How Do I Explain Life Circumstances Leading to a Low GPA

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PMY 488: How Do I Explain Life Circumstances Leading to a Low GPA

Session 488

In this episode, we’re playing a recording of our Instagram Live as I’m answering some questions. We’ve got a lot of overthinking premed students today who are concerned about GPA, their activities, and personal statement stuff. I might be putting up the Overthinking Premeds Club (OPC) soon, but joking aside, let’s try to ease up the qualms of these students today!

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

[00:58] The MCAT Minute

The MCAT Minute is brought to you by Blueprint MCAT.

The MCAT is a big hurdle for everyone in their premed journey. Go sign up for a free account over at Blueprint MCAT and get access to free flashcards, especially if you’re early on in your journey.

Their free flashcards are helpful for people figuring out what is on the MCAT and learning to memorize all of the information they need to know to do well.

[05:18] Putting Future Hours

Q: I’m now in the process of my primary application. I have one extra spot out of the 15 activities, and I just got a medical scribe position that starts in July. I’m wondering if I should put that down as a potential future experience and add the future hours or should I put something down that I’ve already done?

A: Read the AMCAS manual because there have been changes with the activities on AMCAS, where they now have completed hours and anticipated hours.

Look into the instruction guide or the applicant guide to see what they recommend. If they don’t say anything, then ask yourself what do you have to say about it?

And you’re only saying what you’re going to do. This is not super impactful because it’s not really showing who you are. Many secondaries will ask that question regarding your plans so that can go there.

[08:17] Studying for Casper and AAMC PREview Exams

Q: How do I study Casper and the new PREview exam?

A: You don’t really need to study for it. You just need to understand what the format is. You can go to the Casper website. Look at their sample questions and sample videos so you can understand the question format.

Same thing for the AAMC PREview exams. The questions are multiple-choice, and it’s a scale from very ineffective, ineffective, neutral, effective, or very effective.

That being said, try to take it as soon as possible. The registration for both of them is open now. Just consider it as part of the secondary process as most people are working on their secondaries in July. But just get it done as soon as you can.

[12:12] How to Do Well in Biochem

Q: I’m about to graduate soon and I’m about to take my MCAT on June 25. Being an auditory learner, what is the best way to learn chemistry?

A: You just need to do a lot of practice tests. What a lot of students do is focus on content without really understanding how the MCAT is asking questions.

Especially when you’re starting off, don’t judge yourself if you get only 20% of the questions right. That’s okay. Use the review of the questions to guide your studying.

'The MCAT is mostly a critical thinking and analysis test. Where students go wrong as they focus on content.'Click To Tweet

Now, this student goes on to say that he hasn’t taken organic chem and biochemistry yet. That’s why chemistry is his worst section on the MCAT practice tests. In this case, he is nowhere near ready to take the MCAT both from a content standpoint and a “need to take it” standpoint.

If you want to start medical school in 2025, you’re going to apply to medical school in May or June 2024. So you’re typically going to take the MCAT somewhere between September 2023 and March or April of 2024.

And so, this student is very early on in the process. So he just has to make sure to have those classes to build on that solid foundation.

[18:20] Research in Your Personal Statement?

Q: When I was working at a doctor’s office as a patient advocate, the patient wanted opioids for pain management, but we declined of course. The patient lashed out at me over the phone. It got me to start looking for labs that do research about drug addiction. I included that in my personal statement. But one of the people who read my personal statement said it sounds negative.

A: The personal statement is about why you want to be a doctor. Your addiction research is important to you. It may be something you’re interested in doing in the future. But it’s not why you want to be a doctor.

'Don't put research in a personal statement because research doesn't answer the question why do you want to be a doctor?'Click To Tweet

The other thing is that students will try to stand out and be unique. There are 70,000 students applying to medical school every year, and nothing has not been done. So don’t try to stand out, just tell your story.

[24:09] Who Should Write Your Letter of Recommendation

Q: Some people say that your science professor for your letter of recommendation has to be a teacher who taught you a lecture. Whereas my science professor just taught me a biochem lab. What should I do?

A: Always go look at the source. If the school is saying this, then yes. Trust the schools because they’re the ones that are reading and making sure that you have the required letters that they want.

At the end of the day, the goal is to get a letter from someone who knows you well. And if this person taught you lab, and you did research with them, this sounds like they probably know you pretty well.

[26:25] Listing Future Hours

Q: I’m starting a medical assistant job in June. But since I haven’t started, I don’t know if there’s any space on the application to put that.

A: This question has been asked earlier and I still have the same stance. My potential concern with that is if you haven’t done it yet, then you really don’t have anything to say about it. You don’t have anything to say about you in that thing to show your impact. You can list the job duties, but that’s not super impactful.

Nevertheless, just look at what AMCAS says if they will let you put zero hours for Completed, or will it give you an error. Just play with it and see if that’s something you can do.

Additionally, putting in there that you’ve got an EMT certificate has no impact. But it’s what you did with the certificate that creates that impact.

[31:03] Writing a Personal Statement as an International Student

Q: I’m an international student, and I came here for college only. And so, I’ve heard that for international students in the personal statement, it’s good to include why not in your home country, why do you want to go to medical school in the US?

A: The personal statement is why do you want to be a doctor? There’s no asterisk on the application that says, if you are an international student, please include why you want to go to school here.

Instead, what you can do is to mark that as a disadvantage in terms of your upbringing, your education, your access to education, your access to activities, or whatever the reason is.

Violence in your home country per se doesn’t make you disadvantaged. And so, you should be able to make that connection of how the violence led to the disadvantage.

It’s the same thing for first-generation students. Being a first-generation student alone is not a disadvantage. It’s connecting it to how being a first-generation student has led to you becoming disadvantaged. That way, medical schools will understand who you are.

[35:39] Shadowing and Clinical Experiences

Q: How many anticipated hours should I put in my shadowing?

A: A: Be truthful and honest. If there’s a huge change, reach out to schools that want updates. But check the school first if they accept updates and all that stuff.

Q: Is it okay if I split a few hours between shadowing and scribing?

A: I wouldn’t classify part of those hours of shadowing. Because you’re never truly just shadowing because you’re working.

Q: What will be justified as clinical work and won’t be justified as clinical?

A: The goal of these 15 spots for AMCAS specifically, is to show who you are and what you’ve been doing. And that includes both clinical and nonclinical and everything in your life. If it’s a big part of what you’ve been doing, it probably should go on there.

And being a family caregiver is a great clinical experience. Ideally, it shouldn’t be your only clinical experience so you should also try to get other clinical experiences.

[48:37] To Take an SMP or Not

Q: I graduated undergrad in 2016. I started my own business, a printing company, and grew that to having six locations, employing more than 70 people. Now, we’re completely online as well. Now, I want to go to med school. I’ve been scribing for three years. I have about 3,500 scribing hours. Volunteering, I have a couple of 1,000 hours.

I just want to know should I proceed with applying to medical school directly or should I take the SMP route? (Cumulative GPA is 3.3 and science GPA is 3.2 and graduated in 2016) I do have all the prereqs required. Initially, I did want to go into medicine. But the reason I couldn’t straight out of college was because of financial problems, which led me to open my own business.

A: SMPs are expensive. You can just go to your local university and just sign up and take classes. Just take a year or so to take some classes to prove that you’re a good student now that you have some financial footing under you. Hopefully, you aren’t super distracted with running the businesses.

[55:35] Coop for Work to Get GPA

Q: I started college with a really low GPA in my first year and second year. But I had the upper trend from 2.45 to 3.43 with the science GPA. I had the opportunity in my junior and senior years. So then I went to my adviser to ask how I can get a higher science GPA. His advice is to do a coop internship with a health-related job. Does this sound suspicious to be getting my GPA from work?

A: At the end of the day, it sounds like you’re trying to game the system. First of all, how are you going to classify that as science? But it seems like you’re just gaming the system a little bit. You’re trying to find a loophole for getting your GPA without doing a lot of work.

[58:39] LOR to an MD School From a DO Doc

Q: I got a recommendation letter from both an MD and a DO. I applied to both do and MD and I feel like this recommendation letter from the DO doctor was really really good. Can I use it on my MD application?

A: Of course. I don’t think there is going to be animosity between MD and DO schools if students apply to both.


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