Farming for Application Advice

Most of my classmates and friends are applying to medical school this cycle and after watching them stress out for the past six months, I realized I didn’t want that to be me this time next year.  So, to that end, I figured that I would ask the 100 or so people that visit here every day for advice on what I should be doing between now and next June.  I figure that my chances to get candid advice from intelligent people are a lot better here than somewhere like SDN.

Here is the story thus far:

My post-bacc. institution, which is closely allied with a large, well-ranked mid-western school medical school, uses the pre-med committee letter process.  An application is available in October and due by March sometime.  It requires a couple of interviews, about 15-20 short-answer, secondary-style essays, as well as 5 letters of recommendation: three from academic sources, and two non-academic.  The department also requires us to collect our academic history, grades, etc. and submit those to the committee as well.  When all is finished, we interview with one or two pre-med committee members and then the committee chair decides whether to write a letter of recommendation for us, which then gets attached to all the others and submitted to our schools of interest once we apply.

So far, I have one letter from an undergrad professor at another institution that knew me really well and another from a current professor at the university that I TA’d for last semester and has known me pretty well for about a year and a half.  I think he was also a member of the pre-med committee at some point as well, but I’ve never really asked.  My organic chemistry professor from the fall will probably be willing to write me a letter, but I’m going to wait until after the summer to ask him.  I’m going to be doing a review over the summer for some of the students that are going to be taking his class in the fall and I figure that waiting until after that’s finished would give him something specific to write about.

My non-academic letters will probably come from my manager at work, since he can speak to some rather significant things like my role in the group and the research I’ve done since hiring on with the company.  I feel like at least one of my letters should come from an MD of some sort, so hopefully over the next year or so I’ll find a way to make this happen.

Here are the salient points of my plan between now and application season during June 2012:

  • Taking the year-long biochemistry section this year, followed by genetics and physiology during application year
  • Plan to have at least two papers published for work-related research (non-medical) between now and next year.
  • Tutoring math and science at a local high school – have been doing this for a while and really like it, so I intend to continue until I matriculate, which will hopefully be Fall 2013.
  • Volunteer on the weekends in the emergency department at a large hospital downtown.  I finished an EMT course about a year ago and started volunteering there about 5 months ago.  Volunteers don’t do a lot, but we get to interact with patients and the rest of the staff there, which I really enjoy.  The more time I spent in the ED, the more interested in emergency medicine I get – if I’m accepted to medical school, it will be definitely start as my top choice of specialty until something else knocks it off.
  • Summer plan is to study for the MCAT – I’m registered to take it September 10 and will start doing content review early in June, once I’ve rested for a week or two after finals.  Starting with mostly just content review and timed passages, but the last 6-8 weeks primarily timed full-length exams, reviewing the answers, and more timed practice passages.
  • Once I get my MCAT score back, I’ll start researching for schools that I want to apply to – probably in October.

One gaping hole in this so far is that I don’t have a letter of recommendation from a physician, which I would really like to have.  Aside from my weekends in the hospital, I don’t have any other real opportunities to interact with doctors.  This definitely needs some attention prior to application.

So, with all that said, my questions are pretty simple:

  1. Is there anything that I should be doing between now and application season?
  2. Is there anything that I will need to do during application season that I can do earlier?

One last thing to mention – even though applications aren’t due until later, my goal is to be prepared to submit at the earliest possible time.  This is part of the appeal of the committee letter process; most of the essay questions they ask are present on secondary applications for a lot of schools.

So….advice?  Thoughts?  Comments?


8 Responses

  1. The only advice I can think to give is the really obvious advice. Don’t procrastinate. Do things like write your personal statement way in advance.

  2. I’m starting premed this fall, so I don’t have very much to offer, but I’ll try. (Sorry!)

    As a premed advisor suggested to me, start a “Why I Want to be a Doctor” journal. Reason? It’ll help gather your thoughts for the applications/essays/etc. I think this is a good idea.

    Thoughts he said to jot down (as an example):
    * write about your experiences and how they affect your decision to be a doctor, like working in the E.D. — in excites you (It excites me, too, though I haven’t volunteered in the local E.D. in awhile).
    * What qualities do you think make a good doctor and how do you match those qualities, such as leadership and explain how you fulfill/demonstrate that quality.

    Also, have you shadowed any docs yet? I would also make sure to do that. Spending some time shadowing may also open up the doors to a doc that might write a recommendation for you.

    • Shadowing docs would be a really awesome opportunity, if I knew some docs to ask. This seems to be the most difficult thing to do and I haven’t really figured out how to find opportunities to do it.

      • I would just call local doc offices and ask (that’s what I plan to do). Ask a doc at the E.D. that you volunteer at. Even if you don’t know a doc that well, he/she might be willing to let you shadow. I’d also let him/her know upfront that you need a recommendation, so if you shadow him/her enough he/she might get a good enough impression of you to write a recommendation. Just a thought.

      • The two hospitals in my city have a dedicated “Hospital Education Coordinator” each. Just can the general line and you need to talk to someone about setting up shadowing. I am willing to bet you your next Guinness that they will connect you right away.

  3. Good luck with shadowing doctors it is VERY difficult, especially since a lot of hospitals and clinics have a policy now to not allow shadowing to protect patient privacy.

    One more bit of advice, though this probably applies more to Beth than Med School Odyssey. Keep track of everything you do, clubs, volunteer activities, shadowing. When it comes time to apply you will need to list all your activities, approximately how many hours were spent with each activity, the duration of the activity and what you learned from the experience. Going back and trying to remember several years worth of events is a pain, so just keep track as you go along and you’ll thank yourself later. I kept a little index card around, I would write the activity out, keep little tally marks of hours and wrote down initial feelings after the activity – later I switched to a spreadsheet.

  4. I know I am a little late to this party but…

    Go through your academic record with a fine toothed comb. If there are any classes bringing your avg down my advice is to redo them.

    I had a couple of low marks from when I was in Uni the first time (13 years ago!) and it ended up really hurting my application. That was a big mistake I made: I did higher level classes in those areas (like microbi and immunology, etc. and got A’s) but the fact that my piddly first-year course from 1998 was low really pulled down my academic points.

    Volunteering is good but if you can get some actual work in a nursing home or something. Not sure how it works in your area but if you can do the short course it takes to be a care aide…DO IT. Not only do you actually get to see / touch / talk to patients you will get to network with people who can write you letters of recommendation.

    Sounds like you’re doing all the right things–I am sure you’ll have a very strong application. I did everything backwards / the wrong way and somehow got in! 🙂

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