Med School Backup Plans, VITA, and more from a Massive Q&A

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PMY 417: Med School Backup Plans, VITA, and more from a Massive Q&A

Session 417

In this episode, I’m doing a deep-dive Q&A on Instagram to answer your questions. We cover everything from VITA, to virtual interviews, and the MCAT.

For more podcast resources to help you along your journey to medical school and beyond, check out Meded Media. If you haven’t yet, please do check out our new technology platform that’s created to transform the premed landscape. Go over to for a free two-week trial.

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

[02:30] Virtual Interview Tips

Q: Any virtual interviews or traditional tips?

A: It will be interesting to see what interviews will look like when 2020 rolls around. Now, we’ve had two great publications in terms of data being published from two different companies and their vaccine and great results. I did a whole episode on tips for virtual interviews. Lighting is key. Internet connection is key. And then just being prepared like a normal interview. Also, check out The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Interview.

'Too many students come into the interview thinking their job is to sell and to show off all the things that they've done.' Click To Tweet

Your job in the interview is not to sell and show off all the things you’ve done. Your job is to go into the questions, have a conversation, and really enjoy. One of the biggest things that comes up all the time right now in a virtual interview world is looking at the camera versus not. And I recommend not looking at the camera in a virtual interview.

We think that to look at the camera means you’re having “eye contact.” But in actuality, you looking at the other person is the eye contact that you need because you need to read their facial expression and their body language to see what’s going on in their face. In a virtual interview, you have to look at the screen to do that.

Also, check out “Mission: Accepted,” a new series where we look at the full med school apps of successful applicants.

[06:45] Prepping for the MCAT

Q: I’m taking the MCAT to get into medical school for 2023. When do I start preparing for it?

A: Taking the MCAT to get into medical school is what 99% of students do. If you want to start medical school in 2023, you are going to take the MCAT at the beginning of 2022, typically no later than March or April. And that’ll give you some flexibility in terms of whether you need to retake it. It will give you some flexibility to get it out of the way so you can focus on applications, etc.

[07:43] Clinical Experience

Q: Does a behavioral tech count as clinical experience?

A: Yes, it does.

[08:03] Application Renovation and Mission Accepted

Q: If you haven’t yet, check out Application Renovation where I bring a student on and look at their application and try to figure out why they didn’t get into medical school. But right now, we’ve started recording some Mission Accepted interviews. In this new series, we look at applications and find out why students got into medical school. So it’s similar to application renovation, but with the positive twist that they got in.


Q: People always say to become a scribe to enhance your chance of being accepted. Is that true?

A: Don’t become a scribe to enhance your chance of becoming accepted. Become a scribe because it’s a good experience in healthcare and being around patients. It’s a good experience being around physicians.

Every scribe job is a little bit different. You have different access to patients, different interaction levels, depending on where you’re at.

But in general, being a scribe is a clinical experience where you’re interacting with patients and physicians in the healthcare team. And that doesn’t enhance your chance of being accepted to medical school. But it enhances your understanding of medicine. It will help you write your personal statement and in your extracurricular descriptions. It will help you “verbalize” why you want to be a physician. The goal of the application is to lay out this story of why you want to be a physician.

'Being a scribe does not help you get into medical school, but it helps you understand this process and why you want to be a physician.'Click To Tweet

[10:27] Shaking Hands at In-Person Interviews

Q: If you have an interview in person, is it acceptable to shake hands nowadays?

A: The fact that schools are doing in-person interviews just goes completely against healthcare advice and public health advice. And so it pisses me off that there are at least two schools that I know of that are doing it. That being said, definitely, do not shake hands. Stay far away from people. That’s the whole point.

[11:47] Submitting Secondaries

Q: Is it too late to submit secondaries this cycle?

A: It’s pretty late. It depends on when you got the secondaries. If you’ve been sitting on secondaries for a long time, then I probably wouldn’t submit them at this point.

[12:01] Pharmacy Tech as Clinical Experience

Q: Does pharmacy tech count for anything?

A: A lot of people will mark it as clinical experience. I personally don’t think it’s clinical experience. But it doesn’t hold you back from marking it as clinical experience. I think being a pharmacy tech, like a retail store like a Walgreens or CVS, is more of a retail job than clinical experience. So put it in. It’s not about what you did. It’s about what you took away from it. So what did you learn from it? How did it impact you, etc? Let’s talk about it in those ways.

[13:21] My Personal Medical School Application Experience

Q: How was your transition from undergrad to med school? What advice would you give to premed students?

A: My transition to medical school was miserable. I had taken three years off between undergrad and medical school. I tried to get into medical school and I didn’t get in the first time. I interviewed at the University of Florida and the University of Colorado and I didn’t get into either school. I fixed my application, took a year off from applying, and then reapplied and then I got in.

And then I deferred my acceptance for a year because I was working and learning how to manage people and all kinds of fun stuff. That went on for three years and I had forgotten how to be a student.

By the time I started medical school again, I failed my first test in the medical school histology test. I aced the anatomy test that was taken the same day or the day after because I naively went in with this idea that I want to be an orthopedic surgeon.

At some point, the question comes down to, why are we memorizing all this stuff. But it’s so important to have the fundamental understanding of how the body works, and how it’s put together, and what does what and where it goes.

When patients come to you, you’re going to have to be able to answer the questions appropriately. That being said, you can only learn so much. So be prepared for chaos and be okay with that.

“Go in with a good foundation of sleep hygiene, a good foundation of nutrition, of exercise and taking care of yourself. Don't let those things slip.”Click To Tweet

The studying is non stop and you can study non stop. But the more efficient you are, and the more boundaries you put around studying so you can take care of yourself then you’re studying will be more effective. Unfortunately, too many students don’t do that.

Also, when studying, throw your phone away, turn off your internet access, and study. We are way too connected to our devices and it interrupts our studying. There is this study where if your phone is with you, it’s still drawing your attention because it’s right there within arm’s reach. Then another study suggests that if you get distracted by a notification on your phone, it takes about 20 to 30 minutes for your attention and focus to get back to where it was pre-notification. So get that device away from you as much as you can.

[17:49] Physiology and Anatomy

Q: Is physiology and anatomy helpful for medical school?

A: It is hugely helpful for medical school. So if there’s any one class that students should take to “prepare” for medical school (note why I put that in quotes because I really don’t think you can prepare for medical school.) But anatomy is probably the number one thing. So have some understanding of the language and the body because when you go into that cadaver lab, it’s a whole new world.

[18:41] VITA Interview

Q: What do you think about the visa interview? Do you think it’s helping applicants?

A: My assumption is that VITA is a complete waste of time that isn’t going to help anyone. Emergency medicine programs used it with their applicants and they said it was useless. It’s just a tool for the AAMC to make you spend more money on them. It’s free this year, but it won’t be for long.

[19:22] Deposit at a School You’re No Longer Interested In

Q: How do you tell a school you have a deposit to that you’re no longer interested in pursuing matriculation with their program?

A: Send them an email to say you have been accepted to another program that you’d rather go at. Thank them for their time and the offer but you’re going to decline at this time. So just get it that simple and straightforward.

[20:06] MD Caribbean vs. DO in the U.S.

Q: Caribbean or DO in the States?

A: It’s a no-brainer deal in the States. It’s not even a question, especially with Step 1 going pass/fail. We don’t know what’s going to happen with residency programs and how they evaluate students. Historically, it’s kind of been the fact that if you do go to the Caribbean, you can overcome being an IMG (international medical graduate) with a good Step 1 score. And so you can’t do that anymore. There are still lots of questions around it.

'The MD going to Caribbean is not worth it compared to a DO school.'Click To Tweet

[21:13] Medical School in Canada

Q: Is it harder to get into medical school in Canada than in the States?

A: Yes, it is much harder to get into a medical school in Canada because there aren’t as many schools there at all.

[21:59] The Backup Plan

Q: What should be the backup plan if you don’t get into medical school?

A: My motto is no plan B’s. When I talk about no plan B for medical school, I mean that if you want to be a physician, there is no backup plan. If anything, your backup plan if you didn’t get into medical school is to figure out why you didn’t get in the first place and do everything you have to do to fix that and reapply.

“If you want to be a physician, there is no backup plan.”Click To Tweet

Luckily, here in the States, you have the freedom to apply to medical schools more than once. Now, there are some schools out there, Harvard being the one that has historically had this, that you can’t apply to Harvard more than twice.

If you want to be a physician, apply to medical school with the best application possible. If you don’t get in, ask lots of questions. Figure out why you didn’t get in. Do whatever you need to do to sustain yourself and your family and put food on the table and a roof over your head while you fix those things. For whatever reason, you didn’t get into medical school, and then you reapply again and you don’t get in again, then you reevaluate.

You have to have some self-reflection and self awareness in this process. Understand that if you’re a 2.0 GPA student with a 472 MCAT, you’re probably never going to get into medical school. So part of that process of applying the first time with a 2.0 GPA and 472 MCAT score is to figure out how you need to fix that. Maybe do a second bachelor’s degree. Do an MCAT tutoring package so you can get your score up. It’s not reapplying and reapplying, and reapplying and reapplying with unrealistic expectations to get in with a 2.0 GPA and a 472.

[25:44] Are All Medical Schools Good?

Q: Is it true that all medical schools are good schools, meaning that it doesn’t matter where you go?

A: Yes, that is true in the big picture. In the micro aspect of things, if there’s one specific program you couldn’t live without, and you know you want to be the world’s best neurosurgeon focusing on whatever it is, and there’s one program in the country that focuses on that, then you probably want to be as close to that program as possible. So try to go to that medical school if they have one.

“The process of choosing a specialty and getting a job is much less on where you went to school. It is much more about who you are and who you know unfortunately.”Click To Tweet

They look at your scores and your evaluation. They want to see how cool you are to hang out with for the next X number of years.

Now, the one variable that comes into play with who you know is where you went to school. And so there is some bearing on that if one school is really stacked with all the top people in whatever field you’re interested in. Then you can do that.

Another thing to consider is if you are interested in plastic surgery, don’t go to a school that has no plastic surgery residency or connections that can help you along your journey to plastic surgery. Really be able to evaluate the school’s resources for you, the curriculum at the school, location of school, all that kind of stuff.

[27:47] Applicant Volume for 2021 Cycle

Q: What do you think about the competitiveness or sheer volume of applicants for the 2021 cycle?

A: I don’t think the volume is going to change much. What we’re going to see is people who were going to apply this year would wait until next year. And we’re going to see people who were going to apply next year, apply this year. We had schools dropping MCAT requirements, and students want to take advantage of that. And so, we’re probably going to balance out pretty evenly.

'Strong applicants are going to be strong applicants no matter when they're applying.'Click To Tweet

[29:35] Strong Application with Hospice Care and Shadowing

Q: Active duty soldier here, I’m beginning premed postbac with limited time. Will my application be strong enough with just hospice care and shadowing?

A: If you have some clinical experience, hospice being one of them, great. Remember the goal of getting clinical experience and shadowing is not to check off a box for the medical schools. The goal of those things is to prove to yourself that you like being around healthcare and that you like being around patients. You understand that being a doctor isn’t just what you see in Grey’s Anatomy. And so you have to get that experience so you can then turn that around in your personal statement. Then you can talk about why you want to become a physician. Check out The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement.

And so, if you think you have enough experience for that, great. If you don’t think you have enough experience for that, then maybe delay applying to medical school. 

[29:04] MCAT During the Pandemic

Q: Is the MCAT taken during the pandemic a shorter MCAT?

A: The AAMC said it’s a standard test scoring wise They’re telling everyone it’s the same. But we will find out again.

[31:17] Retaking the MCAT

Q: I’m about to take the MCAT for the third time. I’m discouraged because it’s the third time.

A: Well, the maximum is seventh time. My question for you is what happened the first two times? This is a question that students don’t ask themselves.

We all have this definition from Einstein of insanity of doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results. 

So my question for you is, how did you prepare the first time? Was your real score significantly different from your practice scores? How did you prepare the second time? What did you change? Was your real score significantly different from your practice scores?

'Too many people go into the MCAT expecting a miracle on test day. I believe in miracles, but not on the MCAT.'Click To Tweet

When you have a 495 MCAT score going into your test, and that’s the best practice exam score that you got, and you’re expecting a 505, that will never happen again. But you are being delusional, unfortunately, with that expectation, you have to be realistic. And so when it comes to taking the MCAT over and over and over and over again, where are you being unrealistic?

[33:17] Early Decision Program

Q: What’s your opinion on the early assurance program?

A: Medical schools typically have an early decision program. It’s called the EDP. Not every medical school has it. But the gist of it is you designate a school as an early decision school. You are contractually obligated to only apply to that school, and only that one school. You can’t apply to any other schools, until you hear from that school, and are rejected. If you’re accepted, that’s where you go. If you’re rejected, then you can enter the normal kind of application program.

For me, I don’t like the early acceptance program. I worked with a couple students this cycle who did it and it works well for them. But they had very specific reasons why they were applying to the schools that they applied to, and why they were applying early decision to those schools.

“Too many students think that earliest means a better chance of getting in, and that's not what it means.”Click To Tweet

When you make an early decision, you need to have strong ties to that school. Why do you want an early decision there? Why should the school prioritize your application before everyone else? Why should they give you that consideration? A lot of students think early decision means earlier acceptance or easier acceptance. And it’s just not the case, you still need to be a competitive applicant.

“You need to have very strong ties to the school as to why you want to apply early decision.”Click To Tweet

[35:34] Forensic Pathology

Q: Is pathology a dying business?

A: Dr. Judy Melinek, who wrote the book on forensic pathology, is going to be on in a couple months. Also, check out her interview on the Specialty Stories podcast back in Session 24.

[36:27] More Shadowing Hours Than Clinical Experience Hours

Q: Is it bad to have more shadowing hours (600) than clinical hours (180)?

A: At the end of the day, you need shadowing because you need to understand what a physician does. But clinical experience is much more important. And you don’t need anywhere near 600 hours of clinical experience. Students like to cram in all of this experience. And 600 hours is a lot.

[37:22] Shadowing vs. Clinical Experience

Q: What’s the difference between shadowing and clinical experience?

A: Shadowing is following the doctor around literally being a shadow. Clinical experience is you being able to interact directly with the patients. So being a phlebotomist, or an EMT, or volunteering in the emergency department interacting with patients, or being a medical assistant, all of that kind of stuff is clinical experience.

“In clinical experience, it doesn't matter if you're paid or if it's volunteer clinical experiences.” Click To Tweet

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