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In this week’s episode, learn how Denise fostered a community while supporting her premed child. She is the co-founder of a Facebook group specifically for parents of premeds. That group is called Pre-Med Parents Support Group that now has over 8,400 members. Her child has gone through medical school and is now in residency. We will talk about supporting her child through this process and what you can learn from all of the expertise that she has had developing this group and helping other parents along the way.
You can go to premedparent.com and it will take you right to where you can request to join that collaborative group of parents who are all helping their loved ones try to get to med school.
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.
[00:54] The MCAT Minute
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[04:08] How It All Started
Denise is not a premed student and she is not a doctor. But as a parent, she has a very important role in the life of Elise who wants to be a doctor and is now a first-year resident.
Elise talked about wanting to become a doctor in high school. By the time she was looking at college, she figured that that is what she wanted to do.
Denise says they don’t have any doctors in our house, she was clueless and that was how the whole thing started.
[05:10] Parenting Style
As the parent, you can take two routes. You can be the tiger parent who is the very overbearing, helicopter parent. Or you could be a very gentle panda parent.
Denise says she was very much a panda parent. She always knew what her kids were doing but never stepped in unless she had to.
The problem with her daughter being a doctor was she did not know anything about it at all. She did not know what she had to do or what she did not have to do with classes. Her daughter would say that she is taking classes, but Denise never even found out what classes she was taking.
For Denise, it’s important not to know everything but she thinks that it is important to understand what your kids are going through because it is very stressful for them.
It is being able to understand that when you call them and their answers are “Fine, fine and fine” you just have to wish them a great day and hang up. Asking them what the problem is, is not going to help them.
Understanding the stress that they’re going through helps them better. Pushing them does not give them anything. It just causes more stress. You want them to come home on their break so you don’t want them to be upset.“You want to know what's going on but you don't want to get to the point where you're telling them what to do.”Click To Tweet
[07:45] First Step to Take as a Parent
Denise says when your kids in high school would say they want to be a doctor, as parents you want to know what that means. The first step she took was to go out and find out what is required of her.
You want to know what kind of classes they have to take and what kind of degree they have to take. That way, it becomes so much easier for you to understand what your kids are trying to do. But in the same sense, you also let your kids make decisions on what they want to do.
You can have the information if they are getting a different degree but still want to do premed. You can find out how they are going to take those extra classes as electives or if they have to get some clinical and what they can do.
You will have a way of knowing that when they come home on a break sophomore year, they may need to do some shadowing.
As parents, you can get involved in those things.
[10:04] Giving Support without Pushing
Denise has taken the approach of allowing her kid to do what she wants, knowing she will be there to support her. She said she would never tell her kid what to do because it’s their life.
Getting past medical school and into residency, Denise sees how hard her daughter works. Her daughter is never home and when she is home, she is sleeping. Denise sees what that’s like.
So when she hears parents who say, “I want my kid to do this,” she thinks that’s rough because you don’t realize how awful it can be to get to where they want to be. Some people are 15 years into learning. These kids are doing all this and have to somehow find a life too.
It is rough sometimes for her to watch parents want to push because it can be hard on the kids.
[11:48] Fear of Perfection
One of the biggest things that comes up all the time is the fear of perfection. There are a lot of conflicting opinions out there. One side would say you need to be perfect because med school is really hard to get into. There is another side that says you don’t have to be perfect. You just have to be good enough to show med schools that you are competent.
Denise says the doctors who are going to be interviewing your kids know what they have been through. Many of them are not perfect either.
One of the things their parent group does after an app cycle is asking people to post the number of interviews they got and what their scores were. It does not matter now because they are in already. What they see from that are kids with phenomenal scores and grade point averages who don’t get in.
We keep saying 45% to 55% of great students don’t get in because there are not enough spots. It’s hard to know what true acceptance rates are because there are three application services that do not talk to each other. The acceptance rate across the board is probably closer to 50% roughly or closer to 60, maybe 70%. Knowing this gives parents and students less to worry about but there is still a lot of work to be done. There is a good obligation to it but perfection is not the goal.“Perfectionism doesn't actually equate to a great doctor.”Click To Tweet
Nobody’s perfect. This is always going to be that one class that you do not get or did not click with. Or it could be a teacher who, with the way they taught, did not click with you. She says, you’re human but that shows that you can still muscle through and you can still get there.
However, Denise says they get a lot of parents that want absolute perfection. They are also the same parents that do not want their kids to do anything that is not medically related.
[15:54] Social Life on Campus
When your kid goes to undergrad, you know that they have to do shadowing and clinical which they are most likely going to do in the summer.
Denise says to let your kid go and join a couple of groups and actually have some type of social life while they are on campus. It does not have to be the premed group. It can be a bowling group. It can be anything. Being able to have some fun on campus relieves stress and they become social.“These are kids that are going to have to talk to patients and all those patients aren't going to be just like them, they're going to be all sorts of people.” Click To Tweet
Being able to relate to anyone in a situation is what you get by being social on campus and by meeting new people.
Denise tells parents that If they are going to say anything to their kids or push them, push them to get out and meet friends and learn along the way.
The premed culture at a lot of universities is very toxic and that is something important for parents to know. It is very important to understand from a parental standpoint that it’s okay if your kid wants to do intramural sports as a distraction. Or if your kid wants to be an archaeologist for 20 hours a week.
The student’s application and their life does not have to revolve around medicine.
[18:30] Human Connection
Denise shares how her daughter talked about some of the things that she did, that had nothing to do with medicine, in her application and interviews. She says that was helpful to her because she had something in common with one of the doctors and that was what they talked about.“If the only thing that you have in common is the patients that you work for... the volunteer work, you're not going to have as much to talk about.”Click To Tweet
At the end of the day, it is about human connection as the point of this whole process. Your application is being read by someone who you are trying to connect with. The interviewer is a person you are trying to connect with.
It is not only about connecting with the person because you are hardworking, and dedicated and you love science, and want to help people. Sometimes it can be something like being a Star Wars nerd and talking about Star Wars for 30 minutes.
You are looking to be a sociable person knowing that this job is sociable. You cannot just hang out in your office and not talk to anybody.
[20:00] Addressing the Common Question about Clinical
Denise says that the most common question they get is, “Is this clinical?”
She thinks this is important because a lot of people think that if their son or daughter gets a position in a hospital, that can already be taken as clinical.
You need clinical hours, you need patient hours. You have to do it all the time. You cannot do it for one summer and say you are done.
You have to make sure that you are doing it continuously and that you like it. Because if you don’t like it, you really need to stop and think about what you are doing.“You need to be able to prove that you can work with patients, you enjoy working with patients,, and that you can do that all the time.”Click To Tweet
Clinical is being around patients and interacting with them in some way.
It can be a really hard question to answer because there are a lot of nuances around it. It might be very easy when you look at it from the big picture. But when you get into specific nuances, it gets a lot harder, and people are very confused about it.
It is very important as a parent to support a student through this process, to make sure that they are getting those clinical hours to prove to themselves that they like being around patients.
[23:12] How School and Majors Matter
To parents who have high school students and are asking if the schools their kids go to and the majors that they take would matter, Denise says it does not matter where you go.
Medical schools do not care where you go. They don’t even care what you did in your undergrad. You could be a dance major and they would not care. She says that what med schools care about is that you got your prereqs done, you took your MCAT and you applied. If it is a great application, they are going to read through the whole thing.
She shared that she had parents argue with her that going to Harvard was definitely better than going anywhere and that she was crazy if she did not think that it was better. One parent even argued that those schools have better teachers.
Denise says she has been to college and everybody has had a horrible teacher, no matter where they go. For her, it does not matter, nobody cares and you are not getting extra points just because you went to Harvard.
[26:48] Premed Programs and Percentage of Students Getting into Med Schools
With an engineering background and has taken a lot of statistics, Denise says she does not believe anything about the percentages of getting into med school.
She says statistics are great when you pull everything out that you don’t want to deal with and throw it all together.
Statistics on the percentage of kids that get into med school do not include every kid that started out in their freshman year, the kids that dropped out, the kids that did not make it, and the kids that did not apply because they were not ready. For Denise, it is very manipulated so she would not look at those.
As for a premed office, it is great if you have a premed advisor that works in your favor. But the question of whether you have to have a great premed advisor, the answer is you don’t.
For her, you can go through and do what you need to do on your own.
Your kid is better off finding a college with a bad advisor but that place is something that they love and feel at home, where they can do things and feel that they belong. Rather than go someplace else with a good advisor and they don’t necessarily like it.
[28:44] Getting Your Kids Into the Right School for Them
From the parent’s point of view, it’s hard to let your kids go where there might not be that person to guide them through that process. The predicament is understandable.
But for Denise, kids are going to have times when they are miserable at school. They could have a hard class and are going to call you, telling you to bring me home. They will have ups and downs, just like we all do in regular life.
It is better for them to be in a place where they are comfortable enough to make friends. A place where they are comfortable enough to venture out of the circle that they have been in high school. A place for them to learn new things and thrive, giving them their wings.
At that point parents can go online, the kids can go online, and they can learn what they need to do. Denise said she would rather have her kid happy than unhappy because unhappy kids come home.“Don't go to a great school, go to a school that will make you great, where you will thrive as a person.” Click To Tweet
[30:47] Is a Gap Year Necessary?
Gap years can be very confusing for parents, and viewed as an empty vessel that is neither good nor bad. There is no judgment to it. It’s what you fill that vessel with, that makes them good or bad, productive or non-productive.
Denise says that parents, a lot of them, especially the ones that tend to push a little more, are not thrilled with gap years. There are parents that don’t understand why there aren’t more BS/MD programs. There are parents that do not understand why they can’t start right out of high school like they do in Europe. They want their kids to go straight through and be done.
Denise shares that when her daughter was shadowing, one of the doctors told her not to do a gap year. That was the first time she ever heard of it.
Now, being on the other side of it, she wished her daughter had done a gap year. She has been going to school and learning for the last eleven years and she has six left to go. Denise wished she had a break, point blank, for the mental health of the kids.
For some kids, it might be easier. They come in with a lot of credits and they are either going to graduate early or that will give them time to study for the MCAT. It’s not easy going to class, studying for the MCAT, and doing extracurriculars simultaneously.
That is something you actually have to plan for back in freshman year, making sure you have a very light schedule so that you can do that. It is about planning years earlier and that is a lot of stress.
So many times people go and say they are not ready. They don’t know what to do and they cannot get into another test. Denise says, don’t take it. A year is not going to kill you. You put it off until August and don’t apply this year. That is okay.“It's not a race...they're gonna get there eventually.” Click To Tweet
[34:05] Making Good Use of the Gap Year
Being able to take a year off can strengthen your application, whether volunteering or clinical. You might actually get a vacation because you are never going to get a vacation otherwise.
Taking a year off is not good nor bad. We cannot say that you should take a year off because that is better.
An extra year can help a student mature. It helps space things out so they are not as stressed and they can breathe a little bit more.
But we cannot make a judgment call that says they had a better application just because there was a gap year. It is about what you did with that gap year like doing an evaluation of your application or if you are missing clinical and shadowing experience or preparing yourself for taking the MCAT.
[36:58] MCAT Scores and Other Stats
There are parents with kids getting MCAT scores of a 512 or a 516 and are concerned if they should do a retake because the average at a specific school is a 518 in order for them to get in.
For Denise, scores don’t matter. There are some people that just don’t test well but they have great grade point averages. And it does not stop them.“What matters is what your essays look like.” Click To Tweet
If your essays can draw in anyone that starts to read them. Then the minute they do is the minute that they are going to start combing your application for an interview.
It is about being able to communicate and having a well-rounded application. It is where they show their clinical and talk about their feelings on what is good and what is bad about medicine. They have dug deep and that is what matters.
Talking about numbers, about 34% of students get into medical school, between 505.2 and 511.9. And when you actually think about those numbers, a lot of students get in with what many people would consider a bad MCAT score.
Denise shares that they have parents who post on their group page about their kids that have a 506 or a 507 who got six interviews from med schools all over the U.S. And it doesn’t matter where you go because all U.S. med schools are the best. And if you get into a U.S. med school, you have hit the lottery.
[43:46] Final Words of Wisdom
Learn about it.
The more you know, the better you are going to be able to help your child. That does not mean that you are going to do it for them because you can’t. But the more you know, the more you can help them because you understand the process.
Your kids are adults.
As parents, you have to “eat your feelings and your stress.” You can come online and find support. Find a friend that you can talk to about it.
The more you learn about it, the better you will be able to help your child in a productive way.