Monthly Archives: January 2012

Med School Study Strategies

Studying for classes in the first year of medical school is not an easy task. Most medical schools have it set up so that first year is lecture-based, study-intense material that you absolutely cannot cram for. Many first year medical students find themselves caught in a dilemma; they are used to saving the bulk of their studying for right before an exam and then cramming and getting that “hard-earned” A. Unfortunately, in medical school, material taught needs to stick.

In order to convert the short-term memory material into long-term physician knowledge and skills, professors load us with drugs, disorders, concepts, and biochemical pathways that we cannot handle without proper preparation. My classmates and I relax after an exam and enjoy a evening out on the weekends, but literally every other day is study day.

It seems as though a large portion of students who preform well on exams in medical use the same method I do. We sit down with a lecture we’ve attended, and we make an outline with pictures and decorated with many different colored highlighters. By the time two or three weeks have passed and it’s time for an exam, we have a stack of colorful, artistic (ok not artistic in my case) outlines we can review rather than flip through 75-slide powerpoint presentations. Here is an example of two of my favorite outlines from my last exam, which was today:

Apoptosis and Complement Activation

Apoptosis and Complement Activation

It’s not easy to tell anyone what the best way to study is. This applies to me as well. These highlighted outline-style summaries are relatively recent for me but have worked well; however, not all classes are tested with written exams. Some exams are practicals, where a professor or clinician grades your technique or skill. I often find myself frustrated with these exams as they can be partial and biased. If the grader sees you are confident, he or she is generally inclined to believe you and grades you based on the inkling that you know what you’re doing. Many students unfortunately don’t know what they’re doing and score well anyway. Other students may be skilled and practiced but humble or shy and get discriminated against, consciously or not. I’ve found myself in both situations and find it unfair and bizarre how we can get an 85% on one exam and 100% on another similar exam when both were equally prepared for.


Whatever exams come your way, I hope you find the best study strategies that work for you. If you want to be a good doctor, make sure you know what and why you are doing something, then do it with confidence. Best of luck!

Social Media Update: 100 Facebook Likes

Even though this blog is still young (about half a year old), we continue to expand and add valuable content for all that seek information on medical school admissions. Last week we passed the 100-like barrier and are deeply humbled for your support and time. Thank you for using your ipod/cell phone/tablet/laptop/computer to browse onto this site and spend a few minutes!

In a society where our attention span is constantly decreasing and we are more busy than ever, we are fully aware of our impact and look forward to a fantastic 2012.

On another note, we are now also on Google +. You may have noticed the flask at the top page. Again, Thank you everyone!

Pets in Medical School

Be prepared to face long days at school upon admission to medical school. If you are set on getting a pet consider carefully. Different species have different needs! You may have to listen to 6 lectures, plus some research, plus a club meeting or two. Sometimes you leave at 7 am and come home at 8 pm. This is not my usual schedule, but days like these happen often. Business will increase with rotations and especially when you start your residency. Planning long term is therefore critical.

I am a big fan of dogs. I’ve grown up with Boxers, Labradors, and Chows. Currently I have a 10-month-old German Shepherd who is amazing and lovely.

Unless you live at home with your parents or a significant other, I don’t recommend high-maintenance dogs. Most dogs need two 1-hour-walks daily. If you have a “rat” dog, you can train it to litter in a box inside. Therefore, I don’t consider dogs to be a good choice unless you really know what you’re getting into (or have experience) when getting a puppy.

Cats are a good choice. They are very independent and can be trained to be clean and pretty self-sustaining (given enough food and water). Cats often have a stronger personality and can be capricious. Dogs are usually the first choice for people with cuddle deficiencies. However, with the right conditioning you can schmuse your cat into becoming your lapdog and feet-warmer.

Reptiles are another good choice. Snakes only eat once a week. Bearded dragons need food once a day, but live feed can cause a problem if you’re not keen on keeping crickets in the house. Don’t expect reptiles to come and snuggle up next to you either. If you are looking for a warm body don’t look here – reptiles are ectothermic (cold-blooded), which means you will be warming them, not the other way around.

Bunnies, mice, hamsters, or other rodents are good ideas too. Their cages have to be cleaned frequently though, otherwise your roommate will feel like he/she is living in a barn.


My dog enjoying some raw meat.

Cheating at Brooke Army Medical Center

Not sure if everyone has heard about the radiology cheating scandal at the Brooke Army Medical Center. You can watch the CNN report here.

All of this became public when a 31 year old Army doctor went against the residency program’s tradition to cheat on the exam by memorizing past questions from a database that was created and maintained by the program. A ton of questions from this database appeared on the actual exam, often 1:1, verbatim.

The questions and answers were stored on a military computer server and accessible to all residents. Residents were strongly encouraged by both the program director and faculty members to use the database and memorize the questions and answers for the test.

I think it’s a shame that this happened at such a prestigious program. It is no secret that book publishers and test-prep organizations like Kaplan or The Princeton Review hire people to take the SAT’s and then ask them what exactly was on it. However, when a residency program does this for its own test and even keeps a database it is certainly immoral and unethical.

In addition, I also have a problem with the creators of the test. It seems like they did not change or recreate questions for the exam. This directly puts students that do not want to cheat at a disadvantage because some students will find one way or another to get past exams if the new exams don’t change. Besides, it is also awfully lazy.



As usual it seems like there is a lot more involved. The resident that did the interview with CNN was allegedly kicked out of the program for sexual harassment a while ago. Apparently he had more motives than merely uncovering questionable behavior.

Weekend Inquiry: When in Doubt & Caribbean Medical Schools

weekend inquiry

Thank you in advance for reading and analyzing this long diatribe. I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and best of luck in the upcoming year.
I will try to keep my intro as short as possible to get in to the specifics, in the interest of saving time and yawns. Please be as honest as possible, I may need the reality check.

I started college at the age of 19 in 1998 in St John’s of New York for all the wrong reasons. I saw college more as a party and ultimately was kicked out because of my grades.
In my 4 semesters there, I managed to amass roughly 20k in private loans, as well as 22 credits and 1.69 GPA. There was also four F’s and 6 withdrawals.

County College
Yes, those are the right years, not a typo. (Some years I didn’t attend, others were only partial semesters, and some were semesters where I dropped all my classes.)
During these years, I managed to hold two long term jobs, while taking classes here and there. At the end of this illustrious college career, I graduated with an associate degree in Business and a 2.81 GPA, along with 19 withdrawals, and 5 F’s. Now I am in a 4 year college, only a summer and fall semester away from a Bachelor’s in Special Education/Spanish. However this semester, I had a hiccup with college Algebra and I failed, I should have withdrawn but didn’t. I am more than confident that I will ace it once I take it again, and whatever my final grade is, will be combined with that F to give me a new final grade.
So to re-cap, I am about 35k in debt for my schooling, a cumulative GPA of 3.138 and a return feeling to practice medicine. There are also 25 withdrawals, and 11 F’s now.

I once was very interested in medicine when I was 23(now I am 32) to go to Dominican Republic for med school, and I guess that’s still an option, but such a tough road to hoe once I get back to states, and that was part of the reason of not pursuing it back then.
At this point, my college tuition isn’t too expensive, so I could afford the extra science classes and math classes. However, would a post- bacc be a better option? I was hoping I could just stay at my four year college, because post bacc is expensive. I know core classes should be at a 4 year school, and that’s where the majority of them would be.
I could theoretically still graduate a science major here still, although that would take about another year. Should I just take the basic science and math courses here and give MCAT’s a shot? Also the science courses (basics) are chem. and org chem., bio and organic bio, pre-calc and physics, correct? Please advise if I missed any. Finally, why do I feel I can make this change? How could I possible finish med school, if it has taken me this long for my bachelor’s?

I was diagnosed with adult ADHD, and ever since I have been diagnosed, I am making positive strides in school. I had three a’s in Spanish, a “c” in education, and “b+” in geography! Thoughts and advice please? It would be severely appreciated, and thank you for your time!

Hi Jeff,

It sounds like you’ve been through a lot. I’m sure you’ve learned a lot from all of that. Debt is never a good motivator, although a strong influence on any decisions that involve finances, including schooling.

It’s hard to say what you “should” or “should not” do. Generally speaking, I would do what you find the most joy in doing. If that’s medical school, you would really need to step up your game. Even in Caribbean medical schools, F’s are not commonly accepted upon entry. Even just one F would need to be explained at medical school interviews. Multiple F’s would be a major deterrent, and it sounds like you may have other career ideas up your sleeve. Also, residency spots are becoming more and more scarce in proportion to the amount of graduating medical students; it’s much, much harder for Caribbean med students to get physician residency spots in the US.

I would pursue a medically-related job for a number of years to decide if you want to further your education in medicine. You would need a lot of real-life medical experience to balance out those bad grades. Maybe you could go to tech school to be a phlebotomist or EMT. After or instead of that, a post-bacc program might be a good option, but you would have to perform very well. You may find out you like being a tech after all.

If I may make a suggestion, don’t pressure yourself with expectations higher than you’re comfortable with. If you spend a lot of money for schooling just to end up in a field you have no previous experience in and decide you don’t really get fulfillment from, it’d be awful. I know a first year med student who was pressured by his parents to go to medical school, did horribly the first trimester of school, and dropped out with a lot of debt and an empty heart. He could have saved himself a lot of stress and money if he followed his own dreams instead of his parents.

Lastly, I want to add that anyone who reads my advice should take it with a grain of salt. If what I write makes sense to you where you are in life, and it helps you to either get ahead or clarify something, then I am fully satisfied. I try to only make judgment calls in my area of expertise: getting into medical school.

Best of luck,