How to Prepare for Multiple Mini-Interviews, Part 1

By Jeremiah Fleenor, MD, MBA

In recent months and years, the popular press and scientific journals have seen an increased interest in the multiple mini-interview (MMI) with regards to medical school admissions. It seems to be the new buzz word in the admissions circles. As one would expect, there is a bit of skepticism from the applicants and a touch of intrigue regarding the new format. This is very appropriate for any new process, especially one that plays such a big part in your future as a physician. Continue reading How to Prepare for Multiple Mini-Interviews, Part 1

The Application as a Story

By Eric Rafla-Yuan

All medical schools in the United States are looking for students who display six basic core competencies. The competencies numbered one through four are nearly always required for admission, while competencies five and six are more heavily preferred by schools which place high emphasis on research and leadership. These can be roughly approximated by utilizing the US News & World Report Medical School Research rankings. Continue reading The Application as a Story

Admissions Committees are Inspecting Your Social Networking Sites

By Suzanne M Miller, MD, FACEP

We all knew it was coming. Prospective employers are already doing it. Other admissions committees do it. And now it has arrived in the medical admissions world – medical school and residency admissions committees are considering social networking and media (SN) sites as part of the admissions process. In the study, “Influence of social networking websites on medical school and residency selection process,” Dr. Carl Schulman and colleagues found that while a minority of medical schools and residency programs currently routinely use candidates’ social media presence in the selection process, a majority “felt unprofessional information on an applicants’ SN site could compromise their admissions into medical school and residency.” It is safe to say your social media presence is considered fair game by most medical school and residency admissions committees. If they looked at your SN sites today, what would they find? Continue reading Admissions Committees are Inspecting Your Social Networking Sites

What Is Your Weakness?

By Samir P. Desai, MD and Rajani Katta, MD

An excerpt from Medical School Interview: Winning Strategies from Admissions Faculty

In 2011, the AAMC published a survey that evaluated the importance of 12 variables on medical school admissions decisions. These variables included total MCAT scores, science and math GPA, and the interview. The interview was rated the most important factor. “High grades and/or MCAT scores alone are never enough,” writes the LSU Shreveport School of Medicine. “For those interviewed, impressions from the personal interview are exceedingly important.” Continue reading What Is Your Weakness?

Mastering The Medical School Personal Statement, Part 2

 

By Joseph Love

This is the conclusion of a two part series.

Using Your Words
The technical aspects of writing an application essay are no different than writing any other essay. Unfortunately, confidence can wane when applying to your top-choice school. If you have an outline and know how to convey your personal information, it’s time to work on finding your voice through the correct use of words. Nervous essayists rely on cliché, generalizations, passivity, and hyperbole or humor. These are the occasional-writer’s default settings because they are easy to hide behind. Continue reading Mastering The Medical School Personal Statement, Part 2

Mastering The Medical School Personal Statement, Part 1

By Joseph Love

Part one of a two part series about how to write a winning personal statement. Come back next week for the second part and more information about how to use your words to sell yourself!

The Doom
Students typically have strong aversions to the personal essay because we’re told to avoid using personal pronouns throughout our entire academic career. Subconsciously, we’ve learned “I”, “My”, “We”, and “Our” are telltale signs of bias, unreliability, and inaccuracy. The aversion isn’t that we actually fear expressing our opinions, but that we simply aren’t comfortable writing about ourselves in memoir form. That’s it. I say this with certainty because most poorly written student essays suffer from the same recurring errors, and when I address students about the issue, the response is overwhelmingly the same: “I didn’t know how else to write it.” Continue reading Mastering The Medical School Personal Statement, Part 1

Tips for Surviving Medical School

By Dr. Lisabetta Divita

If you are considering medical school, it is important to realize the commitment of time, energy, and money this represents. While being a physician has countless personal and financial rewards, the path to achieving that goal is fraught with trials of different sorts.

The decision to become a doctor should not be made without significant thought and personal reflection—you should be honest with yourself when you arrive at this decision. Also, you should be fully aware of what is involved in medical education, particularly medical school.

If after careful thought you still strongly desire to wear the long white coat, you should steel yourself for a bumpy ride. You should also acquire as many tips and tricks that you can—and implement them—starting on the very first day of classes.

MS-1 and MS-2

The first realization that needs to be made, essentially from day one, is the sheer quantity of facts that will need to be committed to memory. While you certainly had challenging classes as a premedical student, most college classes pale in comparison to the enormity of material presented in preclinical courses.

Take a good, hard look at the way you studied in college. What worked? What did not? Do you study best alone or in a group? Could you benefit from studying a little alone and in a group? Do you get more from a lecturer or from reading notes/books? You need to know what works for you and then do it religiously starting on the first day of classes. If you did not need to study too much during college to get great grades, good luck to you. There will be little time to experiment with different study styles once classes start.

The best approach is to assume that the volume of material conveyed in medical school will far exceed your experiences in college. Therefore you will need to develop new and reliable study habits within the first few weeks. Organization is a top priority. Make sure that you have a copy of any material that could be asked on an exam. This could be slides, notes, lectures, and required reading. These things do not need to be purchased in all cases, but if you are going to rely on community or free resources, you must be able to guarantee that they will be there when you need to study them.

How will you know what could be asked on an exam? Obtaining exams from previous years is perhaps the most important investment you could make. Get copies of previous exams. Old exams give you the best idea of the style and scope of questions that will be asked. There is simply too much information not to focus; the best way to focus is to get a feel for how previous classes were tested.

Remember, too, that each preclinical course will be taught by dozens of faculty. Each faculty member may lecture as little as one hour to several hours, but the material will be presented by several. Therefore the questions that faculty submits for the exam will be of different styles and degrees of difficulty. Individual faculty lecturers are mostly the same from year to year (as are their lectures) so their questions will be similar from year to year as well.

Everything that was uttered during lecture and contained in the syllabus or notes is fair game for the exam. The lecture and notes should be the starting points for each course and then work your way out from there. If the notes are thin or the lecture was a bit rushed, make sure you consult a book or study guide to fill in the material. Often a lecturer will provide the primary literature from which the lecture was drawn. If you can manage it, take at least one look at this material. Many times, this is what the lecturer would have said if there was more time. This material is also likely to be the source of exam questions. It takes legwork on your part but it can be very worthwhile.

There will be plenty of resources at your disposal; too many, really. For instance, many MS I students buy a copy of Harrison’s during first year. This is a very, very dense book and not a very efficient way to spend your limited study time. Likewise, most first year students will diligently buy all of the required textbooks without delay. You will learn that this is not always necessary or a good idea.

Realize that your primary goal during years I and II is to get A/Honors/Pass on your medical school courses. Preparation for Step I of the USMLE or COMLEX will come later. In the first two years, it is all about the grades. Study time should be about the exam and learning the content that will be tested. Sure, the interesting stuff may beckon you to read further, but make sure not to substitute depth for sufficient breadth. Read it all once (or thrice) and come back for the interesting stuff if there is time.

Even if you are a “solo study” type, it is best to have a core group of classmates that you can count on for notes/study materials/borrowing books/crying fits. This relationship is a give and take, so be there for the group when needed and they will be there for you. Organize your studying such that you are a valuable resource to them as well. Being aloof with your peers can really cost you at test time. Reach out to your classmates early so you have a network in place when you need it.

Recommended Books for the first two years of medical school

Note, these are just suggestions and not something you have to rush out to the bookstore and buy.

  • Atlas of Human Anatomy by Sharon Colacino
  • ŸGross Anatomy, Board Review Series by Kyung Won Chung
  • Lippincott’s Illustrated Reviews, Biochemistry by Denise R. Ferrier
  • ŸTextbook of Medical Physiology by John E. Hall
  • ŸRapid Interpretation of EKGs by Dale Dubin

MS-3 and MS-4

Preparation starts before the first clinical rotation. Ask students transitioning from third to fourth year what is required on the wards. Learn about a SOAP note and how to write one. Learn about a third year’s place on a medical or surgical service. If you can, find out which attendings like to teach, which attendings are “good” and which attendings are “malignant.” Some attending physicians are very particular—learning about their quirks ahead of time can save you when you present patients.

Also, get the practical things in order before the first day of third year to the extent that you can. If your hospital uses paper charts, know where they are and what they look like. Open one up and see how it is organized. If the charts are computerized, make sure you have adequate access (usernames and passwords). You will be running to the clinical lab and radiology a lot during third year, know how to get there quickly and where the respective staff members usually hang out. Get a handle on the nursing station and key staff on the floor/unit. You should have a vague sense of the different job titles and functions.

Your goals during third and fourth year expand a bit. Grades are still important, but learning how to take care of patients is really the top priority. If your focus is to always provide the best care of your assigned patient, the learning and grades should fall into place (with hard work and effort, of course).

You will probably have one or perhaps two patients at a time while on the wards. Those patients are also cared for by an intern, primarily. You should try to take ownership for your assigned patients as much as possible without stepping on the intern’s toes. You should know darn near everything there is to know about your patients, which can be a challenge when you are “sharing” with an intern. The intern will be writing orders, getting study results, doing procedures, and making calls of behalf of the patient at lightning speed. Many things will be happening that you never know about until they are old news. The intern will move faster than you (get used to it), especially when you are new to the clinical years.

  • DO NOT slow the interns/residents down
  • DO care for your patient whenever possible
  • DO assist/perform as many procedures as possible (IVs, central lines, arthrocenteses, paracenteses, etc.)
  • DO get all labs/study results as soon as they are ready
  • DO personally experience all interesting physical findings (your patient or not)
  • DO ask the senior resident/fellow general questions
  • DO ask the intern questions about your patient (that you cannot find out yourself)
  • DO NOT switch these last two items. In other words, DO NOT pimp the intern and DO NOT ask the resident/fellow about lab results

Also make sure that you know how to present patients. This skill will serve you for the rest of your career and it will be used to determine your clinical grade. Medical students like to include everything in the H&P during the presentation. This is painful for the attending and the team. Alternatively, if you do not mention the pertinent negatives along with pertinent positives, your attending will wonder what was omitted. Perfect patient presentation is not something you can do right away—however you can certainly practice it. Listen carefully to everyone that presents patients. What causes the attending to interrupt? What causes the attending to zone out or look exasperated? What questions does the attending ask and when? Adjust and improve your presentation accordingly.

Some attendings are impossible to please and are maliciously rude—the so-called malignant attendings. These unique individuals need to be taken with a respectful grain of salt. It is the (bad) luck of the draw if you find yourself with one of these attendings. If you do, keep in mind that 1) your rotation will be over in a few days/weeks 2) what the attending wants, the attending gets 3) your performance in the clinical years and in your career will be based on the input and training of hundreds of doctors (and patients). Do not let a few malignant attendings spoil your clinical experience. Simply cater to their capricious whims for a few weeks and write an appropriate review once the grades are submitted. Malignant attendings are a sad fact of life, but over time they seem to get relieved of most teaching responsibilities, which was probably their goal anyway.

Recommended Books for third and fourth years

  • First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 and 2 by Tao Le and Vikas Bhushan
  • Maxwell Quick Medical Reference by Robert W. Maxwell
  • Tarascon Pocket Pharmocopeia by Steven M. Green
  • Blueprints Obstetrics and Gynecology by Aaron B. Caughey
  • Step up to Medicine by Elizabeth A. Darby
  • Surgical Recall by Lorne Blackbourne

These are just some tips to use during your journey in medical school. Don’t be discouraged throughout your first two years of medical school and patiently wade through the massive amounts of material. Learn as much as you can in during your third and fourth years and do not become discouraged if you encounter a malignant attending. Best of luck on your medical school journey!

Dr. Lisabetta Divita is a physician, medical writer/editor and premedical student mentor.

This article was originally published on StudentDoctor.net on February 21, 2010.

The Art of Obtaining a Stellar Letter of Recommendation

Letters of recommendations are a key component of any health professional application process. In order to enter college, graduate school, professional school or obtain employment, someone else’s words can be required to help you reach your intended goals.

Sometimes, this can seem unfair. How can a professor or previous employer really know who you are and display that on paper? Is he even a good writer? Does she even remember me? These are common thoughts that run through the average applicants mind.

The letter of recommendation is a part of the health professional school application process that is not entirely within your control. As such, it is a source of significant anxiety among students. Your admission to your desired program will be based, at least in part, on the words of others.

This article attempts to quell your fears and arm you with tactics on approaching that unsuspecting potential letter of recommendation writer!

Of those who write letters of recommendation on your behalf, often the most important is your premedical or pre-health advisor. Even at large universities, this responsibility usually falls on a single person. You should get to know this person fairly well, and more importantly, you should allow this person to get to know you. Everyone applying to medical, dental, veterinary or other health professional school should have a formal meeting with their college pre-health advisor at least once, but the best motivated students will meet with them on several occasions.

You should treat each meeting with your pre-health advisor as a mini-interview for health professional school—they are forming an opinion of you at each meeting. You do not want to make a bad impression, but you also must make them aware of your intentions. Go over your statistics and your extracurricular activities with this advisor. Oftentimes, they will have a list of former pre-health students (now health professional students) who share your qualifications. They can then show you what schools they successfully entered and give you a rough idea on your chances of successful professional school admissions.

In most cases, it is appropriate to meet your pre-health advisor once during freshman year or soon after you have decided to apply to health professional school. After the first meeting, you should see them at least twice per school year. These “meetings” do not necessarily need to be during formal meetings at all—you may just stop over and say hello at pre-health functions or social gatherings. You want to make your face familiar, but not give yourself a chance to commit a faux pas.

While your pre-health advisor can be an excellent source of information, you should have most of the information you want them to know about you already in hand at your first formal meeting. This time should be an information sharing experience. You share the things you have accomplished and are planning to do and then ask them what they would recommend to improve your preparation for medical school. Incidentally, it is best to frame your questions as “What can I do to prepare for health professional school?” even if you really mean “What do I need to do to get into health professional school?”

For schools that use a pre-health committee, when you apply to a health professional school, your application will include a packet of information from the committee that is constructed in large part, by your pre-health advisor. By the time that this document is prepared, you should have developed a reasonable, professional relationship with your advisor. You should have accomplished all of the tasks that were laid out for you in previous meetings. The words of your pre-health committee are weighted fairly heavily in the selection process, at least for medical school.

It is important to note that many but not all universities offer a premedical or pre-health committee. Sometimes, you will be collecting letters of recommendation independently. It depends on your undergraduate institution.

In addition to the letter from your pre-health advisor, letters of recommendation from faculty and other professionals are very important. In most cases, you will only be able to include three letters of recommendation, but you should ask for a letter from anyone that you feel is appropriate.

The problem is, who do you know who to ask? The ideal person to ask is a faculty member who is respected at your university or in his field. This person should be able to write good and specific things about you, about your character, and about your potential. It makes little sense to ask your general chemistry professor if you were in a freshman class of 400. What can that person possibly say about you? Now if you performed research with that professor, then by all means, ask for a letter.

In fact, the best rule of thumb is to ask people that can reasonably say good things about you. As you plan your college experience, you should pursue interests that will allow you to develop close working relationships with faculty members. Small group lectures, special seminars, laboratory work, organizations outside of class frequented by faculty, brown bags, and journal clubs…all of these venues should put you in a good position to interact personally with a few faculty members

Your volunteer sites are also fertile ground for letters of recommendation. The person that writes your letter does not need to sign as “professor” or “Ph.D.” Other professionals can be excellent resources—especially if you were highly visible, active and your time was well spent.  If their job title is regional director of the Red Cross, director of a free dental clinic in inner city Detroit, or lead veterinarian at a major zoo, these letters will carry weight with admissions committees.

How do you avoid common pitfalls when asking for letters of reference?  Here are some do’s and don’ts:

  • DO NOT be afraid to ask. For some reason, students are often afraid to ask for a letter of reference. You don’t want to be pushy, but you should show authority in your voice – don’t be timid when asking. Writing these letters should be fairly easy for these faculty members. Faculty members know it is part of their job and should treat it as such. When you do ask, you must state “Hi, Dr. ABC, are you willing to write a STRONG letter of recommendation for me? The keyword here is “strong”. Of course, a professor can agree to write a letter for you but it may be very weak and actually hurt your chances of professional school admissions. So, remember to use that key phrase “strong letter of recommendation”.
  • DO ask for letters early, DO NOT wait until your application is due. Make sure that the person you ask has a fresh idea of you in mind. When you are finishing a research fellowship, ask for a letter within a few weeks after it is complete. If you are ending a volunteer experience at the end of a semester, ask for a letter before finals week. Follow up with the professor or professional you asked if you don’t receive anything two to three weeks prior to the deadline to submit recommendations.
  • DO NOT become a stalker. Do not send multiple emails, leave messages or notes on their desk if your letter of recommendation was not yet submitted. I know this is tempting because I myself almost fell into the type A tendency trap. But hold back! Send one email and maybe follow it up with a phone call at least three to four weeks prior to the deadline. If you do not hear anything, assume they are not writing a letter for you. Instead, make sure to ask for recommendations from more than three letter writers because if one faculty member flakes out, you still have a fall-back plan and are not short of recommendations. This can become a student’s application nightmare since everything HAS to be complete in order for professional schools to even take a look at you and your credentials.
  • DO ask for letters when the writer knows you best – right after you have finished working with them.  Sure, the letter may not be specifically for the program you are applying to and dated two years in advance but here is the thing: the work of writing a letter only has to be done once. The mentor will have a much easier time writing a letter at this point than two years down the road when you are a distant memory. Faculty save these letters in case the student comes back for another one.Do you think you are imposing on a faculty member by asking for two letters? Think again. The second one only takes a change of date and a few words here and there to make it specific to medical, dental, pharmacy, or other health professional school. Trying to remember a particular student from two years ago is the hard task!Asking early also helps you in case you change courses in life. Many dentists did not decide to go to dental school during freshman year of college. In fact, many successful medical school students entered after a post-baccalaureate program. If you ask for letters immediately after a program, and then you need to go back years later to ask for a new one, it is less awkward for both you and the writer.
  • DO ask for a letter from the “boss.” You will not likely work directly with the highest ranking member of an organization, but that is the best author of the letter. Much more likely, you will work with a graduate student, staff member, technician, assistant, etc. Many students would feel more comfortable asking the person who knows them best. This is a mistake. The “boss” will ask the assistant for information about your performance in order to write the letter.
  • DO provide the writer with information about you. People are busy. Make the process as easy as possible for the writer. Give them ample information about you like a resume, a transcript (if it is good), and other background info. Give them a copy of your personal statement so they have an understanding about your intention to enter the health professional field. But DO NOT give them a novel—make it easy to scan and pull out salient parts. A cover letter may be useful. Remind them how they know you and what interactions you had with them and when. You cannot write the letter of recommendation for yourself, but you can provide all of the information that is needed to write the letter.
  • DO ask for sealed envelopes. Part of the trouble with letters of recommendation is that you never know what goes in them. As long as you ask people that think highly of you and know your work, you will be fine. Faculty are not about to slam their students to outside observers.Be prepared for an honest assessment, though. If you are worried that you might not get a good letter, perhaps you should trust that feeling and ask someone else. It is unrealistic to expect that someone that you do not get along with will write a glowing letter on your behalf.

The following are brief examples of poor vs. stellar letters of recommendation:

Poor Letter of Recommendation 

Jared Smith is a very diligent student who will make a great pharmacist. He studies well and is involved with the track team. I recommend him for pharmacy school because he knows how to be a good student. 

I was Jared’s freshman chemistry professor and he always sat in the front row. He was very attentive and taking notes well. He performed well on my exams— achieving a B+ on the first general chemistry exam and an A on my final exam. I would want him to be my pharmacist in the future…… 

This is considered a poor letter because it is obviously a professor who does not know Jared as an individual. He only knows Jared in the classroom.

Stellar Letter of Recommendation 

Anna Kline is a delight to have in my class. I have taught her organic chemistry, molecular cell biology and served as her mentor with various biology research projects involving the human immunodeficiency virus since her freshman year at State University. We have co-authored papers jointly and she is a very diligent premedical student who puts her all into her work. She spent her weekends working in the lab, devising techniques and developing ideas that I, myself, never thought possible. I see Anna as being an individual at the forefront of medicine, never backing down when challenges arise. 

Anna also volunteers at the local free clinic. She frequently tells me and the other lab staff about her various touching patient stories. For instance, a man presented with trouble breathing, chest pain and sweating and Anna tells the story of entering the scene calmly, giving this man aspirin and seeking the help of those around her. Anna is intelligent but is also very humanistic. I highly recommend her for admission into medical school. She will become the ideal physician who takes care of people just like she takes care of her family members……

This is a strong letter because this professor knows Anna inside and outside the classroom. He knows of her specific characteristics and can describe them concretely.

In summary, here are the things you will need to obtain a stellar letter of recommendation:

1) Confidence: Don’t be afraid to ask!

2) Information about yourself: Resume, Curriculum Vitae, and ideally your Personal Statement

3) Logistics: Self-addressed stamped envelopes.

4) A good attitude and a smile!

Dr. Lisabetta Divita is a physician, medical writer/editor and premedical student mentor.

Dual Degree Medical Programs

Interest in dual degrees among U.S. medical students has increased considerably during the last decade. Students can now supplement their medical education by pursuing graduate or professional degrees in nearly any discipline, including public health, bioethics, business administration, law, the humanities, and the basic sciences. Pre-medical students should be aware of the different educational opportunities available, as interest in a particular program may influence the medical schools to which they apply and require additional standardized testing, application essays, and recommendation letters.

Obtaining a second degree requires a substantial investment of time, money, or both, but can be incredibly rewarding and provide the training and credentials leading to a specialized role within medicine as a physician-scientist, physician-executive, or global health leader, in addition to many other possibilities.

In this article, I will first discuss several of the most popular dual-degree programs. Following this overview, I will address some of the critical questions students should consider before applying for or beginning a dual degree program.

MD/PhD: The physician-scientist

MD/PhD programs are among the oldest and most well established of the dual degree programs. The vast majority of medical schools offer an MD/PhD of some variety. The purpose of MD/PhD is to provide training in both clinical medicine and the basic sciences, creating physician-scientists who spend the majority of their time conducting research as faculty members at academic medical centers or research institutions.

MD/PhD students typically spend between six and eight years completing their education, which is followed by standard residency training. Most programs provide full tuition and a stipend of approximately $25,000/year, making positions highly desirable and very competitive.

Students typically apply for admission to both the MD and PhD programs simultaneously, which entails additional essays, interviews, and recommendation letters. However, many programs allow currently enrolled medical students to apply for entry into their school’s MD/PhD program if additional funding is available. Though competitive applicants must have excellent MCAT scores and GPAs, quality and quantity of research experience is critically important for admission to any program. Although many programs only require students to take the MCAT, some also require the GRE, so prospective students should research admission requirements of all schools they may apply to well in advance.

Most students spend the first two years as medical students taking the standard pre-clinical courses. When their MD-only classmates enter the wards and begin clinical training, MD/PhD students break away and enter the laboratory, where will they will spend the next two to four years conducting research and eventually write and defend a PhD thesis. After completion of the thesis, students return to the hospital where they will finish their medical education by completing their clinical clerkships and electives.

MD/MPH: The global physician

The MD/MPH is probably the most popular of the combined degree programs. The MPH coursework provides focused training in epidemiology, biostatistics, community health, and health policy, which prepares graduates to approach healthcare from the population level. The MD/MPH is particularly useful for students interested in preventative health, global health, or healthcare policy.

Most MD/MPH programs take five years to complete, but some programs allow students to take all of the required coursework for both degrees within four years. While some of the more prestigious MPH programs have generous scholarship opportunities, most students should anticipate an equivalent of five years tuition to complete both degrees, even if pursuing a four year program. For most programs, students can apply during the first, second, or third year of medical school, but those pursuing four-year programs typically must apply at the beginning of medical school. The MCAT is often accepted in place of the GRE.

MD/MBA: The physician-executive

The number of MD-MBA programs has grown exponentially during the previous two decades, from five in 1993 to more than 50 today. With the enormous focus on healthcare reform and the business of healthcare, demand for physicians with focused training in healthcare management and business administration will likely continue to increase.

MD/MBA programs are usually five years in length. Students typically apply for admission to business school during the first or second year of medical school, though students can often apply to both concurrently. The GMAT is generally required for admission to the business school, though this may change in the near future as some business schools have recently starting accepting the GRE in place of the GMAT. The structures of MD/MBA programs are variable, but in most programs students devote the majority of the first through third years to medical school, the fourth year to business school, and the fifth year completing requirements from both schools.

Graduates of MD/MBA programs can find careers in hospital administration, academic medicine, healthcare consulting, entrepreneurship, industry (pharmaceuticals, biotech, medical devices), managing private practices, or leading healthcare organizations.

MD/JD: The physician-attorney

There are many MD/JD programs throughout the country, most of which require seven years to complete. However, few students tend to participate in these, largely because of the time required to complete both degrees and the enormous cost of attendance. Students typically apply to both the medical and law schools concurrently, requiring the applicant to have taken the MCAT and LSAT.

In general, admitted students devote the first two years to medical school, years three through five to law school, and the final two years to completing their clinical training. Graduates of MD/JD programs can be found on the faculty of law and medical schools, as leaders of various medical and legal organizations, as medical malpractice attorneys, and in general medical practice.

Questions to Consider

1. Is a second degree necessary for my career goals?

Before beginning a second degree, you need to seriously consider and determine what you really want to do. Many premedical and medical students have a tendency to get blinded by ambition and the endless pursuit of prestige, seeking additional degrees simply to have “more letters after my name.” This is foolish and self-defeating. Spending additional years and thousands of dollars pursuing a degree that you will not use will not impress anybody and/or help you begin your career, particularly if you do not want to work in a capacity related to your additional degree.

On the other hand, if you know that you want to work, for example, in global health policy, then an MPH may be almost essential. Do a quick search of job openings at the CDC in global health or health policy – most require an MPH or years of equivalent experience for an application to even be considered. In this situation, the time and expense of obtaining the additional degree is easily justified.

2. Can I afford it?

Medical students are drowning in debt. Those who pursue dual degrees (with the exception of the MD/PhD) will amass even more debt than their MD-only peers. Sit down with your parents, financial aid officer, or anybody else involved in your finances and figure out exactly how much debt you will have at graduation if you pursue the extra degree. Make sure to factor in the additional year(s) of deferred earning potential that pursuing the second degree will require.

3. Is now the best time?

Remember that you do not need complete all of your formal education while in medical school. Some residency programs allow residents to work towards a master’s degree while completing their training. The program might even provide some or all of the funding required to pay for tuition. There are also many executive and part-time programs that allow working professionals (including clinicians) to complete a master’s or professional degree in their spare time. Waiting until after medical school may be particularly attractive to students who are not certain that an additional degree is required for their career goals or those unwilling to defer gainful employment for additional years.

4. Am I compromising my education by combining degrees?

Not all dual-degree programs are created equal. Make sure that you will not be compromising your education by trying to do too much or compressing a two year program into a single year. When comparing different programs, see which structure makes most sense to you. For example, I am currently an MD/MBA candidate at the University of Pennsylvania. When I was applying to medical schools, I also looked at schools that offered four-year MD/MBA programs. Completing the degrees in a shorter time period was obviously appealing to me, but I wanted to get the “real” MBA experience, which I thought I could only enjoy by spending time as a full-time MBA student, working on a daily basis with traditional MBA students. I therefore only applied to programs that featured at least one full year of MBA coursework. However, for other students the four-year combined degree might be a better fit, depending on their personal needs and expectations.

Conclusions

Dual degree programs have become increasingly popular among US medical students in recent years. There are now dual degree programs to match nearly any student’s interests and schedule. While I have provided an overview of the most popular programs, there are many other options available. Though there are many benefits to pursuing a second degree during medical school, students should carefully consider the pros and cons of any program before investing the time and money required for an additional degree.

About the Author

David Flynn is an MD/MBA candidate at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and the Wharton School. He is also the founder of Prepera (www.prepera.com), a premedical tutoring and advising firm based in Philadelphia.

 

This article was originally published on StudentDoctor.net on May 12, 2010.

Premedical Preparation

By Dr. Lisabetta Divita

While the profession has changed over the past few decades, being a physician is a challenging and esteemed calling.  As such, medical school admissions are quite competitive.  Medical school applicants are required to complete the AAMC or AACOMAS applications, take the MCAT and fly out for interviews. Even with all of these requirements, sadly, many excellent candidates are rejected each year.  This can be a blow to your ego but if you are determined to reach your dreams, your premedical preparation cannot begin too early—some important decisions are made in high school.

Premedical Preparation – Inside the Classroom

Your first major decision will be to choose a college that can provide you with a strong background in the premedical sciences. While some students may begin their college education at a community college, medical schools will be looking for a bachelor’s degree from a university. If you are going to start at a community college, make sure that your credits will transfer to a four-year college. Remember that you will be competing with other students for a few coveted medical school seats. The education at a community college may be excellent, but the people reviewing your application will want to know that those grades came from a college with a reasonably stringent acceptance policy.

Perhaps surprisingly, your undergraduate major does not need to be in the biological sciences. Sure, many pre-meds will be biology majors, but they will be sitting next to history majors, economics and philosophy majors on the first day of medical school. In fact, medical school admissions officers like to see candidates with diverse backgrounds. Major in something that you truly enjoy because those are the classes that you can ace.

While the college major is not important, there are a number of courses that are required of everyone applying to medical school. At a minimum, applicants will be required to take two semesters or three quarters each of biology, general chemistry, and organic chemistry and one semester or two quarters of physics. Each of these semesters or quarters must be combined with a laboratory associated with the class. Students are also required to complete a calculus course. Special emphasis is placed on these eight courses and seven labs. In fact, on the medical school application there is a separate space for the grades from these courses apart from the rest of the college grades.

A particular college major may not matter, but these pre-med courses are the equalizer. Most successful applicants will get (or nearly get) straight A’s on these courses. The overall grade point average for those applying to medical school is pretty high. Most admissions officers are looking for GPAs above 3.75. Can you get into med school with a lower GPA? Of course you can. However, the better you do in your classes and in the pre-med classes, the better your chances of being accepted.

The other equalizing factor is the Medical College Admissions Test or MCAT. Unfortunately, this score may be used to “thin the herd” so you will need to achieve the highest score you can. The MCAT has three main sections: Physical Sciences, Verbal Reasoning, and Biological Sciences. The Physical Sciences section contains questions covering college general chemistry and physics courses. Likewise, the Biological Sciences section contains questions from biology and organic chemistry. Verbal Reasoning follows a format similar but not identical to the Verbal sections on the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test). There is also a Writing Sample section on the MCAT, but this score is not as important as the other three sections since it does not factor into your overall numerical MCAT score. Each of the three sections is scored from 1 to 15, making the maximum MCAT score a 45. While there is no magic cutoff number applied by all medical school admissions departments, a good rule of thumb is a score of at least 30.

Grades in classes and exams are important because they are an easy numerical way to sort through hundreds of applications from qualified candidates. Getting into medical school is not only a matter of grades and scores, but these scores can get your foot in the door so that that the rest of your medical school application is considered.

Premedical Preparation – Outside of the Classroom

Grades and standardized exams are only one part of the medical school application. You are essentially putting your entire academic life into a single application package—a package that will be heavily scrutinized. While good grades and scores will require a huge amount of time and energy to achieve, they really only get you in the door. It is the rest of your medical school application will set you apart from the competition. Once you are in the door, an important part of your medical school application package is what you did outside of the classroom.

Extracurricular Activities

There are two big mistakes that premedical students seem to make when it comes to extracurricular activities: either they load up on a number of relatively meaningless extracurricular activities just so that they can list them on an application or they feel that extracurricular activities are a time-waster that could be better spent studying. Both of these mistakes can be enough to get you rejected from medical school. The far better option is to pick one or two extracurricular activities that you believe in and work to make a real difference in that organization.

The concept of extracurricular activities can be foreign to study-frenzied pre-med students, but the reason that medical school admissions officers look at meaningful participation in extracurricular activities is because it gives them a good idea of the nature and dedication of the applicant just by seeing it on paper. From the applicant’s perspective, it is always good to work outside of yourself—depending on the extracurricular activity that you choose, you may get personal rewards that go beyond a line on an application.

Choose a cause you can really get behind. Just like the choice of a major, it is the strength of your conviction and dedication that will carry you rather than the name or type of organization. It will not seem like a time-waster if you are making a difference. Find an extracurricular organization and run for office. This level of responsibility will help ensure that you are giving your all and will also look better on an application than a simple membership. When you do list your extracurricular activity, make sure to highlight your accomplishments during that time.

Volunteer Work

You should be volunteering in some capacity from the time you enter college, if not earlier. A good rule of thumb is to volunteer at least three hours a week for each year you are in college. The people that review your application will look for your volunteer work and expect to see it. If it is not there, it could count against you in the admissions process.

Unless you go to college in an extremely rural area, your local hospital will have a well-organized volunteer services office. You simply go to this office and look over a list of volunteering options and pick one that interests you. These options are usually for a few hours a week and include anything from greeting friends and family in the emergency department to helping anesthesiology technicians in the surgical center. Finding volunteer opportunities in this way is easy and the jobs really do help patients and healthcare workers.

For more motivated students, you can try to find less well-established volunteer opportunities. Perhaps a position at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter is right for you. There are countless ways that a person can help. Just like with extracurricular activities, choose a volunteer activity that you truly believe in so that volunteering is a pleasure and not simply an obligation.

Research

Most medical schools are looking for some sort of research experience on your application. Your premedical laboratory coursework does not count. Admissions officers are looking for time that you spent in a real lab. The biological sciences departments of most colleges will have faculty doing basic research. If your college is affiliated with a teaching hospital, there may be some faculty participating in clinical research as well. Colleges and universities are proud of their researchers. They will have literature and Web pages that describe each researcher’s work. Start by reading about the work that is being done on your campus.

There are some rules that apply to essentially all research faculty: 1) They are passionate about their research, 2) They love telling people about their work, 3) Their research is less well-funded than they would like it to be, 4) They would welcome a pair of hands to help them conduct research. Taken together, this means that any motivated premedical student should have no trouble finding an unpaid position in a laboratory on campus. Approach one or two faculty about the possibility of working in the lab and tell them you are interested in learning techniques and performing research. Also let them know you would ideally like to work on your own project. Mention, too, that you will work for free. If you do well, there may be some grant money around to provide you with a small stipend later. Part of your payment may even be co-authorship on a scientific journal article!

By understanding the preparation required for applying to medical school, you will be better positioned to be successful in the application process.  This was just a brief summary outlining the preparation required to obtain successful admission to medical school.  I wish you luck on your health professional school application and good luck if you are on to your to health professional school!

Dr. Lisabetta Divita is a physician, medical writer/editor and premedical student mentor.

This article was originally published on StudentDoctor.net on May 2, 2010.