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I decided to get on the phone with premed students and answer their questions about relationships, HPSP, secondary essays, and so much more!
By the way, The MCAT Podcast is put on by the Medical School HQ and Blueprint MCAT (formerly Next Step Test Prep). Aside from this, we have written The Premed Playbook: Guide to the MCAT. This book is for a student just starting out on their premed journey. They’re trying to figure out all the pieces of the puzzle. Just to clarify, this is not a test prep book to help you get a higher score on the MCAT (although there’s some of that stuff in there). In short, this is a book you’d buy the moment you realize there’s this thing called the MCAT. It’s coming out very soon so get notified by going to MCATbook.com or find out how to buy it.
Back to our episode today, we’re answering questions from premed students raised on our Facebook community, The Premed Hangout. Be a part of this community that’s now close to 5,000 members. And if you have questions where you want to sit down and talk with me, we also provide some personal Premed Advising Services.
Let’s get on with our Q&As:
[02:45] A Foreign Degree and Which Schools to Apply To
Question: What would be the first steps when applying to medical school if you have a foreign degree? How would you choose schools to apply to?
Answer: Assuming you are a foreign student (which is pretty much the general assumption), are you a foreign resident, a citizen, or are you just here on a student visa? A huge factor in applying to medical school is that if you’re not a permanent resident or a citizen, it could be very hard. You can go and look up MSAR for schools that accept internationals students butt most schools don’t.
Moreover, as a citizen with a foreign degree, have you done your prereqs here in the U.S.? This is also another huge factor for most medical schools. A lot of medical schools have this 90-hour rule where they want 90 credit hours of classes taken here at a US school whether it’s a four-year university or a community college. However, every medical school is different, which is the most frustrating part of this process. According to the student who asked this question, he has seen some schools want other specific hours in in a four-year university versus a community college.
In regards to international transcripts, the instruction manual has changed recently. Previously, you needed to request the transcript if you had credits transferred to a university or a US school. But this has now changed and you no longer need to request a transcript. But if the credits are transferred then you need to get the grades and classes listed on AMCAS. Therefore, there are a lot of hoops you need to jump through as an international graduate of an undergrad institution.
As to what schools to apply to, apply to those that you want to go to. it’s your home work to go to the MSAR. Contact the schools you may be interested in applying to. Talk to them about your situation and lay out everything and ask if there’s anything else missing before you apply to their school. See what they have to say and if you’re good, then apply.
Having had a degree from a foreign country added with a community college, some school may have a negative bias to this. But with a great GPA, you should be fine. Just do well on the MCAT and write great personal statements. Put your extracurriculars together well and tell your story well. And you should be good!
[09:47] HPSP and Air Force Surgeon Experience
Question: How do you think your time in the Air Force influenced you as a physician and how do you think it would be different if you had not done the HPSP?
Answer: I went through HPSP at a civilian hospital, not a military medical school. Then I did a civilian internship. So that was the only time I practiced medicine outside of the military. But looking back at my time as an Air Force Flight Surgeon, I think of it as that you’re a physician – period. Your employer just happens to be the US government and the Air Force. That being said, I don’t really know how much being in the Air Force has influenced me as a physician. If at all, I think being a physician influenced me a ton as an Air Force person.
Had I not gone through HPSP, I would probably have gone on to do an orthopedic surgery residency. So the military dictated whether you could move forward with the match or whether you do match in the specialty you want. They said no to orthopedics and this started my flight surgeon career.
Nevertheless, I do not regret my choice as I’ve made amazing experiences. I’ve flows all around the world at the back of different military aircraft. I have flown an F-16 – great memories!
Having no direct family members in the military, I was naive and didn’t know anything. I assumed that the Air Force would fly over to places and they go home at night. While the army is on the ground and fighting the battle and the Navy is on the boat all day long. Hence, I chose the Air Force.
Then once I was in the Air Force, I was surprised we ran the military hospitals in Iraq and Afghanistan and everywhere else and we’re down there. We were deployed with the army and on the ground. Either way, it worked out in the end since I love the Air Force.
[15:00] Should You Do the HPSP Scholarship?
Something as specialized as pain management, there are different ways into it such as Anesthesia, Radiology, PM&R, etc. But there are “issues” with going into a subspecialty in the military since usually, the specialities are few and far in between. It makes it that much harder to be able to do that.
So if you’re a premed thinking that you’re really interested in pain management, I’d caution you to pigeon-hole yourself so soon. Since 75% of students change their mind once they’re in medical school. Secondly, I would caution you against an HPSP scholarship because of what happened to me. I went in knowing I wanted to be an orthopod. I had a little hiccup going through OB/GYN but I applied to Orthopedics and the Air Force said no. Therefore, this depends on how flexible you are. If you’re flexible and resilient enough once they say no, then you can do a flight medicine and do your four years as a military doctor then get out and apply to a residency and go do what you really want. Are you willing to do that? This delays your specialty training but you come out debt-free.
[17:35] Shadowing and Clinical Experience When You’re Already in the Healthcare Field
Question: What can count as shadowing experience when you’re already in the healthcare field? Are there stipulations to it? Or does it never count as a shadowing experience and only clinical?
Answer: Even if you’re already in the healthcare field, this still wouldn’t count as shadowing. It’s very specific. It’s outside of your job. You’re not working. You are going to a physician’s place of business outside of your role as a nurse or a PA and you are observing and watching and learning.
While you’re already seeing what the physicians are doing, that is true about 75%-80% of the time because there is so much more that a physician does outside of that clinical interaction you have with them. Shadowing allows you to see that extra 15%-20%, whatever that may be. This could be phone calls with the insurance companies or the grand rounds where the physician is presenting or learning.
Shadowing is something that you need to do above and beyond what you’re doing already if you’re in healthcare. From a clinical experience standpoint, you’ve got that covered being a nurse. You’re already interacting with patients all day, everyday. So you’re fine on the clinical experience side.
[19:55] Dealing with Relationships
Question: How do you make it work when you’re in a relationship with someone who’s not a premed? How do you convince them that the journey is going to be worthwhile? How can you best prepare them for what’s ahead with medical school, residency, and fellowship?
Answer: Back in Episode 251, I tackled how to protect your relationships as a premed and med student. i recommend you listening to that with your significant other, together. You’ll get to hear from a spouse of a physician and how they made it work. That episode was with Sarah, a marriage and family therapist. She comes from a psychology standpoint of communication and all these other tools she’s learned as a therapist. And what it comes down to really is communication.
I honestly hope that you don’t need to convince a significant other if it’s worth it. A significant other should be there by your side. If you think it’s worth it, you shouldn’t have to convince them that it’s worth it.
In terms of preparing them for what’s to come, what medical school, internship, or residency is all about is your significant other supporting you probably more than they ever thought they would need to in the hardest times and the busiest times in your life.
It’s about being there unconditionally for you and understanding that your busy. It’s not all about them and you will try to make it about them when you can. This can be in between tests and those weekends when you come off of the test and you have a couple of days before you have to start studying for the next one. Or when you’re in internship and on night float so you’d have to sleep all day long since you work all night long. So it’s really just about supporting you and being there for you. Make sure they understand their role and that’s what you need them to do.
When I went through medical school, a lot of relationships going into medical school, did not survive medical school. It’s a very, very hard time. And it’s hard when somebody either doesn’t want to support somebody through it or doesn’t think it’s worth it. Maybe they don’t want you to be a physician because they know physicians are busy.
[20:07] Common Mistakes in Secondary Essays
Question: What is the most common mistake when writing secondary essays besides sending them in late?
Answer: Discounting sending them in late, which is the most common mistake, another one is not pre-writing them. Although this does go hand in hand with sending them late. But secondaries are one of the easier parts of the application since they’re asking you a specific question. One example is how are you going to add to the diversity of the class. Or if you’re planning on taking a break before you start medical school, what are you planning on doing?
So the biggest mistake is not pre-writing them. And when you work yourself backwards for why that happens, that’s because most students are taking way too long to write their personal statements, to write their extracurriculars, to submit their applications. They’re taking their MCAT late. All of that stuff is happening at the same time. And as soon as they submit their application, usually a little bit later in the cycle, they will immediately get back secondary applications from medical schools. Once you’re past the first wave of applications that go out, medical schools see you applied to their school as soon as you submit, prior to being verified. And most of them will send you a secondary within a day or two. Imagine you’re submitting your application, wanting to get your feet up, and then you start getting back 10, 20, 30 secondary applications. And you’re behind at that point.
All this being said, I believe prewriting your secondaries is a must. And always, always, always, do story telling. That’s the power of written and spoken words is through stories. So as much as you can answer the question with a story, then do it. It doesn’t even have to be related to medicine. In fact, stories are more powerful when they’re not related to medicine.
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