I was kind of put into the position. Got that policy changed, but I didn’t realize that to get that policy changed I had to also become a nonvoting member of the Board of Trustees. And so it ended up being a much bigger deal than I thought it was going to be. But it was a great experience. Obviously I got to meet a lot of important and fun people, you know and powerful people. That may or may not help me in the future, I don’t know, but just learning how to talk with them, how to debate with them, how to advocate for policy changes and yet learning to live within the confines of the budget you’re given. It was a nice view of the political side of education and as it crosses over into medicine a little bit as well.
Dr. Ryan Gray: I think it’s a very important skillset to have; not only during medical school but residency as well. There’s a lot of dynamics there, and when you’re working. Whether you’re in private practice or working in a group; there’s always going to be those dynamics, and having those communication skills are paramount to your happiness and the success of your practice overall.
Neil Christopher: Yeah, and it’s- again it’s important to learn as you’re going through the premed or medical school journey too, not to become less of the type of person that you’re meant to be, but to really become more of that person because you’re not going to be able to do everything you want, and I thought- I think that leadership drive for so long trying to do this or that or some other thing. And I just realized that while I may not be the best person at making decisions or giving speeches, or what have you. But I’m definitely okay at some of these things, and I’m certainly better than some others at some of these things. And so that is part of the type of person I am, so it will also be part of the type of physician that I will be.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Awesome. Let’s talk DO / MD a little bit. We’ve talked a little bit about it, and you’d mentioned why you’d applied kind of osteopathic only. Which I don’t fully agree with but that’s okay. That’s one of my biggest things I want to get out there to everybody. But one of the biggest things in the news lately is this merger with the post-graduate medical education. And how residencies are kind of monitored and accredited and everything. And you had some experience with that whole process; can you talk about that a little bit?
Neil Christopher: Yeah, so as my student presidency was coming to a close I was appointed kind of as a junior political officer, student officer, for the osteopathic physicians and surgeons of California, on one of their committees. So I did get some exposure to this whole process. And you know my view is still as a student and I mean my views don’t represent Western or they don’t represent necessarily the osteopathic physicians of California. But it’s a big change and a few years ago the ACGME which is the accrediting body for allopathic residencies, decided that they needed to make some changes and continue to improve their processes. And one of those changes was- I don’t know if it was intentional or unintentional but it was going to impact DO graduates such that they could not get fellowships if they didn’t go through the ACGME process from day one. So the example might be you graduate from medical school with a DO, you go to a AOA or a DO internal medicine residency, then you could not say go to a cardiology fellowship on the ACGME side. And they had a number of reasons for doing that. They weren’t being mean or specifically targeting, they’re just trying to improve their system which is fine. And so the AOA went to the ACGME and basically said, “Hey you’re going to kind of hurt a lot of graduates, and a lot of our graduates you’ve loved having over the years. Is there some other options here?” And they tried it once and our side, he AOA side, ended up rejecting it and they kind of let it sit for a year. And there’s a huge student movement to put it back into play because we obviously as DO students and future physicians don’t want our fellowships limited. And so for whatever reason it got put back on the table and they came up with a better deal that’s more meetable. And they’re actually going to create a new ACGME so it will continue to have the same name but it will be a new legal organization that will have osteopathic representation, and they will now be the one and only certifying agency for all graduate medical education in the United States. And this really is a win-win, and the vast majority of osteopathic and allopathic students and physicians support this. I certainly am one of those that support it. I think it’s a good move for medicine in the United States.
Dr. Ryan Gray: That’s awesome. And I think it’s very much needed, and my- again I have lots of theories. My theory is that in twenty to thirty years there will be no DO, MD differentiation in medical school training as well. That every- that there will be a single unifying governing body over medical schools and training as well.
Neil Christopher: I think we’re definitely headed that way. It will be interesting to see, but if you’re familiar at all with dentistry, there were two paths in dentistry at one point, and we don’t even realize this anymore when we pull up to go to the dentist. You’ll see two degrees; either a DDS or a DMD. And while there were differences in the past they no longer exist. And I think that’s what will happen within about twenty years in the medical world as well.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah. Good, that’s great. What do you think, as now you’re on the path to getting your DO and you’ve been involved in all of this political side of the ACGME merger? For a student that’s going through the process now, trying to figure out should I apply to DO, should I apply to MD, how do I sell to a DO school that I truly, really want to go to DO; what’s your recommendation for those students that are going down that path, trying to figure out where to apply and osteopathic and allopathic.
Have a Position and Opinion
Neil Christopher: I think that you definitely- if you want to go DO school, every DO school that I’m familiar with is well aware that the students are applying- the vast majority of students are applying to both. At least the students who apply to DO schools, the vast majority of them have also applied to non-DO schools as well. And so they’re very well aware of this, if you were to pretend that that’s different, it would kind of put you out by yourself. But one of the things that you could do is definitely have a position on your view of what you think is osteopathic philosophy. And this is where I agree with things that you guys have said on this podcast and other places in the past. I think Allison said it just a few episodes ago talking about the DO philosophy, and it’s not restricted to DOs anymore. And you know my opinion is that if the views that A.T. Still wanted- he was basically just a medical reformer from a long time ago. And if any practitioner, regardless of MD, DO or some European degree, or wherever has the view that they want to do more than just cure the chief complaint, but they actually want to treat the whole person as much as they can in that encounter. Then that philosophy that’s behind the DO has already won regardless of the degree. And there’s plenty of physicians from various backgrounds that want to do that. So we don’t own that philosophy anymore, we don’t own that. But having said that, you need to be aware of the historical influences when you’re going into a DO interview. You need to have read at least some excerpts from A.T. Still and have an opinion about it. Otherwise it will just look like this is a school that is maybe a safety school for you that you don’t actually want to go to. Certainly if you’re only applying to DO schools, I think it is okay to say that. And whether- or not that will gain you any extra ‘points,’ I don’t know. That would depend on who’s interviewing you and what school you’re at, and maybe even the time of year that you’re interviewing. But it certainly would be appropriate to say that, “I believe in this philosophy so much that I’m only applying to DO schools,” or something like that.
Dr. Ryan Gray: I like it. I like it a lot. And that’s what I’ve told people. And that was me that told Allison that it doesn’t belong to DOs only; I’ll correct you there.
Neil Christopher: Thank you.
Dr. Ryan Gray: But yeah. And I think I’ve said before that the A.T. Still- exactly what you said. He was a medical reformer and he wanted something better than what physicians were doing back then. And when you actually think about what they were doing back then with blood leading and other random completely horrific things, then yeah. I’m glad he came along and started reforming medicine. But- so thank you A.T. Still for everything we have in medicine now.
Neil Christopher: Well at least a little piece of it. And I really do see myself in that tradition. I mean I’m probably one of the few students in my class that read all of his writings, and I don’t necessarily agree with a lot of the scientific part; but the philosophicalpart has definitely proven out, and I just can see myself as one more person in this chain of- hopefully I will reform something as well. Maybe just a tiny little piece. But that doesn’t mean- that’s not what it means to be a DO. What it means to be a DO is just to be a physician who’s going to be a part of this bigger world of medicine who hopefully will make some changes, both in the individual patient and in medicine as a whole as well.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Awesome. Neil, what has been your hardest obstacle on this whole journey? Whether it’s premed or medical school?
Neil Christopher: Probably the time management because there are things that I just would not give up on. I want my children to know who I am, and I want them to be happy with me as their dad. I want my marriage to be as stable and as happy as possible, and there’s definitely times when that’s easier than others. But our third child was a surprise to us. We-
Dr. Ryan Gray: You weren’t in medical school yet so you didn’t know how that whole process worked?
Neil Christopher: Yeah, one of the deans actually said, “Do you need to repeat repro so-” I don’t know, maybe I do but you know we actually thought we were infertile for a number of years. And so here comes a surprise child for us, and she is born, she’s a great joy to us but she is born the first week into my dedicated board study. Yeah. So when my best medical school friend and study partner found out, he just went white and almost passed out on me when he realized the timing of the birth. So that was the single biggest challenge is just trying to meet all of my goals in terms of husband, father, and medical student studying for the boards at the end of my second year. It was very challenging, I did not think that I could pull through that. And I did, you know I passed it, I passed it with a margin of safety but I did not reach my goals in terms of my score. And so I will have to make up for that, probably in some other way on my step two, level two scores, in order to get the interviews that I want.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Okay. Well good luck with that journey. At the beginning we promised tech geekery. You are a former Apple store employee, or Apple employee, the class tech representative. What are some fun tech things that have helped you along the way that you think others could benefit from to help with some of that time management maybe, and efficiency.
Neil Christopher: Yeah. There’s definitely a few quick ones. For me one of the most helpful things was a pretty simple thing. But whatever you’re using for a calendar, you want to get really good at it. And we had some weird policy changes that happened in terms of how our calendar was distributed and stuff like that. So I ended up just creating a PDF of every course, of the calendar of every course. And I would actually put slashes on the PDF editor through every time I went through a lecture. And if I got three slashes through that lecture, for every lecture coming up for that exam, I did well on that exam. And if I didn’t, I could go back and I guarantee the questions I missed were from the lectures that only had one or two slashes. So for me just something to both manage my time to see which lectures I had studied more than once, and which ones I hadn’t, just whether it’s a calendar program or a PDF editor on your Mac or PC, or you know your iPad or other tablet. That is key. You need a calendaring program, you need a PDF editor most likely. What I helped a lot of other students do is also get the slides, whether they’re in PowerPoint form or PDF form, there’s usually a slide editor that you can put the slides in and write your notes right on the slides. So for instance, you know we were using iPads a lot, a lot of my friends. And so we would just load the slides and write right on them, I think the app that most people use is called iAnnotate, and if you’re using iOS that should work well for you. And a lot of times you could just take notes right on the slide. If your school doesn’t send out the videos, which most of them do, then you need a program probably to record the audio. The one that I like on iOS is called Notability. There’s a number of apps if you’re using a full laptop that can do that. But Notability you can type while the audio is recording, and then go back to that specific point where you typed, the audio was playing which is nice. But most schools now distribute the video and a lot of students you’ll find- this may be surprising to the premeds, but there will be certain courses when you just- there are so many lectures you actually cannot go to class, or you won’t have enough time to get through them all. And so learning to play back these lectures at double speed, and even some slower professors, I think I got up to 2.6 speed with one particular professor. Having the right software to do that. On a PC or a Mac you can use some free software actually called VLC Player. And that will do that for you for most video formats. On iOS, it’s also nice to have one, and the one that I like is called SpeedUpTV. I think it’s about $5.00 or so, and just having one of my devices playing the video very fast and the other one for taking my own notes or doing flashcards that was on the same content; that for me was the most helpful thing. But you absolutely need a video player that can speed up these videos because you don’t have time to go through them at one speed.
Dr. Ryan Gray: And test them all a little bit differently, because how they’re written, some are better at speeding up the quality and some are not. So –
Neil Christopher: Yeah, they get so fast that you can’t understand.
Dr. Ryan Gray: They sound like a chipmunk, yeah.
Neil Christopher: You’re not going to be able to do that. You’re not going to be able to listen very long.
Dr. Ryan Gray: And that’s how I listen to podcasts, too. I listen to them sped up. So if you’re listening to me sped up right now, then that’s good. I don’t know if I’ve ever listened to myself sped up, I’ll have to try that. It would be interesting. So I want to touch on something that you mentioned and point out how awesome that feature is. You talked about Notability as one of the iPad apps. And I think they actually just came out with a Mac app as well; like a full-
Neil Christopher: Oh that’s right, they did.
Dr. Ryan Gray: A full app for your MacBook Air Pro, or whatever you’re using. But to record the audio in the room, so you just- you hit record and it’s just recording through your microphone on your phone, and you’re taking notes. If when you go back and you’re reading your notes and you’re like, “I have no idea what I was trying to say here, what notes I was doing.” You click ‘Play,’ and it knows where in the notes you’re trying to go back to and it will play the audio from that time. And it’s an awesome feature that I wish was around- I wish it was around when I was in school.
Neil Christopher: Yeah, I agree. And you know one thing that I think the listeners need to understand too, is that what works for one course may not work, and may be detrimental to the next course. And so you have to adapt both your study habits and maybe even the technology that you’re using. You know when I was in anatomy, which for us is a very long foundational course, I think it’s still that way at a lot of schools, but not all now. And the digital textbooks that would uncover particular parts of the anatomy, and then cover them back up so it’s essentially flashcards that you don’t have to make yourself, was the single best time saver and I did very well in that course. And I actually found out during that course about Inkling where you can get a lot of textbooks, medical textbooks, they are full price but you only have to buy them by the chapter. So you can only buy what you need if you want to, and just try them out, and they even have free chapters- I think one free chapter for every book. And the anatomy books that were on there- of course you only need one, but they’re very good, and that helped me a lot. But then the flashcard method did not work at all for biochem. You know you have to completely change the way you’re studying and what you’re doing from course to course. And that may be personal habits or it may be your technology, or it may be both.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah, awesome. So lots of fun apps to go spend some money on and test out. But at the end of the day, it’s time to put your head down and get some work done.
Neil Christopher: Yeah, you definitely don’t want to play around with the apps. You want to pick one or two, get really good at them, and get the content down because you don’t have time to mess around with the tech too much, as much as I would love to.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Neil, what’s your- some parting words of wisdom as we wrap up here?
Some Pieces of Advice
Neil Christopher: I think just remember where you’re headed. I think one of the more difficult things as an older post-bacc, older premed, is you know I remember sitting down that first day and there were two girls across from me in biolab and one of them said, “How old are you? How old are you?” “I’m eighteen,” and the other girls wouldn’t answer, she says, “Oh I’m so old, I’m 26.” And I thought, boy I’m glad they’re not asking me because you know they don’t want to know how old I am. And you know it was very difficult to get lost in will I ever make it? Will I ever get there? You know why am I having to memorize all of these types of things, some of which I won’t need on this journey where I want to go down. But they’re not just hoops you have to jump through. It’s the testing process, and whether or not you need all of that information is in some ways irrelevant. You’re proving that you can be successful at learning new stuff that’s very difficult in very limited periods of time, because when you’re in the emergency department and you have no idea what’s going on, and yet this patient is obviously very sick, you have to have already proven that you are able to stay in a tough situation, find out the correct information very quickly to help this person out that’s in front of you. And just remembering that that’s where you’re headed. You’re headed towards patient care, but we do have to prove ourselves in order to get there. But don’t get lost in those details, just do what it takes to be successful, meet those goals, and don’t forget that ultimately you’re headed towards patient care. And it is fun, it’s fun once you get there even though you don’t know all of what you need to know as a third and fourth year student. Once you start interacting with patients, you will see why you went through all of that, and you’ll realize it was worth it.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Alright, again that was Neil Christopher. That was awesome stuff. Again, nontraditional; the majority of you out there that listen to this podcast, at least that responded to a survey that I did not too long ago, you’re a nontraditional student so hopefully some of this stuff rings true for you. Hopefully some of his stories are- will help you on your journey when you get there, and as you’re going through it now. So thank you Neil for taking the time to talk to us.
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Alright, that’s it for today, I hope you learned a ton that will help guide you on your path to becoming a physician. And as always, I hope you join us next time here at the Medical School Headquarters Podcast.
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