Premed Questions on Applications, MCAT, Shadowing, and More

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PMY 433: Premed Questions on Applications, MCAT, Shadowing, and More

Session 433

For today’s episode, I do a deep-dive Instagram Q&A to answer your questions. We covered everything from military scholarships, match lists, the MCAT, and more!

For more podcast resources to help you along your journey to medical school and beyond, check out Meded Media.

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

[00:30] Doing Physicals on Astronauts

Q: Did you ever think about monitoring the health of astronauts when you became a flight surgeon? I love space.

A: I got to Johnson Space Center in Houston and got to go to the big pool where they do training to simulate being in zero gravity. I love space. I am a USF grad and I got to do some physicals on people who wanted to be astronauts to see if they were qualified to be an astronaut. So that was a cool part of the job.

[01:15] The Best MCAT Prep

Q: What MCAT prep do you recommend?

A: There are a lot of different ways to answer this question. The easiest question is the prep that works best for you. The cheapest option is self-prep through study groups. It’s free and you get to socialize with other people. You get to find people who are stronger in some areas than other areas.

'Study groups are the best option for MCAT prep for the far majority of people.'Click To Tweet

For full-length exams, I recommend AAMC materials first. Then second, Blueprint MCAT.

In terms of an online course, it depends on whether you want a self-paced course or one where there are lectures at specific times and you have to show up and prepare for the lectures. Those are two different things.

Personally, I also would recommend Blueprint’s online course, which is kind of a do-it-yourself course. They have a new live online course where you have 16 lectures for two and a half hours each. Then they have two MCAT instructors live with you going over how to integrate the information you’ve brought to class on the MCAT.

[02:51] Class Credits to Identify Your Year Level

Q: How do you determine if a class is freshmen, sophomore, etc.?

A: Your first two semesters in college are your freshmen, your second two semesters are sophomore year, and so on. If you’re a very non-traditional student and you only took classes a little bit here and there, then the AAMC has some kind of a range for it. 0-30 credits would fall under freshmen, 30 to 60 is sophomore, 60 to 90 is junior, and 90 above is senior. 

[03:37] Prestige, Old MCAT Score, LORs, Clinical Experience

Q: I’m currently a high school junior. Will the prestige of a college that I go to in undergrad play a huge role in my chances of a highly ranked medical school?

A: No. Check out The Premed Years Podcast Session 432. There’s no such thing as a highly ranked medical school. The U.S. News and World Report is a big pile of trash.

Q: What’s the oldest MCAT score you can have? 

A: It depends on the medical school. Medical schools set the age of the MCAT that they will accept.

Q: Do the schools see where else I applied? If so, does it matter? 

A: No.

Q: Can I use the same letters of recommendation from the previous cycle? 

A: Have them updated for the current year. Don’t use a letter of recommendation dated 2020 and you’re applying in 2021.

Q: What do you think about being a firefighter as a volunteer for nonclinical experience?

A: If that’s what you want to do, then go ahead and do it.

“Don't look at things from the standpoint of ‘will it help my application?’ – if you are excited to be a firefighter, then go be a firefighter.”Click To Tweet

[04:53] Premed Advising & 400 Hours of Clinical Experience

Q: What do you do if premed advising in your college is non-existent and you’re confused on your journey? 

A: Listening to The Premed Years podcast is your first step. And then take advantage of Mappd, which is a technology platform I co-founded last year. Check it out and go sign up for a free two-week trial.

Q: Is there an MCAT cut-off the way there is for GPA?

A: It depends on the school.

Q: Should I shadow again, if I shadowed 100 hours back in 2013, doing clinical work since then?

A: Try to get some more consistent shadowing hours. Consistency is important.

Q: I want to become a flight surgeon. Does NASA hire people outside of the U.S.? I live in Canada.

A: Probably not. NASA is a U.S. institution. So you might have to live here in the States.

Q: I just started my EMT experience. But I want to apply this coming cycle. I have about 400 hours by May. Will this put me at a disadvantage?

A: No. 400 hours is a lot more than other people.

[06:20] Checking Off a Checkbox

Q: I have five years of clinical experience but no shadowing. Do I still need a clinical experience?

A: At no point in this process should you get a certain number of hours and then stop. Because it only looks like you are checking off a checkbox.

It looks like you’re doing things because you think you have to do them. And medical schools don’t want students who are only doing things because they think they have to do them. 

“Do things you want to do. Get consistent clinical experience. Get consistent shadowing.”Click To Tweet

At the end of the day, you’re applying to medical school with the story that you want to be a physician. And so if you get clinical experience, and then stop so that you can focus on something else, then the question is, do you really want to be a physician?

[07:38] Personal Interview Prep

Q: Do you still offer personal interview prep? 

A: Not at this moment. My colleague, Dr. Scott Wright, at Mappd is doing all the one-on-one stuff right now. He’s the former director of admissions at UT Southwestern, former executive director at TMDSAS, which is the whole Texas application service.

We do a podcast and YouTube series together called Ask the Dean, you can go check that out at to get a good sense of who he is and his style. But we have very similar feedback and advice for students.

[08:22] Dealing with Discouraging Parents

Q: How do you handle discouraging parents? I’m an incoming freshman who plans on being a premed but I’m constantly being told by my parents that I’m not cut out to be a physician.

A: A lot of students have these negative thoughts in their heads that are put there by other people, especially parents. And all you can do is when they start talking like that, you just have to go. And then surround yourself with supportive people.

You have the ability to limit the conversation so cut them off politely. And it’s really hard, especially if they’re footing the bill. But you can be nice about it, and cut them off at the same time to say this is what you want to do. Tell them how much you love them but right now, you don’t need any negativity.

[09:30] Retaking Classes, HPSP, & Picking Schools

Q: Does retaking classes look bad on the application? I retook at least eight. 

A: Retaking classes is better than having bad grades.

Q: If I mentioned HPSP during a medical school interview, would they look down upon it? 

A: You have to apply to HPSP and be accepted to HPSP. You can’t apply for HPSP until you get accepted to medical school. So it really shouldn’t come up at all. HPSP is the Health Professions Scholarship Program offered by the Army, Navy, Air Force and now VA. They pay for medical school in exchange for giving some years of service. That’s how I paid for medical school.

Q: How do you recommend deciding which school to attend? How do you know which is right for me? 

A: That requires lots of homework. Again, check out The Premed Years Podcast Session 432 where I laid out things you need to do when choosing the right medical school for you. The U.S. News and World Report is nothing more than a popularity contest. However, students use it and think it’s the gold standard in terms of what schools are good and bad.

Listen to that episode as I talk about what you should be doing. Basically, you need to do your research into the school curriculum, school class sizes, locations, looking at different programs each school offers, and see where it will be a good fit for you.

[13:30] Best Premed School, DO Schools,

Q: Is it important if we go to a certain school for premed? 

A: No, it does not.

'There's really nothing that will prepare you for medical school. It's just the volume of information just completely different. And nothing can prepare you for that.'Click To Tweet

Q: Is it advantageous to apply to DO or both MD and DO?

A: It really depends on what you want. I personally think students should apply to both, especially if you’re looking at specific locations. If that is the biggest concern that you have then apply to both if there are DO schools in that area. 

[15:23] What Went Wrong, Research, a College Freshman, & Puerto Rico Medical Schools

Q: What are some key things the applicant should be thinking about when reviewing their previous cycle and determining what went wrong? 

A: First, watch Application Renovation, which is my YouTube series on Step number two, talk to schools that potentially you interviewed at and see what’s going on. Step number three, I have a book coming out called The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Application Process.

Q: I’m a freshman in college and I’m already stressing about the MCAT and application process. What ways can I prepare so early on? 

A: Do well in school. That’s all you need to do.

Q: I’m interested in being an EMT, but if I don’t do EMT, is my scribe experience enough for clinical experience? 

A: 1,000%.

Q: Do I need to have research experience? It’s not something I want to do. 

A: If you don’t want to do it, don’t do it.

'Research is one of the most overrated parts of an application.'Click To Tweet

Q: Is it hard to get residency in the U.S. after medical school in Puerto Rico? 

A: No. Puerto Rico medical schools are U.S. medical schools. So it shouldn’t be any harder than anywhere else in the U.S.

[17:55] MCAT Cycle, Forensic Pathology, & Shadowing

Q: Is August too late to take the MCAT? If so, do you recommend waiting until the next cycle? August for me is pushing it.

A: Definitely. I would potentially wait until the next cycle.

Q: Should I take calculus before or after I take the MCAT?

A: Calculus isn’t a big deal for the MCAT.

Q: What are steps I can take to be a forensic pathologist?

A: Step one, be a good college student. Step two is doing well on the MCAT. Step three, get clinical experience and shadowing, and some research. Also, check out the Specialty Stories podcast episode 24, where I interviewed Dr. Judy Melinek, a forensic pathologist who wrote a book called Working Stiff.

Q: How can I apply for job shadowing when my school doesn’t offer any opportunities? 

A: Schools don’t offer shadowing opportunities, but physicians do. So you’ve got to reach out to physicians.

[20:15] Efficiency Struggles, Letter of Intent, & eShadowing

Q: I’m having trouble scheduling my day, do you have any advice? I want to improve my efficiency. 

A: Check out the book, Getting Things Done, and maybe you’ll learn a thing or two about efficiency.

Q: When should you submit a letter of interest or letter of intent?

A: Your application is a letter of interest. A letter of intent is after you have an interview. And even better, if you have an acceptance to another school. That’s when I would drop that.

Q: How do medical schools view your master’s thesis topic? 

A: They don’t care about that crap. All they care about is whether you’re a good student. It might make for good conversation. But in terms of what you’re doing, they don’t care.

Q: Is virtual shadowing seen the same as in-person shadowing? 

A: No, because it’s virtual shadowing. Check out

[24:41] Misdemeanor Charges, Withdrawal, Clinical Experience, & Residency Matching

Q: If I have some misdemeanor charges when I was 17 and 18 for graffiti vandalism, but I was in law enforcement for four years. How would that look in my app? 

A: It would look like you have a misdemeanor charge, and then you would talk about it and then they would go cool. You’ve grown up. So don’t worry about it.

Q: Does it look bad? Quitting a nonclinical career to become a full-time MA or other clinical roles.

A: Why would it look bad? Of course not.

Q: Should I withdraw from a C as a freshman? 

A: If you can, I would.

Q: Is it still possible to do clinical experience now during COVID? 

A: Of course, hospitals are still running. They need employees. Can you volunteer? That’s a different question. Lots of volunteer opportunities are done for now. Some go to Texas because Texas is open for business.

Q: Is it hard to become matched into a surgical residency as a DO in comparison to MD?

A: That depends on where you want to be.

[27:14] Medical School Match List

Q: How important is a medical school match list?

A: A lot of students will look at med school match lists to determine where they are applying.

“A medical school match list has no bearing on whether or not you should apply to that school.”Click To Tweet

Now, if you want to be a neurosurgeon, and the school hasn’t matched a neurosurgeon in three years, well, correlation doesn’t equal causation. Maybe nobody at that school wanted to be a neurosurgeon, so they didn’t apply. Or you don’t know why they haven’t had a neurosurgeon match in three years. They may not have a neurosurgery mentor.

A match list is made up of students who determine the match, not the school. So you as an individual, if you want to match in neurosurgery, then you should do your research into how to match as a neurosurgeon.

[30:35] Gap Years & Nontrad

Q: What do medical schools think of gap years?

A: Medical schools don’t care about gap years. Medical Schools care about who you are and what you’ve been doing. If you took a gap year because you needed to take a gap year to improve your GPA or your activity list, then great.

If you took a gap year because you needed to improve something, great. But if you took a gap year and traveled the world, there may be a potential red flag there. They might wonder why you didn’t do anything to show you’re still interested in medicine.

Q: Is two gap years considered nontrad?

A: There’s no strict definition of what a nontrad is.

'Being a nontrad doesn't hurt you or help you. It just is who you are.'Click To Tweet

[31:24] Going to a Caribbean Med School

Q: What is your opinion of St. George Caribbean medical school?

A: My advice is not to go to Caribbean medical schools unless you have to go to them. Where I find typically most students land is that they are good students GPA-wise, or they have a really strong upward trend GPA-wise. But the MCAT just doesn’t click in their head and they can never get a great score on the MCAT.

'Don't go to a Caribbean medical school unless you have to go to a Caribbean medical school.' Click To Tweet

A good enough score to get into the U.S. is the same for all international schools. Students who have good GPAs have proven that they are academically capable of doing good in medical school doing well in medical school, proper English here.

Where a lot of students mess up when going to the Caribbean is they think it’s a shortcut. They think it’s a shortcut to improve their GPA or a shortcut to work harder on the MCAT.

Going to a Caribbean or any international medical school does not make medical school easy. It actually makes it harder. Because you have to do a lot better in your classes and do better on the board exams.


Q: Any tips to briefly introduce myself to every interviewer at the beginning of each MMI station? 

A: No, that’s not what an MMI is. So don’t do that.

Q: What do you think about private admission counseling? 

A: Coaching is very helpful. I always give the analogy of the greats in athletes. Athletes who are the best in their sport have coaches. And that’s all an admissions counselor is – a coach.

A good admissions counselor won’t hold back information that’s why I give out my resources for free. What they are doing is they’re coaching you. That’s all it is. They’re helping you be your

Q: Does my shadowing still count if I’m a senior in high school?

A: The general thumb is anything after high school.

Q: What is your option on multiple residencies at once?

A: It’s impossible to do multiple residences at once and there’s a little secret behind that. Because the far majority of residency programs are paid for by the federal government. 

And so, even doing multiple residencies can get tricky because you, as an individual, only get a certain number of years paid for in terms of residency. And if you use up those years, then residency programs may not want to invite you.


Meded Media

The Premed Years Podcast Session 432: Breaking Down The U.S. News and World Report

Specialty Stories podcast episode 24: Interview with Forensic Pathologist Dr. Judy Melinek

The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Application Process



Working Stiff by Dr. Judy Melinek

Getting Things Done by David Allen