Thursday, April 28, 2016

After Acceptance: A User’s Guide to Preparing for Medical School

The summer before I started medical school at the College of Human Medicine (CHM), I often wondered what I was getting myself into.

What will med school be like? What will I learn? Will I be able to keep up? Would I still have a life? Will I embarrass myself in front of a bunch of medical professionals? What don’t I know that I need to know?

With (almost) two years of medical school down, I would tell all those who are about to matriculate (along with my past-self) to calm down.


You will learn all that you need to know when you need to know it. You will be able to keep up. It may be hard, but it’s doable. Sure, it can be draining at times, but med school is still incredibly rewarding. You will be pushed, but you will grow.

So before you begin classes, the biggest thing you can do before starting med school is prepare while simply enjoying the process.

Here are five pieces of advice to help make the transition to med school a bit easier.

Relax and enjoy your last summer before med school!
It’s no secret that med school will take up a lot of your time. So if you have the time to relax this summer, do it!

Talking to a lot of my classmates, they all wish they had further enjoyed the time they had prior to starting med school. Before you get loaded down with lectures and coursepacks, do the things that make you happy! Travel, go to the lake, make art, cook, go camping, spend time with family and friends.

In my last summer before med school, I traveled around the US to spend time with family and friends—from Hawaii to LA, multiple trips to Chicago, and all over Michigan. I also spent a whole lot of time relaxing. One of my friends traveled all over Europe while another spent his summer being a camp counselor at his favorite camp.

Med school is about to push you like nothing has before, but you'll be okay. Don’t worry about learning anatomy and physiology ahead of the time. It's too much, and I promise you, you’ll learn it eventually.

I can’t say it enough, nor can all of the med students I asked: relax and take advantage of the time you have before starting med school!

Get in a routine.
Amidst all your hardcore relaxing, it may be helpful to get into a routine. At the least, this will be important towards the end of the summer.

You’re about to have a lot of 8am classes and required events. If waking up before then is hard for you, it may not be a bad idea to try to condition your body to an early wake time.

That being said, you’ll find your routine once med school starts as well. Don’t worry if it takes time—it took me a few months to learn that I can’t study much past 8pm, being the grandma that I am.

I know now not to push the studying too late, as I won’t be as productive as I can be when it’s 7am. On the flip side, some would rather study until 2am or later and sleep in when they can. Everyone has a different framework of studying and you’ll find your groove.

For some people, it may also be helpful to plan time for things that are important to them. Getting into the habit of going to the gym daily or for a run every other day (for the more relaxation-inclined) can help motivate you to keep those schedules up once school starts.

Find meals that you enjoy making or cooking. Experiment with larger dishes so you can eat leftovers for the next few days and save yourself some time.

Find a place to live—but don't stress!
Finding housing can be stressful, but you’re not alone.

Just take the time to look into all of your options. Ask about where med students live to get some ideas. Find what fits into your budget and will make you the most comfortable, especially when you’re stressed and have had a long day at school.

Is living nearby a coffee shop or Panera important? Does living with roommates give you motivation or does living solo help keep you sane?

There are so many options around both Grand Rapids and East Lansing that you do not have to worry.

Being at the Grand Rapids campus myself, I can say that you have plenty of time to find a place to live around here. Many apartment buildings won’t even know what they'll have available until 1-2 months ahead of time, so you’re definitely not behind the ball.

I found out that I was placed at the Grand Rapids campus in mid-June, and I was able to find housing in early/mid-July. I was stressed and thought I was going to struggle finding housing before matriculating in less than two months. Yet after checking out some options, I found my apartment in less than three weeks.

Set up a budget.
After talking with some fellow med students, some of them wish they had come up with more of a budget before starting med school. This is extremely helpful when figuring out how much loan money to take out.

It may be hard to know what your budget will be exactly, but you can try to estimate your monthly costs based on housing, food, bills, and other necessities/wants (travel, gym membership, shopping, movies, football games, etc.).

By estimating a budget, you can have a better estimate for how much loan money you want to add to your running debt each semester. If you take too much out, you can always carry that over to the next semester or choose what you wish with it. If you take out too little, the Office of Financial Aid can often find ways to reimburse the money you didn’t originally take out or other loans that might apply.

Speaking of the Office of Financial Aid, always give them a call or stop by their office if you have any questions. They are more than willing to help you figure out your loans or how to budget your expenses.

Of special importance, ask them if you forget when loans will be dispersed. Many students often forget that loans aren’t dispersed until it’s within 10 days of school starting. For example, if you need to start paying rent on the 1st of August, loans are not dispersed until mid-August, so that is important to keep in mind when making a budget.

This is also relevant when it comes time to pay for January rent because students forget loans aren’t dispersed until the first or second week of the month. So, just keep an eye on your budget and when that loan money will officially be in your hands.

Look into a variety of specialties.
Diving into medical school, you’re going to meet everyone along the spectrum of “I’m going to be a surgeon!” to “I have no clue what I want to be.”

Let me make it clear: it’s great if you already know what you want to do. It's also great if you don’t know what you want to do.

Med school is about learning which specialties interest you and which don't. If you are dying to be pro-active before med school (and I repeat, you do not have to start studying yet!), take some time to look into different specialties.

I didn’t know that the field of Pediatric Developmental Disabilities even existed when I started medical school, but now I know that’s what I want to pursue. Look at the lifestyle, hours, salary, locations, residency and/or fellowship lengths, and try to shadow or talk to a physician in a field that interests you.

You’ll have plenty of time to figure this out in med school, but it never hurts to be curious.

Hopefully these recommendations can be helpful for incoming students. But honestly, there’s nothing I can say to truly prepare a student for medical school. Everyone experiences it differently.

It will be hard at times. You will feel drained at times. You will be stressed at times. But it is extremely rewarding.

You will learn an incredible amount of material. Not only that, you will learn how to interact with patients and how to be a compassionate, hardworking, dedicated physician.

You will be surrounded by an amazing community of medical students, faculty, staff, mentors, and alumni. You will still have a life and find ways to prioritize making time for what’s important.

And yes, you will probably embarrass yourself many times--in front of your classmates, patients, doctors, and a whole bunch of medical professionals. All you can do is learn from it, correct any mistakes you made, and maybe have a little laugh at yourself.

Speaking from experience, there’s not much else you can do when you pass out while shadowing, is there?

Sheri VanOmen is a second-year College of Human Medicine student from West Michigan. This year, Sheri is lending her voice to the Office of Admissions' SpartanMD blog to periodically offer tips on the admissions process as well as an inside look at what being a CHM student is all about. Also read her previous posts, From "Far Off' Place To Medical School and Coming Back To Reality—A Time For Reflection.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Overcoming Rejection: Tips On How To Deal with Disappointment & Strengthen Your Application

For most medical schools across the country, the current cycle interview period has come to a close. The next incoming class is starting to take shape and, unfortunately, that means some applicants must deal with rejections.

Here are some steps to take so that you may alleviate the disappointment and use the time going forward on strengthening your application for the next cycle.

In medical school admissions, rejection is just part of the process. In fact, being rejected is pretty common. Tens of thousands submit applications each year for an increasingly limited number of seats. The competition is stiff, with the vast majority of U.S. medical schools offering less than 200 open slots per incoming class.

Less than 40% of applicants in the prior cycle matriculated, according to data from the American Association of Medical Colleges.

While rejection can be disheartening, it's important to come to terms with the circumstance quickly. Don't allow the shock of rejection to turn into complacency, nor should it turn into a devaluation of self-worth. It is not uncommon for applicants to go through the application cycle two, even three times before matriculating. It certainly can be done.

In fact, those who take steps to improve their applications and then reapply greatly improve their chances of success. Plenty of students who matriculate are actually reapplicants. Schools like our own encourage applicants to try again.

Perseverance can go a long way moving forward. Start taking notes from this experience—those will come in handy when working on your new personal statement and essays. 

Reflection and Self-Assessment
Those notes will be most helpful after some reflection. Applicants must first decide whether to go through the application process another time. In other words, are you willing to do it all over again?

Rejected applicants should take time to decide whether medical school is still a goal. Gauge your desire to become a physician.

If you are ready and willing to move forward with medical school still in your sights, it's crucial to acknowledge that your profile as an applicant must undergo a few tweaks. Self-awareness about your standing in the applicant pool is vital to bouncing back strongly.

Take a thorough look at your application and recognize which portions can be improved. Your personal statement, grades and scores, interviewing skills, letters of recommendation as well as volunteer experiences and clinical exposure are all areas to reevaluate.

Think about how well your essays were written and whether they, along with your grades, demonstrated your aptitude and skills effectively. Could you have done better on the MCAT? If you were effective enough to receive interview invites, did it go well?

Once you have looked at your application, ask others for input. You may be able to meet with admissions representatives to go over where you can strengthen your application. While many schools do not give specifics as to why you were rejected, this information can be extremely helpful.

The College of Human Medicine (CHM), for example, offers a Self-Assessment Guide. Upon submission, rejected applicants can then schedule an advising appointment to meet directly with Office of Admissions counselors.

This process will help you identify which areas of your application need further attention. Reapplying to medical school means changing your approach for the next cycle. If an​ applicant isn't ready to learn from what didn't work and try a new approach, they might not be ready for med school.

Executing A Plan
Having identified where you can strengthen your application, you can now develop a plan and execute. Reapplicants must take some action that will show improvement.

If you lacked volunteer experience or clinical exposure, for instance, the summer is a great time to put in, well, time. If your grades are an issue, decisions on a post-bacc program or graduate school may need to be made before reapplying.

Make sure you understand that medical schools may require a minimum number of graduate credits before they allow applicants to submit those grades for review. Here at CHM, we will only review graduate courses if the applicant meets the 16-credit minimum. This means you may need a year or two before you reapply.

Ensure that you take enough time for study and preparation if you need to retake the MCAT. It may be worth it to take courses in public speaking or interpersonal communication if you think that could better prepare you for another round of interviews.

However your plan shapes up, don't be afraid to seek out help if you feel it can be productive. With that said, recognize your plan may take time. Applicants are expected to put their best foot forward when they apply so taking another year to strengthen your application may be necessary.

A lot of rejected applicants never reapply. So it is those reapplicants with perseverance and a strong work ethic than can ultimately meet their goal. With some introspection, a subsequent plan moving forward, and some perseverance, the next cycle may be yours to conquer.

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