best iPad Apps for medical students

General Stuff

Pages: word processor

Dropbox: Synching files between computer/iPad/iPod/cloud. (4)

GoodReader: File storage & organization on the iPad, pdf annotation (You can download files straight from the web, dropbox, googledocs, etc. Very useful for $3!).

Evernote: For reading notes & handouts. (2)

Kindle: I use this to download books related to medicine. I have downloaded a few board review books on the Kindle App, so I will probably use this App more next year when I am studying for Step 1.

Noterize: Notes.

Popplet: Flow charts, notes.

Dragon Dictation: Used for voice-to-text entry; have not used much for medical school directly, but have used for other applications like email and text entry.

Study Tools

Flashcards Deluxe: Making and studying flashcards. (7)

Mental Case: Flashcard application that is wonderful! You can create your own or downloaded cards from

G flash pro: A flashcard app, great for flashcards because you can make the cards in a google spreadsheet, which is easier than messing with some other programs.

modalityBody: Downloading the Netter Flashcards, anatomy quizzes. (7)

3D Brain: For studying neuro (my favorite neuro-related app). (3)

NeuroMind: For studying neuro. (3)

iSurf BrainView: A great app that has MRIs of head from 3 different directions. Also, you can click on structures and the app labels them, great for neuro!

Q bank: Great question bank, but you need Q bank for access. Otherwise a great app.

USMLE question bank: A little spendy ($40) but great if you’re traveling and don’t have Internet access. Great explanation to questions, I felt it helped for exams.

Drug Applications

Epocrates: Drug info. (13)

Calculate by QxMD: Medical Calculator

Micromedex: Drug database, works without wi-fi, so it’s useful in the clinic as opposed to Epocrates, search drugs and it gives lots of information like generic names, dosing regimes, adverse effects, pharmacokinetics, etc. (6)

MedCalc: Formula and calculation reference.

Medical Information/Tools

WebMD: Looking up info about diseases. (3)

Medscape: Case studies, PCP. Great to look up diseases/procedures/drugs, etc., that I am unfamiliar with. Great intro to the topic with more info if you want it. (4)

Physical Exam HD: Review physical exam information on preceptor, excellent for use during physical exam skill sessions. (7)

Pamper’s Baby: Describes what is happening in prenatal development week by week. Great to have for the OB longitudinal course! (4)

Radiology 2.0 (Night in the ED): Review interesting CTs. (3)

Littmann SoundBuilder: Familiarizing self with various murmurs, gallops, stenosis. (4)

Prognosis: Fairly good case studies, they add a new case each week, you go through HPI, physical exam, you decide what tests to order from their list, then you decide how to treat it, and they specify if you do well, satisfactorily, or poor, and there is a discussion at the end.

Eye Chart Pro: Eye chart for physical exam sessions, nice because you can change the letters by tapping on it. (2)

Eponyms: My favorite app for looking up diseases, signs, and symptoms. (2)

MedPage: I use this periodically to keep up with the latest news in medicine.

iStethoscope: Stethoscope sounds: heart, lung, bowel sounds.v

Internal Med Residency 1

101 Things You Wish You Knew Before Starting Medical School

Simple enough, here are 101 things you wish you knew before starting medical school.

1. If I had known what it was going to be like, I would never have done it.
2. You’ll study more than you ever have in your life.
3. Only half of your class will be in the top 50%. You have a 50% chance of being in the top half of your class. Get used to it now.
4. You don’t need to know anatomy before school starts. Or pathology. Or physiology.
5. Third year rotations will suck the life out you.
6. Several people from your class will have sex with each other. You might be one of the lucky participants.
7. You may discover early on that medicine isn’t for you.
8. You don’t have to be AOA or have impeccable board scores to match somewhere – only if you’re matching into radiology.
9. Your social life may suffer some.
10. Pelvic exams are teh suck.
11. You won’t be a medical student on the surgery service. You’ll be the retractor bitch.
12. Residents will probably ask you to retrieve some type of nourishment for them.
13. Most of your time on rotations will be wasted. Thrown away. Down the drain.
14. You’ll work with at least one attending physician who you’ll want to beat the **** out of.
15. You’ll work with at least three residents who you’ll want to beat the **** out of.
16. You’ll ask a stranger about the quality of their stools.
17. You’ll ask post-op patients if they’ve farted within the last 24 hours.
18. At some point during your stay, a stranger’s bodily fluids will most likely come into contact with your exposed skin.
19. Somebody in your class will flunk out of medical school.
20. You’ll work 14 days straight without a single day off. Probably multiple times.
21. A student in your class will have sex with an attending or resident.
22. After the first two years are over, your summer breaks will no longer exist. Enjoy them as much as you can.
23. You’ll be sleep deprived.
24. There will be times on certain rotations where you won’t be allowed to eat.
25. You will be pimped.
26. You’ll wake up one day and ask yourself is this really what you want out of life.
27. You’ll party a lot during the first two years, but then that pretty much ends at the beginning of your junior year.
28. You’ll probably change your specialty of choice at least 4 times.
29. You’ll spend a good deal of your time playing social worker.
30. You’ll learn that medical insurance reimbursement is a huge problem, particularly for primary care physicians.
31. Nurses will treat you badly, simply because you are a medical student.
32. There will be times when you’ll be ignored by your attending or resident.
33. You will develop a thick skin. If you fail to do this, you’ll cry often.
34. Public humiliation is very commonplace in medical training.
35. Surgeons are *******s. Take my word for it now.
36. OB/GYN residents are treated like ****, and that **** runs downhill. Be ready to pick it up and sleep with it.
37. It’s always the medical student’s fault.
38. Gunner is a derogatory word. It’s almost as bad as racial slurs.
39. You’ll look forward to the weekend, not so you can relax and have a good time but so you can catch up on studying for the week.
40. Your house might go uncleaned for two weeks during an intensive exam block.
41. As a medical student on rotations, you don’t matter. In fact, you get in the way and impede productivity.
42. There’s a fair chance that you will be physically struck by a nurse, resident, or attending physician. This may include slapped on the hand or kicked on the shin in order to instruct you to “move” or “get out of the way.”
43. Any really bad procedures will be done by you. The residents don’t want to do them, and you’re the low man on the totem pole. This includes rectal examinations and digital disimpactions.
44. You’ll be competing against the best of the best, the cream of the crop. This isn’t college where half of your classmates are idiots. Everybody in medical school is smart.
45. Don’t think that you own the world because you just got accepted into medical school. That kind of attitude will humble you faster than anything else.
46. If you’re in it for the money, there are much better, more efficient ways to make a living. Medicine is not one of them.
47. Anatomy sucks. All of the bone names sound the same.
48. If there is anything at all that you’d rather do in life, do not go into medicine.
49. The competition doesn’t end after getting accepted to medical school. You’ll have to compete for class rank, awards, and residency. If you want to do a fellowship, you’ll have to compete for that too.
50. You’ll never look at weekends the same again.
51. VA hospitals suck. Most of them are old, but the medical records system is good.
52. Your fourth year in medical school will be like a vacation compared to the first three years. It’s a good thing too, because you’ll need one.
53. Somebody in your class will be known as the “highlighter whore.” Most often a female, she’ll carry around a backpack full of every highlighter color known to man. She’ll actually use them, too.
54. Rumors surrounding members of your class will spread faster than they did in high school.
55. You’ll meet a lot of cool people, many new friends, and maybe your husband or wife.
56. No matter how bad your medical school experience was at times, you’ll still be able to think about the good times. Kind of like how I am doing right now.
57. Your first class get-together will be the most memorable. Cherish those times.
58. Long after medical school is over, you’ll still keep in contact with the friends you made. I do nearly every day.
59. Gunners always sit in the front row. This rule never fails. However, not everyone who sits in the front row is a gunner.
60. There will be one person in your class who’s the coolest, most laid back person you’ve ever met. This guy will sit in the back row and throw paper airplanes during class, and then blow up with 260+ Step I’s after second year. True story.
61. At the beginning of first year, everyone will talk about how cool it’s going to be to help patients. At the end of third year, everybody will talk about how cool it’s going to be to make a lot of money.
62. Students who start medical school wanting to do primary care end up in dermatology. Those students who start medical school wanting to do dermatology end up in family medicine.
63. Telling local girls at the bar that you’re a medical student doesn’t mean ****. They’ve been hearing that for years. Be more unique.
64. The money isn’t really that good in medicine. Not if you look at it in terms of hours worked.
65. Don’t wear your white coat into the gas station, or any other business that has nothing to do with you wearing a white coat. You look like an a**, and people do make fun of you.
66. Don’t round on patients that aren’t yours. If you round on another student’s patients, that will spread around your class like fire after a 10 year drought. Your team will think you’re an idiot too.
67. If you are on a rotation with other students, don’t bring in journal articles to share with the team “on the fly” without letting the other students know. This makes you look like a gunner, and nobody likes a gunner. Do it once, and you might as well bring in a new topic daily. Rest assured that your fellow students will just to show you up.
68. If you piss off your intern, he or she can make your life hell.
69. If your intern pisses you off, you can make his or her life hell.
70. Don’t try to work during medical school. Live life and enjoy the first two years.
71. Not participating in tons of ECs doesn’t hurt your chances for residency. Forget the weekend free clinic and play some Frisbee golf instead.
72. Don’t rent an apartment. If you can afford to, buy a small home instead. I saved $200 per month and had roughly $30,000 in equity by choosing to buy versus rent.
73. Your family members will ask you for medical advice, even after your first week of first year.
74. Many of your friends will go onto great jobs and fantastic lifestyles. You’ll be faced with 4 more years of debt and then at least 3 years of residency before you’ll see any real earning potential.
75. Pick a specialty based around what you like to do.
76. At least once during your 4 year stay, you’ll wonder if you should quit.
77. It’s amazing how fast time flies on your days off. It’s equally amazing at how slow the days are on a rotation you hate.
78. You’ll learn to be scared of asking for time off.
79. No matter what specialty you want to do, somebody on an unrelated rotation will hold it against you.
80. A great way to piss off attendings and residents are to tell them that you don’t plan to complete a residency.
81. Many of your rotations will require you to be the “vitals b****.” On surgery, you’ll be the “retractor b****.”
82. Sitting around in a group and talking about ethical issues involving patients is not fun.
83. If an attending or resident treats you badly, call them out on it. You can get away with far more than you think.
84. Going to class is generally a waste of time. Make your own schedule and enjoy the added free time.
85. Find new ways to study. The methods you used in college may or may not work. If something doesn’t work, adapt.
86. Hospitals smell bad.
87. Subjective evaluations are just that – subjective. They aren’t your end all, be all so don’t dwell on a poor evaluation. The person giving it was probably an *******, anyway.
88. Some physicians will tell you it’s better than it really is. Take what you hear (both positive and negative) with a grain of salt.
89. 90% of surgeons are *******s, and 63% of statistics are made up. The former falls in the lucky 37%.
90. The best time of your entire medical school career is between the times when you first get your acceptance letter and when you start school.
91. During the summer before medical school starts, do not attempt to study or read anything remotely related to medicine. Take this time to travel and do things for you.
92. The residents and faculty in OB/GYN will be some of the most malignant personalities you’ve ever come into contact with.
93. Vaginal deliveries are messy. So are c-sections. It’s just an all-around blood fest if you like that sort of thing.
94. Despite what the faculty tell you, you don’t need all of the fancy equipment that they suggest for you to buy. All you need is a stethoscope. The other equipment they say you “need” is standard in all clinic and hospital exam rooms. If it’s not standard, your training hospital and clinics suck.
95. If your school has a note taking service, it’s a good idea to pony up the cash for it. It saves time and gives you the option of not attending lecture.
96. Medicine is better than being a janitor, but there were times when I envied the people cleaning the hospital trash cans.
97. Avoid surgery like the plague.
98. See above and then apply it to OB/GYN as well.
99. The money is good in medicine, but it’s not all that great especially considering the amount of time that you’ll have to work.
100. One time an HIV+ patient ripped out his IV and then “slung” his blood at the staff in the room. Go, go infectious disease.
101. Read Med School Hell now, throughout medical school, and then after you’re done. Then come back and tell me how right I am.


5 easy steps to become a better medical student

I recently had quite a long conversation with a college senior that was just accepted into medical school for this coming fall.

As a rising fourth year medical student myself, I would like to think that I have navigated the waters of academia and figured out both efficient paths to success and avoidance of roadblocks and setbacks. However, I was quite overwhelmed with the number of questions and concerns that this particular student had. But in retrospect, I can recall my own naivete and fear of the unknown that is medical school.

After answering all of his questions, I realized that many soon-to-be first years may not have the advantage of mentors or advisers. Lacking guidance, students are willing or forced to charge forward and hope for the best. These are the same students that suffer the inevitable fatigue and burnout. But I believe that there is a smart and efficient way to approach medical school. That is not to say there are any shortcuts or cheats. Rather, I wanted to share with you my advice on 5 easy steps to being a better medical student from day 1.

1. Be willing to be selfish. You must be willing to prioritize personal time and to continue to do the unique things that make you who you are. And trust me, the time can be found in any rigorous program. Doctors aren’t robots, and you should never plan to train like one. Medical school must be a time for you to continue to develop your hobbies and your personality. These are the individual characteristics that will make your patients love you one day. More importantly, these are the activities that will keep you both sane and free from stress.

2. Get 8 hours of sleep. No debating this one. First the benefits – you will study better, be healthier, and feel happier. There are enough distractions and obstacles built into the medical education that you should not be adding to the list. Sleeping in class, rereading text, and mental sluggishness are not paths to engaging the curriculum. Turn off the light, set your alarm, and keep track of your sleeping schedule. After all – you are training to be a doctor who will one day advise patients on healthy practices. Limit the sacrifices you make in your own health along the way. Healthy eating and regular exercise follow, as well.

3. Subscribe to just one health policy daily email or news blog. Medicine, particularly in the modern world, has much importance beyond the realm of clinical information. As a doctor, you will one day be called to be a leader, and your understanding of health policy and health systems will drive your success. You do not have to understand every sentence, or even read every word. But be open to absorbing what you can so you will be better aware of health care on-goings. The future of medicine is in dynamic health delivery systems. While you’re cramming over the Krebs cycle, take a five minute break to review the latest info on real-world medicine issues. ACOs are being built and discussed right now – embrace that change and learn as the systems are being designed.  Read during rounds when your attending is off ranting about something esoteric and his back is turned. Read it while your on the bus or in the bathroom. Again, time can be found if you look for it.

4. Study smart. There is a difference between studying for a test and studying to be a doctor. While these two goals sometimes coincide, they are often very different in nature. I find that, for some reason, medical students have difficulty wrapping there minds around this concept. Here is what I mean – medical students often look to prepare for exams as if they need to know everything about a given subject. Buying multiple textbooks and review guides is more than common. Gaining this knowledge is the right thing to do, and will make them a better doctor in the long run. But it may distract you from your goal of doing your best on given test – and worse, it may lead to burnout. If an exam has questions that are drawn from lecture, then information outside of lecture is irrelevant for the scope of that test. You need to make a personal decision as to how much supplemental information you need to be successful. I’m not telling you to take any shortcuts in learning medicine, I am telling you to be prepared for what matters. You have at least 7 years to go through medical school and residency, and then a lifetime to practice. You cannot possibly learn everything in a day, month, or year. Don’t sweat the details during your first year, anymore than is already forced on you.

5. Smile. As easy as this simple act sounds, this may be the most difficult of my suggestions. But stick with me! I am a firm believer in the power of positivity and confidence. You will get through medical school. That is not in question. But you have a choice as to HOW you get through medical school – to complain, suffer, and grieve through the process … or to enjoy the ride. I believe that smiling, appreciating the best that you have, and keeping a positive attitude effects you in two ways. In the first, you will have the advantage of internal confidence and lower stress. From a medical standpoint, you will be less rattled on test day and benefit from decreased cortisol – both can go a long way! The second effect of positivity is the external impact you will have on those around you. How do you think nurses respond to medical students that complain or look upset during morning rounds. I know that a genuine smile and greeting has led to nurses and residents that have been willing to go the extra mile to offer me support. How do you think an attending or residency coordinator will respond to the stolid student, versus the upbeat one? The truth is that letting in negativity and suffering through complaint are a means of externally expressing defeat. You do not want to be that kind of medical student. Smile, you are living your dream!

I genuinely want all of you to do well, and to be great and successful doctors. After reading many other medical school advice posts on more tangible or “hard” skills, I wanted to offer a different perspective. As always, you have to do what works best for you, and everyone will find success with different methods. But I do hope that some of my advice gives you a different perspective on how to achieve that success

Medical School Requirements

There are no set-in-stone requirements for every medical school. Many medical schools will make exceptions or emphasize different courses and topics in their admissions process. However, there is a basic set of courses and examinations that is commonly accepted as basic medical school requirements that will be considered by nearly every school.

With the development of the new MCAT, planned for release in 2015, there are additional courses that are recommended. These include psychology and social sciences, which will be tested in new sections on the longer MCAT.

Most often, an initial screen of applicants is done by computer to ensure that basic things like courses taken, GPA and MCAT scores meet a desired minimum. After that, it’s all about the person and not the numbers. Consider what makes a strong medical school application, and adjust yours accordingly. The medical school admissions process is a mix of science and art. To get an idea of how competitive your MCAT scores and GPA are, try our Medical School Searchtool.


The commonly accepted coursework requirements for medical school include a minimum of 1 year of:

  • General biology
  • Physics with lab
  • General chemistry (inorganic chemistry) with lab
  • Organic chemistry with lab
  • Calculus
  • English
  • New – Sociology
  • New – Psychology

If you are planning to do your premedical coursework after you get your undergraduate degree, you can take these courses at nearly any four-year college.


Medical school admissions are competitive, so you need to have a strong GPA. A GPA above 3.5 is preferrable. A GPA below 3.5 can somtimes raise a flag, especially if you attended a school famous for grade-inflation, like Harvard. While things might have changed a little at Harvard, there is still the impression that everyone gets a minimum 3.3, so the GPA cutoff might be more strictly enforced.


Your MCAT scores are important. They say little about you as a person, but they are given substantial weight by medical schools. The sections of the MCAT are similar to the required coursework: physical sciences (physics and inorganic chemistry), biological sciences (biology and organic chemistry), verbal, and a writing sample.

It has been estimated that 70-80% of all medical school applicants have taken an MCAT test prepcourse.

Baccalaureate Diploma

You need a college degree. BUT, it does not have to be in the sciences. In fact, for some schools a science degree is a negative – Johns Hopkins, for example. You need to show medical schools you are passionate about something. That you’re willing to spend four years, study a topic you love, learn it, and be able to build on it. Selecting a college major should not be about getting into medical school, it should be about study what you love to think about or do.

Research – optional

If you do enjoy science, then research is one way to show you’re serious about it. If you’re going to do a research project as an undergrad, start early. Freshman year is not too early to start. That gives you a year or two to learn the ropes, then a year and a half of serious work before you get to present your work in your medical school interview. Choose a respected faculty member doing research that interests you. Work hard. Read. Understand what you are doing and why you are doing it. You should be able to explain and defend your work to an educated scientist who doesn’t work in your field.

Physician shadowing – optional

I’m personally not a big fan of shadowing a physician. It doesn’t show much committment, and suggests you’re just interested in getting into medical school. If you’re truly not sure you want to get into medicine, then shadow a physician and find out what it’s like. Don’t expect a “shadowing experience” do carrya lot of weight on your application.

Volunteer service – optional

The impact of volunteer service on your application will depend on the quality of the service, and your committment to it. Is this a one month, two-times a week thing organized by someone else, or is this a project you’ve involved in for several years and are taking a leadership role in. How does this project affect you, and how have you made a meaningful contribution to the project.

Remember, medical schools are looking for people who are willing to take the time and effort to make a serious contribution. That contribution can be in a volunteer program, an academic pursuit, research, or even sport. You just have to show that you are willing and capable of working hard enough to accomplish an important goal.


6 reasons why applicants fail to get into medical school

Every year medical school applicants feel confused and in the dark about why they have been rejected by medical schools. They do not understand what they did wrong or what they need to do differently when they reapply. Whether you are a premedical student trying to make sure to “do everything right” or a medical school applicant who has not yet been accepted to medical school, it may help to learn what applicants who are not accepted to medical school often have in common. Many of these problems are easy to avoid while others take a little more time and effort to remedy.

Here are six problems I have observed:

1. Applying to a narrow range of medical schools. Everyone has told you that you are a great applicant and you should have no concerns. Premed advisors, friends, and family may advise you to reach high and that you don’t need to apply to more than 10 to 15 medical schools. I advise most students to be wary of this advice. While I always encourage medical school applicants to “aim high” and to have dream schools in mind, being realistic is also important. The competition for medical school admissions is fierce; fewer than half of 42,742 applicants matriculated in 2010/2011. So unless you have outstanding grades, MCAT® scores, letters of reference, experiences, written application materials, and a great interview experience, it is extremely important to cast a wide net and to apply broadly to a large range of medical schools. Sometimes applicants (or their advisors) overestimate their competitiveness and apply to mostly top-tier medical schools. These applicants are then surprised when they are not accepted to any of them. The bottom line is that, even if you are a top-notch applicant, you must consider adding to your list medical schools that are not ultra-selective.

2. Lacking clinical experience. You are applying to medical school, right? Then you must be able to demonstrate to the admissions committee that your experience fits this career decision. Many medical school applicants are interested in science and, while research is important, it cannot substitute for clinical exposure. Some medical school applicants submit applications with an impressive list of accomplishments and experiences but don’t demonstrate any clinical exposure, which comes in many forms: You can shadow your own family physician, volunteer in a free clinic or a hospital, or participate in a formal premedical program that includes time spent with physicians. It is very tough to convince an admissions committee via your written documents or during interviews that you want to pursue a career in medicine if you have never spent time in a clinical arena.

3. Submitting poorly composed written documents. Regardless of your candidacy’s strengths, composing persuasive application materials is essential for success. Whether you are competitive applicant seeking acceptance to the most prestigious medical schools in the country or a “borderline” applicant with lower than average grades, experiences, or MCAT® scores, your experience descriptions and personal statement must convince the people reviewing your application that you are worthy of an interview and an acceptance. This is especially important during the first stage of the medical school admissions process when the admissions committee decides whether or not to extend an interview invitation. The committee bases this decision on the objective material you present such as your academic profile, but your written materials, including your application and letters of reference, make a difference. You don’t have control over the content of your LORs, but you do have complete control of what you write in your application materials. Written documents that clearly and articulately express the evolution of your interest in medicine with introspection and thought are more likely to motivate the admissions committee to click the “interview” box when deciding your fate.

4. Having a lackluster academic profile. You have done “okay” in college and on your MCAT®, but is your performance strong enough to gain admission to medical school? Many medical school admissions committees “screen” applications; if your grades or MCAT® don’t reach a certain threshold, you are automatically rejected and your application isn’t reviewed. Other medical schools use a school-specific “formula” that takes into account your grades and MCAT® score and determines whether or not your application will be reviewed if you earn a minimum score. The general rule of thumb is that you must have an overall undergraduate grade point average (UGPA) of 3.5 with a strong performance in the sciences and a minimum MCAT® score of 30 to gain admission to medical school, but this rule has variations. For example, if your UGPA is lower than a 3.5, your MCAT® is a 31 and you have outstanding LORs, documents, and interview skills (see below) you can still gain admission to medical school. Medical schools also consider the rigor of your academic course load, undergraduate institution competitiveness, outside pressures (such as financial difficulties), and upward grade trend when evaluating how you performed. Many students perform poorly as a freshman in college and as they adjust to college life their grades steadily increase as they improve their study and time management skills; admissions committees consider this.

The evaluation of applicants is also subject to various nuances. For example, the student who attends a competitive undergraduate institution and pursued a difficult major, with a UGPA of 3.4 and an MCAT® 36 might be viewed more favorably than the student who attended a less competitive college, pursued a less rigorous major and had a 4.0 but earned a 31 on the MCAT®. In other words, to some extent admissions committees consider the competitiveness of your undergraduate institution and course load. At the same time, you need to realize that applicants’ MCAT® performances are the only measures admissions committees have for comparing “apples to apples.” This is why an exceptional MCAT® performance is important regardless of where you attend college.

5. Submitting a late application. You are an outstanding applicant but submitted a late application. Though this problem is easy to “fix,” you should understand why it’s important to rectify it. Every year the American Medical College Application Service® (AMCAS®) starts accepting medical school applications on or around June 1st  And submitting your primary application as close to this opening date as possible is essential. Why? AMCAS® must review and verify your application, which can take up to six weeks (or more if there is a problem), and medical schools will review your application only after you are “verified” and they have received all supplemental application materials, such as letters of reference, Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT®) scores, and secondary applications and essays.

By submitting an early application you will be considered within a smaller pool of applicants early in the season. In contrast, applicants who wait until deadlines to submit their application materials are typically considered within a much larger pool of applicants. In addition, because early applicants have been invited for some of a school’s finite number of interviews, those who apply late are competing with a large number of applicants  for fewer interview slots. Similarly, for medical schools with rolling admissions, interviewing late in the admissions season is less than ideal since in March or April, for example, most initial acceptance offers have been extended. This means that even if you are a competitive applicant, the medical school may not have any more interviews or acceptances to extend. This is why many great applicants who submit late applications, receive “hold”, ‘reject,” or “wait list” decisions rather than acceptances.

If you are rejected by medical school and decide that your academic record needs to be enhanced, you have many options. If grades are the issue, consider taking upper division classes at a four year university after graduation. Postgraduate special master’s programs specifically designed for students who want to attend medical school are also a good alternative; a searchable database of such programs is available from the Association of American Medical Colleges: Other possibilities are to pursue a master’s in public or global health or in a specific scientific discipline in which you are interested. These are all great options if you need to improve your academic profile. If your MCAT® is the concern, you must critically evaluate what you need to do to improve so you can target your studying.

6. Demonstrating poor interview skills. Once an applicant reaches the interview stage, the interview is the most important determinant of success. Typically, interviewees with great interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence are naturally better interviewees than applicants who are more introverted. Applicants who are very nervous, not articulate, or who aren’t comfortable  peaking about themselves can under-perform during the interview. Even though some US medical schools are adopting the multiple mini interview (MMI) format, most medical schools still conduct one-on-one interviews. Contrary to what most medical school applicants believe when they start this process, medical school interviews are typically relaxed dialogues; the interviewer is trying to get to know each applicant, assess if he or she has the qualities and characteristics the school is seeking in medical students, and if he is a good fit for the school. While a certain degree of subjectivity influences every interview experience, applicants can perform well if they practice speaking about themselves before the interview and if they clearly express their motivations and experiences that influenced their decision to practice medicine.

I have seen applicants fail to be accepted to medical school again and again for one or more of these “Top Six” reasons. Nonetheless, how a school weighs each of these factors, among others, is determined by each applicant’s unique profile and situation and the criteria and admissions process of that particular school. Always remember that each medical school considers every candidate individually and there are many things you can do to improve your chance of success.


Getting into Medical School

Now that my medical school application process has come to an end, I feel a personal responsibility to share some of the knowledge I’ve gained during the process. Throughout this difficult and humbling year, perhaps the most inspiring aspect of applying to medical school was that I began to feel a connection with everyone else who’s completed or is currently completing the same process. I sent countless emails and had numerous conversations about how to gain an acceptance into a school, and am indebted to the doctors and medical students who took the time to help me. Medicine is not the easiest field to be accepted into, it’s also not the highest paying or the best lifestyle – these characteristics bring doctors together, as is the natural human tendency to come together, mentally and emotionally, when marching through trenches.

My experience and advice spans farther than my own personal experience through the process. If you must know my own stats to feel that my opinions are valid, I applied to 25 schools, got 6 interviews, was accepted at 4 schools and wait-listed at 2. More importantly, because I was in a post-bac program, I applied alongside lots of other people with differing backgrounds and successes. Furthermore, it is impossible to go through this process with friends and not talk about it pretty much constantly, and from those conversations I heard countless stories about other applicants/students/doctors, both triumphant and tragic. Here are the main things I have learned, in order of importance.

1. There is no substitute for high grades. If you’re reading this during your senior year of college right before opening your AMCAS application and you haven’t done well in school, well, I’m sorry. Consider entering a post-bac program, because as much as people talk about the trend that medical schools care more and more about your background, personality, extracurriculars, etc., their number one concern is – will this person be able to make it through med school? The main way to answer that is by looking at a student’s science classes. This is why, in my opinion, if you’re not ready to commit to being a doctor at age 18, it might be in your best interest to get a liberal arts education, grow up, and do a post-bac after getting a year or two of work experience post-college. I know tons of people who had mediocre to poor grades in college, but then rocked the post-bac classes due to newfound motivation and maturation. This definitely works. Of course, it’s best if you’ve gotten good grades all along. The other option is, starting at age 18, work hard and do really well in college. If you’re a genius, this isn’t that hard. If you’re not, get ready to sacrifice some fun. I’m biased because I had tons of fun in college and delayed the whole medicine thing – but that’s because I was in no position to decide what I wanted to do with my life when I was 18 or 19 years old. I’m rambling now, but suffice it to say, get good grades, the higher the better.

2. Get a good MCAT score. At this point you may be thinking that this is an obvious list. Well, in a way it is, but I’m being honest here. The people who have the most trouble getting into school (besides people with bad grades, who pretty much don’t get into schools), is people who bomb the MCAT. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t like the MCAT, I don’t support the MCAT, in fact I hate the MCAT, but you need to post a decent score. In my non-expert opinion, the 31-33 range is a passing grade on the MCAT. Anything lower will hurt you, anything higher will help you. Don’t stress too much about it, just study a lot, take TONS of practice tests IN exact testing conditions (no breaks, same time as real test, sitting at a desk quietly, etc.), and then do as well as you can. I’d also recommend taking the test as early as you can be ready for it. If you take it in April and do badly, you can retake in June, but if you take it in June and do badly, you have to retake in August and it delays your entire application. Even better, if you take it in February and do badly, you can retake it in April and still apply in June. The best thing to do though, is to just do well the first time. I personally did not take an MCAT class, and instead used Sn2′s famed study schedule, which is on the student doctor website. The class works for some, but this schedule works for all. Check it out.

3. Apply early. AMCAS opens in May of each year and the first day you can turn it in is June 1. You don’t HAVE to turn it in on June 1, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. I recommend anytime in June, preferably in the first half of the month. There are a few reasons for this, some of which everyone will tell you and some of which they won’t. First the obvious one – it’s a rolling admissions process, so the earlier you apply, the fewer spots have been taken, and the more spots schools have to fill. This is not foolproof, obviously, as the admissions’ offices note, they’ve been through this process before, so know how to spread out their acceptances throughout the year, but at the same time, who really believes that they give march interviewees the same chance as the people who interview in october? No one. This brings me to my next and in my opinion, more important point. Apply early for your own peace of mind. This is the big one for me. In short, prioritize your application year and make it a happy one. The happiest person I know for the past year was accepted at UC Davis in October. He has been set since then, so could relax and work the jobs he wanted, take the vacations he wanted, etc. The most unhappy people are still, in early March, unsure where they will get in. If you’re in the latter boat, all is not lost, you still might get in, but your year has doubtlessly been more stressful. Save the stress for residency.

4. Gather your recommendations early and get writers who can be personal, if possible. Most schools like a committee letter, so if your premedical department or post-bac does them, get it. I also recommend a research recommendation and a letter from someone who’s seen you do clinical work. If you’ve had a legitimate job, get one from there too. Professors are great, but the committee letter takes care of that aspect for you, at least it’s supposed to. Since you want to apply in June, you should really contact your recommenders by January of your application year. That way, they have plenty of time to write it, you can send them reminders each month, and everyone is happy in the end. Most people will agree to write you a letter if they know you at all, but try to get people who really and truly know you and who you can level with. The best recommender is someone you can sit down with and say, “this is what I think should be in my letter, blah blah blah.” I’m not saying you should be able to write your own letters, but you want your recommenders to have a personal stake in getting you into school, and the only way that will happen is if you have a personal relationship with them. If you don’t have a personal relationship with any of your recommenders, don’t freak out, just get someone to write your letters, it’s just preferable if you do.

5. Do something unique! This is the one people forget, or don’t know about, that is really important. The best applicants are those that jump off the page. Start something, get some unique experience, and make it legitimate. Don’t just do it because you want to get into med school. Do it because it’s something you want to do and this is your life to live. Getting into med school is not everything, but it turns out that if you do something unique and awesome (doesn’t have to be medically related), it catches people’s attention. And when you’re trying to get into a class of 100 out of 7,000 applicants, you absolutely have to stand out in some way. The application has 3 spots for “most meaningful experiences.” I think ideally, two of these are medical/research oriented, and the third is something outside of medicine that you’ve done that application readers want to tell their friends about.

6. Get medical experience to prove you know what it’s like to be a doctor. The second half of this is the important part. If you’ve had particularly cool hands-on clinical experience or responsibilities, that’s a plus, but the important thing is that you’ve spent lots of time with physicians while they’re on the job, and you know what you’re getting in to. Schools want to make sure you don’t just like the idea of being of doctor, but that you like the reality of the job. This is important for your own clarity too. This is not Grey’s Anatomy or House, this is actual life. Be sure you know what you’re getting into, and prove that on your application.

7. Do research of some kind. It’s nice to have research on your application. Obviously, if you’re applying for an MD/PhD program, this should be moved up to number 1, but if not, you don’t necessarily need tons of research. Of course, if research is what you’re into, that should be reflected in your experience. Also, it’s not necessary to do bench research if that’s not your cup of tea. There’s tons of clinical research going on in every major hospital – so if you want to do stuff more directly patient-related, get involved in that.

8. Have experienced people read your application essays. After all of the hard work you’ve put in at school, in your extracurriculars, getting your recommendations, etc. the essays on your application are actually very important too. Afterall, how else will the admissions’ office people know what you’ve done if you don’t know how to write about it properly? I recommend having a few doctors read your essays and give comments, and then someone who really knows the current application process, like a premed advisor at your college, read it as well. This will give you a variety of opinions and then you can take it from there. One important thing to note, though, is that everyone has their own opinions about what schools are looking for. This is, of course, because each school and admissions officer is different. So, in the end, you have to make the call of how you want your essays to read. Make sure that it’s your essay, and that you don’t take every person’s opinion on every little thing. More importantly though, just make sure you get multiple readers for those essays and make sure everything is grammatically perfect (unlike this blog post).

9. Get prepared and do some practice interviews. My practice interviews helped me a lot. Some people are very natural interviewers and don’t really need the practice. Decide which one you are and go with that. Again, current doctors and premed advisors are the best people to do practice interviews with. It’s easy to explain to your friends who know nothing about the field why you want to be a doctor – it’s much harder to explain it to an actual doctor. Before your interviews, make sure you can talk about ALL activities on your application, and why medicine suits you. Beyond that, and this is a cliche of course, but be yourself. Bottom line, if the person interviewing you likes you as a person by the end, you have a good chance of getting in. These days some schools do the mmi’s (multiple mini interviews), which are their own story altogether. To prepare for these, you need to understand the ethical dilemmas doctors face and know how to take a stance on them. I recommend googling mmi’s and you’ll find tons of practice scenarios. Discuss them with your girlfriend/boyfriend/parents and you’ll be fine. The most important part of the interviews is to be relaxed and appear to be a normal, sociable person. Your numbers speak for themselves, now you have to show you are fit for a career where you will work with patients everyday.

10. Apply to lots of schools, expect lots of rejections, and make your own final decisions on where you apply and where you go. Although this is my last piece of advice, I think it’s really important. Getting into medical schools is an absolute rat race. Most schools have a 1-2% acceptance rate. Apply to lots of schools. If there’s a particular school you’re on the fence on, apply there. I will likely be going to the school I added last to my list, not because I didn’t like it, but because I didn’t think I could get in because I was out of state. Apply to as many schools that interest you, but don’t apply to schools you don’t want to go to. If you wouldn’t go there, don’t apply. I applied to 25 schools. That’s a little on the high end, but I’d do it again. You have you assume, even if you are an absolute genius, that you’ll be getting rejected from 75% of the schools you apply to, most of them pre-interviews. That’s just the way the process is. If you’re going to get upset after each one, you’re in for a long year. Keep your head up and move on. You can only go to one school anyway. The last piece of advice I have is to make your own final decisions. This applies to every aspect of the process, from the classes you take, the strategy you use to study for the MCAT, your recommenders, your essays, etc. There’s a lot written about getting into med school and a lot of people who have expert and non-expert opinions. The simple fact is, there is no one way to get in, and there’s no one strategy. In the end, you have to be you, take the classes you want, write the essays you are proud of, and hope for the best. That’s all you can do. If you get in, great. If you don’t, just remember, some people have far bigger problems than that.

Good luck.

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