Premed Q&A: All of Your Instagram Questions Answered!

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Session 321

We had a ton of questions come in from you on Instagram, covering letters of rec, shadowing, research, and so much more. Follow me on IG—I’m @medicalschoolhq.

[01:25] Shadowing vs. Clinical Experience

Q: Does shadowing count as clinical experience? If not, what can I do to gain more clinical experience?

A: A very common question, yet a very misunderstood part of the premed process is extracurriculars. In the application itself, you can mark something as shadowing and as medical/clinical experience. So shadowing is not counted as clinical experience. You need separate shadowing and clinical experience.

'Shadowing is not clinical experience.' Click To Tweet

Clinical experience is defined as being close enough to smell the patient. For instance, patient transport in a hospital can go both ways. Some schools don’t consider that as clinical experience. So even among clinical experiences, there’s still a bit of greyness to that as how each medical schools is going to view that.

But the general rule of thumb is that which is close enough to smell the patient such as being a phlebotomist, EMT, medical assistant, paramedic, nurse, or medic in the air force of the military. Being a scribe is another good clinical experience but there are some schools that don’t consider it. But I beg to disagree and think it’s a great clinical experience.

Volunteering for hospice is another amazing clinical experience. And it’s easy! You don’t need a certificate or anything and there are lots of patients who don’t have family members and loved ones around. So they need hospice volunteers to be with them at the end of their life.

[04:10] Letters of Recommendation

Q: How many letters of recommendation can you submit in the application?

A: This is one of the hardest parts of the medical school application. Every medical school requires something different. So you have to go through the process and look at all the schools you’re applying to and try to figure out what each medical school wants in terms of the number, the minimum and maximum, what are the required ones. The general rule of thumb is two letters of recommendation from a science professor and one letter of recommendation from a nonscience professor.

'I generally don't recommend throwing in more letters of recommendation than what the medical schools are requiring.' Click To Tweet

If you’re thinking that more is better, then this is not the case when it comes to letters. As medical schools are only going to look at their bare minimum so don’t give them a chance to not be able to pick the best ones. So just send in the best ones possible that meet their requirement and no more than that.

[05:47] Committee Letter

Q: For a letter of recommendation, what is the committee prehealth most schools talk about wanting letters from?

A: If you have to ask, you probably don’t have a committee. The prehealth committee is typically the prehealth office or the advising office that will write a committee letter, which is usually written by a group of advisors in that office that get together to interview you and get parts of your application. Then they review it and write you a committee letter based on other letters of recommendation that go to the committee.

Personally, I don’t like committee letter since they’re geneally watered down versions of a letter of recommendation. Some schools have them and some don’t. If your school has it, go ahead and try it and use it. However, a lot of times, the letter writers at your committee will write a letter and submit it in September. You want your application to be complete right before then. So it’s best to just submit the individual letters. If the committee ever gets around to submitting your letter, then you can add that to the mix but at least your application is complete before then.

[07:20]  Asking for Letters of Recommendation

Q: How do you ask for a letter of recommendation from professors you haven’t kept in touch with?

A: Don’t ask for a letter of recommendation from professors you haven’t kept in touch with. Those are hard letters to get. The letter is supposed to be about who you are as a person and how your personality, traits, etc. are going to help you be a physician in the future. Check out AAMC’s letter of recommendation writer’s guide to help you have an idea about what the letter writer should be writing about and focusing on. Take that info and give it to the letter writer.

'Don't ask for a letter of recommendation from professors you haven't kept in touch with.' Click To Tweet

So look for somebody you’ve kept in touch with. If you have to have a letter from somebody you haven’t kept in touch with, just reach out and send them an email to see what they say. But the general rule of thumb, it’s not going to be a good letter because if you haven’t kept in touch with them then you don’t have that relationship to get a very strong letter of recommendation.

[08:50] Special Master’s Program

Q: I have a 3.3 GPA, do you recommend doing 1 year Master’s that mimics first year of medical school?

A: The general consensus seems to be that medical schools like your undergraduate GPA more than your Master’s GPA. So if you have a 3.3 undergraduate GPA, I would work on improving your undergrad GPA which means doing postbac work at an undergraduate level.

Now, the Master’s that mimics the first year of medical school is called a Special Master’s Program, in most cases. Often, you’re doing classes with the medical students. That may be beneficial especially at the specific medical school you’re doing the SMP at because they’re seeing you in the environment you’re going to be in as a first-year medical student and see how you can handle yourself.

'Work really hard doing undergraduate level work to get that positive trend up.'Click To Tweet

Try to work so hard in your undergrad level work to get a positive trend. Because if you already have that degree, then your denominator is so big that it’s not going to move the needle much. But that trend will work really well. It is shown separately as postbac GPA and it will affect your undergraduate overall and science GPAs.

I haven’t been recommending Master’s much anymore, especially for the cost. You can take the classes in undergrad on your own through DIY postbac at a community college or a four-year university and it would be much cheaper.

[10:40] Shadowing a Nurse Anesthetist

Q: Is shadowing a nurse anesthetist who does all the anesthesia valid?

A: It is shadowing, but don’t use it as a main shadowing for medical school. Instead, you can put it in your application. But then again, don’t rely on it as shadowing because your goal is to shadow a physician, not a nurse anesthetist. And while they’re doing a lot of things similar to what a physician does, they’re not a physician and not acting as a physician. So be careful with that one.

[11:17] From PA to Physician

Q: How will being a PA be viewed on a medical school application?

A: It’s viewed favorably. I’ve helped a lot of PAs transition into medical school. And it’s all about the story you’re telling, Why do you want to be a physician? A lot of students will focus on why they don’t want to be a PA and this could come out as something negative. Rather the focus is on why you want to be a physician. What is it about being a physician that you need that you can’t get as a PA. Again, why not PA, but why a physician.

'It's really all about the story that you are telling. It's why do you want to be a physician?'Click To Tweet

Being a PA is an amazing clinical experience where you can talk about all the things you’re doing and just that it’s not enough and that you want to get that MD or DO.

[12:25] Clinical Experience in Third World Countries

Q: Is clinical experience in a third world country looked worth less than experience in Americas?

A: Just make sure you’re doing the right things while you’re there.

[12:43] Getting a Job at a Hospital?

Q: Do we need to find a job at a hospital or is it enough to shadow and volunteer?

A: You don’t have to work in a clinical setting. You don’t have to get paid to work in a hospital to do all of that stuff. If you can swing a job working as a scribe then do that. It may not pay that well but it’s a great job while you’re in the middle of your application. But you don’t have to do that.

[14:10] Advice to Freshmen

Q: What’s the best advice you could give to an undergrad freshman?

A: Slow down, relax. You don’t have to do it all right now. Your main focus should be learning how to be a college student. Get good grades. Meet some friends. Have fun. But most importantly, get good grades! The rest of the volunteering, clinical experience, etc. can come later once you figure out how to be a college student.

'Your main focus should be learning how to be a college student.'Click To Tweet

[14:47] MCAT Prep

A: Which practice test besides AAMC are proven most helpful for the MCAT?

Q: The feedback I get from students is that Blueprint MCAT (formerly Next Step Test Prep)’s full-length tests are the second best full-length exams, second to the AAMC as they obviously write the test. Next Step sells packages from 4, 6, or 10 full-length exams. Get 10% off using the promo code MSHQ. Also, be sure to listen to The MCAT Podcast to help you with your MCAT prep.

[15:46] When and Where to Send LORs

Q: When and where should you letters of recommendations be sent?

A: There are a couple of options here. First, you can send them directly to the application services but you have to wait until they open up for that year you’re applying. But I don’t recommend this since you’re waiting, basically to the last minute since you need to time it perfectly as to when the letter writer has to send in the application to the application service. And if you’re applying to both AMCAS and AACOMAS and TMDSAS, then that professor has to send to all three application services. So I recommend sending to a letter of recommendation service like Interfolio. Be sure to check in with them if they’re still working with all the application services.

Submit all your letters to them and then they disperse the letters of recommendation out to the different application services. Then you don’t have to time it right. They can send them in January and then you submit your application in May or June and the letters get out as they need to be. They also do some quality checking.

[17:25] MD/PhD

Q: Explain about the MD/PhD.

A: MD/PhD is all about research. You don’t have to do an MD/PhD to do research as a physician. You can go to any medical school and do research. So you don’t have to have a PhD.

'MD/PhDs are typically very academic, very research-driven, with very little clinical experience.'Click To Tweet

[19:10] Leadership and Nonclinical Related Activities

Q: Would being promoted to a manager at a restaurant count as leadership if I include it in the application?

A: Of course!

Q: I work all throughout college that was mostly restaurant related. Should I include this in my app?

A: Yes. Students think that the application needs to b 100% focused on medicine or health care. And that isn’t the case. In the application, there is a section there where you can put in your hobbies as well as your non medical or non clinical activities. So put all these other things because it paints a picture about who you are as a person outside of you liking science and wanting to help people. (That’s obviously a given!) By doing all the restaurant staff, you’re able to tell a story about leadership or personal interaction.

'The application should paint a picture about who you are as a person.'Click To Tweet

[20:35] Deposit at a DO School

Q: What do you do if you get an offer from a DO school but their deposit is too much money?

A: Shame on AACOMAS AOA for not regulating the deposit amount from medical schools. It is disgusting how much some of these DO schools are charging for non-refundable deposits to students. All you’re doing is increasing this divide of students who can afford it and those who can’t. If a student gets an acceptance and is faced with a $2,000-deposit which they don’t have, what are they supposed to do?

What you can do is reach out to the school and say you want to come and whether you can just give them your first born. Try to work with them and see what they can do.

On the other hand, the AAMC (for MD) regulates this and this has changed a bit with the new AAMC Traffic Rules this year. Historically, it’s been $100 deposit. The AOA needs to do the same thing for DO schools.

[22:17] Getting “Quality Clinical” Experience

Q: Can you distinguish what is it that makes and extracurricular provide quality clinical experience?

A: Quality clinical experience in terms of medical schools liking it, it depends on how you pitch it. For instance, you have this amazing clinical experience as a medical assistant. But then you write the most basic job description. This is not a very good description. But if you told a story of one of your patients you saw regularly and you saw the impact that patient had on his or her life and how you had impacted someone’s life, that makes for a quality clinical experience. Because you’re telling the admissions committee how “quality” it was.

'Job descriptions are horrible extracurricular descrptions.'Click To Tweet

[24:00] Bachelor’s Degree

Q: Does it matter for medical schools how many years it took you to get your bachelor’s degree.

A: For the most part, you’re fine. But if you only make one class a year, they may question your ability to handle a full course load. But if you’re just taking an extra year or withdraw from a semester or two for whatever reason, then don’t worry about this.

[24:23] Three Physician Letters From the Same Specialty

Q: Does it look bad to have three physician letters from the same specialty?

A: You don’t need three physician letters. As mentioned above, make sure you’re getting the required letters the schools want. Now if you only have one physician letter, then great. But three is just a complete waste of time for everybody.

[24:43] Building Relationship with Your Letter Writer

Q: Do you have to take a class with science professors who write your letters or can you work for them?

A: You don’t have to take a class with the people who are writing your letters of recommendation. If you’ve worked for that professor, you’re going to have a much more relationship with him or her, and they’re going to be able to write you a much stronger letter of recommendation because they know who you are.

[25:25] Not Too Much ECs and Applying Next Year

Q: Advice to almost no ECs because they started the process late but are still applying next year.

A: Don’t apply next year. There is no rush. If you want to apply with no ECs or rushed ECs, don’t apply just yet. You’ve got time so be sure to get some quality extracurriculars under your belt and then apply.

'Take a year off. It's not going to kill you. It's just a year.'Click To Tweet

[26:40] Science Letters, Updates

Q: Do science letters have to come from hard science only?

A: Yes.

Q: If you have no updates to submit during the application cycle, will it hurt me?

A: It will hurt you if you’re lacking something in your application and you’re not fixing that to send an update letter. Hence, if you’re lacking clinical experience or missing something in your application and you’re not fixing it and you’re not showing an update letter to show you’re fixing, then this can hurt you. If your application is great, you don’t need to send an update letter.

[28:15] Cost of Attendance

Q: When, if ever, should cost of attendance stop mattering if deciding between acceptances.

A: When you’re looking at the school budget, which is tuition cost, living expenses, etc., this comes in at the very end. Hopefully, you can get a financial aid or if one school is offering some financial aid and the other one isn’t, you can potentially go back and forth with the schools to see who can offer you the best.

[29:35] Online Course for the MCAT

Q: I took AP Psych in high school. Should I fit in an online course or do self-study for MCAT?

A: It depends on whether the schools you’re applying to require it as a prereq. If it is, I wouldn’t recommend taking it online. Schools don’t like their prereqs done online for the most part.

If you’re looking at the school requirements and it’s not a requirement, then take an online course. Or you can self-study so you won’t have to study in the other big courses for the MCAT.

[30:15] Upward Trends

Q: Is it okay if it does take a little longer but carrying heavy course load with upward trends?

A: Of course, it is okay.

[30:30] Essay Contest Winner

Q: When do we find out who won the contest?

A: For those who still don’t know, we will be doing a quarterly essay contest. We doubled the prize money and did that for six months instead of every quarter. First place is $4,000, second is $1,500, and the third is $500.

Go to to learn more about this!

[31:37] Undergrad GPA and Community College Classes

Q: Will community college classes taken after graduation get added to undergraduate GPA?

A: Yes, they will get added separately as postbac classes. But it will be counted towards your undergraduate GPA.

[31:50] 3.1 GPA

Q: 3.1 GPA but good MCAT applied to Master’s or bridge program, we’re trying to apply it one cycle.

A: So if you have a 3.1, it depends on what that looks like. A 3.1 as a steady score all across the years. The upward trend is much different to tell the person about who you are, what your struggles are…

'That 3.1 can be many different things.' Click To Tweet

As I’ve mentioned, I’m not high on Master’s programs anymore and just more sold on just doing postbac work at an undergraduate level to improve your GPA because medical schools seem to worry more about your undergrad GPA vs. the Master’s GPA.

[32:52] Tuition, Minority in Medicine, and Research

Q: Fortunately, I am debt-free from my college career. Where can I get info for medical school tuition?

A: Just go to the medical schools’ websites and you’ll get all the information there.

Q: I am one-quarter Hispanic. is that significant enough to put on my application. Does it help?

A: You’re good but just make sure you’re following the rules. Being Hispanic helps definitely. It’s an underserved and underrepresented minority in medicine.

Q: Is it okay if I did a lot of research and was published twice a year and a half ago, but haven’t done much.

A: If you’ve done research and you’ve stopped, that’s great. You don’t have to worry about consistency with research unless you’re trying to apply to MD/PhD.

'Consistency with volunteering and clinical experience and shadowing is much more important than consistency with research.' Click To Tweet

Q: 2.6 cumulative, 3.4 science, 514 MCAT – will I get accepted to U.S. schools maxed out units?

A: This depends on the medical school. Some schools may scream that out while others may screen out cumulative and science. So just apply and see what the medical school stell you.

[35:15] Single Mom with Limited ECs, Shadowing Opportunities, and Transfer

Q: I’m a single mom and with a great GPA, will they understand that my ECs aren’t amazing?

A: Yes, they will. They will understand that you have to put food on the table first so those are great.

Q: What is the best way to find shadowing opportunities?

A: Just go out to the hospital, to the private clinics, and physicians and ask. Ask, ask, ask and hopefully, you get some yeses.

Q: Does transferring multiple times make an impact on medical school decisions?

A: It basically depends on why you transferred, as long as you have a good reason.

[36:25] MCAT Prep, 3.5 GPA, and School List

Q: At what point should the students begin studying for the MCAT?

A: The majority of students study 3-4 months then take it in April or May of the year you’re applying.

Q: Is a 3.5 cumulative GPA competitive enough to get my foot in the door?

A: Yes, that score is decent.

Q: How can I make the list of schools?

A: I recommend not looking at the MSAR. Most students go straight to it and look at the median GPA. But they forget it’s a median number. Pick schools you want to go to based on location, weather, class size, curriculum, locations to residency programs, etc. Then at the very end can you possibly look at the MSAR and those medial ranges. And look specifically at the 10th percentile of the GPAs in the range on the MSAR. If you are near that 10th percentile, at or above it, then apply. If you’re pretty far below it, then maybe don’t apply.



AAMC’s letter of recommendation writer’s guide

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