Ask The Fake Doctor
Dear The Fake Doctor,
...now that you are in it, what advice would you give to someone who is just starting to take the prereq's to apply to medical school?
Someone Who Didn't Send Me A Naked Picture Of Him Or Herself
Very interesting question. Briefly, my advice could be summed up as: HAVE YOU NOT READ A DAMNED THING I'VE WRITTEN HERE?!?! HOW COULD YOU POSSIBLY WANT TO PUT YOURSELF THROUGH THIS?!? GAHHHHHH!
That felt good. Obviously, none of my subtle attempts to persuade you all to consider other careers is working, so while I will try to answer this question wholeheartedly, I would strongly recommend that you all still take a moment to check out that lovely link to business school I have conveniently placed at the side of this blog. And here's one about law school. I bet culinary school is interesting. OK sorry...
First, a little background in my experiences with medical school admissions. While I in no way intend or want to show off (I grew up with a strong appreciation of the evil eye and am firmly convinced of its existence), I should state that I did pretty damn well in the admissions process, proving, among other things, that this system is obviously flawed. Seriously though, while I'm not going to go down the list of the schools I got into, lets just say that even though I chose not to matriculate at one of these schools for reasons beyond the scope of this post, I still get "Wait, you turned down _____ to come here?!?" and, more frequently, "You can't possibly have been smart enough to get into _____. I mean you're a freaking jackass. C'mon, stop bullshitting me." Furthermore, I spent a year on the admissions committee at the school I chose to go to, reviewing applications and interviewing prospective applicants, so I actually know what goes on behind the scenes (hint: while it's not actually a massive orgy, you still leave these meetings feeling tired, confused, and dirty). Given this background, I feel especially well qualified to advise you in this manner. OK, I'm done showing off.
So, where to begin...well, for starters, let me suggest that while you will never know what it's like to be a doctor, resident, intern, or medical student until it's three in the morning and you're being vomited on by any number of Hepatitis C infected patients, you should really, really, really get as much exposure to medicine in a hospital as you can, so you at least have some clue what you're getting yourself into, and, perhaps more importantly, so you can prove to the admissions committee that you have some clue what you're getting yourself into. Even more so, if you pass this step, you won't find yourself in the position of a certain someone (who may or may not be me) wandering the halls of a county hospital one day during your third year rotations, looking back on your life choices and wondering what the hell you've gotten yourself into.
Assuming you've been through all that, the next step is actually taking all those awful prerequisites that medical schools have decided are important for your future as a physician. First, let me clear something up for you all, something that just about everyone in your shoes is curious about but never knows for sure: You will never, ever, EVER need to know, use, or apply anything you learned in any of your physics, general chemistry, or organic chemistry classes throughout your career as a medical student, resident, or doctor. There, I said it. Unfortunately, The Man, taking the form of admissions committees across the country, has decided that proficiency in these topics (among others) is a necessity for becoming a physician. While there is no way around all of these classes, and you will need to know some of this stuff to take the MCAT, I can share one dirty little secret with you that no school advertises but all adhere to: these admissions requirements are not actually requirements, but merely suggestions. This means that you can take classes that are in the same department as "Organic Chem 120: What The Fuck Are We Talking About?" but not nearly as painful from an anal penetration point of view. This also means that if you're like me (which, coincidentally, sucks for you), and you realize that you are about to graduate and would rather be the meat in a Rush Limbaugh/Michael Moore sandwich than take that last biology lab class you never got around to signing up for, you can actually call up the admissions offices of the schools you got accepted to and inform them that you are not planning on taking that class - it turns out that they've already invested so much time and money to select you, they're not going to care that you haven't finished your requirements. So, yes, I still have yet to finish my pre-med requirements, and I never will. Suck on that, AMCAS!
OK, so now lets assume you've actually taken all/some of the requirements needed for matriculation. The next step is the dreaded MCAT. In retrospect, I regret having expended as much energy as I did on this exam, because what I learned from my time on the admissions committee is that your score on this exam doesn't really mean shit. Well, you have to do at least marginally well to make the initial screening process, but not getting that 45-T on the exam will not make any difference whatsoever in your final results as an applicant. Actually, I tended to be harsher on the applicants that got these astronomical scores because it was more often an indicator of how big a freak and how socially retarded these people were than how smart or well-qualified they were for medical school...and if I learned anything over the first two years of medical school (and from what I'm gathering, I didn't learn much), it's that the last thing this profession needs is another socially retarded freak. Anyways, I don't really know what to tell you about how to actually study for the MCAT, other than that if you can get by on the Kaplan or Princeton Review stuff, you'll find that the actual test is much easier and the passages in the real exam give away a TON of information/answers. I do wholeheartedly recommend getting completely and utterly wasted after the exam, however. And if you're female, drunk-walk your way over to my apartment afterwards.
OK, so lets see where we're at: Prereqs? Check. MCAT? Check. Actually applying? Crap. Now, I can go on and on about what to do and what not do to for your application essays, secondaries, and interview, but I'll just shorten it to three relatively brief things for now, and elaborate significantly on this later if anyone actually cares (and, as an aside, if anyone is still awake reading this megillah of a post, I'll give you a big hug if we ever meet). One, get your application in as soon as humanly possible. I'm not joking. You would not believe what a difference this makes, because you could be Ghandi (or even me) and still be waitlisted if the admissions committee doesn't get to your application until March and the class is already full. Two, the admissions process is undoubtedly the most arbitrary process ever, and you may think you had the best (or worst) interview of your life, but what you think and what actually happened are almost never in line. Seriously. You could have developed the cure for cancer, but if the interviewer thinks you farted in the middle of the interview (whether you actually did or not is not important), you're not getting in. Conversely, you may be completely unqualified to go to medical school and may be stumbling at your every word, but if you went to the same alma mater as your interviewer and can successfully name the four bars adjacent to the campus, which to your interviewer is a sign of your coolness (or lack thereof), and hence your qualifications as a pre-med student, you're in. (No, I never did that to anyone I interviewed, but yes, that was asked of me at one school that I ultimately got into).
Three, the most important point (see, it gets its own paragraph!), be genuine at every step of your application (and through this whole process, actually), especially when you show up for your interview. I cannot say how much it annoyed me to see an applicant try to bullshit me (the king of bullshitting, no less) about their activities, experiences, or desire to be a doctor ("I knew from the moment I was born that I was destined to become a radiation oncologist." Prick.), making up answers over and over again in a feeble attempt to impress me, when I would have been a lot more impressed if they'd just told the truth. This means majoring in a Biology because you actually like biology, and having a damn good explanation for why you majored in Economics but are still pre-med (hint: that explanation better not be "I wanted to look unique on my application"). This means proving in some way that you only worked on activities or research you were genuinely interested in pursuing, and not because you wanted to fill another box on the application (yes, we can tell). Looking back on my experiences as an interviewee, I think that's why I did so well. I'm currently completely confused and lost, trying to find my place in this chaos of medicine, but I still cling to what I talked about in my interviews regarding why I wanted to be a doctor in the first place, I am still involved in those activities that got me down this path, and I know that there was not one ounce of bullshit, regular shit, or any other shit-like material in my answers I gave on my application or to my interviewers. I was being genuine about who I was, and that was conveyed to my interviewers.
Finally, to the person who submitted this original question (which came in a longer email than what I pasted above), I hope this overview has been helpful, and everyone please feel free to ask me more specific questions in the future. More importantly, based on what you wrote in your email, I have no doubts about your sincerity in pursuing medicine, and I am sure you will be wholly successful in this regard.
Christ, I'm such a softie. Or maybe the better description is a big pussy. Either way, I hope you have enjoyed (or at least grudgingly tolerated) these rather long-winded posts I've managed to churn out the last two days.