MCAT Diagnostics, Sommelier Hobby, Caregiving and More Q&A!

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PMY 454: MCAT Diagnostics, Sommelier Hobby, Caregiving and More Q&A!

Session 454

In our episode today we deal with a lot of self-doubt, talk about MCAT diagnostic timing, HPSP, and even more! Come join us and learn.

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.

[00:41] The MCAT Minute

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How many times can you take the MCAT? A couple of years ago, the AAMC implemented a cap on the number of times that you can take the MCAT. Hopefully, this wouldn’t be an issue for you. But unfortunately, I do get emails from people saying they don’t have any more slots they can take because they’ve used all seven.

You can only take the MCAT seven times in your life and three times in one calendar year, or four times in two calendar years. Sign up for a free account at Blueprint MCAT to help you prepare for the MCAT.

'The MCAT is something that should not be taken lightly. You have to go into it with a plan and be prepared.'Click To Tweet

[05:24] What to Put in the Application

Q: I was a pharmacy technician, is that something I should put on my application? 

A: Yes, you should put everything on your application. There’s this big misunderstanding of what needs to go on an application. But you should put everything in, especially, being a pharmacy tech because it’s medically related. Although personally, I don’t think it is clinical experience because it’s a retail job. You just happened to be doing some things that are medically related.

'Your medical school application is basically a snapshot of who you have been up until that point of your journey.'Click To Tweet

Obviously, if you are applying to medical school, you do not want, say, dental assistant, to be the only clinical experience you have. You also don’t want it to be the main clinical experience. Because the goal of applying to medical school is to show that you have put yourself around patients and understand what you’re getting yourself into.

[07:53] Committee Letter, Gap Year, MCAT, & Clinical Experience

Q: Should I be worried that my committee letter won’t be sent until mid-August? I have secondaries and I’m filling out. But I’m worried the committee letter will delay my app now.

A: I wouldn’t worry about it. Unfortunately, there’s a standard timeline for committee letters.

Q: Is it possible to take a gap year abroad?

A: Yes, you can take gap years abroad.

Q: I’m starting to self-study for the MCAT and I’m planning on taking it in January. Should I start off with a diagnostic test now? Or should I take that diagnostic 15 to 30 hours into studying?

A: Take the diagnostic test now. Everyone is scared of the diagnostic because they don’t want to see how terrible the first score is. Don’t worry about the score that you get on your diagnostic test.

'The diagnostic is not there to show how good you are on the MCAT. It's to give you just some baseline understanding of what the test is about.'Click To Tweet

As for taking full-lengths, take as many as you can. Ten is a good number. At a bare minimum, take the four full-length tests from the AAMC and the one unscored test. Try to also take the four-pack from Blueprint MCAT, which has the second best full-length exams out there.

Q: I recently got a medical assistant position at CSU and I’m starting my application next year. Do you think two years of clinical experience would be sufficient? 

A: Yes.

[12:11] HPSP and Air Force Scholarship

Q: I became a citizen three days ago before the Congrats. I’m not going back to my own country, but I wanted to approach medical school through the Air Force. What is the timeline that you would recommend with everything? I will be applying next cycle.

A: The Air Force recruiting process is a little weird. You technically can’t apply for an Air Force scholarship until you’re actually accepted to medical school.

I would recommend talking to a recruiter beforehand. The difference is that you just can’t show up at one of those recruiters in the strip mall. For HPSP, there are specific medical recruiters that you need to talk to.

Find those recruiters, talk to them, and just get the process started. But again, you can’t technically apply until you’re accepted to medical school. But go start having that conversation now. They’ll ask you a bunch of questions including your fitness for duty to make sure you don’t have any disqualifying conditions.

At the end of the day, the goal of being in the military is to be ready to deploy. So everybody has to be qualified to deploy. And then on top of that would be all of your medical stuff.

[15:35] Shadowing vs. Clinical Experience

Q: What are some differences between shadowing and clinical experience? 

A: Shadowing is passive. You’re just following around, watching, and observing. Clinical experience is when you are interacting with patients.

Q: I graduated from college in 2018. My GPA was 3.8 science, and 3.75 overall. For the MCAT, I got a 507. About a year or two ago, after graduating college, I stayed home to take care of some family issues. My grandmother was 102 years old, diabetic and I was a primary caregiver. While working in a winery, I ended up going to my level two certified sommelier. I studied wine as a personal hobby of mine. I just got accepted into a scribe job beginning at COVID and it obviously fell through. And I haven’t gained that much experience since then. 

I feel like I had a pretty strong application going out of college in the gap year that I took afterwards to help my family and take care of my personal stuff as well. But I haven’t had that much experience outside of a little bit of shadowing I’ve done online. One of the doctors that I shadowed, I actually worked on the publication with him on a case report for a patient.

A: Being a primary caregiver is clinical experience. A lot of students struggle with imposter syndrome. And with the experiences that this student has, many students would wishe they had done what he had done.

And so, that’s the experience you can lean on and hopefully memories you’ll cherish for the rest of your life for being able to take care of her. 

Obviously, when COVID hit, nobody’s getting clinical experience and shadowing. And so,there’s some silver lining there for you. There are people going to have huge gaps in their application during this time and that’s okay.

The reality is you’ve been doing a lot. You should still try to be doing things obviously, But just don’t worry about what you haven’t been doing and just try to go do something as soon as you can.

[22:21] Common Mistakes Applicants Make

'A very common mistake that students make on an application is they leave out all of the things that show that they're human beings.'Click To Tweet

A very common mistake that students make on an application is they leave out all of the things that show that they’re human beings.

Another very common mistake is that students only put clinical experiences or shadowing experiences as the most meaningful activities.

But when you look at what a most meaningful activity is, it doesn’t say what is most meaningful to you on your journey to becoming a physician. It’s just “what’s most meaningful to you as a human being.” And being a sommelier could be that. Taking care of your grandmother could be that, or some other nonclinical related thing could be that. It doesn’t have to be one research, one clinical, and one shadowing.

[24:02] Personal Statement and Most Meaningful

Q: In my personal statement, I was somewhat conflicted about hitting hard into my personal statement and then also making it the most meaningful. So I ended up talking more about what I physically did and my quick takeaways. I didn’t know if it seemed to be off-putting.

A: Students try to play this game too much where if they talk about it a lot in the personal statement, then they also have to put it as most meaningful in the activities section. Otherwise, they’re going to question it. But don’t play this kind of game. Don’t worry about those questions.

'Your personal statement is a story about why you want to be a doctor. Most meaningful activities are what activities are most meaningful to you as a person.'Click To Tweet

[27:17] ROTC Person Wanting to Become a Flight Surgeon

Q: I wonder how to become a flight surgeon in the Air Force. I’m currently with ROTC, but my commander has no idea how it will work out for me. Do you see anyone commissioned through ROTC and become a flight surgeon?

A: Yes. One of my good friends from med school was an ROTC person as well. As an ROTC person, it’s much harder to get allowed to apply to medical school.

You’re basically competing for a small number of spots outside of all the civilians that are looking to apply for HPSP scholarships.

You’re either going through USUHS (Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences) which is the Military Medical School. Or you’re applying for HPSP like all the other civilians that want to go to a civilian medical school and have the Air Force foot the dime.

But it’s just much harder, so you have to be really good. You have to have really great stats. And you just have to cross your fingers and hope it works out. If not, it’s really hard, unfortunately.

[28:40] Academic Difficulty, Research, EKG Tech as Clinical Experience

Q: If you have a committee letter, do you still need other LORs? 

A: No, just whatever your committee requires is all you need.

Q: Are B-minus considered academic difficulties? One school specifically asked to explain anything B minus and below so now I’m not sure how to approach my other school secondaries?

A: No, I think the schools that want to know about B minuses and below are perfectly fine to ask that specifically. But I wouldn’t consider a B-minus an academic difficulty.

Q: Does everyone that applies for HPSP from college usually get in? 

A: No. The last I looked, there’s about 150 spots per service (Army, Navy Air Force, and the VA, which is very new.) The VA has an HPSP scholarship now as well, which potentially is interesting for a lot of students where you can serve military members but not be at risk for deploying. Or if you’re potentially interested in one but really scared for the other. So that’s something to look into as well.

Q: Can SEO keyword research be listed as research on the application?

A: Research in medical school, PA school, etc. is hypothesis-based, scientific method based research. You’re asking a question and trying to come up with a hypothesis. Then you figure out how to test that hypothesis and you are testing that hypothesis. You’re gathering that data, you’re analyzing the data, and you’re either proving or disproving your hypothesis. So SEO keyword research is not that.

Q: Is EKG tech considered clinical experience? 

A: Yes. If you’re interacting with patients, it is a clinical experience.

Q: What is the best clinical experience?

A: It’s the one that you will enjoy the most.

[31:11] Postbac, Clinical Experience, MD vs. DO

Q: Is a postbac or masters in core science better for improving and showing growth for low undergraduate GPA? 

A: My general stance is postbac work, aka undergraduate courses, are better than a Master’s. There are lots of reasons why someone wouldn’t want to do that, whether it’s financial or something else. But it seems like the medical school admissions committees care more about undergraduate GPA.

Q: How much weight does CASPer hold on U.S. applications? 

A: It depends on the school, unfortunately.

Q: Can someone be a Navy SEAL out of college and come back from med school after their service?

A: Of course. You can do anything you want.

Q: Opinion on clinical research coordinator for paid clinical experience.

A: It’s an amazing clinical experience.

Q: What’s better: paid versus volunteer for clinical experience?

A: One is not better than another. It does not matter.

Q: I have experience as an MA and EMT, is that enough? 

A: Don’t look at things being enough, rather focus on consistency. If you’re doing those things consistently, then yes, that is enough. You don’t need to do more and more.

Q: MCAT 506 – 121 CARS, English – second language, 3.93 GPA and a lot of community service clinical hours, a great story. Is it worth it for MD?

A: I don’t look at stats as MD versus do.

[34:32] Good Applicants vs. Bad Applicants

Q: Is being a sexual assault victim advocate for an organization considered good clinical or volunteer experiences? 

A: It is what it is. If you enjoy it, great. if you are interacting with the patients, or survivors in your case, and you can talk about it, great. If you can reflect on it and it’s meaningful to you, great.

'Too many of you are focused on finding the right title and doing that thing to make it look good on an application.'Click To Tweet

Whatever you’re doing, put everything you have into it. Then at the end of the shift, reflect on it, think about it, journal it. And so when you come to your application, you have some emotions that you can lean on. Instead of talking about what you’ve done, focus on what that experience meant to you. 

The bad applicants only talk about what they did all throughout their application. But the good applicants talk about what they did, how it meant to them, and how it changed them and made them a better human being.

Medical schools admissions committees are looking for growth as a human being. That’s what makes the difference between a good activity and a bad activity.

Now, if you’re just doing crap to do it, because you think that’s what you need to do for an application, then you are losing.

[36:47] Upward Trend, Shadowing, & Struggling with Math

Q: Does it look bad if I had lower GPA 3.3, 3 C’s in community college then I improved to a 3.8 when I transferred to a university. 

A: No, it does not look bad. It looks like you figured out what works for you.

Q: I didn’t do as well as I’d hoped on my June 26 MCAT and have to retake it. I applied the cycle and have already sent back secondaries. Is January MCA too late for the cycle?

A: For DO schools, January MCATs are typically not too late. For MD schools, there are many schools that will tell you what the latest MCAT they accept is. So just go school to school and see what they say.

Q: Any advice for someone who is in a high school wanting to be a trauma surgeon? 

A: Just go out and have fun, live your life, and get experiences. Do not pigeonhole yourself at such a young age to do the same. If you can get some shadowing now, great. If you can get some clinical experience now, great. Obviously, with the pandemic and with age restrictions, there may not be a lot that you can do.

Q: Do I just walk into nearby clinics and hospitals to get clinical and shadowing experience? 

A: Call or email. It’s a lot of calling and emailing and getting lots of no’s but keep doing it until you get a yes.

Q: 3.45 cumulative 3.3 science GPA. Yearly progression 3.9, 3,2, 3.7, 3.75. Is that a strong enough upward trend?

A: It probably depends on how many credits that 3.7 and 3.75 is. But very likely, yes.

Q: Any advice for someone who struggles with math who wants to be a doctor?

A:  Luckily, math is not a key part of being a physician. So just do well enough to get by to get good enough grades and you should be fine.

[39:13] Applying Without Any Clinical Experience

Q: Can I get accepted without shadowing or clinical experience because they don’t accept any more applications due to COVID?

A: If you were applying this cycle, and you didn’t have any clinical experience freshman year, sophomore year, and then COVID hits or whatever that timeline looks like for you, delay your application. Get the clinical experience and shadowing in mind.

'Students cannot cannot write or verbalize why they want to be a doctor without clinical and shadowing experience'Click To Tweet

I have seen way too many students not get into medical school. They have terrible personal statements. Because they can’t answer why they want to be a doctor due to lack of experience.

You need clinical experience to show that you really love being around patients. It’s not for medical schools but it’s to prove to yourself that you love being around patients. So that at the end of the day, the debt is worth it.

Q: What year of college should I start getting clinical experience?

A: As soon as you’ve proven that you can handle yourself academically, start layering things on.

Q: How do I speak about my plans for my gap year in my application since I applied about two months into my gap year? 

A: Most of the secondary applications will ask what your plans are, if you’re not going to be a full-time student. So that’s where that would come up. On the AACOMAS application, you can add activities as you’re working on your gap year. On the TMDSAS application, you can put future activities on there.


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