Category Archives: Interview

Becoming The Patient

On December 17th, I underwent a tonsillectomy for recurrent tonsillitis. This was my first surgery under general anesthesia, and I was incredibly nervous. I have learned all the possible reactions and complications that come with general anesthesia, and I thought maybe I would be the 1 in 100,000 who get malignant hyperthermia or something wild like that. (Medical student syndrome or hypochondriasis at its finest.) Thankfully, my husband was by my side in the pre-op and post-op areas, and my mom was eager to hear how things went and how I was feeling. I had the support I needed for a “routine” surgery, and I had been forewarned about the pain and difficulty of getting tonsils removed as an adult. I was ready. “Are you the husband? It’s time to give any hugs or kisses; she’s going back.”

Tonsillectomy by CoblationMy surgeon was calmly waiting for me as they wheeled my bed into the operating theater. He made some jokes about how he felt ready to operate since he watched the video once again, to which I replied, “I watched it too.” Everyone laughed, and I lied back and began breathing in cold, chemical air from a mask as the anesthesiologist instructed me to do. I felt a stinging sensation through my IV in my hand as the propofol was pushed; the burning climbed up my arm, and I was out.

When I woke, my throat felt the way it does when you get strep throat. I was coughing from the endotracheal tube being placed, and I happily accepted an offer of pain medications from my kind nurse who told me that I was “ok”. My husband arrived, and we filled my prescription for liquid tylenol with codeine and continued on our tired way back home.

The next 4 days were relatively uneventful as I struggled to stay hydrated with ice pops and water as my sole diet. On the afternoon of day 4, I was feeling a little better, when I tasted the same metal flavor in my mouth that I get when I get bloody noses. My surgical site was bleeding. I looked in the mirror, and it was pulsating out of my left throat, into the sink, filling the sink quickly. My husband rushed me to the emergency room of a hospital which we discovered didn’t have ENT surgeons in-house. We waited for an ENT surgeon to come in from the city as I gushed blood into extra-large sized styrofoam cups and attempted gargling with ice water. As I looked at my heart rate monitor, I thought, “Her heart rate is in the 140s and blood pressure is in the 150s systolic. This is clearly an emergency, and she needs treatment now. No time to talk with her, I need to tell the attending about this patient. Wait, this is me. And I’m helpless…” After about 45 minutes of bleeding and vomiting clots that collected in my esophagus, the supplies and surgeon were brought in, and I was wheeled back, once again. This time the pushed the propofol while I was sitting up, nauseated and vomiting into a cup. They must have caught my head from falling. I’m thankful.

I started from scratch again, with the pain, the difficulty staying hydrated, on top of being very anemic. I lost about 1.5L of blood. Within 5 days I lost 10 pounds. Despite all of this, I’m thankful that my tonsils are no longer a part of me, and I’m thankful for the support I received. I wasn’t sick very often as a child, so this was the first time I felt the patient’s experience. It was my first time knowing how it feels to be dependent on a medical team for my well-being, for my survival. It was the first time I felt like my body was doing me an injustice. I was so thankful for how the nurses cared for me, how the anesthesiologist walked me through what would happen step-by-step, and for the surgeon who fixed the part of my body that was doing the injustice. It is truly a humbling experience to be so helpless and dependent on others for my life, literally, and I know that as I treat my patients, I will not forget this. I promise I will one day be the physician who will work with a great team to fix injustices.

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.)


How NOT to Dress at Medical School Interviews

I have had a handful of unconventional experiences and encounters during medical school interviews. I’ve traveled across the country for my interviews; I once even rode a storming-loud, bone-shaking eight passenger airplane to a living room sized airport in Missouri in order to get remotely near a medical school.

While each of these interviewing experiences was both nerve-wracking and unique, I trudged through the interview processes accompanied by memorable, quite interesting interviewees. [adsense] Some people look great on paper. As a medical school admissions member, one must be skilled at accurately inviting interviewees based on the applicant’s self-presentation in his or her AAMCAS/AACOMAS, secondary application, and resume. The admissions board sorts through thousands of applications, about 100 applications per open seat in the class, and chooses who they think is worthy of an interview. It takes a lot to beat 75-90% of the crowd and be invited to interview at a medical college. One time, I tactfully arrived 30 minutes early for my interview, thinking I would be the first interviewee to greet (and hopefully impress) the secretary.

I found myself entering a waiting area where two other interviewees already sat, one of which whose back was facing me. I courtly greeted the two, introducing myself with a nervous smile. As the one’s head turned to face me, I was shocked to find myself dropping my jaw at the most unprofessional, makeup covered girl I have ever seen in my life! It looked like she slapped mascara onto her eyelashes 3 times over, then went to sleep, woke up, forgot to brush or style her hair, and applied another 6 layers of mascara and foundation to her already small and now overcrowded face. She could have starred as the female antagonist in “IT”.

Her pencil skirt had a high slit up the back, and throughout the day she asked the most important people all the wrong questions. She interrupted the Dean as he answered an off-topic question of hers, and she constantly giggled at herself after she spoke. My goodness! I truthfully felt bad for her and now regret not suggesting to her to peel off a few layers of makeup, put her hair back neatly, and remain calm and mature for her next interview. She admitted how nervous she was; apparently she had quite a few interviews but hadn’t gotten accepted anywhere. She probably looked much better on paper.

At another medical school interview, I was surprised to find myself trying to unsuccessfully make conversation with the other interviewees. At my previous interviews, all the interviewees would chat amongst ourselves, casually mentioning some great experiences or jobs we’ve had while freely getting to know our competitors. At this interview, everyone must have been nervous, because I tried to arouse conversation but seemed to only annoy my competitors. They barely talked, and when they did, they didn’t present themselves with confidence. Maybe it was because all ten of us were females, and we know medical schools are usually divided about 50% based on gender.

This gender-, jealousy-based competition was bumped up a notch when the last two interviewees to arrive were dressed in army uniforms; I had no idea those outfits came in skirts and loose-fitting, “bannered” tops (wouldn’t have been my first choice of dress… there’s nothing like forgetting you’re applying to medical school and not military school). These weren’t crisp, clean uniforms; they looked more like colored potato sacks. The whole experience was awkward, except for when I actually interviewed. It was surprisingly one of my best interviewing experiences! There is a general consensus that professional, interview attire includes grey-to-black suit/skirt and shoes with modest coverage of skin, especially for women. At one interview, two other interviewees had low-cut, party shirts on. One girl wore bright purple, alligator-skin high heels, and the other girl was noticeably wearing a strapless, tubetop shirt under her jacket. These might have sported well at their local frat parties on 4/20 or homecoming but not at a medical school interview, the chance of a lifetime.

The way a person dresses doesn’t always dictate what kind of person he or she is; however, when you only have an hour or two to leave an impression at a school you’ve been working 4+ years to get accepted into, you might take the extra time to look professional. I don’t know whether or not these girls got accepted to that school, but I do hope they at least decided to wear button-up shirts for their next interview(s).

Looking good on paper isn’t everything. You may have good grades, life-changing experiences, and a kick-ass personal statement and resume, but unless you follow through and present yourself as a professional, mature candidate at an interview, you might as well just get an online degree. It’s not about looking beautiful, it’s about showing a medical school that you know what professionalism looks like, not just on paper.