Prerak is a premed student who is about to start medical school at Yale after a successful undergrad at Berkeley. Listen to his story and check out his YouTube.
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Back to our episode today, Prerak Juthani has a great YouTube channel and is doing something very similar to this podcast. He started a free tutoring company, a club at his undergraduate institution. He has been very entrepreneurial on his journey, finding problems, and finding solutions to those problems, making him a great applicant to medical school. Now he's about to start at Yale Medical School soon.
[03:15] His Interest in Medicine
An Indian-American, Prerak never knew he wanted to be a doctor but he always had the option open. He claims to be lucky having parents who never forced him on becoming a doctor which is stereotypical for most Indian-American families.
Prerak is passionate about three things – teaching, learning, and interacting with others – and it was after he started undergrad when he realized that medicine is the intersection of these three. The ultimate turning point for him was the fact that his dad was having major heart problems and had a triple bypass during Prerak's third year in college. He was amazed by how revolutionary being a doctor was, and wanted to have that kind of impact on someone's life.
As an undergrad, Prerak was studying Molecular Biology and Public Health. He was passionate about research so he knew he was going to do school for a while; whether it be in PhD, Master's or even Health Care Administration. All he knew was that it was going to be in the healthcare realm. But he didn't know it was going to be medicine in particular until halfway through his second year of college.
No one in Prerak's family was actually involved in medicine. Having been teaching for so long, he describes the feeling of seeing your students' eyes open when they get something. He says this is probably the same feeling you get as a doctor when you're interacting with patients. More importantly, what really appealed to him is having that direct impact. He can make that connection, see where someone's problems lies, and try to make a positive change.
[06:27] Teaching in Premed and Preparing for Medical School
Prerak initially took a lot of undergrad premed courses and he ended up being a tutor for certain classes. He then worked his way up to being the study group leader, where he led his own study group alongside the undergrad class to keep them up to date. So, he became a study group leader for molecular biology. At that point, he was able to show students and make them understand the intricacies and magnificence of the human body. Basically, Prerak simply finds the human body to be mind-blowing and he's fascinated by it.
In terms of finding the information he needed to prepare for medical school, Prerak admits the lack of knowledge he had. He didn't even know the application cycle would take a year until he was only two months away from graduating. It was this lack of education and the need for improved general transparency across premed culture that actually drove him to start his premed organization and YouTube channel. So, he was apparently learning on the job, and did a lot of it actually. He did all the work of sending a hundred to two hundred emails just to find a doctor to shadow. He wished he had found this podcast earlier since he never had any mentors.
Doing his undergrad in Berkeley, Prerak explains that the resources are present; but the problem is that some students may not even know about it, because the student population size is just so huge (35,000 for example). Because it's a large public university, no one's going to spoon-feed you to get advising or bring information to you. So you have to take initiative and figure stuff out on your own. This is the part, Prerak says, where there could be a lot more catalysts to make it easier for students to have access.
[11:33] The Biggest Shockers During Application
First, Prerak took the pre-2015 MCAT and was rushing for it because he wanted to take the three-hour test rather than the eight hour test. Second, he realized getting those secondaries don't take mercy on you at all. He was getting six to seven secondaries a day that wanted them back in like two weeks. So this was a huge realization for him. He admits being a slow writer and trying to meet those deadlines were just impossible for him. He sent some of those secondaries a month to six weeks late because he just couldn't. And that was a huge shock for him.
Prerak admits he just had to learn on the go in getting through those secondaries. He learned afterwards that there were certain secondaries that you should prioritize because these schools were heavily rolling. He didn't know this on the spot. The Ivy's, at least, don't work on a rolling basis. But, what he should have known, was to prioritize those that had rolling admissions. He was just so overwhelmed that he was just literally going through his inbox and picking one randomly. He had no strategy involved, which in hindsight, he could have strategized more.
So, what he did when he got any secondary was to make himself feel better by writing all the questions down in an Excel template. He'd write down the deadlines and take all their prerequisite information down before he even started working on it. It was like staging it all with little tiny victories.
[14:40] Fighting Competition Through Cooperation
One thing that Prerak says was different about his application that made him stand out was the level of entrepreneurship that he showed. Berkeley did a good job in teaching him that if there's a problem out there, you're never too small to take it on. Back when he was a first and second year at Berkeley, he would consider himself to be in a very dark place. He felt so incompetent. Then on this third year, he realized a lot of people felt the same way. So he created an organization to fight this, and their motto was fighting competition through cooperation. They did this by providing free one-on-one tutoring and advising to any incoming students. Prerak stresses the importance of learning from your experiences and going out there to fix it.
So Prerak took from the success of this organization and built on it. During his gap year, he did a similar thing where he started a YouTube Channel. He even created an organic chemistry board game called React!
Both of these were intended to bridge the big problems he saw- the first one, being organic chemistry. Second, his YouTube channel was intended to increase educational accessibility for the lack of transparent premed culture. Prarek describes how medical schools respect this. They don't look for success all the time but it's seeing that you saw a problem and you're willing to address it. This was something he talked a lot about in his interviews, which he thinks, was the big reason he got in.
[17:11] Ethnic Disadvantage and Diversity Question
Prerak doesn't think he felt any explicit disadvantage, but he did notice there were a lot of questions that hinted at diversity factor. That diversity factor question was always so hard for him to answer because he can't rely on just saying he is Indian-American, because they have a lot of those. So, he thinks it was an implicit disadvantage in that he can't answer this question as well as someone who might be an underrepresented minority could have. Personally, I don't recommend talking about race, ethnicity, and stuff in diversity questions.
Therefore, when Prerak was writing his secondaries, he answered this question in the sense that he was diverse because of his immigrant experiences. He says this is probably not the best answer, considering there are a lot of successful immigrants. So it's not diverse.
It only hit me later that it didn't have to be restricted to those black and white norms we're brought up with. Go to any school's Office of Diversity and Affairs and it's always about race or sexuality or immigrants. This is the primary reason it was so hard for him to think outside that. But once he started interviewing, he started to realize that diversity is more about experiences.
He caught the eye of his interviewers whenever he mentioned the board game he created. This was pretty much different from what interviewers normally hear from most students who would do research type activities. He then realized his diversity factor was enacting change to big problems he might not have even known he was doing. Now, he thinks that should have been his answer and the board game was an excellent example.
Understand that the interviewers get bored with students saying the same answer over and over again. And they just want something different. They just want to have a conversation with you. Prerak says the interview trail is a lot of learning and troubleshooting on your own and you start realizing what people care about.
[21:25] The Interview Process and the Magic Sauce
Prerak says he prepared for his interview like any applicant would; but it was too scripted in a sense. He remembers interviewing at UC Davis and he brought up the Office of Social Welfare and they didn't even know they had one of those. So he felt it shows you did way too much research and you were not giving genuine answers to the question. Then you start learning from your experiences. You start seeing people's reactions and what people want to talk about. It got to a point he realized having scripted answers – in terms of knowing how you're going to answer the question – is good.
He thinks that his interview with Yale was where he felt that he literally did not stick to any of the answers he had written down. For example, there was already something on his mind when he was asked why he wanted to go there. But his answer was that all the students there looked so happy. It's something he has never seen at any other med school. And today, all the third years he saw were smiling and helping answer the questions. He had already known they were going to ask him why Yale and he already had an answer for that. But that was not the answer he ended up saying. His answer was based on experience and this came out as more genuine. Then they had a much longer conversation after that.
[23:20] Checking Off the Boxes
One question Prerak gets asked a lot is what med schools are looking for. He explains that med schools are not looking for any one type of person. They want people that are passionate about what they do and how they do it. The problem that he sees with many students today is that they think you need to ABCDE to get to med school. Med schools can see when someone has done something because they need to versus they've done something because they want to and they're passionate about it.
In terms of what he did in his application because he thought he had to do it, Prerak mentions the research as pivotal. But during his first research experience, he had no idea what was going on. He was doing things for the sake of doing it and he regretted it. He went into research because he thought it was something he had to do to get to med school. So for the first two years, he was just literally taking instructions, never asking questions and never understanding what he was doing. He just thought he had to do it because he needed it on his application.
His wake up call was when his research mentor thought he was only doing it for the application. He was told that if he wasn't asking thought-provoking questions, there was no reason for him to be around.
After this, he took a much more active stance in research. He got involved in molecular research. By the end, he was able to write a thesis and was able to substantiate exactly why he was doing things. This would never had happened when he was doing it for the sake of doing it, which he did for the first two years. And he's glad he made that shift.
[26:40] Dealing with Self-Doubt
Prerak jokingly says second-guessing yourself is a prerequisite to be a premed. This is a normal thing for premeds because the path is so long and so brutal. If you can stand through that, it shows your resilience. You have the determination to stick through ten more years of schooling.
This is not as bad as it's going to get. Med school gets difficult. Residency gets difficult. You're going to have those times where you're going to question yourself. But at the end of the day, if you know you've stuck through it and you have the passion to remain committed to it and you've stayed to it. It speaks to your character and it speaks to your drive to succeed in med school. Prerak also mentions a Chinese proverb where you fall down seven times, stand up eight. So resilience is a big barometer to be a doctor.
[28:05] Choosing Which School to Go To
Basically, it went down to choosing between Yale and UCLA. It was mostly financial. He was offered a better financial incentive. First of all, he has been in California his whole life so he saw it as a chance to go four years out and expand his comfort zone and the challenges he's going to encounter. Another thing he liked about Yale was it's being forward-thinking in terms of the lack of competition. It was one of the first med schools that implemented the pass/fail system. They have tests but they're not intended to intimidate you. All of those these are intended to provoke you to learn as much as you can. Their Yale system is all geared toward making sure every student feels comfortable and can make the most out of their education. Prerak describes this sense of students being able to do what they want at Yale. It provides them with a larger degree of freedom and the amount of autonomy they give to students.
[29:50] The Impetus for His YouTube Channel
Prerak read the book When Breath Becomes Air as well as the books of Atul Gawande and realized they were very good about documenting their experiences. Those books documented the big changes in their careers and how they're governed by interactions they have with patients and people in the medical field. So he wondered how they're able to keep track of all the encounters with an enormous amount of detail. He figured they were writing these things down. He was just fascinated by their level of self-reflection. But then again, he knew he wasn't a writer but he loves to talk. So he created this forum where he could go to med school and reflect on the things happening to him. He documented his growth as a doctor.
He started the channel in January 2017 and as he progresses, he wants to use the channel as an outlet for pretty much anything and everything that impacts him meaningfully. It's his way of documenting his journey and reflecting on things. He will continue to use the channel as an outlet for anything that he thinks is important that he didn't know before and other people should know.
For all premeds out there, Prerak recommends you watch his video on how you can go about approaching the MCAT. His episode is called All You Need to Do to Kill the MCAT.
Another video he recommends that you get down right way is How to Answer the “Diversity” Question.
Again, Prerak stresses how diversity is so much broader than just sexuality or race. And his video addresses this diversity question. It's not only applicable to med school application but also in college applications and even if you're applying for a volunteer position. This question can show up a lot and getting that holistic perspective on diversity is important because almost every med school secondary asks that question. Hence, you need to get this down early and see how you're going to foster diversity. Your diversity factor is super-beneficial.
[34:00] Prerak's Final Words of Wisdom
Prerak leaves students with some pieces of advice. Take it one step at a time. The premed journey is a never-ending slope upward. Everyday you will have new challenges. Every day you will have a new question of self-doubt. At the end of the day, you want to have that level of dedication to know that you're just going to get back up if there's something that knocks you down. Take it one day at a time. You don't know where life is going to take you but it's going to be for the better.
A quote from Steve Jobs that he loves is “You can only connect the dots looking backwards. You cannot connect them looking forward.” If you take it one day at a time, you'll see why things happen the way they happen.
[36:20] Special Stories Podcast
Go check out the Special Stories podcast. Today's episode features the story of a pediatric neurologist who specializes in headache medicine.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
Prerak's videos on All You Need to Do to Kill the MCAT
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