Today, I share an awesome Q&A session with my IG followers where I answer the top questions many premeds are asking. Tune in to see if I answer yours.
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.
[00:56] The MCAT Minute
The MCAT Minute is brought to you by Blueprint MCAT.
If you’re a nontraditional student getting ready to prepare for the MCAT, one of the hardest things is figuring out when to take it. Because you’re not following a general freshman, sophomore, or junior timeline where it’s relatively easy to know where the MCAT fits in.
The biggest thing a nontrad should do is think backward from when you are planning on starting medical school or at least where you think you will start medical school. Let’s say you’re starting medical school in 2025, and you’re going to apply in 2024. That means ideally, you’re taking the MCAT around January to April of 2024. That’s the year before you want to start medical school.
To help you with that plan and go to Blueprint MCAT and sign up for a free account. Get access to an amazing study planner tool for free to help you plan out your study schedule.
[04:34] Turning Around Secondaries
Q: I sent in my application to AACOMAS a few days ago and they already verified me. Now, with the secondaries turning around, if I don’t get it within two or three weeks, how bad is that?
A: Turn it around in two or three weeks as much as possible. It is what it is if you can’t, but at least try to shoot for it.
[05:55] A Parent Physician Helping Out Their Kid
Q: I’m a physician and I wanted to know any information about special accommodations or arrangements. I hope I can get her in on legacy since I’m an alumnus at SUNY Downstate.
A: The hope is that she can get in on her own merits. And if legacy helps a little bit, then why not? Every school is going to be different with how they’re going to view legacy standards. Legacy seems to have more of an impact in the undergraduate world, although I think that’s changing.
That being said, I don’t think there are enough seats in medical school for legacy to have a huge impact. And since you’ve gone there, the network that you have as a physician will allow her to have access to a lot more resources and experiences that are going to help her in a lot of ways.
Outside of that, they may look at it and they may not. It’s just going to depend on the admissions committee and what’s going on.
Access to Network and Resources
Our listener mentions that he graduated a long time ago and the process has changed so much as I’ve been a regular listener to our podcasts. He describes it as night and day. And so, even though he tried advising his daughter, he says he realized his advice is just not relevant anymore because things have changed so much.
He went on to say that they left New York and moved to Atlanta, Georgia. And so, this is going to play a huge role since they’re not residents anymore. SUNY Downstate is very small so the out-of-state numbers are quite a few. The good thing is there are about 10 other schools in the city that she can potentially go to.
There are a lot of amazing students out there who don’t have a physician parent, or who don’t have neighbors who are doctors. They don’t have the access to a network or to find shadowing, or where they can get trained on the job. And so, just that kind of headstart that she has is going to help a lot. My biggest piece of advice for any physician parent is just don’t push your kids too hard and just let them figure it out.
[15:24] Deployment to Combat Areas
Q: I just have a question about the HPSP scholarship. I’m actually a native Arabic speaker. So I talked to a recruiter the other day and they said if you’re pretty much proficient in one of those languages, they usually send you to those locations. When you were in the Air Force in the HPSP scholarship, and everything, how often and where were they deployed? Were they really dangerous combat areas?
A: First of all, don’t listen to recruiters. When I was in, we were much more active in Afghanistan. I was there for five years and never got deployed to Afghanistan. I was just going on missions, and we would fly into those areas. And when we would fly in, we would have to do combat landings. We were all wearing our bulletproof vests and helmets and everything and trying to land as quickly as possible. And so, we were on bases in not-so-great areas.
I’ve also talked to doctors who got deployed with Special Forces. One of them was gone for four or five, six months, and his wife didn’t know where he was. And so ultimately, it’s an interesting time where World War III may start tomorrow. And so, we don’t know what’s going to happen with everything going on right now.
Don’t Play the Game!
I don’t think you can play that game of which one’s safer or which one will be deployed less. As you get out of medical school, you do the residency that you want. So everything’s going great. And then your unit gets hit up for deployment. And they tasked you, and now what? Are you going to be upset and regret that you joined?
Remember, this is not just a risk for yourself, but you also have to keep in mind the people you love around you who will get affected, whether it’s your significant other or your kids.'Either take it all, or you don't. Taking it all doesn't mean you're going to love all of it, but you're okay with it and you are accepting those risks.'Click To Tweet
[26:19] GPA Trends: How to Turn a Frown into a Smile
Q: I graduated from college in May of 2021. Last year, I graduated early, so I just did three years. My GPA, semester-wise, had always been between 3.5 to 3.8. And then the one semester Fall of 2020, it went down to 2.65. In context, I think I have really good reasons for this. My school was completely online.
One of my professors was pregnant and she decided to do this 16-week course in eight weeks so she could have her baby. She was not shortening any of the content. And so, time management-wise, it was really hard for me and that was why that happened. I was also taking Physics II along with Immunology and Epidemiology.
There’s just a lot all at once. I am taking just two classes with six credits this summer just to get A’s in those and have that on the books. But I was wondering what you guys think as far as how alarming this is on an application? Because it was at the end and I know it makes the trend not work. My cumulative, overall GPA is 3.5. And my science GPA is 3.4.
A: (Looking at this student’s Mappd dashboard, her trend goes as Freshman – 3.8, Sophomore – 3.68. And then Junior – 3.48.) Now, your trend is concerning. You may need a semester to have some postbac work so you can turn that frown in the graph, upside-down. Retaking Physics II won’t help since there’s not a ton of it on the MCAT.
At the end of the day, taking that versus trying to find other upper division classes that you can get A’s in makes no difference. You’re not proving anything by getting an A in Physics II versus getting an A in some cell biology class that you haven’t taken before.
[34:09] Credit Hours for International Students
Q: I got a bachelor’s degree in Nigeria before moving to the U.S. However, the University of Maryland College Park won’t get any credit for a couple of years. And they were just passed off here and they were all classes. So I actually sent a transcript to an impasse. But those classes were categorized as freshman classes for me.
A: AMCAS is going to do what they’re going to do. They’re going to figure that out, especially for nontraditional students with credits. AMCAS has a funny way of categorizing year levels.
They usually categorize 0-30 credits as freshmen, 30-60 credits hours as a sophomore, 60-90 as Junior, and 90+ as Senior. I’ve seen people having 100 hours of senior credits and that’s just how it is. And so, don’t worry about it.
[37:56] MCAT Prep: Live Online vs. Online Course
Q: What is the difference between Blueprint MCAT’s live online and online course?
A: The real difference is whether or not you go to classes that have an instructor teaching you live online, or if you’re just doing things on your own. You have access to all the same resources, full-length tests, Q-Banks, flashcards, and whatnot. But you don’t have a live person teaching you every week.“If you're struggling with accountability, there is definitely a benefit to an instructor.”Click To Tweet
At Blueprint MCAT, the instructors will email you if you don’t show up. Hence, there’s that element of accountability that exists when there’s a human person who knows who you are and expects to see you every week.
Blueprint MCAT also has a new feature where students can join a discord channel with their class and their instructors.
Some of their classes right now have little study groups going on. They jump into Discord on a live study channel and just hold each other accountable for a couple of hours a week. Accountability is a huge value that you can get from the community as well.
The instructors aren’t there to just teach you the same information that you’re watching the videos and learning. They’re there to help integrate the information that you’ve learned and integrate it into how the MCAT is going to ask the questions and frame the answers. So it’s a lot more.
Moreover, Blueprint’s live online course has two instructors that teach you simultaneously. They give their different opinions on how to study and the right way to approach a problem. They could also advise what fits your learning style.
[44:59] Which Road to Take
Q: I’m at a crossroads of what to do after the internship that ends in late July. And so, now I’m considering an MPH. I don’t know if I want to do a dual degree, or if I want to do the MPH first. I just don’t know where to go from here. I’ve tried to study for the MCAT since January of this year. I tried to do that on top of my course load, which was kind of hard. I hired a tutor and she’s doing really well. I’m still trying to find time to study while I’m doing the internship. Because it’s like a full-time job 8-5, Monday through Friday. I’m at a crossroads of what to do. Should I reschedule my MCAT for August?
A: First, why public health and why medicine? Answer that as if you were writing a personal statement to both. Write it and see how convincing you sound to yourself.
If you’re going to do a dual degree, do your homework on the program. Some schools have a really tough schedule where you have to do things concurrently. Some schools don’t. At SUNY Downstate, for instance, MPH is done in the summers. And so, it’s not overlapping with your MD coursework at all.“Talk to yourself about what you want. It's important just to remind yourself that there's no cut-off. If you don't do it right now, that doesn't mean you never get to do it ever.”Click To Tweet
If public health is a passion of yours, and you know you want to be a physician, then you’ll figure out how that looks for your career. On the other hand, you can craft that however you want.
The one thing that I will tell you to stay away from is doing an MPH to look good to medical schools. If you’re doing it because you’re passionate about it, and it’s interesting to you then go for it.
[51:12] Writing Secondaries and Getting LOR
Q: I’ve got a quick question about secondaries. A lot of these secondaries have character counts. Is it okay, if I’m not necessarily hitting those, especially for some of the optional essays? I don’t want to include fluff. But I want to get my message across as best I can.
A: If it’s quality, then that’s fine.
Q: I started working as an MA. I probably wouldn’t want to ask for a letter of recommendation for a few weeks or a couple more months until they actually really get to know me. How does that work with uploading that to a school if I’m submitting my secondary this week or the week after? And I’m not uploading a letter of rec until maybe September or October. How does that work?
A: You can upload letters after submission. The question is what is it going to add? If it’s just another letter that is less important, it’s just overwhelming to the admissions committee. If you think there’s a gap in the letters that you have now and your current position, and a new letter may fill in, then sure, go for it.
Don’t go and flag that letter right now. Instead, add the letter to your application and upload it immediately so that the medical schools aren’t going to see that they’re waiting on the letter. Otherwise, they will not review your application because it’s incomplete.
[54:46] Writing a Diversity Essay
Q: If that’s something that I’m passionate about, and that I feel like I can really speak to, is it okay to still talk about cultural and religious diversity in a diversity essay?
A: Go ahead if that’s a big part of your life and what you want to do as a doctor involves caring for those communities. Otherwise, it would be disingenuous to your story and your goals and values for you not to say those things in the essay. And so, if that’s how you feel about your background, then it belongs in your essay.'Diversity essay is not just 'look at me, here's who I am.' – but how are you going to add to the class because of that?'Click To Tweet
[57:28] Optional and Disadvantaged Essays
Q: I wrote a disadvantaged essay about the things I’ve dealt with in my life. There are some essay questions that are a repeat of that. I don’t want to just repeat something that I’ve already written. And I don’t want to also make it like a sob story. Do I also need to fill an optional essay out?
A: Unfortunately, this is part of the gamesmanship of applying to medical school. Personally, I don’t think any optional essays are really optional. You should try to write as much as possible.