Q&A Session on IG with More Focus on Not Standing Out

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PMY 421: Q&A Session on IG with More Focus on Not Standing Out

Session 421

Dr. Gray held another Q&A session on Instagram (follow @medicalschoolhq) to answer your questions. His favorite question, “how to stand out” came up again!

For more podcast resources to help you along your journey to medical school and beyond, check out Meded Media. If you are applying to medical school this next cycle, check out our new workshop called Application Academy.

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

[02:00] Research During Gap Year

Q: Any tips for a gap year regarding research?

A: The real question here is what do you want to do? A lot of students will come and ask what they should be doing during their gap year. And the answer is what do you want to do? If you want to do research, then do research if you think you need to do it. Or do clinical experience if you think you need to do clinical experience.

But don’t do it just because it’s what’s going to look good on your application. At the end of the day, do what you want to do. 

'Don't do something just because you think it's going to look good on your application.'Click To Tweet

All those being said, you don’t have to have research. What’s actually more important would be your clinical and shadowing experiences. Because those experiences will help you solidify your messaging and your story in your personal statement and in your applications.

Again, you don’t have to do research. But if you really want to do it, then go ahead and do it. And if you’re only doing it for reasons you think are going to help you stand out, then see if maybe there’s something else you’re interested in.

[03:26] Be Specialty-Agnostic!

Q: Any advice if you want to work in psychiatry?

A: Everyone at this stage of the game from the premed side of things should be pretty much specialty-agnostic.

“Don't pigeonhole yourself into a specific specialty. 75% of students change their minds once they get to medical school.” Click To Tweet

So you go into medical school with one particular idea. And then you change your mind because you found this other thing you’re interested in. If you like psychiatry, try to find someone to shadow. But don’t set up your life in a way that highlights or pigeonholes yourself into psychiatry.

[04:17] Talking About Nonprofits

Q: How do you talk about a nonprofit you’re starting to medical school adcoms?

A: Check out my YouTube video where I talk about how to write extracurricular descriptions. I think the far majority of students focus on the wrong things when they are writing their extracurricular descriptions.

Focus on your impact on the world through your nonprofit, or how the nonprofit and what you were doing impacted you. As my colleague at Mappd, Dr. Scott Wright says, it’s not the what, but it’s the “so what?” So how did it impact you and make you grow as a person that you are now because of that experience?

[05:38] What’s Next to a GED?

Q: Any advice on proceeding after getting a GED?

A: Go to undergrad once you get a GED. If you’re on this path to become a physician, you need to go to college. Whether that’s starting out with community college, and then going to a four-year university or going straight to a four-year university. That path is your own and up to you.

[05:10] Taking Online Prereqs

Q: How will medical admissions look at premeds who were forced to finish their prereqs?

A: If you’re talking about being forced online, everyone is in the same boat as you. So don’t worry about that. Medical schools are going to be flexible for a while with online courses.

[06:08] Throwing Parties at a Children’s Hospital

Q: Is throwing parties for kids at a children’s hospital clinical experience?

A: There are people who volunteer at a nursing home. But they volunteer in the recreation department, meaning they play games with the nursing home residents. And that’s not clinical experience. So throwing parties for kids at a children’s hospital is probably not clinical experience, either, unless you can really prove that otherwise. 

“Where you are isn't as important as what you were doing.”Click To Tweet

At the end of the day, it comes down to your judgment of what you are doing. If you are doing a lot of interaction with the patients. Obviously, nursing home residents are a little bit different than inpatient patients. And so maybe there’s an argument that could be made for that.

[07:19] The Goal of a Freshman

Q: Hi, I’m a freshman undergraduate. I really want to start building my resume right now. What can I do?

A: First and foremost, make sure that your grades are solid before anything else. After you’ve figured out how to be a good college student, focus on experiences that will hopefully define who you are as a person. And they are not necessarily all medically related. You can go and enjoy your life outside of medicine, and still put that stuff on your application.

'As a freshman, your goal is to learn how to be a good student.' Click To Tweet

Some of the core things you need to understand are to get a grasp of:

Clinical experiences – Understand what it’s like to take care of patients and that you want to take care of patients.

Shadowing – This involves following a doctor around and seeing what the world of a doctor is like.

Leadership experience – If you want to join every premed club at your college, you can. It’s not completely necessary, but you can.

“Where a lot of students make a mistake is trying to do too much, too fast, and their grades suffer.” Click To Tweet

Also, if you’re a freshman, check out Mappd.com. It’s a new technology platform that I co-founded to help you track and get guidance on your journey.

[09:12] Sending Updates to Medical Schools

Q: I’m completing a master’s program right now to improve my GPA and I’m killing it. How should I send them my new transcripts and let them know I’m still super interested?

A: Most schools don’t really care about updates. And this is a kind of a tricky spot to be in. If you needed the GPA from your master’s program, then potentially you shouldn’t have applied.

“A lot of schools don't want updates.”Click To Tweet

And so, you’ll have to go through your list of schools. See which schools will accept updates and just send them a letter to say your GPA is one thing hurting you. And that you’ve been continuing your master’s program. Then present your most recent stats.

[10:09] Applying with Super Low GPA

Q: Have you seen students get into medical school with super low GPAs?

A: I’ve seen students get into medical school with super low GPAs. However, what usually happens is that they have a low undergraduate GPA, but they did a postbac and they did great. They have a low undergraduate GPA, but they did a master’s program, and they did great. Or they have a low GPA. But when you actually look at their GPA trends, they started off poorly. But they finished high over the last 30-50 credits. Their early credits were bad so they didn’t finish with a great overall number. But that trend usually can make up for a lot of early struggles.

[11:18] MCAT Courses

Q: What are some courses you would recommend for the MCAT?

A: Go and listen to The MCAT Podcast because we’ve answered that question a couple of times on the show.

[11:37] How to Get Shadowing Opportunities

Q: How do you get shadowing right now?

A: In the time of COVID-19, shadowing is near impossible. The hospitals and clinics aren’t taking any chance of bringing any sort of people into harm’s way in terms of COVID or exposing their patients to you. If it was pre or post-pandemic, then it’s just phone calls, emails, and trying to reach out to your network as much as possible.

That being said, check out eShadowing. It’s not shadowing but it’s something you could be doing during this time.

[12:43] MCAT Prep Material

Q: How much of a difference is there in MCAT prep material year to year?

A: You can definitely get your old two-year-old MCAT prep material and be just fine.

[13:00] Student Loans

Q: Any advice on school loans?

A: I don’t talk about school loans a lot. I’m not the expert on financial issues, whether they’re undergraduate financial loans or medical school financial loans. There are smarter people out there who do talk about that though.

I had one person on the National Premed Day. One of our guests was a financial expert and his name is Travis Hornsby. And he focuses on financial planning and loans and stuff. You can find him at studentloanplanner.com.

[14:14] Phlebotomy/EKG Tech Work as Clinical Experience

Q: Is phlebotomy/EKG tech work clinical experience?

A:  If you’re interacting directly with patients then that’s clinical experience.

[14:33] Being a Good Test-Taker

Q: If you aren’t good at taking standardized exams due to being a slow test taker, do you have any tips on how to improve your time?

A: I have had some test prep experts on this podcast. But we haven’t really talked about if you’re slow then how to speed up. For the most part, being slow just has to do with a lack of competence. And you need to help fix that lack of competence to speed up.

[15:40] How to Start Studying for the MCAT

Q: How would you recommend starting to study for the MCAT?

A: Start with Episode One of The MCAT Podcast because it’s a good primer for everything. We cover everything you need to know to do well on the MCAT. It’s a free podcast so feel free to listen to it.

But the first step is, figure out when do you want to take it? Then register for that and start a plan. Figure out how much time you have to dedicate to that. Figure out the resources you’re going to use.

Assess how best you can learn. Are you someone who can self-study just using a set of content books? Or do you need structure and format using a course? How far removed are you from some of the core prerequisites? You may need a course to help bolster your understanding and your knowledge or foundation. So there are lots of questions about where to start. But I would start with those particular questions.

[16:44] Lack of Interest in Medicine?

Q: If the pandemic turned me into a stay-at-home, online, college mom who stopped research and volunteering. Is that seen as not interested in pursuing medicine?

A: Any question around the pandemic causing you to stop doing things you normally would have done prior to it is something you shouldn’t worry about. You will not be labeled as not interested in medicine. You’ll be labeled as someone who’s doing what is needed to do to survive and take care of the family.

[17:22] Clinical Experience and Shadowing

Q: Can scribing be considered both clinical experience and shadowing?

A: Scribing can be considered both clinical experience and shadowing. But on your application, you should list it as clinical experience. Medical schools will understand that scribing is very much a shadowing-based activity as well. So you don’t need to put it twice on your application. Just put it once.

Q: Would cleaning medical equipment and making surgical packs for veterinarians be considered clinical experience? 

A: Clinical experience is interacting with patients. Where you are doing it is not what’s important. What you are doing, like interacting with patients, is much more important.

'Just because you are interacting with medical things doesn't make it clinical. Clinical experience is interacting with patients.'Click To Tweet

Clinical experience is interacting with patients, not doing stuff in a clinic. Working at the front desk in an outpatient office is not clinical experience. Doing hospital registration in an emergency department is not clinical experience. Working or volunteering in a nursing home where you’re only doing the recreation side of things is not clinical experience.

Q: Is working as a pharmacy tech considered clinical experience?

A: My personal opinion is that pharmacy tech in a retail setting is not clinical experience. I know most students put it down as clinical experience, but you are more often than not just working in a retail environment. So it’s not clinical experience. It’s just the same as working at the front desk at a clinic.

[20:46] CNA or MA for Clinical Experience

Q: Is it recommended to become a CNA or MA to have clinical experience?

A: You don’t have to go and get a job as a CNA or an MA to get good clinical experience. You can be an EMT or a phlebotomist. You can do hospice or you can do ER volunteering.

“The location isn't important, but what you're doing.”Click To Tweet

[21:27] Random Questions

Q: Do medical schools look at workload? 

A: They definitely can.

Q: Would I be considered a first-generation student if I’m an immigrant in the U.S.? I am the first in my family to go to college. But my mom has a master’s degree in another country.

A: A lot of the application services don’t necessarily ask that. So I don’t know whether or not it counts.

Q: What if you do well early on in gen chem, and bio but tank a bit in organic chem with, slightly downward trend?

A: You still have a lot of time to go back up. Try to improve.

[22:32] eShadowing on the Application

Q: Should I put eShadowing on the application?

A: Use eShadowing in the application of shadowing. And it’s up to the medical schools whether or not they’ll consider eShadowing as a shadowing experience.

[22:53] Shadowing a PT

Q: Years ago, I shadowed for PT. Can those count for shadowing with the goal of getting an MD/DO when COVID goes down?

A: If you’ve shadowed a PT, an NP, a PA, you can put those in your application. But I wouldn’t put those as your only shadowing hours. Try to get another shadowing experience.

[23:27] How to Stand Out as an Applicant

Q: As a student taking a gap year, what do you think is something that makes a student stand out?

A: Your goal as a student is not to try to stand out. When you say that, you’re saying how you can be better than everyone else.

There are 70,000 students applying to medical school every year. Do you think you’re that arrogant? Or are you that arrogant to think that you are going to stand out among 60,000 other people?

'Do you think it's possible to stand out when there are 60,000 other people applying to medical school? It's not possible to stand out.'Click To Tweet

When you try to stand out, what typically happens is you look like everyone else. Because all the other people out there are trying to stand out just like you. There’s nothing that you are going to do in your journey as a premed student, that is going to be completely new.

What you are putting in your application has been done a million times before. You cannot stand out. But you have to be yourself. 

If you’re doing a gap year, be yourself. Do what you want to do and what will give you the most joy in your life and that will also continue to motivate you to become a physician. Don’t try to stand out both in your activities and sell yourself when it comes to writing your personal statement. Students fail miserably when they do that.


Meded Media

Follow @medicalschoolhq on Instagram.


Application Academy

YouTube video on extracurriculars

The MCAT Podcast



Episode One of The MCAT Podcast