February 21, 2013

Innovation and the AMA

It’s no secret that the world is constantly evolving, with new resources and technology being developed each day.  The medical field is no exception to the tides of change, and as a reflection of the rapidly changing nature of medical education, the AMA recently announced a grant initiative to jump-start the medical school revolution. You can read all about the grants and the request for proposals from the AMA, but it sounds like they are off to a roaring start. In the AMA’s post, they mention some specific areas for improvement such as including lessons on the “business” of medicine, emphasizing team-based care, and designing curricula which reflect technological innovations as well as the increasingly diverse patient population. They acknowledge that all of these areas will be of increasing relevance as medicine continues to evolve and not adjusting the medical school curriculum would be detrimental to both students and patients. Since I will be entering medical school this fall, I often find myself daydreaming about what I will be learning at this time next year.  With my public health background, I am curious to see how public health issues like the obesity epidemic, increasing resistance to vaccinations in certain communities, and large-scale changes to the medical system such as the Affordable Care Act will be incorporated into the medical school curriculum. I also wonder how medical school will prepare me to provide comprehensive care to people from all cultures and work with insurance companies. Which leads me to my question of the day- As MCAT test-takers and, ideally, future medical school students, what do you hope to learn in medical school? I mean, clearly you hope to learn about working with patients, diagnosing illnesses/injuries, pathology of disease, etc. Beyond the essentials, though, what is something that you are really hoping to learn during your time in medical school?   ...read more
December 21, 2012

Application Essentials IV: Medical Extracurriculars and Experience

The life of a pre-med student is busy, between the challenging pre-med courses you're taking, preparing for the MCAT, and keeping up with your extracurriculars. Today, we turn our focus to that last category: what medically-oriented extracurriculars should you be doing before medical school? Why are medical extracurriculars important? In addition to the obvious (that this is what you're going to be doing for the rest of your life), the significance of medical extracurriculars is the demonstration that you have explored medicine as a field -- and you still love it!  Many students come into undergrad with an idealized version of the medical field; they "want to help people."  But medical schools want to be assured that you really know what medicine is all about.  Sure, you've seen the glorious side of medicine:  the success of a cure, the intimate rapport with a patient, the translation of basic science knowledge into therapeutics.  But what about the rest?  Schools want to know that you've seen some of the frustrations of medicine:  research that doesn't quite pan out as expected, challenging or noncompliant patients, and dealing with insurance and paperwork.  This is not meant to sour you!  But medical schools want to be assured that you truly have seen "medicine," not just the latest episode of Grey's Anatomy or House. What are some of the common medical extracurriculars? While this is by no means an exhaustive list, these are some of the most common medically-oriented activities premedical students do:
  • Shadowing - To shadow a physician means to follow him or her around during their daily duties:  sitting in during patient appointments, speaking with families, processing and interpreting lab tests, and generally seeing what the life of a physician is like.  To find shadowing opportunities, consider approaching family friends (or friends' families!) who are physicians, asking science professors if they have colleagues who are practicing physicians, or checking if there are any lists at your school's pre-professional advising office.
  • Hospital Volunteerism - Many major hospitals (and some private clinics) have opportunities for premed students to help out on the floors by talking with patients, assisting in patient transfers, and medication distribution.  Historically, this was called "candy striping," since the uniforms kind of resembled a candy cane.  Check on hospital's websites and don't delay in applying -- often, this is such a popular activity that you'll have to wait a little while for the next available volunteer training cycle.
  • Research - Since medicine is always looking for the next big cure, the safest new medications, and the answers to understanding the impact of illness on individuals and communities, research is a major part of the medical field.  Research is required if you're planning on applying to MD/PhD programs.  Again, local hospitals, your school's pre-professional advising office, and science professors should be your go-to for checking out research opportunities.
  • Community and International Outreach - These outreach programs include local community initiatives (such as Covenant House, a nonprofit charity for homeless and marginalized youth; the Ronald McDonald House Charities; and volunteering at nursing homes) as well as other national or international opportunities (the Peace Corps, alternative spring break trips, or programs through the World Health Organization).
So should I do all of the above activities?  The short answer is -- not necessarily.  Your extracurriculars are all about quality, not just quantity.  I'll be discussing this quite a bit next week in Application Essentials V:  Non-Medical Extracurriculars and Experience, but an important takeaway is:  only do an extracurricular if you enjoy it!  Forcing yourself to do a research project you just don't like solely to pad your résumé will be obvious to admissions committees, and you won't be able to speak passionately about it during an interview.  Also, medical schools do not sit there with a checklist in hand, just noting if you've "completed" the above four bullet points.  Rather, it's all about how you frame the activities you've done.  So, to sum up, do a few activities that demonstrate (prove!) your interest in medicine and stick with them; don't try to be a "jack of all trades" and not really give dedication to any particular activity. Happy holidays from all of us at Kaplan! This article is Part IV in a seven-part series on Holistic Admissions.  For more information, check out: ...read more
Applying to Med School
May 24, 2012

Medical School Admissions: Choosing Where To Apply, Part 2

Welcome back! In part 1 of our discussion on important factors to consider when choosing where you should apply to medical school, we reviewed some of the most commonly considered ones; location, career aspirations, and cost.  Today, we’re going to review two additional factors, curriculum and fit.  Curriculum and fit are two aspects of a medical school that most students do begin to consider or perhaps even fully understand before starting the interview process, but they can be just as important as the previous three we discussed. Curriculum: Medical school basic science curricula, across the board, are a lot more rigid and standardized than undergraduate programs because there are certain concepts that are foundational to the clinical years that students need to learn in their first and second years.  Nevertheless, there is some variation amongst schools, with most curricula categorized as traditional or integrated. In the traditional curriculum, students take one or more classes at a time and what is taught in one class may not be related at all to what’s discussed in another. The first year of medical school is typically focused on the functioning of the healthy body, with the second year devoted to disease (including classes like pathology, pharmacology, etc.). The integrated curriculum, in contrast, is generally organized by organ system and spans the first two years of school.  Professors work together to make sure that what students learn in one class relates to their other classes.  For example in a cardiovascular system block, students may study the heart in anatomy and histology, learn about normal and abnormal cardiovascular function, memorize the medicines that are prescribed for heart disease, and practice clinical skills related to assessing heart function with standardized patients. While some students are fine with either curriculum, if you have a strong preference, consider applying to more schools of that sort. Additionally, some medical schools vary in terms of their exam schedule, special tracks/certificates offered, length of the class day, and the length of the basic science curriculum.  It’s important to apply to schools that will provide the opportunities, schedule, and structure that you desire in your medical education. Fit Fit is something that can be very challenging to figure out before visiting a medical school on interview day, but by investigating the following questions, you can start to get an idea about whether the school will be right for you, and if it isn’t, then you may not want to apply there.
  • What is the student lifestyle?  Some schools are more party-oriented than others.  Other schools are very competitive and stressful.  Consider whether you will prefer a collegiate, social atmosphere or a competitive, high stress environment in medical school.
  • Does your personality get along with that of current students, can you see yourself making friends and fitting in at this medical school?
  • Are intramurals/campus student-life important to you? If so, does the student body engage in such things?
  • Do you feel that the administration is friendly and supportive?  The Deans and staff in student-focused offices (such as the Offices of Student Affairs and Medical Education), will be like your parents in medical school.  Can you see yourself going to them for help if you are having a personal or professional crisis?
  • How is life in the town/city the medical school is located in? There are tremendous cultural differences across the country, and even within a single state, so consider if you’re applying to schools in places that you feel comfortable and accepted.  The last thing you want to do is get used to a startlingly different environment while adjusting to medical school.
  • Finally: What would it take for you to go to this school?  Would you be happy to go if it was your only option?  If the answer to the second question is ‘No’ then it’s probably not a school you want to apply to!
A great way to figure out if a school is a good fit for you is to spend the night with a student host during your interview visit. They will be the most honest and candid sources of information about the medical school, the student body, the surrounding town/city, and more, so act friendly and polite and ask questions! Keep these questions in mind as you go on interviews, and they will help you narrow your list of preferred schools when acceptances start coming in. Let us know what other factors you’re considering as you decide which medical schools to apply to! ...read more
Applying to Med School
May 7, 2012

Medical School Admissions: Choosing Where to Apply, Part 1

Chances are that if you’re reading this blog, you’re probably already thinking about applying to medical school; what you may not have considered, however, is which schools you’ll be applying to. Students often being the admissions process with only a rough idea of the schools they’re interested in – or alternatively, plan to apply to nearly every school. Talk to any current medical school applicant and they’ll tell you that even the process of applying to medical school can be expensive. Primary and secondary application fees, travel expenses, and interview attire add up to make the application process a costly experience. Smart applicants, however, do their research to ensure that they’re giving themselves the best chance of getting accepted. The first step in exploring schools is to get a copy of the Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR), an annual publication by the AAMC; if you don’t have access to a recent copy of the MSAR you can go here to purchase the latest edition. In addition to the MSAR, other resources for information about medical schools include the Student Doctor Network and the schools’ websites. Even with all of this information available, it can be hard to figure out which medical schools to apply to without first knowing some of the factors that you should consider. Location: Maybe you think you want to go to medical school close to where you grew up, either because of a connection to that area or because it would be easier to go to medical school close to your family. On the other hand, the medical schools you apply to may reflect the location where you want to practice someday. The location of a school can have a big impact on the school’s academic focus – urban schools will have more of an urban focus while schools that serve rural areas tend to have more of a rural health focus when it comes to patient care and research. Similarly, the location of a school influences the patient population that you will encounter in terms of demographics and disease; for example, if you’re interested in pathology and global health, you may want to apply to schools that are near large hubs of international commerce. Career Aspirations: If you think you may be interested in a competitive residency or a specific residency program, you’ll want to apply to some schools that are strong in your program(s) of interest (both in terms of patient care and research). That being said, you don’t have to go to a medical school affiliated with your dream residency program; remember, you can do away rotations (clinical rotations at institutions unaffiliated with your medical school). Away rotations are one of the best ways to demonstrate commitment a program, they allow you to establish ties with the department and demonstrate that you’d be an excellent fit for their program. Cost: Finally, the cost of attending medical school varies widely. The best values in medical education often come from the public medical schools in your state of residence, as you’ll get an “in-state” tuition rate. Be sure to apply to these regardless of your MCAT and GPA, because it’s always good to have an affordable option. Beyond that, take a look at the tuition and average graduate debt for the schools you are interested in and seriously consider whether you want to take on $150-200,000 in loans for your medical education. You don’t need to go to a top medical school (even if you get in!) to get a job as a physician.   Clearly these are just a few of the factors that will influence your selection process; stay tuned for Part 2, where we’ll discuss two overlooked factors – curriculum and fit. Ask your questions and let us know in the comments below what other factors you’re considering as you narrow your list! ...read more
April 17, 2012

From the MCAT to Harvard Medical School: Dr. Ricky Grisson’s Journey

Oftentimes, we are asked about the performance of our past MCAT students; how they did on the test, where they went for medical school, and where they are today. Recently, we had the opportunity to talk with one of our many amazing Kaplan MCAT course alumni, Dr. Ricky Grisson, about where his journey in medicine has taken him and the role that Kaplan played along the way.  1. What was your reaction to taking the MCAT for the first time? Wow! I was surprised by the difficulty and really disappointed in myself. I performed poorly and felt really terrible about my hopes of becoming a physician. I was doing well in school, as an undergraduate at Johns Hopkins University, but I did not feel prepared at all to take the MCAT! 2. What do you think it about the MCAT that makes it so challenging for premeds? The MCAT is a very unique test—from the passage-based format to the types of questions it poses. The MCAT tests more than just factual scientific information that premeds learn in college. I'm sure that many students who take the MCAT without using some sort of prep course wind-up feeling as disappointed about their outcomes as I did about mine. 3. How do you think the Kaplan MCAT course helped you prepare for the test? After having my dreams crushed by the MCAT, Kaplan really helped restore my confidence.  A large part of me still believed that I could become a physician, but I needed guidance and support­­—Kaplan provided it. Kaplan gave me strategies to deal with difficult questions and passages that make the MCAT so challenging. Finally, Kaplan also helped me focus on the science topics that I needed to know to ace the MCAT. 4. What area of medicine were you most interested in as a medical student and how did you pursue your interest? As a medical student, I was most interested in infectious diseases.  After starting Harvard Medical School and studying at the Pasteur Institute in France to gain further experience, I helped develop HIV vaccine candidates. These research experiences motivated me to travel to South Africa, where I helped develop a curriculum to train clinicians to treat HIV. 5. Do you have any last advice for premeds? Take advantage of every opportunity that you are given. By taking advantage of opportunities when they were presented to me, I have been able to travel around the world in my quest to understand and help reduce the impact of HIV. After taking my first MCAT, I could have given up on my dreams.  Instead, I looked for ways to enhance my MCAT preparation and found the Kaplan prep course. Sometimes you aren't given a second chance, so don't pass up potentially life-changing experiences and opportunities! Now that you've read about where Dr. Ricky Grisson took himself, we'd like to hear from you! Where will you take yourself? Tell us what lies in your future, what your ambitions are, how you're going to leave your mark on this world. In short, tell us what and who you're going to be. We want to hear the story of the “future you”—in 120 characters or less—and give you the chance to win cash and a free Kaplan course. Click here to enter. ...read more
Applying to Med School
April 12, 2010

International Medical Schools

By Carleen Eaton, M.D. With this year’s application cycle nearly over, if you have not yet received an offer of admission, you may be considering your options. Among these is applying to international medical schools. This alternative may be especially attractive if your priority is to begin medical school as soon as possible, rather than taking an additional year or more to make your application more competitive before reapplying. Carefully researching the schools you are considering is essential, so here are some areas to focus on as you explore the array of medical schools open to U.S. applicants abroad: 1. Licensure requirements – In order to practice medicine in the U.S., you must complete at least one year of a residency program in the U.S.  In order to do so, graduates of international medical schools must first obtain certification by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) in addition to passing the first two parts of the United States Medical Licensure Exam (USMLE).  To be eligible for ECFMG certification, the medical graduate must have received his or her degree at a school listed in either the International Medical Education Directory or the Foundation for Advancement of International Medical Education and Research. For more information about the certification requirements, visit the EFMG site at http://www.ecfmg.org/cert/index.html.  In addition, check with your state medical board about its policies regarding international medical graduates. 2.  Graduation rate – The graduation rates at international schools are much more variable than for U.S. allopathic schools.  Find out the school’s graduation rate as well as what resources are offered to students who are struggling either academically or personally. Adjusting to living in a foreign country in addition to the usual stresses of medical school can make it more difficult for students to stick it out until graduation. 3. Location of clerkships – At some international schools, students spend all four (or more) years in the country where the school is located.  For others, particularly those located in the Caribbean, students may need only to spend the preclinical years at the school, which can mean as little as 18 months living outside of the U.S. The clinical years are then spent doing rotations at U.S. hospitals with which the school has an agreement. If you are interested in rotating in your home state, then make sure that the school you plan to attend is approved in that state and has agreements with some hospitals there. 4. Obtaining a residency/USMLE pass rates – Since you must pass the first two parts of the USMLE in order to participate a residency program in the U.S, it is important to find out the school’s pass rate when you are looking at international medical schools. You will need to pass all three parts in order to obtain your medical license. In addition, ask what percentage of the school’s graduates who are from the U.S. match into a U.S. residency program, and which programs they are attending.  If you are considering a very competitive specialty, then it is crucial to find out if the school has been successful in having its graduates match into these areas. Also, ask to speak with an alumnus of the school who is practicing medicine in the U.S.to gain some firsthand insight into the school. As an applicant to international schools, you will need to do plenty of investigating and question asking in order to determine which schools will allow you to achieve your goals.  You need to also consider if you are suited to living in another country for an extended period.  For some students, living abroad is a welcome adventure, and for others, an exercise in homesickness. However, if this route looks like a good fit for you, then, with careful research and preparation, an international medical school may be the avenue to obtaining your M.D. and joining the ranks of practicing physicians. ...read more

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