Category Archives: FAQ

Reapplying to Medical School

For many of us, medical school is a dream that must come true. Standard schools often haven an acceptance rate of ~2-5% or less, which makes an acceptance a mammoth task. I have seen the giant commitment and dedication that is required in order for one to become a medical student turn into an obsession. Personally, I have been obsessed with getting into medical school for 4 years, and at times have hated it.

“Obsession: An idea or thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes a person’s mind”.

While being obsessive is clearly helpful to becoming a doctor, it is by definition unhealthy. A free mind may
be much more powerful and flexible than a restless and sleep-deprived mind. Mistakes happen when we loose focus – or simply focus on the wrong things. Human attention is a limited resource.

Remember Sisyphus, the son of Aeolus? Sisyphus was punished by Hades for his actions in life by being sentenced to the eternal duty of rolling a large stone to the top of a hill, from which it rolled down again, and again. It’s pointless and frustrating to obsess without lucid, supporting reason.

Sisyphus rolling up his stone in vain - an ancient Greek archetype of a worst-case-scenario.

 

The Perspective of a Medical School Admissions Committee

If you don’t make it the first time, applying for the second time is never a bad thing. For one, it shows that you are committed. In addition, the college gets to see how substantially you have improved. In this sense, they get to take two looks at you. If you don’t make it a second time, you may go for a third for the same reasons.

However, let me warn you: it gets harder each time. Every time you retake the MCAT and reapply, the scrutiny of the admissions board increases. Most universities do not even allow you to apply for more than three times. This said, don’t shy away from applying for a second or third time; there have been great stories of perseverance.

The same principle could be applied to the MCAT. Students shouldn’t keep retaking the MCAT to the point where it’s ridiculous. I’m talking about students that take it for the 4th or 56th time. I would say that if you are taking
the MCAT for the third time, make sure that your MCAT studying is the best it can be.

Taking Action

[adsense] If you didn’t get in the first time, it is absolutely vital for you to improve as a whole, not just with your MCAT score. This means not only to correct your weaknesses, but also to further build your strengths. A year is a long time, and you can work on all of the following areas:
MCAT score, professional experience (by getting a job in a lab or something clinically related), AAMC application, your application essays (primary and secondary), post-baccs, etc. Do not reapply with the same overall “stats”. Why expect a different outcome when you repeatedly do things without change? In any case, try to do a better job than I did by applying as early as you can :-). Medical school admissions is a rolling admissions process – first come, first serve.

Plan B

If  you realize at some point that you are not going to be admitted to either MD or DO school (difference between osteopathic and allopathic medicine), there are plenty of options with a science background. Consider becoming a PA, an RN, a lab technician of some sort, or doing research; really, the sky is the limit. All these occupations are considered to be personally fulfilling and offer fair if not great salaries. They also often offer continuing education and certificates to climb the hierarchy.

One More Thing

I think it is really important to to review your application realistically. You should not apply unless you have a realistic chance, especially if you have already been denied. Instead, make sure your application is as strong as it can be. There needs to be visible, significant change between your applications. This post is not meant to discourage anyone from reapplying; it is meant to aid you in improving your application.

The Bottom Line

If you reapply, make sure you identify your weaknesses and work on them rigorously. You may be asked about these weaknesses and changes in “stats” at an interview. Be aware that because you may be applying to a medical school for the second or third time, that school gets a deeper understanding of who their applicant is. Thus you need to be in even better shape the next time. Use your time and beef up your stew as much as you can. If you have to wait a year for the cow to get fat, wait, and butcher it the next year! (I apologize if you’re a vegetarian. I respect that. I buy grass-fed.)

Cheers!

Caribbean Medical Schools

There’s a lot of talk about Caribbean medical schools, but what’s the beef?

A friend of mine has an older sister studying medicine in Grenada who wouldn’t trade it for the world. She said she loves the beach, wildlife, and natural botanical diversity. The weather keeps her happy, and she can study in the most comfortable settings. I volunteered in a hospital in NY state for a summer and 3 of the ER doctors studied medicine outside the US, and they didn’t speak against it. They didn’t argue for it either, though.

The problem with getting your Doctorate of Medicine (MD) in the Caribbean or South America is not that you will never find a job. There is almost always a need for physicians. What is a problem, however, is that statistics show you are very unlikely to get the residency of your choice. Studies have been done to compare the success of getting first-choice residencies for MDs who studied in the US, MDs who got their degree off-shore, and DOs who studied in the US. The results in order of those who get their first choice more often to least often: US MDs, DOs, off-shore MDs.

When one doesn’t get the first or even second residency of his or her choice, that person may become unfulfilled due to pursuing something without passion to back it, or due to working hard in a place or environment that isn’t conducive to that person’s goals or satisfaction. In addition, because it’s much easier to get accepted into Caribbean or off-shore medical schools, a degree from these schools is simply not respected. Many people admire and even prefer DOs over MDs due to the philosophy of holistic care backing the degree. These people don’t mind that DOs generally have slightly lower MCAT scores and GPAs. However, learning that a doctor got his or her degree just outside the US often unsettles patients.

Caribbean Medical School Hitchhiker

Caribbean Medical School Hitchhiker

Going to a medical school in the Caribbean is a last option, but it is an option nonetheless. When you can’t get into any medical schools in America after 2 or 3 MCATs or years of trying, and a graduate degree is not an option for you, hopefully the lax environment in the Caribbean will ease your stress. Not only are they easier to get accepted into, but they are usually cheaper, and that is always a plus! For everyone’s sake, take a different approach to studying for the MCAT and applying to medical schools in the US before settling with those just outside the US. This website is here to help. Be confident! 🙂

For those interested, here is a list of Caribbean medical schools by country.

GPA for Medical School

“What GPA do I need to get into medical school?” This is another very popular question, yet again, the answer to this question isn’t completely straight-forward. Generally speaking, you need at least a 3.4 cumulative GPA in order to be sorted into the potential interview pile at allopathic schools. That isn’t always the case, but if your GPA is just past a 3.0, then you will seriously need to beef up the rest of your application. That includes scoring well on the MCAT, being involved in extracurricular and volunteer activities, holding a good job, and doing research. Unfortunately, if you have below a 2.8 GPA, you are usually prohibited from applying to medical school altogether.

Average GPAs for matriculated medical students at most allopathic schools was a 3.67 cumulative GPA and 3.61 science GPA in 2010. Click here for more comprehensive data on medical school applicants, matriculation, and average GPA and MCAT scores. For osteopathic students, the average cumulative GPA for matriculating students is about 3.5 and the average science GPA is about a 3.4, but it varies some from school to school. While you can get into medical school with a 3.3 GPA, it can be very difficult. Feel free to refer to the College tab to see how else you can better your chances of getting into medical school, and keep in mind the trusty golden formula for getting into medical school:

Medical School Admission Equation

Experience = volunteer, extracurricular, occupational, research

MCAT Score for Medical School

“What MCAT score do I need to get into medical school?” There isn’t a cut-and-dry answer to this question. On average, those accepted to allopathic schools have MCAT scores between 30 and 31. Of course, if you want to get into Hopkins or Yale, your score needs to be kickin’ – more like a 36+. For osteopathic schools, the average MCAT score is around 26, depending on the school. Although your MCAT score is one of the most important determining factors on whether you can get into medical school, medical schools also seriously consider your undergrad activity. They look at other variables, including your volunteer and extracurricular experience, letters of recommendation, past jobs, research experience, and GPA. You can do worse in one of these areas and make up for it in another. I know a number of friends who have low MCAT scores but high GPAs who have gotten into medical school. Feel free to refer to the College to Medical School tab to see how else you can better your chances of getting into medical school.

The MCAT has the following four sections in chronological order: verbal reasoning, physical sciences, 2 writing samples, and biological sciences. The essay section is scored with a letter, ranging from J (lowest) to T (highest). You can score anywhere from 1 to 15 in each of the VR, PS, and BS sections. Getting a 15 in each would give you the highest possible MCAT score, a 45. Keep in mind that a 40 MCAT already ranks you in the top 99.9 percentile. Ideally, you want to get a 10 or 11 in each section in order to be considered a competitive applicant. Click here to see a comprehensive breakdown of MCAT statistics for 2010 test takers.

Studying properly for the MCAT is essential to improving your chance of getting into medical school. You need to make yourself a strict schedule and learn essential strategies in order to get that great MCAT score. Check out this 75-Day MCAT Schedule to start planning, and read up on these MCAT Study Guide 109 Tips and Strategies, to learn how to attack this test with bared teeth. You can do this!

In summary, weigh out your variables appropriately; here is the golden, multi-variable equation that gets you into Medical School::

Medical School Admission EquationExperience = volunteer, extracurricular, occupation, research.

 

What’s the Difference Between a MD and DO (allopathic vs osteopathic)?

Many people wonder what is different about doctors who have a Doctorate of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) and those who have a Medical Doctor (MD) degree. About 4 out of 5 medical students in the US are training to be MDs. However, osteopathic physicians (DOs) can be any kind of physician they want to be. Doctors can choose any specialty, prescribe medication, and perform surgery with either a DO or a MD.

Notably, highly competitive residencies (neurosurgery, spinal surgery, etc) are harder to get into for DOs. Osteopathic medical colleges often focus on training physicians to fulfill the desperate need of graduating more primary care physicians, but that is not a requirement. I have an acquaintance who went to A.T.Still University College of Osteopathic Medicine and is now completing his anesthesiology residency at a prestigious hospital in Pennsylvania; however, over half of DOs in America today are primary care physicians. Right now, America has approximately 63,000 fully licensed osteopathic physicians practicing the entire scope of modern medicine.

DOs take the COMLEX and MDs take the USMLE. There’s not much difference between the two tests, but 20% of the COMLEX covers Osteopathic Principles and Practice (this includes osteopathic manipulative medicine, a hands-on treatment for somatic dysfunction). Sometimes DOs will take both the COMLEX and the USMLE in order to score well and get into a competitive residency, but it’s not just board scores that will get a physician into a residency of his or her choice; it’s also letters of recommendation, planning and choosing rotation sites, and the medical student’s involvement that will get him or her a choice residency.

Osteopathic schools have lower GPA and MCAT scores, but they are not necessarily any easier than allopathic (MD) schools. Osteopathic schools put more emphasis on patient-centered, hands-on, holistic care – caring for the patient as a whole, really figuring out how they are doing, and being genuinely compassionate towards their needs, but they are still trained in everything their allopathic get trained in (pharmocology, physiology, systems, etc.). The main difference between the two degrees is that DOs are certified in Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine (OMM). The curriculum varies little between osteopathic and allopathic schools. DOs take all the same coursework as MDs, plus an additional ~200 hours in musculoskeletal manipulation.

Being an MD gives one international recognition as a medical doctor. Some countries place restrictions on DOs as medical doctors. The number of DOs in the US is, however, rising. In 2010, the number of new MDs per 100,000 people fell from 7.5 to 5.6, while the number of new DOs per 100,000 rose from 0.4 to 0.8.

As far as grades go, average MCAT scores for students accepted to osteopathic schools are ~26 with a 3.5cGPA/3.4sGPA; average for allopathic is ~30 with a 3.7cGPA/3.6sGPA. (Check out the “College” tab to learn more about requirements for medical school admission.) A lot of people choose osteopathic schools because of their philosophy and love for people. Other people choose allopathic schools because of their name, success, and/or popularity. I would choose the school that fits best to you, your mission and values.