This week we’re taking questions directly from the MSHQ Premed Forums. If you’re not familiar with the forums, check them out and join the conversation!
In this episode, we have pulled out questions from the forums and discuss them here. Also, make sure to register there so you can join an amazing, collaborative community of students and feel free to throw in some questions there.
Meanwhile, here are some special announcements:
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Second, I’m currently working on The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement. Just go to the personalstatementbook.com and sign up to get notified once it comes out.
Back to today’s episode:
[03:58] Nursing Major or Premed?
“I’m a freshman in college and I’ve been dealing with “which major problems” since high school. I’m indecisive once it comes to choosing a major. I want to choose nursing not because it’s a shorter education route but because I plan on having it as a backup plan if medical school doesn’t work out for me. Except, I want to go to medical school but I have lots of self-doubt about my ability mentally and physically to graduate from med school.
I also consider having my major be premed because I know if I don’t get any prereqs done at the end of four years, I’ll have to go back for another two and a half years of college to complete those prereqs before even applying to medical school.”
You don’t need to worry about your major. When it comes to applying to medical school, you don’t need to worry about what major you have. It just doesn’t matter. The thing that matters the most are the prereqs.
“A lot of schools are getting away from having prereqs but you still need those to prepare yourself, to give you that science foundation to do well on the MCAT.”
Now, a lot of medical schools are getting rid of a lot of prereqs, but you still need to do well on the MCAT which means you still need to take the prereqs anyway And most of the prereqs are centered around doing well for the MCAT.
[05:30] The Backup Plan
This student has some self-doubt and that’s normal. We all have self-doubt. But if you let that dictate having a backup plan, you definitely do as little as possible to succeed in your goal of becoming a physician. Being a nurse is a great career, but if you want to to be a physician, get rid of that backup plan and bite to the nail to achieve that goal.
At almost every point of the medical journey, there will always be that self-doubt – as soon as you start medical school, during clinical rotations, internships, or as soon as you becoming an attending. It doesn’t end. It’s called impostor’s syndrome. So you have to let that go and fight through it. Know that if this is what you want, you would do whatever it takes to do it and not have a backup plan to fall back to.
On a side note, most schools don’t have a “premed” major although there are a few schools that do. But most don’t. You can just major in chemistry, biology, exercise physiology, history, Spanish. You can major in whatever you want as long as you get those prereqs.
[07:42] Taking Prereqs Classes Out of Order
“Some of the classes which I’m retaking were originally taking decades ago. And so, I’ve forgotten much of the material. Recently, I went to a premed admissions fair where several admissions advisors from some east coast medical schools told me to redo my course work to “prove” that I could still handle academically rigorous material.
For example, one advisor told me to retake physics. Because when I last took it decades ago, I got a B in the first part. I could never full understand forces on inclined planes. So to retake physics, I need calculus which I have forgotten. I originally took three semesters of Calculus back in the 80s and did well on all but the third part. That was for my first non-science degree. Then for my second degree, I had to retake these Calculus courses in 2006. I got a B in part 2. Although I realized that Calculus has not changed much, I found the material much harder to understand and comprehend during my second time through. I have been out of school for many years and this challenge to keep up with college students half my age.
Now I have the opportunity to retake Calculus I and III on the quarter system on a more rigorous school than the one at which I took the original Calculus courses. However, because of my work, Spring quarter which starts next month, I cannot take Calculus 1 before Calculus 2 and only Calculus 2 fits my schedule this spring quarter.
I could then take Calculus 1 during the summer. I’ve asked others in my program who have gone through the same sequence. Some took them simultaneously, some also took other measures of classes. For example, several students were taking Biochemistry and General Chemistry at the same time. Usually, General Chemistry comes before Biochemistry.”
“You don’t have to keep up with college students. Your only competition is yourself.”
[09:39] Will It Hurt Your Application?
Can you take the out of order? Yes. Is it ideal? No. There’s a reason there’s a 1 and 2. Each class is supposed to build on each other. Of course, you can do it. You’re going to have to teach yourself some of the concepts.
The biggest question is whether it will hurt an application? No. The admissions people are telling you to do it. It’s only going to help your application assuming you do well in the classes.
This is common for nontraditional students. They take courses a long time ago. The go out and have their career and have their family. Then at one point, they wake up and realize they’ve always wanted to be a doctor. From that point forward, they seek out what they need to do to get into medical school. A lot of them will contact schools and a lot of them will advise to take more recent course work to “prove” that you can handle the coursework.
It’s not wrong. Medical school is hard. Just because you were a good or decent student 20 years ago, doesn’t mean that you have the same aptitude today or the same willingness to do it. Going to school and being a student are different than being an employee.
And this is where “prove it” comes from. You need to do well in the classes and succeed. You also need to get that upward trend going. At the end of the day, you have to show the admissions committee that you can still be a student and you have a semester or two of coursework to show them that. So this is not going to hurt your application (as long as you don’t do poorly in those classes.)
[12:10] Clinical Experience in a Podiatry Clinic
This is another common question that comes up. What constitutes clinical experience for your application to prove to medical schools that this is what you want to do?
“I’m currently working as a medical assistant/scribe for a local podiatrist. I have lots of good experiences I don’t think I would get a lot of other places especially because I don’t have any special licensure (EMT, MA, CNA, etc.). I was recently in a discussion with my premed advisor who suggested to me that this experience might not be viewed as actual clinical experience by MD and DO admissions offices.
I was surprised by this due to the scope of my experiences. Is this true? Should I try finding a different opportunity to replace this one or will this be able to compare with other experiences in “actual” clinical settings?”
So is this clinical experience? Yes, 100%. But is it good clinical experience? No. But it doesn’t mean you avoid talking about it in your applications. But it means you should go and try to get clinical experience with physicians (MD and DO). Podiatrists are physicians as well. They’re allowed to call themselves physicians. They’re as close to MDs and DOs as any other health professions. They just happen to specialize in a certain part of our body. They do surgeries, they operate. They go to medical schools. They have a long curriculum in medical school. They do clinical experiences.But it’s still podiatry.
Medical school admissions committees are going to look at your experience and ask for the rest of it. Where’s the time you spent being around non-podiatry patients? They want you to show them those experiences. Show them how those experiences have led you to want to be an MD or DO.
Scribing at a podiatry clinic, solely, can send a signal that you only want to be a podiatrist, not an MD or DO. Instead, you want to be a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine. There’s a difference in how your actions are speaking to the admissions committee. So while it is a good clinical experience, it’s not the right clinical experience for your ultimate goal of becoming a physician. It’s the same thing for any other clinical experience – dentist office, chiropractic office, naturopathic office, etc. If you want to go to medical school, then you need to get clinical experience around MDs and DOs.
[15:47] Graduating Early and Applying Early
“I’m a first year premed nutrition student but I came into college with nearly 45 AP credits so I can graduate a year early with only taking 12 to 13 credits per semester. everyone has told me that I should a minor or take extra classes and graduate in the Fall of 2020 instead of the Spring of 2020 and apply for admissions for Fall of 2021 instead of Fall of 2020. I would really like to go straight into medical school after I graduate though. So I’m thinking about applying next Spring for the Fall of 2020. I’m just concerned about my extracurriculars. I’m just concerned about my extracurriculars. I didn’t realize I wanted to be a doctor until this past Fall. So I haven’t gotten involved in any premed clubs or shadowing or research or volunteering. I plan on starting research and volunteering very soon.
But I’m worried that if I apply in about a year, I won’t have extracurriculars on my application. I’m also worried about the MCAT. I am planning on taking it next spring and there’s really no room for error if I don’t do well on that attempt since I’m trying to send in my application as early as possible. I’m not sure how setting is going to go yet since I’ll be taking OChem 2 and Biochem that semester as well. I guess I’m just wondering what do you all think? I really want to graduate on time without taking a gap year but are my extracurriculars going to be too weak. Will it be too hard to study for the MCAT while taking those difficult courses next Spring?”
Graduating early is great. There’s less debt that you’re going to incur being a student for an extra year. But I also don’t agree on applying that early.
As mentioned, you haven’t done any shadowing, research, or volunteering yet. How do you know you want to be a physician? How have you proven to yourself that this is what you want to do? I would challenge you that you have no clue yet. It may sound great. You may have this great idea of what’s next but you don’t know. You need to go out and get some clinical experience. You need to go out and shadow. Put yourself around patients. Put yourself around physicians. And then start confirming that this is what you want and then start going down the path of when to take the MCAT and when to apply and so on.
I don’t think it’s a good idea to take the MCAT while still taking Ochem 2 and Biochem. That is a lot! Those are some heavy-hitting courses that are well-involved in the MCAT. To take those courses and to be studying for the MCAT at the same time is going to be very hard. So on top of not being super prepared for the MCAT because you’re still taking courses, you’re also rushing everything else. And you’re still not sure that this is what you want to do. You may think you know, but you don’t. You haven’t proven to yourself through your actions that this is what you want.
Go out and shadow. Go out and get the clinical experience. And prove to yourself that this is what you want. Then after getting that shadowing or clinical experience, you can concisely state in your application – personal statement, extracurrriculars, interviews – explain why it is that you want to be a physician.
So go out right now. Take that gap year. Prepare for the MCAT. Get those clinical experience and shadowing experiences. Prove to yourself that this is what you want. Continue those things consistently through the application process and into matriculating into medical school. Taking a gap year is not that big of a deal. Travel. Go out and get some life experiences.
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