Answers from Medical Students-Pre-Med Questions

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imagesPre-Med Questions

Major:

Is it better for me to choose a science major if I want to go to Medical School?

–While this question is probably targeted towards arts and humanities majors, I feel like I should clear the air for all my engineering brethren out there: the mindset of medicine is almost identical to the mindset of engineering. Yeah, it may take a toll on your GPA, but you will be ridiculously well-prepared to solve problems and to quickly study large amounts of information, which is what medical school is mostly about. As an added bonus, it also makes learning the basic fluid dynamics (oh god please no more Navier-Stokes) we’re studying right now in our cardiology block quite a bit easier. That said, the “slacker engineer” persona doesn’t really work as well in medical school; because the information you pick up here actually matters later on (unlike most of thermodynamics), you’ve gotta be on top of it.

–It’s not necessarily “better” to be a science major for medical school. Yes, it will probably help you once you are in medical school, but if you are passionate about another major and you excel at it, there’s no harm in doing it. In fact, you will probably stand out positively to an admissions committee if you choose a different major. Just make sure you can weave in your Math, Biology, Chemistry, and Physics courses into your other undergraduate classes. -Brian Champagne (MSI)

Is it easier for Biology majors once they get into medical school? Do non-science majors struggle?Let me start off by saying that I believe everyone struggles in medical school in some form. We all have different strengths and weaknesses. With that said, I think that the amount of difficulty depends more on what courses you took as an undergraduate and how much of a course load you are accustomed to. Everyone takes similar prerequisites, so the foundation should be comparable. I was a non-science major and I have been holding my weight thus far…Yet, I supplemented my major prerequisites with several additional science courses like physiology, biochemistry, and anatomy. To contrast my experience, there are several students who studied Biology or a “hard science” major that appear to be struggling. I think it is convenient to take a Biology related major because the major requirements generally fulfill the pre-med prerequisites and it introduces you to many of the topics covered in medical school. Yet, the non-science route is just as valid, provided you take additional courses to prepare yourself. For me, the most difficult part of being a non-science major was gaining access to research opportunities. Long story short, pick a major that you enjoy and excel at. Also, take the prerequisites! Everyone approaches school differently, so find out what works for you and know your limits. -Greg Kennedy (MSI). Leading limousine service you can find here.

Can I still study abroad and be pre-med?

YES! I would struggle to count how many people in my class have studied abroad, there are lots! Although you may have to make time between all of your med school prerequisites and major requirements, studying abroad is fun, is a great life experience, can provide an opportunity to learn another language AND helps you gain an understanding of the world beyond our personal bubbles. Both for personal growth and in the context of medicine, demonstrating an interest in other cultures, experiencing what it is like to travel out of your comfort zone to a foreign place, and embracing the diversity of worldviews and lifestyles that exist are all very valuable.

MCAT:

How much time do I need to study for the MCAT?

It depends on how well you take tests and how much of the content you already know. I don’t consider myself to be a proficient test taker, so I definitely studied more than I should have. I took a prep course and took 3 months off to prepare. I studied every day for an average of 8 hours. I studied so much that my scores started dropping! So, I stopped taking practice tests, studied less, and focused on content I didn’t know. I have friends that scored well without studying and some that studied for two weeks and did fine. I also know folks who studied really hard and tanked… Everyone’s MCAT experience and study strategy will differ. It is really up to you and what you feel you need. I would definitely recommend taking all of your pre-med prerequisites prior to your MCAT. Also, take a few practice tests to see how well you do with a time limit and what subjects you need to study. You also need to consider how much time you have to study and if your school performance be hindered by studying. I would recommend studying and taking it during a break from school… But, again, do what works for you. -Greg Kennedy

What helped you most in preparing for the test?

I was one who took the MCAT twice, and the huge difference for me was taking a prep course. I acknowledge it’s an expensive option though. A prep course though helped me to “take a test.” It wasn’t that I needed to learn the material per se — the science foundations will come back as you review and study. But good test taking skills — like process of elimination, how to read the question, and pacing yourself — are qualities that I gained and strengthened from a prep course. It were those skills that built up a lot of my confidence, and confidence is also very important when you’re taking a test like the MCAT.

Should I take a prep course?

That is totally up to you, based on your personality. If you are the type of person who can schedule out the next few months of studying and stay mostly on target with your goals, then you can consider studying on your own. If you need a good review of the sciences and some motivation to keep you on target, a class would help. If you are just taking the class for “study tips,” it may not be worth it. I would recommend purchasing a cheaper online course or google for study tips rather than take a course unless you had more reasons for the course.

Personally, I purchased all the examkracker books (http://www.examkrackers.com/MCAT/), a simple MCAT review book, and all of the AAMC practice tests. Other than that, I reviewed subjects on my own and used the examkracker books to practice. I set up a schedule for 2 months of a summer for review and practice questions and 3 weeks for practice tests (with 2 weeks of leeway) and I stayed mostly on target. Most important thing that helped me study: a research job on the side that I loved and kept me sane from studying!

Is it possible to study for the MCAT and regular courses simultaneously?

Yes, but studying in the summer is worth it.
Most of the folks I saw attempt this burned out fast. You pay a lot for a prep course! Take it when you have time and can focus. -Greg Kennedy (MSI)

What score do I need to get into medical school?

In 2007, the average MCAT of matriculants was 30-31 P. The previous statement is absolutely worthless, because what MCAT any given person needs to get into any medical school depends on a thousand different variables: how early you apply, your GPA, the non-numerical portions of your application, how you did on the interview, the alignment of the planets, etc. If you’re talking specific medical schools, osteopathic schools, or special programs (MSTP, PRIME), the stats change.

Applying:

What kind of questions have medical school interviewers asked you?

– Why medicine?
– Why do you want to go to [insert name of medical school]?
– What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
– What are your thoughts on the recent health care reform?

Is it bad to take time off?

No of course not! In fact, most of my classmates have taken time off. The average age of matriculation is 23 (that means most people took at least 1 year off!)

Research:

Where should I start finding research opportunities?

If your school has a central undergraduate research grant or program office, go talk to them, and they can redirect you to professors they know who are willing to take on undergrads. If not, make or buff up your resume, set aside an hour or two, google research at your school in which you have an interest, and start e-mailing.

Extracurricular Activities:

How important are extracurricular activities?

Extracurricular activities are super important, but not just for filling up space on an application. Hopefully you have found something outside school that you have a passion for and that gives some additional meaning to life. Whatever it may be (playing ukulele, doing bench side research, travelling, ice sculpting, volunteering at schools, Irish dancing, teaching swim lessons, or cooking) getting involved with activities and organizations outside of school will keep you grounded, healthy, and happy and are important for success in medical school and in life.

Do they have to be health related?

No, but they should cultivate you as a person in some way (academically, culturally, socially, creatively, etc). I never really understood why medical schools picked well-rounded people until I got here: while medicine definitely requires you to be a scientist, it is ultimately a field that is about people. Even with the relatively tiny number of medical histories I have taken, I can assure you that my non-health related experiences have helped me far more in connecting with a patient and guiding them through talking about their problem than any biological concept I’ve learned in medical school. Given that 80% of diagnoses are derived from the history alone, your extracurricular experiences may actually save a life some day.

When should I start gaining exposure to clinical or hospital settings as an undergrad?

As soon as you feel comfortable taking on more responsibilities outside of your schoolwork. You should know what you’re getting into, and there’s no better way of knowing what life is ultimately going to be like than stepping into the real world. On a more “practical” level, it’ll brush up your resume, and you may even learn that medicine’s not the right career for you early (my friends owe their six-figure salaries in investment banking to shadowing early).