From Art School to Med School With Dr. Mike Natter

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PMY 373: From Art School to Med School With Dr. Mike Natter

Session 373

Mike Natter didn’t always think he was cut out for med school. Today, he is a physician, artist, Instagram presence, and my cohost on the Board Rounds podcast too! Follow Mike on Instagram @mike.natter.

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

[02:50] Why Physicians Are Very Negative to Medicine Now

Mike grew up in a family that wasn’t in the field of medicine or healthcare. But that being said, he thinks medicine has changed so much. It’s a pendulum swing from an individual position autonomy away into a conglomeration of hospitals calling the shots. 

The financial impact of insurance companies and reimbursement rates has been deleterious. Firstly, physicians are not making any more near what they used to. Secondly, a lot of the higher decisions physicians make have shifted to folks that don’t necessarily have clinical or medical backgrounds.

'The financial impact of insurance companies and reimbursement rates has been deleterious.'Click To Tweet

Moreover, there’s this shift into the new age with EMRs and other new technologies. Essentially, it’s not what it used to be especially from a pay perspective. 

I personally think these physicians don’t like change. Humans just don’t like change. And so they’re putting their experiences and their hatred of change and pushing that onto students. They tell students that it’s not what it used to be when students don’t even know what it used to be. So let them experience what it is now and things will change more.

'A lot of physicians tell the students to stay away because 'it's not what it used to be' but the students will never know 'what used to be' was.'Click To Tweet

[Related episode: Securing Your Financial Future as Premed and Medical Student]

[06:54] Interest in Becoming a Physician

Since then, Mike has always been in awe of physicians whenever he sees them. He aspired to become one of them but he also knew he won’t ever. He was so bad at math and science.

Additionally, their school structure had a rigid way of learning math and science. They’re taught that if you don’t do well in this system, you’re not that smart or you’re not a clinical math and science person. So you’d have to be in remedial math classes. You need to repeat classes and stay after school to get extra help.

He recalls his peers, teachers, and parents reinforcing him that it was okay because he just wasn’t a math or science person. So he has always had this concept that he could never excel in the field. Therefore, he could never be in this profession.

When he was 9, he got very ill and went into a coma. He had a blood sugar of 1600 (normal is 80-180) that was just off the charts. He was diagnosed with Type I diabetes. He was close to death.

As a result, this gave Mike an appreciation for physiology at a very young age. He was amazed at how elegant and interesting it was for him to have that need to regulate blood sugar homeostasis because of this condition.

'The passion dug deeper but it was still at odds with this fear of math and science.'Click To Tweet

[13:00] Developing Academic Confidence Through His Mentor

Eventually, Mike went into the direction of Liberal Arts, studying studio art in undergrad. His parents were very supportive of what he wanted to do. But he has always thought he was a kid that was good at math and science and interested in those things but just not that smart. 

During his junior year of college, he began taking neuroscience based classes as he was fascinated by perception and the brain. For the first time in his entire life, he started to get As in difficult science-based classes. It was the first time he developed academic confidence in himself.

One of the professors took note of how interested he was so he invited Mike to work with him at the lab to do research. It was outside of his comfort but the professor was so gracious enough to let him do what he was interested in. He took him under his wing.

It was the first time somebody fostered that academic interest. And it blossomed into this confidence that made him decide to pursue a postbac premed program following undergrad.

[Related episode: How a Liberal Arts Degree as a Premed Might be the Best One]

[16:50] His Postbac Experience

Mike looked up some resources and found there are numerous ways to do a postbac. In his case, he was taking two premed classes. It’s called a career changer postbac program for someone who didn’t take those science classes in college. 

For students who did take the sciences and wanted to be a physician but didn’t do well, they can take the academic enhancer programs.

'The AAMC has a database of all the postbac programs you can search for and search by the type of program you're looking for.'Click To Tweet

[19:55] Going to a Community College for Postbac

Mike thought he was bound to taking a more formal program and thought the name and prestige of the program mattered. Looking back on it though, he could have done the cheaper route, a more a-la-carte route.

For instance, you did great in Bio but you didn’t take anything else. Going to the community college with less or no name and the cheaper course can work just as well than going to the big universities. 

Although he went to the latter, he didn’t have regrets as it got him to where he needed to be. But it was very expensive and it was very difficult in terms of the rigor.

Because the volume of applications is so high, it’s so important to have those numbers up there. It’s easier to have higher numbers coming from different programs that maybe aren’t as rigorous.

Moreover, Mike noticed that over the years, the test scores, memorization, and that knowledge count less and less and the interaction, life skills, and who you are as a person count more and more.

There’s the unfortunate truth that you do need to do somewhat well, improve yourself academically on some level to get in. But once you’re in, it’s important to recognize you are so much more than your numbers. Quoting Theodore Roosevelt, “The person doesn’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

'You are so much more than your numbers. You are so much more than your MCAT or your Step 1 score.'Click To Tweet

[Related episode: Can I Take Community College Courses for a Postbac?]

[24:30] His Postbac Experience

Mike considers his postbac journey as the most stressful time of his life. He felt like putting all his eggs in one basket. Aside from the rigidity of the program, another thing he had to deal with was this culture shock.

He went into an Ivy League program that was structured as an antithesis to what he had done in undergrad. He went from small class sizes where the professor would go out and a drink with you to this huge, beautiful auditoriums and brilliant professors. He was surrounded by actual geniuses.

He came in with a massive impostor’s syndrome that periodically got worse and worse.

'I had no plan B. If I didn't somehow get into some medical program and become some form of physician then I didn't know what I was going to do.'Click To Tweet

So he was preparing himself as best as he could and had this little blue book. He submitted his book and got his score back that read 52. It bothered him because either the test was written too hard or the professor did a crappy job at teaching.

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

[28:15] The Ultimate Reality of Not Having a Plan B

By having a plan B, you’d potentially be coming up with all those excuses and you’d probably won’t work as hard enough. And then you’d go do that other thing that you said you’d fall back on. So you would never be a physician.

'If this is what you want to do and if this is what you think you're meant to do, then figure out a way to do it.'Click To Tweet

If you don’t get into medical school the first time, then your plan is how to improve your application and get in the next time you apply. Don’t just go and be a PA or a nurse and other amazing careers that are not for you.

There are alternatives that are still within the umbrella of healthcare. But Mike doesn’t think you should consider them at all unless you know for certain that the MD role is not what you really want. That being said, there’s nothing wrong with changing your goal.

[30:20] How Mike Managed to Get Through

Mike discovered that he learns best by utilizing drawing which was something that came naturally to him. If he could visually depict the material, then he would do so.

Utilizing those visual-spatial pathways in his brain was very helpful when he was in medical school. Not only did it allow him to truly understand the material, but also he was able to retain it and retrieve it in a way that’s applicable. 

'You have to figure out how you can make the material your own.'Click To Tweet

[31:35] Taking the MCAT

MIke used to be a terrible test-taker and had a terrible test endurance. Again, this was his mindset as he conditioned himself to believe he was a terrible test-taker. Needless to say, he did mediocre on the MCAT.

'There's a whole business to prep for the MCAT. There are tutors, the books, and these materials.'Click To Tweet

Together with his friend, Mike got a tutor to help him with his MCAT. One day, he gave Mike a call and told him there was no way he would get into medical school. He encouraged him to take the MCAT the next year. He didn’t want to get associated with him as their student as he wasn’t going to get into medical school or do well on the MCAT. He was told all this the night before the test.

Mike ultimately decided to go all-in so he took the MCAT the next day. He didn’t do well, but somehow, he was able to find his way to medical school.

[Related episode: 3 Biggest Mistakes When Preparing for the MCAT]

[34:33] How Mike Got Into Medical School

Mike applied to about 30 programs and got 29 rejections. This one school that accepted him saw past the numbers and recognized him as an artist. 

At that time, he was creating a comic book about a diabetic superhero. His goal was to create a metaphor to explain the pathophysiology of diabetes. This somehow made its way to the dean of admission’s desk and she loved it. It turned out that Mike application was on the rejection file but she managed to pull it to get him an interview. It was obviously the only MD interview he got. 

Mike was surrounded by great, amazing super applicants and here he was, a creator of a comic book. But despite normally having an impostor’s syndrome, he was just truly grateful to be there. 

He ended up having a great interview and was put on the waitlist. The dean guaranteed him an acceptance but he was made to take an additional gap year.

Moreover, Mike emphasized that having those skills outside of medicine, regardless of what they are, is extremely important. More importantly, you have to be true to yourself and be able to show that and explain that on your personal statement and your interview.

'I don't care how well you do on Step 1 or the MCAT. If you can't apply the information because you and the patient can't talk and communicate, then you can't be a physician.'Click To Tweet

[40:35] Coping with Impostor’s Syndrome Through His Art

Being in a medical school, the impostor’s syndrome never stops. It started in postbac for him but then it worsened in medical school.

Firstly, he thought he got into medical school in a very nontraditional way that he really didn’t belong there. Secondly, he was just around really, really amazing students who were much younger than he is.

But when he began to do the things that were natural for him – which was to draw – things fell into place. He worked really hard but he also found that

Mike explains that the premed classes you’re taking are far more intellectually difficult than anything will do in medical school. But in medical school, you’d be given loads of information at a faster rate, hence, the “drinking from the firehose” analogy.

'Medical school is difficult because there's a sheer volume of information you're expected to digest and the rate at which it falls at you is very, very fast.'Click To Tweet

So when he got back into drawing, he had fun doing it. Amidst the stress, he enjoyed the process of making comics that are humorous and sticky. He was able to retain them.

In fact, it was the first time in his life that he consistently did really, really well. From a “dumb” boy who barely made it to his postbac or barely did well on the MCAT and barely got into medical school, he was actually starting to be part of the top 10% of his class.

[44:40] Mixing Arts and Medicine

Mike explains there are fewer professional fields where you are intimately taking care of people who are dying or helping them get better. And it’s difficult.

He hopes to be able to use his art to help others and help himself and be able to show that through visual means. 

Moving forward, Mike hopes to get into a field that has continuity of care. He initially thought pediatrics is where he wanted to go. Then when he rotated through it, he realized kids as kids but not kids as patients.

So he made an early decision in medical school that he was going to do internal medicine. He did enjoy radiology as well but he missed the human connection. He found endocrinology was the field for him. The best part of it is having that personal connection.

[49:20] Final Words of Wisdom

There are going to be a lot of roadblocks but you can choose what you want to do. At the very end of the day, you put whatever you can. If it doesn’t work out, then you have no regrets. 

'Don't listen to those people telling you no because no one really knows. Don't take those things to heart.'Click To Tweet

Just because you’re different doesn’t matter. In fact, you may just have some leg up on your colleagues because the way you approach medicine is going to be far more valuable to your patients than some of the more traditional people would approach it. So keep going!


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