Advice For Premeds

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PMY 481: Advice For Premeds

Session 481

Today’s episode is an Instagram live recap full of great advice for premeds. Tune in to hear if your questions get answered.

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.

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[05:55] Getting an LOR from a Family Member

Q: Is it frowned upon, if I’m a CNA at a hospital for a year, and one of my patients/family members wants to write me a recommendation letter? Is it breaking HIPAA or any professional rules?

A: HIPAA is when you’re not allowed to talk about patients or their cases to anyone, for instance, on social media. But it doesn’t work the other way around. So HIPAA is you releasing information, not patients releasing information.

The question here is, should a patient’s family write you a letter? Personally, I don’t think that letter will help you, but it’s not going to hurt you either.

[10:09] Rushing the MCAT as a Retaker

Q: I took the MCAT in January, and I didn’t do great. I got a 500 so it’s definitely not where I want to be. I was basically studying while being full-time in school but that didn’t work for me. I’d pushed the MCAT off and I wasn’t surprised I got that score just because of everything else.

I feel like everything else from my application is fine besides my MCAT. I registered to retake it in July. Do you think I should apply at the start of January if I get everything done on time? I’ve heard there’s an option to check incoming MCAT scores. Do you think that would be okay for my situation? Or would schools put me off?

A: The average for MCAT is about 501 now. It’s a common fear among students that if they applied with a lower score, medical schools would just automatically weed them out. But it doesn’t work that way. They understand that students don’t ace the MCAT the first time around. So there wouldn’t be an issue with you applying and checking a box.

My general rule of thumb is: the end of June is when you want to take the MCAT.

The question would be, how confident are you, come July? July is okay but it starts to push back when medical schools will start looking at your application. 

At the end of the day, the real question is how confident are you that you will be able to get the score that you want the second time around? And if you are not super confident, then what’s the rush?

Don’t Rush the MCAT

You don’t have to rush to take the MCAT and worry about putting this arbitrary deadline on yourself. If you’ve already failed the MCAT once, the best thing you can do is slow down, take a breath, and set yourself up for success.

'You don't have to rush to take the MCAT and worry about putting this arbitrary deadline.' Click To Tweet

Too many people focus on one thing and not the other. They focus on MCAT and they hurt their application. You need to balance both. And if that means slowing down and not applying until next year, then that’s what you should do.

[18:07] No Idea About the MCAT

Q: I’m from Peru. I came a year ago and I transferred to the University of Nevada. I transferred some of my upper-division classes and some classes from my med school because I’m a bio major here now. I had a 3.8 GPA from my med school in Peru. 

When I came here, I thought they were going to accept it. So when I got my official transcript two weeks ago, they didn’t say anything about it. It was just transferred credits of 75, and that was it. Then I just got the GPA from here, which is not good. My GPA is 3.3. In my first semester, I was struggling with English and other stuff.

I have a lot of clinical experience in Peru, I have shadowing and volunteering. But I heard you saying that it would be necessary to have something here because the health care system is different. I’ve been working as a med tech in a senior living for about a year and a half that I’m here. I’m not sure if I should apply this cycle or the next cycle. So I can wait for the two semesters that I have left to put my GPA high.

I only found out about the MCAT two months ago and when I did the diagnostic, I got a 500. My friends already finished med school and I’m here taking classes that I don’t need. 

A: You have to put on your blinders. Don’t look at everyone else around you.

'It doesn't matter what everyone else is doing. The only thing that matters is your journey and you’re setting yourself up for your success.'Click To Tweet

All that being said, the biggest concern for me is going to be your GPA trend. That probably will mean applying next cycle so that you can just focus on grades right now. That is your number one concern. You have to apply when you have the grade foundation to show that you are academically capable of doing well in med school. 

A lot of students are concerned they’re going to be too old to be in medical school if they applied later. But you have to enjoy the journey. Don’t just look at that end goal.

[28:34] An Upward Trend

Q: I’m an international student. For my GPA, I started off with 3.2, have an upward trend, and my last semester is a 3.7. My overall GPA ended up at 3.3 and my science GPA was 3.59. But I know that the way the AAMC calculates the grades is different.

I use Mappd and my science GPA dropped to 2.1. But there’s still the upward trend though. Should I apply this cycle or wait?

A: As an international student, there are lots of questions, hurdles, and obstacles to consider. And GPA is one of those things.

[33:18] Taking the MCAT so Late

Q: It seems like a lot of people here at the school take the MCAT so late. They apply to this one medical school and it works out. I’ve been reading your book, The Premed Playbook: Guide to the MCAT. I asked them if they were okay with me applying without my MCAT score, and then giving them my MCAT score once I took the MCAT in August or September. They said it’s my choice.

A: My opinion has not changed week over week and it remains the same – taking the MCAT in August or September is super late.

'If money is not an issue and time is not an issue, then apply… Unfortunately, most students have to worry about that.'Click To Tweet

[37:38] Clinical Experience From Nine Years Ago

Q: I’m a nontraditional student. I’ll be graduating in May. I have about 3,000 hours of clinical experience, but they’re from back in 2011 to 2013. Would those still be good enough for me to continue or should I take new ones?

A: They’re good enough to put on your application. But if that is your only clinical experience, you’re not giving enough actionable evidence that shows you’re putting yourself around patients. It has been nine years since your last experience so medical schools won’t actually believe you want to be a doctor.

Now, if your job pays the bills and it has some flexibility to allow you to do other things, then maybe stay in that job. Then add some stuff on top of it to get back into clinical experiences and putting yourself around patients and shadowing physicians.

Q: When is it too early to take the MCAT?

A: There’s really no too early other than the score expires after two or three years depending on the medical school.

[44:02] Sending a Letter of Intent

Q: I applied for this application and I got a few acceptances. But there was one school that I was waitlisted at a school and it was my number one school. So what is your advice on letters of intent?

A: If the schools accept them, then go for it. What’s the worst thing that can happen? Just say that you have acceptances now, and you really want to come to their school for X, Y, and Z.

You have to mention that you already have the acceptance because it shows them that you’re not desperate. There’s a huge difference there. And they’re going to take that more seriously because you’re not doing it out of desperation.

[48:49] LOR Concerns

Q: I will be applying this coming cycle. And honestly, letters of recommendation are my biggest concern. I’m a bioengineering major so that messed up the science letters that are required by some schools. I’m getting mixed information if schools actually accept engineering classes as science.

A: Worry less about schools for course classification, because it’s the AMCAS or AACOMAS application that makes that classification on an application level. But you still have to take all the normal prereqs. Ultimately, reach out to all the schools that you’re interested in applying to and ask them.

[52:51] Shadowing vs. Clinical Experience

Q: While I was in nursing school, I did some shadowing two years ago. Then I’ve been working as a nurse for two years. Do I need more clinical experience aside from nursing? My last shadowing was in 2019.

A: Again, clinical experience and shadowing are different. If you’re currently working as a nurse, that’s a fantastic clinical experience. You don’t need any more clinical experience. You’re around patients all the time as a nurse.

Shadowing, on the other hand, is something you should do, You don’t have to get 20 hours a week of shadowing. But try to do even just one day a month of shadowing, or a half a day a month shadowing. Just try to dip your toes in the water and make sure you see everything else the doctor does outside of how you see them working.


Q: I’m a nontrad and I did not do anything really to prepare for applying for medical school until about two years ago. Does it look poor to have so few things on your 15 activities list?

I was a single parent so just worked part-time. I was working for a doctor who only hires medical assistants. I got a wide range of different tasks within that office. Now I’ve been working at a hospital as a medical assistant so I float around to different clinics. I’ve been doing a nonformal postbac because my public health doesn’t have any of the science classes. I have no science GPA. I’ve been volunteering with a nonprofit since 2021. I also do crisis text counseling.

A: You can mark yourself as a disadvantaged student, and give them that context. You’re a single parent during undergrad, and going through the premed process as a nontraditional student. So you don’t have the time to get as many experiences as possible.

At the end of the day, that’s just who you are, and the journey that you’ve taken. Being a single parent tells enough about your leadership and organizational skills from being a parent.

[01:02:50] How Many Schools to Apply To

Q: How do you determine the number of schools to apply to?

A: According to AAMC data, the average number of schools that students apply to now is 18. My general recommendation is no more than 25. Ultimately, at the end of the day, it’s just time and money. If you want to apply to 50, and you think you have time to bang out all of those secondary essays, then go for it. Also, do check out PMY437: How to Build the Ultimate Med School List.

[01:06:09] Physician LOR?

Q: I heard medical schools want a letter of recommendation from at least one physician. 

A: Don’t listen to random people. Trust, but verify. Go to medical schools’ websites, and look at what they require. Most of them don’t say they require a physician letter, or that even a physician letter is highly recommended. Most schools don’t say that.


PMY437: How to Build the Ultimate Med School List

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Meded Media

Blueprint MCAT

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The Premed Playbook: Guide to the MCAT