Dr. Gray, Live at the UC Davis Pre-Health Conference!

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Session 365

Today’s episode features Ryan’s address to a live audience at UC Davis! Couldn’t make the conference? Tune in for a great conversation and Q&A session!”

We recorded everything that was going on that day including the talk I gave during lunch. Check out my YouTube channel on premed.tv. Reach out to me anytime on Instagram @medicalschoolhq

Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

[01:50] You Can Do This!

No matter where you are in this process, you can become a physician. A lot of students are being told that they should have a Plan B or that women shouldn’t bother applying at all. But for the first time in medical school application history, more women then men got into medical school.

'Don't let anyone else's considerations about you and your journey stop you. If this is what you want, do it.'Click To Tweet

A lot of physicians don’t like their job. Around 60% of physicians are burnt out. They’re not happy with their careers. But it’s an amazing career if you want to do it

[Related episode: How to Improve the Path for Women in Medicine]

[05:15] A Little Background About My Medical School Journey

In high school, I hurt my shoulder playing baseball so I had to go to a physical therapist. It drew my interest. It’s a common story for people who want to be physicians. You or someone in your family gets injured, gets sick, or dies. You get exposed to healthcare providers who cared for your family and gave you hope.

So I started shadowing a physical therapist. In my senior year of college, I was dissecting a cat and from there I was hooked. I wanted to cut people for a living. I wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon. I went to the University of Florida for undergrad majoring in Exercise Physiology.

I met with my premed advisor in my Sophomore year and she told me not to apply to medical school as I won’t get in. I’m a white male and there’s too many of us applying. I never talked to her again and went off tried to be my best self as a premed.

When I was in school, we didn’t have the resources people now have online. So I had to rely on friends, books, and professors.

'I applied to medical school and didn't get in the first time.' Click To Tweet

When I didn’t get into medical school the first time, I asked questions and tried to figure out what I did wrong and how I could do better. Eventually, I reapplied to medical school and went to New York Medical College. I applied for and got an Air Force scholarship.

When I applied for Orthopedic Surgery, the Air Force didn’t approve of it and so I went to an internship year in Boston. Then I started my career as an active-duty flight surgeon. But I wasn’t able to cut things so I wasn’t happy.

Part of my job was to take care of the pilots and their families. I was taking care of firefighters, police officers, and air traffic controllers. It was a cool job and I liked it.

In 2012, I started Medical School HQ because of all the misinformation out there and having gone through this whole process. In 2014, I got out of the military due to some health issues and been doing the podcast full-time since.

[Related episode: Life as a Flight Surgeon: What’s It Like?]

[11:45] It’s Not a Giant Checklist

Many students look at the entire application process as a giant checklist. It may seem like there are all these things you have to do to get into medical school. You do all of them and check off all the boxes and you’re good to go.

'Medical schools are looking for the passion behind why you're doing things.'Click To Tweet

Stop looking at this process as what you have to do to stand out. Understand that nothing you’re going to do is going to stand out so much that medical schools are going to freak out.

Have this kind of mindset so that you won’t be walking around thinking all about what you have to do. You’re now thinking about what you really want to do.

If you love soccer and want to be a soccer coach, go be one. Enjoy that! Being a soccer coach teaches you leadership skills, communication skills, organizational skills. You need all this as a doctor.

'Go follow your passions through this process and don't let anyone tell you that you shouldn't do something because it's not related to medicine.'Click To Tweet

This process needs students coming from different backgrounds, different passions, and different experiences. You can’t have an orchestra only full of people who play the flute. You need people who play every instrument to create an orchestra to have that beautiful sound.

Hence, continue to look at your life and your experiences. Look at your passions and what brings you joy. At the end of the day, it’s the joy that continues to get knocked down over and over again. It’s a hard process. Medical school is really, really hard. But it’s awesome!

[Related episode: Maintaining Confidence Through the Grueling App Process]

[16:30] You Are Smart Enough!

You don’t have to be smart to do well in medical school. You just have to work really, really hard. There’s nothing magical about learning medicine. It’s just a lot of information.

'Get that doubt out of your head. I guarantee you, you're smart enough!'Click To Tweet

[17:15] It’s All About Your Story

It’s all about the story you’re going to tell the medical school admissions committees. They want to understand your journey of exploring medicine and wanting to be a physician.

Almost everyone who applies to medical school loves science. But liking science and wanting to help people is foundational. That is not why you want to be a doctor. Don’t let it be your story.

'The whole goal of your application is to tell your story.'Click To Tweet

In your personal statement, you have 5,300 characters to tell your story (spaces included). Texas schools would have 5,000 characters. And a lot of students freak out wondering how they can squeeze their whole life into 5,300 characters.

You also have a section for your extracurriculars to put in all the activities you’ve done from premed clubs to shadowing, volunteering, and clinical experiences.

You also have your secondary applications. When schools get your primary application, they send you more essays and more writing. You tell your story even more.

[19:44] It’s More Than Your Stats

I’ve talked with students with 520s on their MCAT (472 is the lowest and 528 is the highest) and 3.9 on their GPA – but ZERO interviews. For one student, her story didn’t line up because she had no idea why she wanted to be a doctor. There was no shadowing or any clinical experience.

'It's more than your stats.'Click To Tweet

Shadowing and clinical experiences are not for medical schools. They are for you to prove to yourself that this is what you want. Taking care of your own Grandma Gertrude is much different than someone else’s.

You wouldn’t want to end up with a $250k-debt going through medical school only to come out on the other side realizing you don’t actually like it.

'You need to go out, shadow, and get clinical experience to prove to yourself that this is what you want.'Click To Tweet

Then when it comes to the application cycle, you write about it and tell your story. Then you get in the interview and you tell your stories more. That being said, it doesn’t mean you can get into medical school with a terrible GPA and MCAT score. Obviously, you’ve got to have some baseline level of scores. 

[Related episode: Can I See Your Stats to See How Competitive I Am?]

[22:40] Dealing with Stress and Impostor’s Syndrome

Many students deal with this impostor’s syndrome thinking they’re not good enough to be here. But you get better at dealing with it.

'It never ends. You just have to trust yourself and know that every step of this journey is meant to prepare you for the next.'Click To Tweet

At the end of the day, being a physician is hard but it’s an awesome career. It’s awesome knowing you’re going to have a huge impact on someone’s life.

It’s so much easier to go to your Plan B and I encourage you not to have a Plan B. Otherwise, you get more distracted to not go to your plan A. By having a Plan B, you’re only proving to yourself that you can’t get your Plan A. Instead, all of your plan B’s should be to continue to support your Plan A.

Everyone’s life situation is different. You have to feed family, put a roof over your head, or pay your bills. Whatever it is, do that all in support of Plan A.

[Related episode: MamaDoctorJones on Imposter Syndrome in Medical School]

[26:45] Q&A: Managing Life and Residency

There are lots of nontraditional students that have families while going into medical school. You handle that with lots of planning and lots of support.

Communication is key. Communicate with your partner and your family. Tell them what kind of support you need.

'Everything is possible. It's just a matter of what you want to deal with through the process.'Click To Tweet

[28:50] Q&A: Talking About Sensitive and Controversial Topics

Ideally, personal bias remains out of the process. But in reality, we’re all humans. As you go through this process, there’s a bit of luck involved with who is rating your application and whether or not their own personal biases will come into play.

The best thing you can do is to have empathy. When you’re interviewing and a topic about abortion comes up, while you may take your side, also be able to show empathy for the other side.

'Play the empathy game and understand that there are going to be people who are going to view your choices differently.'Click To Tweet

[32:28] Q&A: Understanding Politics and Healthcare Policies

Now is the time to understanding things about healthcare policies. Understand how it works.

We have a lot of amazing technology and innovation. We have a lot of amazing physicians. Our medical schools are amazing. But our healthcare system is not so great.

Check out the Congressional Dish podcast if you want to learn more about our current healthcare policies. Or get a copy of The Health Care Handbook to get more information.

'Understand what our healthcare system is, why do we have it, why do we have an employer-based healthcare system.'Click To Tweet

For the most part, you have to have a job to get healthcare. Find out why that is and how did that start. Find out what other countries have. Compare Canada’s universal healthcare system compared to the UK’s.

[Related episode: Do Political Social Media Posts Impact Your Application]

[24:20] Q&A: MD/Ph.D.

The biggest misconception around MD/Ph.D. is that you have to have such degree to do research.

'You don't have to have the Ph.D. to do the research.'Click To Tweet

An MD/Ph.D. is for the person who somehow has the idea of what they want to study. They have a specific interest in that field and you know you want to do mostly bench research in your career alongside a small battle of patients.

And for those students, you still need to be a doctor. So you still want to know what it’s like to take care of patients. But you’re also getting a ton of research.

The application is a bit different. There’s an MD/Ph.D. essay of 10,000 characters where you talk about your research and what it is you’re passionate about research-wise.

The interview day is also different. Typically, it’s a two-day interview. One day is for the MD/DO interview and another day is for the research.

Whether you want to do MD/Ph.D. is a matter of envisioning your life. If you want research and that’s what drives you, go ahead. But understand that you could be a huge researcher with “just” an MD or DO.

[36:50] Q&A: Balancing Your Extracurriculars

Shadowing, volunteering, clinical experiences – they’re all important.

At some point, shadowing can get boring after a while. That said, you have to be consistent. Try to maintain a couple of hours per month. Instead of 5 hours a week or 10 hours a week, shoot for 5 hours a month to be consistent.

'I recommend consistency in everything.'Click To Tweet

For clinical experience, try to shoot for more hours. But have that shadowing experience as well.

[Related episode: 5 Common Mistakes Premeds Make with Extracurriculars]

[38:10] Q&A: Budgeting for Your Application

Check out AppExpenses.com which is an application calculator. It gives you an estimate of how expensive applications cost.

'Unfortunately, the medical school application process is very expensive and it limits students from disadvantaged backgrounds.'Click To Tweet

Look into and apply for the Fee Assistance Program (FAP) as soon as you’re thinking of applying. AAMC’s FAP is good for two years. It helps with your MCAT and your application cost.

[39:45] Q&A: Postbac Before Medical School

A postbac is after your baccalaureate degree and there a few different ways to do it. There’s a do-it-yourself postbac as well as formal postbac programs.

A lot of students think taking a postbac is the norm and it’s what they have to do to get into medical school. But if you have a 3.7 or 3.9 GPA, you don’t need a postbac program.

'If your grades don't adequately tell the story that you're going to be successful in medical school then you may need a postbac program.'Click To Tweet

It’s not about should you do one to look good to medical schools but should you do one because you have to show that you can handle the curriculum.

[41:34] Q&A: Being a Doctor and Something Else

You can go shadow other jobs you’re potentially interested in. Talk to those people and find mentors in those places and see if that’s something you want.

The coolest thing about being a physician is that once you have that degree, you can be anything.

'You could be a physician and still go do everything else you're passionate about.'Click To Tweet

[42:55] Q&A: Reapplying

As a reapplicant, you need to improve your application. You should probably have a new personal statement. Continue getting extracurricular activities and show growth there.

'Reapplying is not a death row.'Click To Tweet

It’s a terrible idea to think that medical schools want students to reapply. Every school is different with their processes. If you’re a reapplicant to that school, it’s going to be flagged on your application. But that doesn’t matter. They only care about who you are right now.

[Related episode: Reapplying to Med School: What You Need to Know]

[45:00] Q&A: Reaching Out

Reach out to other people and tell them you’re a premed. It’s human nature to help. Telling other people you’re applying may, in fact, help you find those connections that can help you on your medical school application journey.

We will soon be launching FindShadowing.com and this will be a great tool for students as they’re trying to find physicians they can shadow.

[48:30] Q&A: Keeping the Medical License

I actually gave up my medical license in 2017. For a medical license, you have to do a lot to keep them. As a practicing physician, you need to have continuing education. That means a lot of money, a lot of work.

[49:30] Retaking the MCAT

'Do not retake the MCAT.'Click To Tweet

The MCAT is a terrible test. So you wouldn’t want to retake the MCAT. Of course, if you have to do it then you have to do it.

I recommend getting above 500 as a baseline. There are students who get below that still get into medical school. But there are other parts of their application that are the reasons they’re getting in.

Some medical schools have a firm cut-off and won’t interview anyone under 500. They won’t bother looking at your application. So find out what that number is for you.

If you get a score back, have a number in your head that if you get below, you know you’re going to retake it because of the schools you want to apply to.

Understand that the school you go to has no bearing on whether or not you’re going to be a great physician. It’s your work, your effort, your ability to go out and communicate with others that are going to build your career as a physician.

'Don't pick schools based on their reputation. Pick schools based their ability to make you great. Find a good fit for you'Click To Tweet


Meded Media

UC Davis Pre-Health Conference



Congressional Dish podcast

The Health Care Handbook


Fee Assistance Program (FAP)



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