Q&A With Premed Students at a Small Liberal Arts School

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Session 255

In this episode, I’m playing a Q&A session with an undergraduate university during a pre-health week. I had the opportunity to talk to the students and answer some questions. We talk about HPSP, shadowing, clinical experiences, mistakes I made on my journey and so much more. Want me to talk with your club? Let me know!

Meanwhile, check out all other episodes on MedEd Media Network and utilize all the resources we have available to help you on this long yet amazing journey.

[00:47] A Little Backstory on Me

I went to University of Florida for undergrad and majored in Exercise Physiology. Going into college, I knew I wanted to be a physician. But back in high school, I thought I was going to be a physical therapist. Then I decided to be a surgeon after dissecting a cat.

Out of college I applied to medical school and didn’t get in. I found out what I was doing wrong and reapplied a couple of years later after fixing those issues. Then I got into New York Medical College for my medical training.

I did a military scholarship, HPSP, and wanted to be an orthopod. But going through the scholarship, they have control over what you do or don’t do. They wanted me to be a flight surgeon over an orthopedic surgeon. It doesn’t involve cutting people on an airplane. But it’s more like of a family practice doctor for pilots and for other people that are on the planes and work on the planes. You treat them in a normal clinic on the ground.

[Tweet “”Flight surgeon is basically like a family practice doctor for pilot and for other people that are working on the planes.” https://medicalschoolhq.net/pmy-255-qa-with-premed-students-at-a-small-liberal-arts-school/”]

I loved the job. I owed them four years but I stayed for five years. I thought I was going to make a career out of it. But due to some health issues, I had to let it go. In the process, I have started what is now the Medical School Headquarters back in 2012. My primary goal was to give real information to premeds, not only based on my journey. I was talking to different deans of admissions and deans of medical schools. I got to talk to different medical students and hearing their stories. That’s what I’ve been doing now for the last two years (full-time), which is a total of five years, along with several podcasts now, with the Premed Years being the biggest one.

I do four episodes every week  – The Premed Years Podcast features medical students and their journey as well as interview with deans of admission coming from different schools. Specialty Stories, I interview different specialty doctors about their job, what they don’t like and what they don’t like about their job. We talk about what it takes to get there if students are interested in it. The OldPreMeds Podcast is for nontraditional students. Either they didn’t do well or changing careers. And The MCAT Podcast is focused around the nitty-gritty of the MCAT.

[05:45] My Biggest Obstacle

It’s not uncommon for students to go to large universities. In my case, University of Florida is the third largest state school in the country. The percentage of students who come in saying they’re premeds are thousands. And the attention I got from my premed advisor was barely minimum, if there was any. My advisor told me not to apply to medical school because of my sex and race, being a white male. So, she was no use obviously.

Unfortunately, this is the same story for students going to larger undergrad institutions. Advisors are simply overwhelmed by the number of students coming in. So I basically navigated the process by myself with a small group of other premed friends. This was between 1998-2002. We didn’t have Google back then.

But now, students have access to so much information. Just me alone, I have over 400 podcast episodes between four different podcasts. I do almost daily Facebook live streams. The problem now, however, is there is too much information that is wrong. Your job is to find the best resources that resonate with you based on the message you want to hear. I preach collaboration, not competition. While there’s another huge website out there that’s basically all about competition.

[Tweet “”The problem now is that there’s too much information that is wrong. It’s your job to find the best resources that resonate with you.” https://medicalschoolhq.net/pmy-255-qa-with-premed-students-at-a-small-liberal-arts-school/”]

[08:54] What You Need to Do as a Freshman

You just need to find what fits you. And understand that as a freshman, you have a lot of time. Your goal right now is to learn how to be a student. Learn how to be a college student. That is very different than being a high school student. You’re out on your own now. You’re given a class syllabus and your hand isn’t held the whole time.

[Tweet “”As a college freshman, your goal is to learn how to be a student.” https://medicalschoolhq.net/pmy-255-qa-with-premed-students-at-a-small-liberal-arts-school/”]

At a big campus, you can just show up for class if you want to or a test if you want to and hope you do well. Your goal right now is to focus on that. Everything else you hear you need to do – shadowing, clinical and leadership experiences – all these can come later. Just focus on being a student right now.

[10:05] What is HPSP?

Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP) is covered by the Army, Navy, and Air Force. Once you sign up to be a member of the military, they own you 100%. So you have to be okay with that. You need to be flexible. You can give your input as to where you want to go or what you want to do. But ultimately, it’s up to their specific needs.

I wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon. And the Air Force every year has only a handful of spots for people that want to be orthopedic surgeons. Every year, they get together and agree on how many orthopedic surgeons they’re going to need. They can’t force you to do something you don’t want to do.

But they have the general medical officer. When you graduate medicine, you can’t practice medicine. When you graduate law school, you can practice law. You need postgraduate training. While residency teaches you how to be a doctor, medical school teaches you how to think how to become a doctor. In most states, to be able to practice, you need at least one postgraduate year, typically referred to as your internship.

[Tweet “”Medical school teaches you how to think how to be a doctor.” https://medicalschoolhq.net/pmy-255-qa-with-premed-students-at-a-small-liberal-arts-school/”]

After I graduated medical school, I did my internship year and reapplied for orthopedics. Again, the Air Force said no and I had to be a flight surgeon. And so I went and did my aerospace medicine stuff.

For me, if I wanted to go out and practice now (although I already gave up my medical license back in March), I would either have to move to a state that allows somebody to practice one year of postgraduate training. Or go back and do a full residency.

If you’re thinking about applying for the HPSP, shoot me an email at ryan@medicalschoolhq.net.

Even though the Air Force prevented from pursuing orthopedics, at least initially, I’m a huge advocate evangelist for the HPSP program. But you have to do it because you want to serve.

[Tweet “”The money is a nice side effect, coming out debt-free. But you have to be okay serving in the military.” https://medicalschoolhq.net/pmy-255-qa-with-premed-students-at-a-small-liberal-arts-school/”]

[14:07] Where You Could Be Stationed as a Military Physician

As a physician in the military, you can be anywhere throughout the world. You could be on a ship for six months. Once you finish with the training and you just did the minimum four years, expect to be stationed in at least two different places. The good thing about this is if you’re the adventurous type, they pay for your moves and you get to travel the world. Being in the Air Force, I would just jump on the plane. I was stationed in Dover, Delaware for two years and then right outside of Boston for three years.

Moreover, they don’t really care about your circumstances or the rest of your family. I got married to a physician whom I met in medical school. She was doing her residency training in Boston. We graduated together and moved to Boston to do our internship training (our first year). And she continued on in Boston to finish her residency in Neurology. While I was moved down to Dover, Delaware. So the Air Force didn’t care that my wife was under a contract to finish her training in Boston. They moved me where they needed me. So for the first two years of our marriage, we were separated. In the military, they call it the geobachelor. It’s not uncommon to fall in love, get married, and then move away from somebody because they can’t move for whatever reason. This is an important thing to keep in mind.

Being stationed in Dover, Delaware, we’d fly all over the world. As a flight surgeon, I get to talk to my colleagues and we’d agree who goes off for a week, for instance. And I would go to Iraq or Afghanistan or Germany and Spain, Turkey, Bahrain, and just all over. I would just hang out with the aircrew and do fun things.

[17:40] Shadowing: Is This the Path You Want?

What you should be doing to make sure this is the path you want is go out and shadow. Too many students wait too long. They have this picture of what a physician is or does because they watch Grey’s Anatomy. Or a lot of students put doctors up on a pedestal and think how they’re being admired and how they’re making a ton of money.

[Tweet “”The job is not glamorous. Patients hardly ever admire you. You don’t make a ton of money. https://medicalschoolhq.net/pmy-255-qa-with-premed-students-at-a-small-liberal-arts-school/”]”

You make good money as a physician, but there’s a lot of things changing in this world. There are students who do it for financial purposes. They come out and practice for ten years. Then there’s a huge change in reimbursements and how insurance works. And all of a sudden, your pay is cut by half. Are you then going to hate your job because you’re not being paid what you came in expecting? Or are you in this profession because you want to help people and take care of patients? That part of the job will never change.

Until we’re taken over by robots, we as physicians will always walk into an exam room and treat a patient one-on-one. If that’s why you’re going into medicine, that’s perfect. But if you’re doing it for other reasons, you should probably rethink what you want to do. And that’s okay.

I’d rather you figure out that you don’t want to be a doctor for whatever reason now than to get four years down the line, start medical school, and then realize you’re miserable. Or start residency and then realize you’re miserable.

So go out and find a physician to shadow. Find a PA to shadow. or a physician to shadow. Find an NP or a pediatrist to shadow. Find all these allied health care fields to see what each one of them has to offer.

I did an episode recently with a PA, Savanna Perry, back in Episode 254. She helps pre-PA students while I help pre-med students. The big question was what does pre-PA look like? What does premed look like? We talked about the differences between PA school versus medical school and PA versus medicine. There are a lot of different avenues out there. If it’s the science and helping people, there are many different avenues out there besides becoming a physician. If you’re worried about the training or how hard it is to get into medical school, first and foremost, go out and shadow. Shadow as many people as you can find. It doesn’t have to be ten hours a week. It can just be a couple of hours once a months. Just go out and experience first hand what it’s like in a doctor’s office or an emergency room. Make sure you’re doing this for the right reason.

[Tweet “”Shadow as many people as you can find…Just go out and experience first hand what it’s like in a doctor’s office.” https://medicalschoolhq.net/pmy-255-qa-with-premed-students-at-a-small-liberal-arts-school/”]

As you’re sitting through your undergrad classes or studying for the MCAT later on, your shadowing experience will remind you why you’re suffering through those courses. It keeps that end on the top of your mind. So that when you sit down to study and all of your friends are texting you to come party, you will stay back and study. Delayed gratification is going to be huge on this journey for you.

[23:10] Research Experience and Other ECs

Shadowing was what was missing in my application, the reason I didn’t get in the first time. I thought volunteering in a hospital was good enough. Which when I did; so, I only sat at the information desk to show people where the elevators were. I had almost zero clinical experience and no shadowing experience. That really hurt application. I didn’t understand all these nuances because I never went back to my premed advisor after she told me I had no chance of getting into medical school.

Moreover, I did research. I had a professor in my major, Exercise Physiology that was pursuing relationship for stroke patients so I did research with him. I had another professor in Exercise Physiology studying the effects of different types of workouts on blood hormones, testosterone, and cortisone and other things. That said, I didn’t do any really strict-bench research.

A lot of students say you have to have research. But you don’t need research. You may find some research just to see if you like it. I really liked the research I did. Research doesn’t have to be the normal, boring pipette-in-the-laboratory stuff that you think about when you go into research. It could be a clinical research going into the doctor’s office, interacting with patients, collecting data on patients.

Besides research, I did a lot of extracurriculars. Habitat for Humanity was something I was passionate about. It was something I did when I didn’t get into medical school the first time. I was in Florida and moved out to where I live now in Colorado. I worked for my uncle remodeling houses.

I also did a “big brother” thing for a local elementary school for some at-risk kids. I worked at the YMCA where I worked all throughout college. I was a first generation college student. Nobody else in my family was a physician or in health care. I did a work study with one of the places on campus and at the YMCA as a camp counselor/supervisor and as a personal trainer during medical school.

[27:18] Finding Places for Shadowing and Clinical Experience

In a regular application, you get about fifteen spots for research and activities. But you don’t have to fill all those things out.

[Tweet “”Go find quality things that you’re really passionate about that are making an impact on people’s lives and your life.” https://medicalschoolhq.net/pmy-255-qa-with-premed-students-at-a-small-liberal-arts-school/”]

You don’t have to go travel to a third world country to do medical missions. You can find impactful things to do right in your own neighborhood. The things that you enjoy the most are the ones that you’re going to keep on doing. Those are the going to be the ones that you’re the most passionate about and writing about when it comes to filling out your application. Those are the activities you’re most passionate about when it comes to your interviews. Find those things you’re passionate about. It doesn’t have to be specifically about health care for the majority of things. Yes, you need to shadow some but you don’t need thousands upon thousands of hours of shadowing. You need 50, 100 – maybe the most.

As for clinical experience, you need to be close enough to smell the patient. You need to be interacting with the patient. I love hospice work for clinical experience. There are many people out there who are close to dying who don’t have any family members or friends. Their friends are probably all dead as well or they’re dying themselves and can’t be with each other. Being able to connect with somebody like that in hospice work, to be there for them as they transition out is huge and powerful. It had a huge impact on you. It’s a great clinical experience.

Being a scribe is another amazing experience. A scribe is someone who writes down what the doctor is saying. But in today’s day and age, they’re taking notes in a computer. So when the doctor is interacting with the patient and doing history and a physical exam, the scribe is also in the room. They watch everything that’s going on and they’re trained to interpret what’s going on to enter it into the medical record. Being a scribe, you learn how to be part of the healthcare team. You hear everything that’s going on. You see everything that’s going on. You get to hear the thought process of the physician. You get to ask questions. Plus, it’s usually a paid job. Not as high though. But it’s a great, amazing experience.

[32:20] Exploring Specialties

[Tweet “”Most students that start medical school practice and go into something totally different than what they came in expecting.” https://medicalschoolhq.net/pmy-255-qa-with-premed-students-at-a-small-liberal-arts-school/”]

Once students start medical school and are exposed to everything, they start to see what they really like and what they enjoy. At this point, you may love anesthesiology. But start shadowing an anesthesiologist and see what their day to day life looks like. See what they’re doing day in and day out, procedure to procedure. You find it boring then you go and explore something totally different.

Specialty Stories is a podcast where I talk to different physicians having different specialties. Listen to those and hear what their jobs are like. Hear what they like and don’t like. Hear why they went into those things. Just keep in mind as you’re going through the process.

[33:30] Medical School Scholarships and Assistance Programs

Aside from HPSP, there are other financial assistance programs for medical school including the National Health Service Corps. There are obviously academic scholarships if you’re a strong student and doing well grade-wise. Schools do a lot of scholarships for students.

Nevertheless, there is a huge under representation of minorities in medicine. Most physicians are white people, lots of Asians and Indians. But we need more African-Americans and Latino physicians. Unfortunately, the cost is what deters a lot of premeds. But in reality, it’s just a number on paper. You got to medical school and you sign a dotted line. Uncle Sam gives you money and you got to medical school. You go though medical school and you go through residency training. You make some money. You become a physician and you pay back your loans. There are very aggressive ways to pay back your loans in three to five years. There are more long term ways to pay back your loans in 10-20 years.

[Tweet “”The reality is that you pay back your loans and you won’t be eating Ramen noodles the whole time.” https://medicalschoolhq.net/pmy-255-qa-with-premed-students-at-a-small-liberal-arts-school/”]

So it’s doable 100%. The financial aspects, while important, shouldn’t dictate whether or not you become a physician or not. If this is what you want to do then do it. There are programs to help you pay off your loans. There is what’s called income-based repayment and loan forgiveness in the public sector. You work with them for ten years and the rest of your loans will be forgiven as long as you’re making payments towards your loans. If this is what you want to do then you do it. Not doing it just because you didn’t want to be in debt is not something you want to regret. It’s just a number on paper.

[38:37] Final Words of Wisdom to Premeds

Keep your head down. Focus on the grades at this point. Go out and shadow. Find a physician mentor that can help guide you on this journey. Ignore the naysayers. There are going to be plenty of physicians who are like those. Physicians, just like all humans, hate change. So if you talk to a physician who has been on practice for 30 years, they have seen a lot of change. And now, there’s more change coming and the White House is trying to change things again. It scares everybody and it makes them mad. They get paid less. There’s more paperwork. They’re grumpy because things have changed. As long as you understand that things will always keep changing, but what happens behind that closed door with the patient won’t change. If that’s why you’re going into this, then you’ll be good.

If you want me to speak to your premed club at your school, shoot me an email at ryan@medicalschoolhq.net.


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