How to Crush Your Interview

So seeing as it is prime time interview season I think it’s time to talk about how to do well in interviews. This is a much-feared barrier in the med school application process for many people and it shouldn’t be.

You got this far.

 Take this to heart, if you get offered an interview it means that a school is interested in you. Your chances of being accepted go way up when you get to see them face to face. This is because; unlike primary/secondary applications, interviewing costs the school time and money. It is a huge hassle to arrange for an interview day and each student has to have an individualized schedule. Each interviewee will be interviewed at least twice, sometimes more; which means faculty (and sometimes students) need to have their schedules moved around to accommodate that time. After the interview is over the interviewers write what they thought about you, then the performance of the interview has to be evaluated by a team in the context of the rest of your application and finally voted on by a team of 10-20 people on the admissions committee.

They also have to carefully evaluate how many people that they accept will actually matriculate to their school. Some schools initially accept a half dozen or so more students than the class size is designed to have, because they expect many applicants will choose not to come to that school and take another acceptance. They then have to meet again and figure out who will come off the waitlist and be offered an acceptance.

This should show you that they take you seriously, so use that as a confidence booster.

How Applicants Mess Interviews Up

Now that you’re confident how can you go about messing it all up?

 

Being nervous

This is normal and to be expected, but only to an extent. Being in high-pressure situations is par for the course in medical school, so if you’re shaking in your boots at the interview how are you going to perform when someone’s life is on the line? If you find yourself too anxious or nervous about the interview day reflect back on my previous section and convince yourself you belong here. If you’re still super anxious do some yoga or something. If you’re still inconsolable then maybe see a psychiatrist and talk about it with them, who knows, maybe you meet DSM5 criteria for generalized anxiety disorder.

Lying

This is a sure fire way to get blacklisted from medical schools everywhere, or just looked down upon, depending on the nature of the lie. If you fluffed your primary application a little too much or outright made stuff up, you should be nervous. Medical School admissions committees have been doing this a long time and can generally see through BS. They may catch you just by reading what you wrote or by talking to you and realizing half of your app was hot air. Bottom line here is don’t be dishonest, if your application is just a bit weak then make up for it with charm. If your application is a barren wasteland aside from your GPA and MCAT then perhaps you should just wait a bit to apply until you’ve beefed it up a bit. If you rounded some numbers up a little bit, don’t sweat too much.

Too Confident

 This one typically throws people off. They see the surgeons on TV or shadow a big time attending who struts his stuff and the applicant thinks that they can act like that too. They think that’s just the doctor mentality; it’s not. The docs you see pimping on the wards or barking orders in the OR have generally earned the right to do so. Also to be perfectly honest, some are just assholes, but you have to remember that the hospital doesn’t keep them around because they’re afraid of them; they’re there because they’re damned good at what they do.

You might have the right to get that cocky someday but right now you’re just a glorified premed, regardless of how high your MCAT is or how many publications you have. You have the right to be confident in yourself but don’t waltz in and put your feet on the table. I knew a guy who had a higher MCAT than me (38) and he got interviews across the country, he went in with a big head and got rejected by everyone. After that humbled him a little bit he had one more interview and he was accepted, purely because his attitude had changed.

Too opinionated

 Everybody thinks they’re right, and that’s ok. During your interview if you are asked an opinion about something and you go off on a diatribe you may not be received as well as you think, even if your stance is well informed or logical. Worse case scenario is that the interviewer disagrees with you and happens to know a lot more about it than you. Even if your interviewer shares your views you may come off as a bit too much of a fanatic or a little too hard-headed.

People are notoriously stubborn, and that is a fault you don’t want to be associated with. Whatever your opinion is, it is inherently biased in some way, shape, or form. However right you think one side of the argument is; there is someone on the other side who believes the opposite with equal vigor. Both are likely to have some valid points, and being able to understand it can make you appear much more mature and allow you to communicate with people even if you don’t agree on everything (like real life). Sometimes your patients will have opposite political or religious beliefs but if you accept that people might think differently than you it will allow you to develop a rapport with anyone who walks in the door.

Too many Excuses

Everybody has a weak point. If you feel yours is your GPA/MCAT/volunteering then resist the temptation to over-explain yourself. Unless the interviewer says “tell me about your GPA/MCAT” or says “What about your application’s weak points would you like me to know” then just don’t bring it up at all. If you have to talk about it, own up to any mistakes you made and explain what you learned from it. If you think it was someone else’s fault or you just had bad luck, be careful about shifting the blame. They might think you just are incapable of seeing how you are responsible for your own actions and they might hold it against you.

Memorizing answers

Some neurotic applicants will memorize and rehearse answers that they expect to be asked. This is unwise as it will come off as staged and not genuine, and since questions may be similar but not the same you may end up answering a question that wasn’t asked. By all means think about what you would say to common questions like “why medicine,” but don’t memorize a word for word answer.

 

How To Do Well

Be Friendly

This is simple enough but be nice and act cordial. Show that you’re happy to be there, and that you’re thankful for the opportunity to interview there. Be funny if you can, and try to smile if it suits you. Make sure you come of as enthusiastic but not ecstatic. Find something positive to say about the experience so far, the campus is pretty, the buildings are nice, the staff has been friendly, etc. Don’t get upset at anything and don’t complain. Also, be nice to EVERYONE you see that day. Some schools plant people to observe how students act when they think no faculty is around, and this has created paranoid interviewees and is very uncommon. However, every school will listen to a medical student, secretary, or assistant who says you were rude to them.

Be Neutral

By this I don’t mean you can’t have an opinion, but don’t go too hard one way or another. If they ask you a question that requires you to make a decision be sure to validate both sides even if you do make a choice one way or another. They want to see that you make decisions after weighing all the information, so if you need more information to properly decide then let that be known. Lastly, chances are you’re not an expert on anything really so don’t pretend to be; for example if they bring up health care law they don’t expect you to be a lawyer.

Be Prepared

If you’re interviewing somewhere you should remember some things about it, make it known that you’ve done your homework by asking poignant questions during the interview. Don’t ask simple stuff that can be googled like “how many people are in each class” but think of something that is informative but also shows you looked into the school like “I see your school has 1st year medical students work in a primary care clinic monthly, what sort of responsibilities do they have at that early stage?”

Don’t Freeze

Again this is about how you act under pressure, if they stump you with a tough question don’t go quiet or get scared, let them know that’s a tough question and you’ll do your best to answer it. If it is a legal or ethical question and you’re not sure how to answer, let them know it’s beyond your expertise and that you would likely consult an ethics/legal committee prior to making a decision, but if you had to go with your gut you would do xyz. Treat the interview like a conversation instead of an interrogation and you’ll be less likely to lose your composure.

Humble Brag

Be confident in your strengths, but do it in a way that doesn’t come off as too cocky. They will likely ask you why they should pick you “out of all these highly qualified applicants.” In this situation you want to let them know what some of your strengths are in a humble way that recognizes that you know you’re probably not the best, but you are pretty darn good. You don’t have to paint yourself as the best applicant they have ever seen but show how you belong in the same discussion as those highly qualified applicants.

Practice

Many students fumble their first interview but then later one the interview trail feel much more confident and comfortable, this is good for those later schools but not so good for the earlier ones. Have someone you know do some mock interviews with you before your first interview, preferably someone who has been through the procedure before, on either side of the table. This experience is invaluable as it will familiarize yourself with the process and you will get used to answering questions on the fly.

Don’t Stress

I saw people read into everything and freak out about little things. I saw applicants wonder what it meant that they were scheduled to do morning interviews or afternoon interviews. They suspected a medical student was interviewing them because they were not competitive, or that they must be interviewing for the waitlist because it was November. Don’t nag the administrators about exactly when you will hear back about your acceptance status, and try not to bug them with too many application updates.

 

Side note:

Ask the current medical students what they really think about the school, what they like, what they don’t like. Also ask them why they chose that school. Students will be honest with you for the most part as long as an admin isn’t within earshot. Use this in your decision making when you are forced to choose between multiple acceptances.

 

Good luck out there.

Relationships and Med School

Relationships and Med School

So you were accepted to med school, are you going to lose the love of your life? Probably not; relationships don’t automatically get a death sentence the minute you start medical school. The relationship will definitely be put through the wringer, however.

Getting home late from studying or coming back from the hospital too exhausted to talk are certainly things that your significant other has to become very comfortable with very soon if they are to even think about sticking around. Med school is not the time for casual dating or flings, you simply don’t have the time to devote to the “getting to know” each-other phase.

 

How med school hurts relationships

As stated above, the amount of time and effort that is placed into medical school means that a significant other (SO) will be, by necessity, placed on the “back-burner.” This is a position that many SOs won’t be comfortable with; it’s not fun to be ignored. A wise medical student must appropriate his/her time appropriately and it can be very difficult to neglect someone you love for something that isn’t all that fun to do (lots of studying).

Tempers become shorter as weariness sets in, and this can lead to more disagreements and can potentially lead to the implosion of the relationship. Quality time becomes less and less, straining the connection you may have built upon for years. Student loans are meant to keep you afloat, without much room for entertainment so generally money is tighter; so when you have the time to do things you might not be able to afford more than Netflix or a cheap restaurant.

Your SO may feel like you’re not as good of a catch anymore, you don’t help around the house as much, you’re never home, you are always tired; you may even be more grouchy.

How relationships can hurt med school

Excelling in medical school takes focus, dedication, and a whole lot of effort. Taking time off of studying to spend with your SO may lead to less time spent studying, or even missing assignments. The extra quality time you’re spending to keep your relationship afloat may just lead to less shadowing, volunteering, etc. Disagreements and arguments are inevitable and that could lead to less study time and not being able to focus when you do get a chance. In the end you might end up with poor scores and an overall less competitive application. The kicker here is that all that might happen and your relationship still not survive.

Sounds like doom and gloom for relationships in medical school, right?

 

Not so much…

 

How relationships can help med school

Being in a steady, healthy relationship can have the opposite effect on your academic performance. A loving and caring SO may make your day easier by packing lunch for you, tidying up the apartment, taking care of errands for you, etc. Coming home and being able to unwind and de-stress with someone that loves you is invaluable. Quality time will be different but not necessarily less; If your SO is also in an academic program you may be able to spend time together studying at a Starbucks or tea-shop. If your SO isn’t studying then maybe they watch shows while you sit with them studying, either way it’s quality time.

 

How med school can help a relationship

In many ways the strain that med school puts on a relationship may help you either realize that relationship wasn’t meant to last or know that this person may be right for you. We’re growing up and thinking about more adult things down the road *cough*kids*cough*marriage* and spending years on a relationship that is doomed to fail is not exactly ideal. Med school will force both of you to grow up and work together, or grow up and go separate ways. When you come home and you’re exhausted but your SO is there for you with dinner and a good conversation, it can really make the difference. Overall, it can forge a stronger bond by creating a situation where you were there for each other during tough times.

 

 

Long distance relationships

This is a very real possibility for many people out there who will be accepted to a university on the other side of the state or even the other side of the country. This can be tough, and should especially be considered before starting school. If there is any thought that either of you will be unfaithful given this situation, then just end the relationship now, because that sort of stress will not fly in this environment. Even the strongest relationship will be in jeopardy if you’re separated for 4 years with only Skype and the occasional flight to connect you two. Making it work in this situation will require a lot of trust, patience, and communication.

 

If your SO has a career of their own (read: not just a job) or a professional degree of their own that they are working on, then this can help tremendously. If one person has nothing but time to sit around and think about how much different the relationship is while the other is slaving away in a rigorous program, it spells trouble. Each of you having a common goal (surviving your respective program) then it fosters a camaraderie that can strengthen a relationship at a crucial time. If your SO has plenty of free time then encourage them to enjoy a hobby or something so they don’t feel so bored. Think long and hard about this one if this is your situation.

 

 

Marriage and kids in med school

Being married and starting medical school happens quite frequently, but it of course will take a strong marriage to get through it. These relationships are typically already long term and have already been through the trials and tribulations that end weaker relationships. Sometimes marriages fail in med school but it is certainly not as likely as a short relationship. Surviving here takes the same thing as any other relationship.

Kids are another story altogether. Having a child born during med school or having a very young child upon entering med school can be a nightmare. This will commonly result in academic troubles for the student and relationship troubles for the couple. Best-case scenario is that the student stays afloat and the relationship stays together. This scenario will make it very difficult for a student to achieve high scores consistently enough to be on the top of the class, because no matter how smart a person is they’re still human. Raising a child takes so much time and energy that it is almost impossible to be there 100% for the child and be there 100% for your med school studies. It can be done of course, but with great difficulty and low likelihood. If you’re in this situation think twice about committing yourself to a highly competitive residency like orthopedics or dermatology.

 

My experience

So why do I feel qualified to talk to you about this? I’ve seen or experienced every bit of what I’ve mentioned above.

I’ve seen relationships fail and I’ve seen friends get married. I’ve seen a new parent have to repeat a year and I’ve seen people with kids endure. I was in a medium term (2+ years) relationship when I started medical school. The relationship was strained for sure, and we came out on the other side together. My first year was very difficult for us. The adjustment was astounding. We went through rough patches where we argued a lot, and other times where we just didn’t communicate much. We worked through it and now we have a much different relationship, which is very conducive to both our long-term success and my performance in medical school. She takes care of me and I’m eternally grateful for it. My lunch is packed with coffee ready to go in the morning, clothes ironed, apartment cleaned. When I do get a break from studying or in-between classes I spend with her as much as I can, trying to repay the favor as much as possible. I’ll catch up on chores around the house and take care of things that I didn’t have the time to do. We spend quality time together in different ways now, studying while watching sports, or studying all day and rewarding ourselves with a trip to the theatre or restaurant. We argue less and my grades are high, the best of both worlds. I can safely say my relationship is stronger and more mature than when I entered med school, and she has kept me going when med school was overwhelming.

How to handle the situation

So what do you do with all of this information? That will vary from person to person, but make sure that choice is yours. Don’t break up just because you heard that’s what you have to do, and don’t stay together just because you guys kind of like each other right now. Now is the time to start thinking long-term. What are your goals in medicine? What are your goals with this relationship? Have an open dialogue with your SO now, and you’ll thank me later.

 

Feel free to ask any questions, either here or via email alex@clutchtutoring.com

GPA vs MCAT vs Extracurriculars. Which is the most important?

The age old question.

Which should a premed student focus on to be as competitive as possible? Is it better to have a stellar GPA, a killer MCAT, or extracurriculars so strong they make Mother Teresa look lazy?

Arguments for GPA

GPA isn’t a great indicator of aptitude. Everyone knows that some classes are easier than others, even the same course at the same institution but taught by different professors. We all know somebody (and it may even be you) who religiously searched for the guaranteed easy A each semester. That being said, college is a lot of work, and maintaining a high GPA is no easy task. Individual classes may be easy but overall, maintaining a 4.0 requires that you work very hard  and at least be pretty smart. This is why schools want to see a high GPA, it says that overall this person either 1) works hard 2) is responsible or 3) is intelligent. But if GPA was enough, we wouldn’t have to take the MCAT.

Arguments for MCAT

In the 1920s Medical Education attrition was climbing to nearly 50% and thus a entrance exam for medical school was created, the original was called the Moss Test. In the late 1940s the test was changed significantly and renamed the Medical College Admission Test. The test has then evolved several times but the purpose of the test has remained the same: to test a student’s ability to succeed in med school by probing their background pre-medical knowledge and critical thinking skills. This test is highly touted as a tough test to do well in, and most premeds would agree. A high MCAT will open doors and a low MCAT will just as easily close them. Contrary to what many Premeds think, even with a high GPA and solid MCAT, some students will still fail to get into medical school. The missing piece of this puzzle is in the so-called “extra-curricular activities”

Arguments for ECs

The vague bucket of “extracurricular activities” is something that ecompasses everything from shadowing to volunteering and from research to leadership. These can effectively show a student’s diligence and aptitude with advanced research, or their compassion and altruism with volunteering. A great shadowing experience can set a student apart, and an extensive work history can show responsibility and integrity. That organization founded by a premed can really speak to that student’s leadership skills, and even things like the student’s interest in ballet or sports can show how well-rounded they are. With all these exemplary qualities being demonstrated, surely they mean more than numbers on a paper? They’re certainly a big factor that goes into an admission committee’s decision on a borderline applicant, they might just be that deciding factor in whether they feel this student has what it takes. These activities might put into context how much this student can accomplish and still maintain competitive scores, but they’re unlikely to make much of an impact on a lackluster application.

These activities are often either completely ignored by the less informed premed with good scores, or heavily relied upon by his numerically challenged counterpart. Either student may find him/herself in quite the bind when applying to medical school. It is typically these students who are asking me the question, which is more important?

The answer is highly debated among internet forums but the real answer is clearly all three.

The key to a med school application is balance. Having high scores or amazing ECs is helpful but individually they won’t make your application. Med schools do look at numbers, but they do a far more thorough assessment of a student’s potential than just looking at one variable.

An ideal student is one that gets high scores in classes and on the MCAT, while maintaining fantastic extracurriculars. A deficiency of any of the three raises questions a premed student doesn’t want raised: Can he/she really handle this?

When it comes to applying to medical school, a good balance should be sought of all three in order to best demonstrate your ability to handle the rigorous program ahead of you.

 

When I advise my students, I take into account everything and make an assessment on each student’s package as a whole based on experience and published records of statistical data like Table 25. If you find yourself asking which one of these three you should focus on to best improve your chances, you probably would best be served by working on your weakest, and then talking to an advisor for a definitive answer.

 

M.D. vs. D.O.

I have found that when I suggest that students apply to both M.D. and D.O. schools, they often don’t know the difference or have a poor understanding of one or the other. In this post, I will explore the differences between the two types of U.S. doctors and what that means for you as a pre-med and med school applicant.

First of all, what do these letters stand for and what do they mean?

M.D. = Doctor of Medicine (allopathic). This is the general, more common type of medical doctorate degree that is awarded upon completion of allopathic medical school in the U.S.

D.O. = Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine. This is the slightly less common type of medical doctorate degree awarded upon completion of osteopathic medical school in the U.S.

So, what’s the difference?

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MCAT Study Tips & Tricks

Let me start by saying that if you are about to start studying or have started studying for the MCAT, you are facing one of the most challenging times in all of undergrad. However, it is a rite of passage for all premeds, and everyone in medical school has done this successfully before you. So you can and will get through it!

To help you get through this, I have complied a brief list of MCAT Study Tips & Tricks that I picked up along the way and learned from others. This list is not exhaustive, though. If you have any tips or tricks of your own that I did not address, please leave them in the comment section below.

 

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Med School: Frequently Asked Questions

In the course of advising students I’ve noticed many similar questions that are shared among pre-meds. I will continue to update this list so send any questions you may have.

Should I apply late or apply next year?

The most accurate answer for this question is, it depends. There are many factors that would guide me toward advising students to do one or the other but generally the safer route is to apply early next year. There are reasons for this.

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For “Low Rank” Students Considering Applying To Medical School

If you are getting ready to apply to medical school and you objectively consider yourself a “lower ranking” applicant, there are many things you can do to help improve your chances.  If you have decided that you are ready to apply (remember, there is NO rush to do this!), consider the following points when organizing yourself in preparation for your applications.

 

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Success and Failure in Medical School

Med school is no picnic, everyone knows that. What is especially hard about medical school is that it is filled with ~120 very intelligent, very driven people. Everybody in the room is used to being at the top of their class in undergraduate, used to being the smartest in the room, and many of them are in for a rude awakening. 30 of them will find themselves in a very unfamiliar situation, being at the bottom of the class.

 

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Tips on Shadowing

Shadowing a physician will be one of the most important experiences you have as a pre-med student.  Being at the doctors side, observing the process of medicine and patient care at work,  will give you a great perspective on your chosen field.  Spending some time with a physician will quickly show you whether or not you are meant for medicine.  Not only will you get to see what it’s like to be a doctor, you will get personal experience working with patients.  Medical school adcoms value this experience highly in applicants, because they know that you know what you’re getting into and that you truly love it.

 

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Life after death?  Classes after pre-reqs?

 

So you climbed the mountain of prerequisites that serves as the first major weed-out system for pre-meds? If you did so with success, give yourself some credit. If you are the typical pre-med, you likely took Physics and Organic Chemistry in the same semester, with labs, with other classes to fill credit requirements, while working and/or shadowing and doing research and volunteering and making A’s. Phew! *shudders from traumatic flashbacks*

Now that that’s over with, what classes should you take? What should you be doing?

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