Ask Dr. Gray, Premed Q&A – Lots of Great Questions Answered

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Session 246

It’s been three years in a row that our podcast has been nominated by the Academy of Podcasters at the Podcast Movement. The actual awards ceremony is on the 23rd of August. The Red Carpet Party happens at 6 pm and the Awards Show starts at 7:30 pm. It’s free to go to the awards ceremony, so I would love to bring some of you there. If you’re interested, shoot me an email at I am also putting together a dinner meetup on August 21st. To find out more, join our Facebook Hangout Group.

Back to our episode today, I’m answering a ton of questions that came in through our voicemail feedback hotline. When you call in, don’t leave an email address or phone number so I can just play the whole clip in the episode. We also had a lot of great questions come in through our Facebook Livestream. I’m basically doing a daily Q&A show on Facebook. If you’d like to come hang out and watch the livestreams, go join our Facebook page specifically for this. Click on the Like button and get notified when I go live.

Additionally, I’m turning those Facebook Livestreams into a new podcast called Ask Dr. Gray, Premed Q&A. It will be a brand new podcast separate from all our other podcasts at the MedEd Media Network. So check it out and if you like, and subscribe to the show.

[05:55] Nursing Experience as Clinical Experience

Question from Josh: He is currently from the University of Central Florida going into his summer year as a nursing major. He is starting a process of trying to get all his extracurriculars down along with his MCAT application. He wants to apply next year.

His question: Do all my hours at the hospital learning to be a nurse count as clinical hours? Should I put that on my application?

My thoughts:

This is a very common question for those coming from a nursing background, whether you’re still studying as a nurse or already working as a nurse. And yes, it does count as a clinical experience. In fact, it’s a great clinical experience. You get to interact with patients. Obviously, you’re not interacting with them as a doctor. But premeds students aren’t interacting with patients as physicians either. You’re probably doing more than the majority of premed students out there. If you are interacting with patients in whatever way you are doing that, close enough to smell the patients, that is great clinical experience. So absolutely use that for your application.

[Tweet “”If you’re close enough to smell the patients, that is great clinical experience.””]

A second question that comes up a lot is whether or not you have to shadow a physician. No, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to shadow a physician. You should shadow a physician, period. Being a nurse or a nursing student doesn’t mean you understand what being a physician means. It doesn’t mean you understand what the life of a physician does. It doesn’t mean you know what the physician does outside of that patient room and everything else that encompasses a physician’s job. So you still need to shadow physicians to satisfy that kind of requirement for medical school.

[09:40] Solely Studying for the MCAT: Would It Hurt Your Application?

Question from Jacob: Calling from Pennsylvania, Jacob is a graduate. He graduated in 2016 with his bachelors in biochemistry. He took a year off to work at an emergency room to better understand a physician’s lifestyle and to better understand if being a physician is really what he wanted to be. After that year, he realized it is what he wanted to do and he’s been studying for the MCAT. It’s all he’s been doing while having a few undergrad courses to help him with the MCAT. Unfortunately, his scores still aren’t exactly where they need to be as January approaches. So he plans to extend his MCAT to March. So, what has been originally scheduled in January is now going to be in March. He thinks he still is not doing too much besides just studying for the MCAT. He’s worried med schools are going to look at it and say it wasn’t enough and he should have been doing other more extracurriculars. So Jacob is worried what he should be doing these next couple of months. Should he be solely focusing on the MCAT and go after that and make sure it’s taken cared of before he starts adding things to his plate? Or would it be better to start doing a little bit of other things at this point? He’s worried it will look bad if he’s just strictly studying for the MCAT and just taking a few classes here and there for about six months.

My thoughts:

A student can get in big trouble here. I’ve talked to students who’ve gotten that feedback from admissions committees where there is a huge gap in extracurriculars. Jacob also mentioned about padding the application; but that’s not what you’re going to be doing. You’re showing consistency throughout the application. You’re showing consistency throughout your premed years. Number one, you’re showing that you can handle doing some extracurriculars and doing well in your courses. And you’re doing well on the MCAT. But it’s also proving to the admissions committee that you truly are passionate about what you’re saying you’re passionate about.

If there’s a huge gap in patient contact and let’s say you get all of your extracurriculars in your first two years of undergrad and you don’t have anything for two years. You hit that number by your sophomore year so you think you’re good. But you’re not. You go your junior and senior year without anything. And when you apply, your timeline for your activities shows a big gap in patient exposure. When the admissions committee members are going to see that, they’re going to think you’re really not that excited about patient care. They think you’ve been avoiding it now for a year or two.

[Tweet “”You need patient interaction.””]

I’m not saying you need ten to twenty hours a week. But if you can get a couple of hours every couple of weeks, that shows some consistency. Maintain even just a little bit of time with a little bit of consistency. This way, you can still do well and focus on the MCAT. But you can also get those hours you need to keep maintaining that experience. So that instead of ending it in 2015, you can say you’re going to continue to do this up until your matriculation into medical school. Again, not a ton of hours every week.

[Tweet “”Just maintain that consistency so that you can put that in your application.””]

There are going to be ups and downs with how much you can do during each semester, even during the months within a semester each year. There’s going to be different things happening. So you can’t maintain a consistent benchmark of hours all the time and that’s okay. So again, just maintain that consistency.

[16:02] Taking Master’s to Improve Your Grades

Question from Matt: He recently graduated from Columbia University in New York City and got a master’s of science degree in Human Nutrition. His performance in grad school was not as good as it was in undergrad. In undergrad, he graduated with a 3.6 and had a load of different grade opportunities. He is curious about how medical schools view performance in grad school as opposed to undergrad.

My thoughts:

This is a very common question I get from students trying to improve their undergrad grades by taking graduate level courses. The answer really depends on what your graduate level courses are. He did say he is taking a master’s in science in human nutrition. But Human Nutrition isn’t known as one of the “hard sciences.” So it’s not very hard science heavy. There may be some other courses in there like biochemistry and others. But from what I know from nutrition courses, they’re not very hard science-related. When a medical school sees that, they’re going to be looking at that.

[Tweet “”You have to be very careful with Master’s degree.””]

Master of Public Health is not a hard science. It’s not going to be looked upon very favorably when an admissions committee is looking at your 2.9 science GPA from undergrad and your 4.0 science GPA in your master’s of public health. They’re not going to be convinced that you can handle the science now. The best place to go is a couple of things. Just do a normal postbac. If you’re trying to improve your coursework and your grades, just do a normal postbac. The other place to look at if you want to do a master’s is to get an SMP (Special Master’s Program). It’s a very specific program usually set up through the medical school. Or it’s set up through the institution where the medical school is located. You’re proving to the admissions committees that you can handle your stuff. In the first place, 3.6 is a good GPA so I’m not sure why this student is worried about his GPA.

Anyway, a lot of students will have a plan B. A lot of students will use the master’s as their plan B. They pick a master’s based on their ability to find work if they don’t get into medical school after applying. That’s how they choose the master’s, instead of what is the best master’s to get them into medical school. It’s what the best master’s to find them a job if they don’t get into medical school. And that second line of thinking is harmful for your overall path into medical school.

[Tweet “”A lot of students will have a plan B…that second line of thinking is harmful for your overall path into medical school.””]

[20:10] Medical School or PA School

Question from David: Living in Portland, Oregon, David is 34 years old. With no prerequisites for anything, he basically has nothing underneath his belt. But it’s something he is strongly considering. He has a BA from University of California Sta. Cruz in the Classics which he got five years ago. Currently, he is just hanging around and not doing much. He wants to go back to school and thinking about medical school or PA school. He wants to know my thoughts, how to get started, and some do’s and don’ts being in a stage this late.

My thoughts:

The fact you’re calling me and asking the question of whether you should do it or not, well, I can’t answer that for anybody.

[Tweet “”Only you know if going to medical school is right for you.””]

The problem I had with this question is the student said he’s sitting around not doing much. And just thinking about medicine and PA school, you should be out doing! Go shadow a medical student. Go shadow a physician. Shadow a PA. Go and get involved in clinical volunteering. Be around patients. Don’t sit around and say you really like scrubs so you think you want to be a doctor. Your bachelor’s didn’t do enough for you since you’re just sitting around doing nothing, so maybe being a doctor is what you want to do. You cannot think theoretically about this stuff. Go experience it and make sure you enjoy being around patients. If you have done both and you are looking at both and you’re still unsure, shadow a physician and a PA. Ask them what they like about their job. Ask the PA why they didn’t go to medical school. Ask them why they chose to go the PA school route.

[Tweet “”Make sure you enjoy the sciences behind being a physician or being a PA.””]

PA’s will give you different reasons for going this route while physicians will also give you different reasons for why they chose it. But you have to go and explore it yourself. Don’t sit around and think what it looks like being a doctor. You need to go out and experience it for yourself.

There’s this other student that asked about taking a gap year and just now exploring medicine. He is shadowing and doing some research. He’s trying to figure out what he likes. It’s definitely the perfect example of what to do to show your interest or to learn if you’re interested in becoming a physician or a PA or NP.

[24:53] The Plan B Mindset

If you have a question, call 617-410-6747. We will do more of these Q&A shows where you can call in. We also had a couple questions coming through the Facebook Live. Again, make sure you’re a part of our Facebook community.

Question from Sammy: He’s wondering what his next step should be. He has secondaries going in. He’s still doing volunteer work but feels like he should be doing something more. He’s asking for suggestions on what to do in the event he doesn’t receive any offers for interviews or acceptances. Should he be working towards some research postbac in biodmedical science? What should he do? Sammy is currently working full-time to save up funds for school.

My thoughts:

This is an example of the Plan B thinking. What if you don’t get any interviews? You have to kind of think that way at this stage of the game. But it’s still too early though. If you’re applying to medical school, go all out. Get all of your secondaries in. Don’t let anything else distract you from that. That’s your main priority. If you haven’t yet, get your primary in. Take the MCAT. Get everything in as soon as possible. Then you sit and wait. It’s a waiting game. Now without knowing the specifics on why you didn’t get an interview, it would be hard to offer suggestions here.

[Tweet “”The best answer is to talk to your advisor and find out where the weakness in your application is.””]

If it’s your GPA, do some postbac work. If it’s your MCAT score, go retake the MCAT. If it’s lack of clinical experience, get some. It’s a very easy way to look at your application. What’s missing here? What didn’t the admissions committee like about your application to not get any interviews?

The same goes if you do get interviews but don’t get any acceptances. What is it about the application? Sometimes, it’s not the application. Sometimes, it’s your interviews. Natalie was here on the podcast back in Session 241. She applied to the school three times. In the last application cycle she did, she had interviews. She didn’t the first time and second time, she got six to seven interviews. She got waitlisted and one of them, she got rejected from the rest. She applied again and didn’t do much to tweak her application. But she applied again and worked with me for mock interview prep. Then she got five or six acceptances. She just had a white coat ceremony at the University of Michigan. So there’s a lot of pieces to the puzzle of why you didn’t get in the first time or why you didn’t get any interviews.

[28:47] Shadowing Hours

Question from Ryan: How many hours of shadowing do med schools look for?

My thoughts:

There is no great answer for that. I typically recommend students to have at least 40. It’s a random number I came up with. There’s no hard science behind any of it. There is really no right answer to that. You need to have enough to know that you want to do it. But you don’t need hundreds of hours.

[29:12] Types of Postbacs

Question from Emily: Can you do a normal postbac if you already have the prerequisites for medical school? What is a normal postbac?

My thoughts:

There are two types of postbacs. Academic enhancer postbacs are for students who had their prereqs already. They’ve taken the sciences but didn’t do too well on them and you need to retake them. There are also career changer postbacs for students who don’t have the science prereqs. They need to take all the science prereqs so they go and do a career changer prereq. Go to AAMC’s postbac page where they have the database of all the postbac programs out there. You can sort and filter by state and by type of program, etc

[30:19] When to Take Biochem for the MCAT

Question from Bruff: Should I try to take biochem a semester before I take the MCAT? So that I can review it over winter break. Or take it in the Spring semester so it will be more recent?

My thoughts:

It’s up to you. It depends on how good you are at remembering information and being prepared. It depends on where the MCAT falls into that. I don’t know if I’d recommend taking it while you’re trying to prep for the MCAT. I would try to take it earlier as possible so that it doesn’t interfere with your prep.

[31:00] Shadowing Hours

Question from Adam: He’s asking whether he should focus more on shadowing time if he has a great amount of non medical volunteering with some military stuff. He only has time for one option right now.

My thoughts:

[Tweet “”Shadowing is not the end all be all. You need some shadowing but the clinical experience is much more valuable.””]

If you have enough shadowing, dump it and just continue the clinical experience.

[31:37] Premed Advisors

Question from MJ: What if your advisor is useless? What about advisors who don’t do anything until long after you need their assistance? Like granting committee letters after you graduated. You pushed ahead on the MCAT and have gotten shadowing in.

My thoughts:

There are good advisors out there as much as there are bad advisors. It’s just like there are great doctors and bad doctors and great everything and bad everything. If you’re having problems with your advisor, understand that you don’t have to have that committee letter from them. It’s not required to apply to medical school. If you feel getting a committee letter from your committee is not going to help you and it’s going to hurt you then skip it.

[Tweet “”If you feel getting a committee letter from your committee is not going to help you and it’s going to hurt you then skip it.””]

Cut them out of the equation. Have the letter sent to AMCAS directly or to Interfolio or to AACOMAS. Have the letter just sent directly and just cut the committee out of the process completely. Don’t let the committee hurt your chances of getting into medical school.

[32:58] Best Qualities of a Med School Applicant

Question from Xavier: What are some of the best qualities that you’ve seen from successful students who were admitted to medical school? How important is research and publications?

My thoughts:

First of all, you need to be determined and be hard working. You have to be smart enough to get good enough grades in your classes and a good score on the MCAT. But what it really comes down to is being certain that this is what you want to do. You have to be able to reflect on everything you’ve done leading up to the point of your applications. Be able to reflect on that journey and through that personal statement, you’re able to show that reflection.

[Tweet “”Show why you’re doing this, not just that you did do it.””]

Most of the students have done it. Now is just a matter of reflecting and explaining that reflection to the admissions committee members through your personal statement.

In terms of research and publications, it’s not that important. It’s important to go and explore it. Go and see if it’s something you like. Do it if there’s some research you think you will enjoy. Getting a publication is just an extra line you can put in your application. But it’s not that important to get published.

[Tweet “”Get some research experience. There are lots of different kinds of research.””]

Clinical research allows you to interact with patients and physicians. Bench research involves interacting with lap people, a PhD specifically, who’s the PI doing all of the research. Go experience it and see if you like it. If you do, keep going. If you don’t, go find something else.

[35:04] High School Extracurriculars

Question from Ryan: Do extracurriculars participated during dual enrollment at a college in high school relevant for the medical school application? What do medical schools think of high school AA students? Does it help in the application?

My thoughts:

Everything that happens in high school stays in high school. But transcript-wise, if you’re taking dual enrollment courses, those grades are going to pull into your application for medical school.

[Tweet “”It’s an unwritten rule among advisors is whatever happens in high school extracurricular-wise, stays in high school.””]

However, if you do an extracurricular in high school and continue that for a good chunk of your college career, mention it. Put the start date in high school. Other than that, getting an AA while in high school doesn’t really matter.

[36:35] Showing Positive Trends

Question from Mason: He has about 60 credits from three different schools from eight years in the military. He got a 3.6. He just started his first full-time semester at the university he will be graduating from. He got a C in Physics I and II. He bit off way more than he could chew. Even though it’s not his first actual semester of college, he’s wondering if a positive trend from hereon and out be considered?

My thoughts:

Any positive trend anywhere is great. As long as your grades are going up then of course it’s good.

[Tweet “”Medical schools have the ability to sort and filter based on whatever or however they want.””]

At least for Texas, they upload all the data points you’ve entered. They get transmitted to the schools. They have their own software to manipulate that data and use it however they want to. I’ve talked to admissions committee members where they look at the last 20 hours of sciences. So they have that ability to filter. They can tell the computer program to show them the last 20 hours of sciences for this student. And if there’s a solid GPA there then great. They go to the next step, look at the personal statement, etc. So you always want that positive trend.

[38:40]  Final Thoughts:

Drop in your questions at our voicemail hotline at 617-410-6747. Again, don’t leave your number or any contact info in those voicemails. Check out our Facebook page so you can watch and be notified when we go live on Facebook. Look for Ask Dr. Gray, Premed Q&A.

If you’re in the southern California area and looking to hang out with me. I will be having a dinner meetup on August 21. Then on August 23 is the Academy of Podcasters Awards Ceremony. I’d love for you to come hang out with me.

November 4-5, 2017  – AMSA PremedFest in Tampa, Florida ( I will be speaking at the event and have my table set up.) Use the promo code MSHQ17 until October 25, 2017 to save some money off your registration.


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