Premed Q&A With Dr. Gray on SMPs, MCAT, Canada, and more!

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PMY 448: Premed Q&A With Dr. Gray on SMPs, MCAT, Canada, and more!

Session 448

We’re going to jump into another Q&A today as we talk about personal statements, credit hours, applying to Caribbean schools, and more! For more podcast resources to help you with your medical school journey and beyond, check out Meded Media.

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

[03:14] The MCAT Minute

The MCAT Minute is brought to you by Blueprint MCAT. When you’re planning on taking the MCAT and making your schedule, make sure you’re checking in with your advisors and with anyone else.

If you aren’t going to take the classes you need or if you’re going to miss physics 2 or biochemistry or something else, make sure you have the time to self-study those things.

For help on the MCAT process, check out Blueprint MCAT and get a free half-length diagnostic, free full-length one, study Planner Tool and free MCAT flashcards.

[05:43] Poor MCAT Score, Should I Take a Postbac?

Q: I was thinking about applying to medical school this cycle, and I got my MCAT score back. It’s not the best. So I pulled back from my application. I didn’t submit it at all. Should I do a special masters program? My GPA is 3.3.

A:  An SMP or a postbac program doesn’t fix an MCAT. So many students with good GPAs who do terrible on the MCAT don’t get into medical school. They go do an SMP and spend thousands of dollars when all they really needed to do was spend maybe a couple $1,000 on a tutor to do better on the MCAT.

'SMPs and postbac programs are to prove academic capability, especially if you struggled early on.'Click To Tweet

Therefore, you just need to get a better MCAT score through different studying techniques like group studying or whatever that looks like for you. Because the MCAT is its own bucket. Now, talking about your GPA of 3.3, an upward trend for me is 30-50 credit hours of as close to a 4.0 as possible.

Now, talking about your GPA of 3.3, an upward trend for me is 30-50 credit hours of as close to a 4.0 as possible.

To help you on your premed journey, sign up for a free two-week trial with Mappd. That way, you will have a better idea of how your trend looks . Again, if your 3.3 GPA consists of the last 50 credit hours being as close to 4.0, then GPA is not a problem.

All that being said, it’s a good idea not to apply this year. If you don’t have that upward trend, then consider taking some classes at either a community college or a four-year university. You don’t have to spend the money for a formal program like an SMP or a formal postbac.

[09:46] Going to a Caribbean Doesn’t Make It Any Easier

Q: What are your thoughts on the Caribbean med school going straight into that?

A: Number one, we don’t know what’s going to happen with Caribbean medical schools and residencies, once Step 1 goes pass-fail next year in 2022. My gut tells me that all of the weight of Step 1 is just going to shift to Step 2.

There are more tests in medical school. And those tests have historically weighed heavily in terms of residency applications and the specialties you may be able to match for in residency.

'Going to the Caribbean historically has been a negative thing on an application.'Click To Tweet

Students have been able to overcome the fact they’re going to a Caribbean school with massive Step 1 scores. The problem is if you’ve proven you can handle medical school yet.

Going to the Caribbean doesn’t mean easy medical school. It just means you’ll have some hurdles on the other side. 

And with that little bit of a stigma attached to it, you have to do even better. So I would prefer you do the work that you need to do now to prove to yourself that you are capable of doing well in medical school by taking another year of classes and getting as close to 4.0 as possible.

Medical school is hard even in the Caribbean. Students quit, or they’re kicked out of school because they’re struggling too much. And now you have $60,000 worth of debt for your first year of medical school, and no career to pay that back.

[13:02] Accreditation of Medical Schools

Q: Is it a problem for students going to schools that are not fully accredited?

A: The process of being fully accredited. It doesn’t happen until a medical school graduates its first class. And so, there’s preliminary accreditation, and then full accreditation, and there’s just a process to that. There’s a lot of work that goes into even getting prelim accreditation for a school to accept its first class. So this won’t be a problem for students going to these schools.

Q: I was a two sport athlete in college? Should I put it as one or two activities on my application? 

A: It’s up to you. My assumption is that both were very important to you. And so putting both there is good.

Q: Do you have a problem with for-profit medical schools?

A: For instance, AAMC is a “not for profit” company that’s why everyone loves them. But they’re sitting on $300 million of net assets. Where does that money come from? It comes from ruining the application services for both medical school and residencies. They’re creating a test that requires so much prep that you as a student have nothing to do other than give them lots of money. But they’re not for profit. And that doesn’t make things okay.

Therefore, I don’t have a problem with for profit schools, but I have a problem with predators. 

There are many Caribbean for profit medical schools and this is where the medical school gains its stigma. There are problems with the predatory behavior of the acceptance patterns of Caribbean schools that give for profit schools a bad rap. Again, the question is, are they predatory in terms of who they accept?

[17:10] Separating Activities

Q: I work directly with doctors but my role is not defined. I have a hard time talking about what I do. Sometimes, I work as an assessor and with study sponsors. I do any type of publication work. But I feel that in my application last year, I didn’t really outline the difference between my clinical job and the writing work that I do. So how do I emphasize that?

A: You are allowed to take one job and split it into two and say 75% of your job is this and 25% of your job is that. And so, you can talk about them separately.

'There are no rules for the activity section.'Click To Tweet

I recommend it a lot for clinical research positions. One aspect of it would be paperwork and phone calls with patients and tracking lots of things. Another aspect of clinical research is lots of shadowing. You’re sitting and waiting for the doctor to do this thing and waiting for the patient to be done. And so, you can take that shadowing out of the clinical research position and put it in as shadowing.

[19:33] It’s More Than Just the Numbers!

Q: Why is it that trends and GPA are so important, rather than the overall GPA?

A: If you started off poorly, then your overall is just not going to look good ever. So let’s talk about the trend.

If you start poor and then go up high, and then go back to down poor again and then go back up high, that’s really not a trend. That’s a rollercoaster ride. If you start poor and then you get a little bit better sophomore year, and then a lot better junior senior year. That’s a nice trend. 

'What a lot of students don't realize is that medical schools don't just see your final numbers.'Click To Tweet

[21:50] Brainstorming for Your Personal Statement

Q: I’m struggling with my personal statement. Can you talk about strategy for brainstorming? 

A: Check out The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement and you will find a guide to writing your medical school personal statement.

The personal statement is why do you want to be a doctor? That is the goal behind the personal statement. And that’s the question you’re answering. And so, you need to talk about the story of how you got to the decision that you knew you wanted to be a doctor. That’s it.

[24:03] Credit Hours and Proving Academic Capability

Q: I recently got accepted to both a postbac program and SMP. The SMP is fully on scholarship. But my problem is the postbac program only offers 13 credit hours. It’s a one-year program, and the master program is a two-year program. However, their curriculum is almost exactly the same. The master program has a little bit more classes to take like immunology and other higher level courses for the second year. With only 13 credit hours, is that enough to prove to med school?

A: It depends on what the rest of your story looks like. The question is why are you doing a postbac? Are you doing it just because you don’t have those prereqs?Are you doing it because your GPA is not good and you need to fix that? And if your GPA is not good, 13 credit hours is not enough. Ultimately, you have to decide for yourself what works the best. It sounds like you need more than 13 credit hours and there are lots of ways to figure that out.

[27:43] Writing About Low MCAT Score on Your Secondary

Q: Should I write about my low MCAT scores in secondary essays? 

A: For secondary essays, you have to answer the question. And so, if there’s a potential open-ended, is there anything else you want us to know? Maybe it goes there. But for me, writing about a low MCAT score doesn’t help you.

'Medical schools need to make sure that you're going to be able to do well in medical school.'Click To Tweet

If you don’t have a good enough MCAT score, they’re just not going to look at your application. They’re not even going to get to your essays. So writing about why you did poorly doesn’t help. You just need to go do better.

[29:03] A 123 on CARS: Should I Delay My App?

Q: On my MCAT, I have 127 for all of my sections except with CARS where I got a 123. I’ve been advised to not apply. But I have good GPA and I feel I have a good story. 

A: Our student got a 504 based on her section scores. Again, this is something that I always students that I will never tell you what to do. I just give you the information and you have to decide for yourself. A 504 is a lower score, it’s better than average. It’s not a terrible score. The 127’s are great. The 123 sting.

The biggest fear that people have is that schools will filter you out because of the 123. And that just doesn’t happen a ton. So don’t worry about being filtered out by that. I would try to make your decision based on the 504.

“The MCAT is just one piece of this whole puzzle.”Click To Tweet

Your extracurriculars, personal statement, your secondaries, the letters of recommendations, and GPA – those all come together to tell the story of who you are, and what your capabilities will be in medical school. 

Now for many ESL students, the negative self-talk during the CARS section is ultimately what’s hurting you. Whereas you’re leaning on your science capabilities for the chem and bio biochem sections. And you’re not thinking about the fact that you’re not a native English speaker so it’s not holding you back. Psych/soc is just a memorization test so that’s not a problem either.

It’s the negative self talk that’s coming into play with CARS because all it is is reading comprehension. 

[35:22] Nursing as a Postbac and Writing About Nursing on Your Personal Statement

Q: Any advice for incoming college students? 

A: First and foremost, learn how to be a good student. Go check out Mappd as well.

Q: Does doing an accelerated nursing count as a postbac?

A: No, Nursing is one of the worst things that students can do to prove academic capability. Most of the nursing classes aren’t going to count as prereqs. So don’t do that.

Q: What MCAT score is good to shoot for with a 3.92 science GPA and a 3.85 cumulative for next cycle?

A: GPA and MCAT are opposite ends of this scale where if you have a high science GPA, your MCAT can be lower, and that’s okay. It doesn’t work that way. And so, you want as high of an MCAT as possible, period.

Q: Should I mention my nursing experience in my personal statement, or relay other experiences that made me choose medicine? 

A: You need to talk about what’s your seed, which I’ve laid out in my book, The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement.

What drew you to healthcare?  When did you know you wanted to be a doctor? And for people who became PTs, pharmacists, nurses, whatever your seed is, it’s going to point to why you became a nurse. And that at some point, you have this epiphany that says, you need to go to medical school. That’s your pivot point.

And then talk about  how you’re “watering the seeds” through confirmation stories that this is why you need to be a doctor.

[37:52] Undergrad in Canada and Looking to International Schools

Q: I finished the undergrad here in Canada and did Life Sciences. My last three years are about 3.8 or 3.9 GPA. My extracurriculars are amazing. I’ve done some unique activities. But obviously, my GPA is what’s killing me. My current GPA, probably maybe less than a three. And I applied for a special consideration where they would basically look at my previous grades. And that because of my personal circumstances, they would give me academic withdrawals on all those really bad grades. If I do get approved, I will have a GPA of about 3.7 overall. I’m wondering how such an application would even look when you have a bunch of W’s?

A: Canada doesn’t have a centralized application service like we have in the States. Ontario does have a similar application service. Our student mentions that the special consideration would be from McMaster University where he went to. They would take out those courses he did in third year.

So he’s asking his undergraduate institution for retroactive withdrawal, which is somewhat common here in the States as well. If that happens, the question is, whether he has enough classes that medical schools will still consider him.

Ultimately, I would do as much as possible to improve your GPA. Now, getting into Canadian medical schools is hard.

What many Canadian students do is go back and do another bachelor’s degree as their postbac. And so, at the end of the day, there’s only a few things that you can do as a Canadian applicant, unfortunately.

Additionally, Caribbean schools for Canadian students are typically a decent alternative. If you’re comfortable going to Israel, then do so. You can go to the far majority of what are typically considered American-styled medical schools. Australia has one. Israel has one or two. Ireland or Scotland has one and obviously, the Caribbean schools. There’s a couple in Mexico.

You’re going to get the education you need. That the question at the end of the day will be how much work are you going to put in to just make yourself stand out?

[51:27] Another Canadian Applying to International Schools

Q: Can you talk a little bit about the timeline? I feel like now I’m at a point that I want to get it done as fast as possible to get the primary and the secondaries in. I’m a Canadian. So I think my stats are a bit not in favor in terms of how many international schools accept. My GPA is 4.0 and my MCAT is 511.

A: There are U.S. schools that don’t consider Canadian applicants as international applicants. So you’ll have to do some research to find out what schools will consider that. That said, don’t rush your application just to get it in.

If you’re just going to rush your application, you’re wasting everyone’s time and your money. It ‘s better to just take the time and apply next cycle and be better prepared for it. 

If you’re not even done with your primary application at this point, or you haven’t started it or whatever that looks, you’re pretty late in the game now. As long as you’re getting your application submitted no later than July, you’re probably okay. You have good stats so you may be okay in the long run.

[54:21] Why You Shouldn’t Have a Plan B

If you’ve already determined that you’re a successful business person. You have already determined that your life is good enough now without medical school and that you don’t need medical school.

Whereas everyone else out there is killing themselves, literally and figuratively, unfortunately, to get into medical school. Because it’s the only thing that they can see themselves doing. They have determined that they need to go to medical school. And they’re going to apply this year. They’re going to reflect and they’re going to apply next year. They’re going to reflect and they’re going to apply the year after that.

'These U.S.-structured international medical schools are going to give you the education that you need. It's up to you to put in the work to do well.'Click To Tweet


Meded Media


The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement