Dr. Charles Cochran is the founder of #LifeofaMedStudent, a Twitter account which he started to help students figure out what’s going on out there in the medical school world. It’s a place for students to gather and share stories. Now, this has grown into a successful website as well.
Take a listen to learn why he started it, and what you can learn from the med students talking about their life.
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[02:00] Interest in Medicine
Charles knew he wanted to be a doctor when he was still little. His dad being a small town chiropractor, he got an avenue to medicine through this. He has also like interacting with people. His dad always pushed him to go to a DO school or a medical school to have a more expanded license.
In fact, he didn’t have a different career that he thought about. he always thought it was a good fit for him. So from day one, he always thought he’d be a physician.
And he didn’t really look at other things to challenge himself if this is something he really wanted to do. In college, he applied to a rural health program designed to get you into medical school. So right from day one of college, he already been on the premed track.
In high school, he did some shadowing which he enjoyed. So he practically never thought of other career options. As a premed, his degree was in Chemistry. His plan was that if for some reason medical school didn’t work out, he’d get into pharmaceuticals. He was thinking of pharmaceutical sales since he was interested in business too. But he never really pursued it because he was able to keep going along the track which he wanted.
[04:55] Struggles with the MCAT
Being a premed and being in medical school are hard. So there were days he was being hopeful. He took the MCAT twice. His first take was okay but it wasn’t good enough. So he was agonizing on whether he should take it again. And if he did, what he’d do differently to make sure it’s not the same or worse. So he had those days as a premed being part of the normal process.
The first time he took the MCAT, he actually just showed up and took it. It’s amazing how like Charles, many students think it’s just another test. He “studied” for a summer, but he really didn’t study. He did well in undergrad so he thought he’d do well on the MCAT too. In short, he didn’t have that burning desire to really do the study needed.
So he admits to having had poor guidance and poor individual responsibility. Then when he went on to take it the second time, he spent the next summer studying each day. He was now doing more practice tests and a lot of practice questions. And he was happy with the result.
[07:15] Guaranteed Acceptance to Medical School Through the Rural Health Program
Charles was part of the state’s Rural Health Program, that had partnered with Indiana University. The average for their matriculating class a year before, you are pretty much guaranteed admission if you did all the things the program wanted and scored the average on the MCAT, which at that time was 30. So he knew that if he got it or better, he didn’t have to apply to other medical schools and worry about it.
But even the first time he thought he’d be fine as long as he showed up, he got a 27. It was good enough to get you into medical school. But it wasn’t going to be a slam dunk. So he was disappointed in himself for taking what could be a guaranteed thing. He considers that one of the most stressful times of your life is trying to get into medical school. Unfortunately, he didn’t achieve it.
So it was important for him to go back and get that score. Luckily he was able to the second time around. The school was able to accept his second MCAT score. They didn’t care if you took it twice. They just wanted to see the number on a piece of paper. Plus, he had to do the research that was part of the program as well as shadowing and a minimum GPA of 3.5. All those was easy for him, but it was the MCAT that many people would have trouble with. Charles explains how hard it is to get admittance to medical school so a guaranteed acceptance was very important to him.
The Rural Health Program is still being offered today. People from small, rural designated areas in Indiana can join and if you get into that program, it comes with a scholarship. But you need to do everything asked of you. Get the MCAT score and the GPA. Then you’re guaranteed admittance into the IU Medical School.
The great thing about this, Charles says, is that there is not catch whatsoever. There are no requirements that you have to be a primary care doctor or whatever, even though this is really the goal of the state. Charles is a practicing anesthesiologist now. He didn’t end up going to primary care. But he’s now practicing in the program’s state. So in some ways, they got their money’s worth with him because he’s back practicing in a rural area.
[10:35] Going Through the Actual Application Process
Now that Charles got 30 on the MCAT, he still had to formally apply. At that time the program was relatively new (6-7 years old) and they never denied anybody. It was on paper that you’re guaranteed acceptance if you did everything. This was pretty cool.
Charles recalls getting his letter of acceptance from the IU in the mail. But he wasn’t as nearly excited that day as when he actually got his MCAT score. Because that was the moment he knew it was going to happen. If you’re interested in Rural Health, Charles says it’s a very nice program.
[11:30] The Hardest Thing About Being a Premed
Aside from the MCAT, the hardest thing about being a premed for Charles, is making sure that he checked all the boxes that things medical schools are interested in seeing.
Again, the program had some of it lined up for him. But you’ve got to get research experience as well as shadowing and get good grades. The entire four years was challenging. Nevertheless, Charles described college as an enjoyable experience. So ultimately, it was the balancing act that was very challenging for him.
I know I always tell students that there are no checkboxes. But there are things you have to do. Charles agrees in that you don’t have to do all of them but have to do most of them in some shape or form.
Understand that they’re not things you have to do to get into medical school. But they are things you have to do to prove to yourself that you want to be a physician. That’s the big barrier.
The other component of this, Charles adds, is trying to figure out if you want to do an MD/PhD if you’re more interested in the research side of medicine. Charles quickly found out he didn’t and that he hated doing research. But he still thinks it’s important and some are doing it. And he didn’t regret doing it a bit because he knew then on that he needed to be around people.
[13:50] The Decision to Be an Anesthesiologist
Charles started off thinking he would go into Family Medicine. His dad was a small town chiropractor and he wanted a small town rural medicine. He liked being people and seeing them on a day to day basis. So for his first two years of medical school, that was the path he was on.
Between first and second year, he did a rural shadowing program for the summer. He went to different rural hospitals and shadowed different primary care doctors. He describes it as a great experience. But he also thought that pain management was interesting. And he thought anesthesia was a really good avenue to go through it. Although there are other routes such as Neurology or PM&R, but he thought anesthesia was the most interesting. And so he did.
Being in the operating room, he likes the pace of it with much technical skill. And what he lost in patient long term contact, he got with being able to use patient skills to make really good first impressions. Since most patients don’t get to know their anesthesiologists until that day. So he uses his people skills to get patients to trust him in a short amount of time. He loves the day to day workflow as it seemed faster.
By second year, it was all anesthesia. Then once he got into it, he realized he couldn’t go back and do pain management. That would mean going back to clinic life for a lot. And he liked being in the O.R. Hence, the transition. In fact, he considers this as one of the best decisions he has ever made.
[16:05] From Premed to Being a Medical Student
Charles describes that being a medical student is harder but you don’t know it when you’re premed. So you don’t really understand that it’s going to get harder. You don’t fear it yet.
Being a premed where you check the boxes, there are a lot of things you need to keep track of to make sure you get a good application. Whereas being a medical student, you need to keep track that you’re studying consistently, everyday. You have now basically dedicated your time to where you’re just being a medical student. You’re not shadowing. You’re just showing how to be a medical student. He didn’t really have a job during medical school. He didn’t do much else outside of that.
If there was something he would have changed about his premed journey, Charles admits he would have tried to do better on the MCAT the first time. He still gets disappointed about that. But overall, he was was really happy as a premed through the Rural Health Program and what it allowed him to do.
Being a small town Indiana boy, he never really wanted to see the world, so to speak. So another thing he could have done was to study abroad to expand his point of view at that time. Otherwise, it was still a happy premed experience for Charles.
[18:14] The Origin of #LifeofaMedStudent
Charles started #LifeofaMedStudent in December of 2011 when he was a third year medical student. He has always found social media interesting. So he got curious what sites are available for medical students at that time. He did found some, but what he really wanted to do something different. He wanted to be more interactive. He wanted other medical students were helping to promote it and share their ideas and humor. So when he started it, the name #LifeofaMedStudent was what he came up with.
His goals was that through this hashtag, other medical students could find tweets and share them. Then his site would retweet them and promote them so that a medical student in England could share an experience with a med student in the U.S. And that all medical students across the U.S. could share what they’re going through as well as the funny and sad aspects of medical training.
At that time, it became quickly popular. While a lot of other sites when he started kind of died out. It’s so great that Charles has actually kept this going until now. Since most students who have done this and then stopped were actually hit hard by residency. They realized realized that residency was harder than medical school.
So Charles made sure that he was at least sending out some retweets and tweeting a few times a week even through residency. Although there were times when he went weeks without tweeting, especially during the early parts of residency. But he kept with it. While a lot of those other sites have not tweeted for five years. As with Charles, he explains that he basically made time for it throughout these six years.
Another good thing to know is that his followers grew from 20,000 to now 50,000. This also motivates him knowing that people enjoyed the site and they’re sharing it. So he felt obligated to keep what people like going. Hence, his Twitter account stayed active throughout these years. Now, they’re also on Instagram and Facebook.
[22:20] The Biggest Struggles Students Tweet About
Charles says most students tweet about just the day-to-day grind of being a medical student. It’s years of just studying and studying. And the second half would be days trying to learn as much as you can in the hospital. Then you’d come home and study again.
So it’s that grind that can take its toll at times. This is the reason Charles would sometimes describe a physician’s life as “hilariously sad.” Because it’s funny how medical students around the world all have these shared experiences. This means long hours and daily study grinds and trying to do well. You basically try to constantly improve.
So the struggles with relationships and lifestyle you give up for to try to be the best medical student you can be. And people find that as something they want to share with other people to feel it’s never just you. So he sees the need for people to share this.
[24:15] His View on the Work Hour Regulations
Charles believes there should be some work hour regulations. He doesn’t think anybody should be working more than 80 hours a week. With the nuance, people can work for 16 hours or 24 hours. He’s not as picky. He thinks working 24 hours is fine. But he doesn’t like how they’re putting this four-hour period where if you’re doing 24 hours and doing a 4-hour hand off. He doesn’t think it takes four hours to hand off your patients.
He adds that the thing about residency is you’re doing what you’re told 99% of the time. And for residents that don’t do this, things can be difficult. Charles points out how residency programs could abuse that four-hour rule. He thinks that if you want it to be 24 hours, it should only be 24 hours with just a little leeway for handing off patients.
Ultimately, he thinks that 80 hours a week is plenty to both getting the experience you need. He stresses the importance of work-life balance and you shouldn’t lose that.
I wanted to add to this that a lot of medical students don’t realize that you could be fired from your residency. Charles says you have to do what you’re asked. And when residents don’t do that and don’t study at the same time causing them to do poorly on the exams, you can be fired. It’s rare but he says this actually happens every year to residency programs.
[27:18] What to Expect from #LifeofaMedStudent
Charles dishes out some things you can get from checking out #LifeofaMedStudent. You will learn about what you’re getting yourself into. It’s the broad adventure that going into a life in medicine is. You’re going to see what it’s like to be taking a 24-hour call surgery or about internal medicine. He shares why he chose anesthesia. He also has a couple guest posts for why they became a surgeon.
They also have posts directly geared towards premeds. He shares his story about why he took the MCAT again and what he did differently. Was it the right decision? He also shares some tips for shadowing as a premed as well as the four pillars of great med school application.
Additionally, Charles tries to tailor some of it directly to the premeds. But he also has a lot of guest posts who are in medicine. This way, premeds can see what the future looks like for them and what they’re getting into.
Charles accepts guest posts and he’s happy if premeds want to participate and talk about their struggles. He’d be happy to hear about some stories of what it’s like to be taking the MCAT now or being a premed now. If you’re interested in sharing your story, go check out their website.
A recent post they have is when is the best time to have a baby. Is there a best time? Charles’ daughter is now one. They had her at the end of residency which he thought was a great time to do it. A lot of premeds are worried about families in their future. While this may not be on your top list of concerns, but soon this will be one of your concerns.
[30:35] Final Words of Wisdom for Premeds
Charles wishes to share with premeds that his biggest struggle was during the first semester of medical school. During this long journey, you will have days where you will doubt yourself. Everybody does and that’s normal. That’s part of the experience. So never think you’re alone. Premeds and medical students have the same experience and have the same doubts.
The second thing is that it’s worth it, both from a lifestyle standpoint to financial and just the happiness standpoint. Charles feels so honored to call himself a doctor ad be able to take care of people. Even through those hard days, he couldn’t really see himself doing anything else.
And if you’re at a hard time and can’t see yourself doing anything else, Charles encourages you to stick with it. Sometimes, part of the struggles is just sticking with it. So don’t give up on it!
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