Monday, May 4, 2015

Being a Reapplicant

I am not sure how many people know of the Saga of Family Aerospace, but after four complete rounds, I was finally accepted to medical school at Top Choice School (TCS). It was my grandmother's 84th birthday, which was also traffic day so I will always remember this date. I think a pig flew past my window right after I read the email.

I applied to them four times, they interviewed me and waitlisted me three times. I of course also applied to DO as well as one international school during the various rounds. TCS has a very good reputation (particularly in the South), pretty good research facilities (admittedly I have not explored them), an award-winning LGBT clinic, and has a really fancy new education building which puts most Ivy League schools to shame and they are revamping part of the curriculum which is likely only going to make it better. There is a bonus of it being incredibly affordable thanks to me being in-state. I don't want to say this is my ideal school, but it is pretty darn close. For those familiar with the "Dayenu" portion of a Passover seder, if I was just accepted to medical school and it didn't have a good reputation, it would have been enough Dayenu. Instead almost every single thing I asked for in a school is right there. Only thing is that it's not closer to my shul or on the Jewish calendar but you know what? I'll take it! My shul is only 2.5 hours away. I could run down there every other week and I assume I can ask for religious accommodations for the first two years.

I will say I have seen and felt so much absolute sadness the past few years every time I was reapplying that by the time the waitlists hit this year, they didn't even hurt so imagine my shock when I was accepted right as I was preparing for round 5. It's entirely possible that I would not have appreciate the acceptance as much as I did if I was accepted the first round.

However, I've I have a few basic things I learned during my saga and as I think of other things, I will update this post to reflect new additions. Some will be obvious and others, maybe less so.

Obvious Application Improvements

In all likelihood, just due to the way things work, you have very little time to improve your application from the time round 1 rejects you to the time round 2 starts, That is, of course, assuming you did little or nothing after you clicked "submit" on round 1. Hopefully, you continued to do something, whatever it might have been, during the interview season to make your round 2 a little better, but I suspect if you are reading this now, it might be too late on that end.

Personally, I am a huge fan of looking ahead. By the time I hit "submit" on round 2, I was looking for ways to make my round 3 look better. I did this every single year. So here are the usual areas that might need help.

1) Grade improvement - In all likelihood, the movement of your GPA caused by classes taken during a surprise gap year isn't likely to be a ton, although anything is possible and that is of course contingent on how many hours and how many grades you have. I would be surprised if this would make a difference unless you were doing the DO grade replacement option which is a really wonderful tool, but unfortunately for the MD programs probably won't help much. My differences were in the few hundredths of a point. I can honestly say that making the decision to take GPA-boosting classes was probably not the best use of my time or finances. The only benefit is that I took classes that I always wanted to take, but never had the chance.

2) MCAT improvement - This here is likely one of the easiest ways to boost your chances of acceptance for the next round. I've spoken a little about my MCAT review here. I wish I was able to take professional grade MCAT classes, but my finances just would not allow it. Of course, if your MCAT is the old score equivalent of mid-30s, MCAT is probably not an issue.

3) Clinical Experience - I am sure this comes as no surprise that an increase in clinical experience would be very helpful. Exactly how much you can get during a surprise gap year and the quality of the experience is hard to assess. At a minimum, hopefully, you can get some shadowing or some volunteer work. If you really have the time/money/energy, becoming an EMT is a good choice. Some schools offer accelerated EMT-B courses either in-person or online. I requested the information from three of them, but never signed up for the classes as two had horrible bad timing (interview conflicts) and one had issues with my paperwork. I would suggest doing your due diligence, signing up for a course and complete it and get a few hundred more hours of clinical riding on the truck. There is also the option of scribing, which I interviewed for but did not get. Apparently, ScribeAmerica felt I was likely overqualified. Fair enough. I would have not been able to fulfill my commitment if I had been offered the job, so that perhaps was for the best.

4) LOR - Reassess your LORs if need. My first year there was a questionable LOR sent on my behalf. The man dictated a letter and he had a thick accent and he did not proofread it, so the letter made no sense. Once I removed his letter and replaced it with a different physician letter, then TCS interviewed me three times in a row. I was told all my letters were outstanding, at least once I replaced that letter.

5) Research - If you like it and everything else is solid, go for it. Don't do it because you feel like you have to though. If you are incredibly lucky, you might be able to get a publication or presentation out of it in time for your next cycle. Clinical is more important than research.

6) Community service (non-medical) - If you are low on this, it really can't hurt to get a few hundred hours in.

7) Interview skills - This is obviously more important if the rest of your skills are pretty solid and you were at least getting interviews. There are tons of ways to get mock interviews. Friends, family, etc. Some times there are even people who offer mock interviews on SDN. Get someone known for being a hard nose which is exactly what the interviews might be like in the worst case scenario. There were many who suspected it was my interviews who killed me, and the later mocks (early round 4) were different from my very early mocks (pre-round 1), because I had about a dozen real job/medical school interviews in-between, plus being interrogated in another country under pressure probably improved my interview skills more than I could imagine. After that, no interview could be that bad!

Improve yourself in general

It's always good to improve yourself of course and frankly, if you have already hit the point of diminishing returns above, you have to do something to fill your time and improving yourself can't hurt. "Improve myself? But I'm PERFECT!" No... you aren't. No one is. If you think you are perfect, you definitely need help.

1) Learn Humility - I think one of the bigger things that changed from round 1 to round 4 was this character trait. I am certainly not going to lie, I have an ego at times. I can "humble brag," with the best of them as I have been everywhere and done everything. However, I know my various arrogance was much more obvious 4 to 5 years ago. Why? Because if nothing else, medical school rejections is very humbling. I cannot help but wonder if my arrogance level from eons ago hurt me more than helped me. I remember when I was trying to do a PB that I said I could do better than SPBU where they had their linkage. That was probably an incredibly bad move and I regret it entirely. While I could end up doing better than SPBU (and did, I ended up at TCS) it took many more hard and long years to prove it.

2) Follow Wheaton's Law (aka "Don't be a dick")- This is such a huge factor that I can't even tell you. There are so many rude pre-meds who in part are also dealing with a humility issue, but they treat people horrible. Most people know to be polite to admissions offices, but don't realize they can find out who you are.

You can't even depend on your anonymity on forums such as "Student Doctor Network," you really can't. Those adcomms will figure you out most likely. We take such time in hiding where we went to school or hiding our real names, but do stupid things like state when we are interviewing and give identifying information or stats. They know who we are or can figure out with little effort. While I have only given my real name to a handful of SDN folks (3 are friends on FB now, one adcomm knows a first name, I think another knows a husband's name as well, there are probably a few more that know my first name), finding out who I am is not the hardest thing in the world. I think one thing that is important is to remember this and just assume that anything you post is going to be seen by adcomms and they are going to hold it against you if you are a jerk regularly. Heaven knows I've had my share of bad days on SDN and otherwise, but I very rarely troll anyone, unlike many on SDN which is one reason my undergraduate school called it the "Website that shall not be named."

3) Learn a language - Hey can't hurt!

4) Try new experiences - You have a year, do something fun! Work on your bucket list. During my "rounds" I've gained 5 states, 3 countries, went skydiving, swam with manatees, saw a dog race (the dogs ended in order!), went to a film premiere, visited several Roadside America attractions, sat on a selection committee for the biggest Jewish film festival in the world, went to a rodeo, learned two instruments, and worked on three languages.

5) Move - There is a Yiddish saying, "Meshane Makom Meshane Mazal" if you change your location, you change your destiny. I moved by force to a town of 100 people to a mountain which has only two houses on it and my destiny changed.

More tips

1) Keep a sense of humour - The application cycle is incredibly stressful, but then so is medical school. Going through it again and again will get to you. However, after a while you need to be able to laugh at it. I said that for round 5, one of my activities was going to be swapped out with "Hobby: Applying to medical school" which in all fairness this is one of the more expensive hobbies I've had. ;) I also joked and said that I was going to tell TCS to not bother interviewing me for round 5 and instead to move me directly to the waitlist to save them time and me money. Just remember there is always a bit of truth to humour. Just remember TS Eliot said "Humour is also a way of saying something serious."

2) Avoid giving up - Do you know the only way to assure you are not going to get into medical school? Don't apply!

3) Don't worry/Pretend like you don't care - Don't do this on interviews obviously, but at home once it is out of your hands, it is out of your hands. Try not to worry about it even though obviously you care.

4) Use Reverse Psychology on the powers that be or on yourself - My life has always been kinda like the following exchange.

Person1: Do thing 1.
FA: I don't want to do thing 1. I want to do thing 2.
Person1: Do thing 1.
FA: No!!

*several years go by*

FA: I think I want to do thing 1.
Person1: No. *throws roadblocks in the road*

*several years go by while FA climbs over roadblocks*

FA: But I really want to do that thing.
Person1: No.
FA: Fine! I am even more so qualified to do thing 2 and I've spent years trying to do thing 1. I WILL DO THING 2.
Person1: *holds acceptance letter or award for thing 1*

I knew I was going to have to stop caring because only when I stopped caring would I get in. I literally was trying to learn Hebrew so I could move out of the country and I was doing to try to make aliyah within a year and finish my yeshiva studies and become a rabbi in Israel along with being a writer. And then it came in.

4) If you are religious, pray - It can't hurt! Do you know how many times I sent a letter to the Western Wall or 770 for prayers? Come to think of it, don't ask.

I'm sure there are much more things to do, but this is a start.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Family Aerospace's Suggestions on Extracurricular Activities

One of the things I have noticed is the large amount of people asking the forums what extracurricular activities one should put on their AMCAS application so I feel I should list my suggestions.
  1. If it can go elsewhere, put it elsewhere. Living under a bridge is, for the most part, not an extracurricular activity. If you were homeless, put that under disadvantaged. Now if you were sleeping under a bridge because you love camping and are trying to camp under every bridge in North America, that is an activity... granted a weird activity but an activity none-the-less.
  2. Please don't list things that happened in elementary school or middle school. Even high school is a bit of a stretch to be honest unless you continued it through college and beyond. I saw someone who wanted to put their awards from elementary school down. Look we are all very smart so we all probably do have a million awards from elementary school, I know I do. There isn't enough space on AMCAS, plus if you are resting on laurels from elementary school days in the words of John Adams (from "1776") "Oh, don't wave your credentials at me! Maybe it's time you had them renewed!" ie do something more recent.
  3. List clinical experiences! Medical volunteering and/or shadowing are common, adcomms want to assure you know what you are getting into. Few places make it mandatory since you could in theory have clinical experience from somewhere else, but if you have this, list it! If you did lots of shadowing, group it all in one slot with the attending's names, specialties, dates, and contact info. Of course if you have something else that shows you have clinical list that. List something or anything that shows you know what you are getting into.
  4. If you are applying to a top school or a research school list Research/Publications/Presentations. Those are common. If you absolutely hate research, I would advise you to not do something you hate just to check off a checkbox. Leave it to those of us who like it. Research is a pain in the butt which will take up a good chunk of your life if it is done correctly. Also, please don't insult the adcoms by telling them that you did extensive research when all you did was wash dishes in a lab.
  5. If you have teaching experience, it cannot hurt to list it. This is one of the things that shows leadership, plus you are going to be a teacher to patients all day.
  6. Full time jobs... list it. You know as well as I do that a full time job will eat up your time, especially if you are doing school as well.
  7. Don't list parenthood. As the parent of four do you realise how much I think that this should be a qualifying EC? I would LOVE it, but no one else thinks that it is relevant. Now if you were troop leader for your daughter's girl scout troop for a few years, that might be a better option.
  8. Pick things that will show consistency and dedication over a long period of time.
  9. Have a personality.
  10. Be careful of controversy as you just don't know who is reading it.
When I was deciding for the ECs, I printed off a copy of my CV and cut it up as I work better that way. I started grouping like things together​​, that knocked it down to about 18 piles. 12 sections were huge, and when I looked at the rest I realise they were not as important and chose to omit them. That allowed me to fill a few slots with things that were not on my CV (shadowing/hobbies) and instead showed things about me. This is what I had (not in the order listed)
  1. Publications - listed 3 journal articles, 3 invited contributions, and a book chapter. None were medical and some were not even science, but adcom is supposed to care so they got it
  2. Shadowing - all 400 hours with 8 attendings' contact information, shows I know what I am getting into
  3. Hospital volunteering - 350+ hours, shows I know what I am getting into plus was significant to me
  4. Presentations - 9 academic presentations plus panels, took up two slots. Very weird subjects only a few were medical even in part, but if they want to see it, they get it
  5. Community Service volunteer for a non-medical passion - thousands of hours over a three year period, shows I am committed to an interest
  6. Full time "scary" job - the company I worked for is known by medical schools (particularly in the Northeast) as being very stressful, they are hired by medical schools as consultants.
  7. Teaching Assistant - medical schools seem to like this ad I have years of experience since I am always tapped as the TA. I only listed the graduate courses I taught.
  8. List of leadership for various organizations - this combined a lot into one, some were medical and some were not
  9. Performing arts - this combined several activities into one since I had a theater/tv/radio/movie career over 25 years
  10. Research - 3 years, 20-40 hours or more a week
  11. Entrepreneur - all the companies I founded over 10 years
  12. Hobby 1 - actually talks about a few(medieval reenactor, camping and includes leadership) it makes one of my volunteer positions make sense as well as some other things
  13. Volunteer work for a very unusual health related NPO
  14. Hobby 2 - completely irrelevant to anything I had spoken about so far. My collection hobbies. I should have done genealogy instead
Added May 4, 2015: I finally did get accepted to medical school and the only change to the above activities was swapping out Hobby 1 (which was semi-merged with the unusual health related NPO as they were related) for religious community involvement.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Because no one expects the Spanish Inquisition! AKA strange questions asked in medical school interviews

This was originally a post on one of my personal blogs, but given I keep quoting it on SDN, maybe this would be a good place to post it.

Had a medical school interview last week (at Southern Private Baptist University SPBU) and this had to rank as some of the weirdest questions I have ever been asked IN MY LIFE for an interview.

Here are a few questions I was asked. Please remember... this was for medical school.

1) Please explain why Big Bang Theory is more reasonable than Steady State Theory.

2) What was there before the Big Bang?

3) What is the Capital of North Dakota?

4) Who is your favourite early modern European monarch?

5) What instruments do you play? - I thought fast and answered Ocarina since I don't play any well but can play a little on that

6) Ever been to so-and-so medieval faire?

7) Are you a rennie? (aka do you work at renaissance festivals?)

8) Did you ever play Legend of Zelda?

9) Does your mother play the flute?

10) What is the root of Twitter? Tweet or Twit?

11) Do you watch Ren and Stimpy?

12) Did you already vote?

13) Did you vote absentee?

14) Are you Messianic Jewish or Jewish Jewish?

I also gave cooking advice to two of the medical students and had strange conversations with my second interviewer whose wife has had a tortoise for 14 years. I've had two Red Eared Sliders for 23 years.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

MCAT Preparation Materials Review

MCAT preparation – A Review of Study Materials

While I know everyone is different and surely different things work for different people, in my own preparation for the MCAT, I tried many different things. When preparing for my first test I followed SN2ed's Breaking down the MCAT, although I used the 4 month version and added about 3 to 4 hours of audio lectures in order to maximize my commute time. It didn’t work for me. So this next time, I am reworking my study plan. At one point or another, I’ve used Princeton, Kaplan, ExamKrackers, Berkeley Review, and a few websites. This page is going to be a work in progress and I wanted to put my opinions out there in the event someone thinks more along the same way that I do. I don’t have money to take these several thousand dollar MCAT classes which I’m sure are much more effective than a self study plan. Some of this will probably sound a little hostile, but given some of the nonsense I just went through with one of the resources which inspired me to write this, I’m sure you can forgive me.

First let’s start with the more traditional companies.

Kaplan – Kaplan periodically releases all their MCAT books (also law, medicine, and SAT) for free through the iBooks bookstore. It’s usually only available for a few days before they go to their usual price. If you are able to get their books for free, I would definitely download them and use them to read in your few spare minutes of time. On the other hand, I’ve found the books very difficult to scroll through and they do not make it easy for you to check your answers since you have to flick through pages one at a time and there is no quicklink to help get you there and back. On a touch, this can be more than a little annoying. The material on the other hand doesn’t seem to go into anymore or any less detail than normal biology books although I often looked at the questions and asked where on earth in the chapter did they talk about THIS? The answers to the question usually were detailed enough to allow you to understand where you went wrong. However, their practice tests were nothing like the real MCAT.

Princeton Review – I have the least amount of experience with TPR, however I have that little experience with them because I was very unimpressed by the little bit I saw. The questions on their version of the tests (Biology at the least) were also nothing like the real MCAT.

ExamKrackers – EK makes several products and I think I’ve tried all of them. I had nothing but difficulties with their Audio Osmosis. My ipod did not seem to understand that the mp3s would work better if they were in the order they were in on the CD and not in alphabetical order. Some of the jokes were on different tracks of the CD and I was very tempted to merge all of them into one correctly organized mp3 so I could play them correctly on my ipod. Just use the CD if you can. The EK books weren’t too bad (Salty is a weird little character) although the 1001 books were very difficult and many of the questions flat out state that they go beyond what would be required for the MCAT. I’m completely perplexed over their Verbal section. I was routinely scoring 9s and 10s on Practice AAMC using my own technique, but all the EK Verbals were giving me 5s and 6s using the technique they were trying to teach. When I used the EK Verbal techniques on a practice AAMC, I scored a 6. So my scores actually decreased on EK Verbal so I find them to be useless. I might as well just use my own techniques. Use 1001 and the science books, but if you are ok in Verbal (for example if you were a humanities major as I was), the Verbal books will mess you up.

Berkeley Review – The passages were by far the most realistic passages to the MCAT, however, the lecture portions of the books (The books by the way are a small fortune assuming you can find someone who is even selling them) were completely confusing. The Biology was, in my opinion, the worst and much of it was written on the same level as the 400 and 500 level biology courses I took for my Masters degree. The MCAT is unlikely to ask you such detail. If I didn’t have to learn it for my MS, I doubt the MCAT is going to require it. The writing book actually wasn’t too bad, although those are very polished essays and you are highly unlikely to be able to replicate any of them in 30 minutes.

Gold Standard – This is a HUGE book which can barely fit in my backpack so it’s not a resource that I am able to use regularly. If I ever get to the point where I can use it, I will post something.

Now for some additional resources – GunnerTraining offers both MCAT and Step 1 flashcard training. It is a pay site but you can get a free month for the MCAT or for the Step 1. I signed up for the MCAT one of course so I can’t speak for Step 1. It’ll give me a free month too, but I am just going to give them away or try to trade for a Step 1 so I can see write a review on that. However, while I think this website has the best of intentions, there are some major problems which finally in my second week finally got on my nerves so badly that I couldn’t stand it anymore. While yes, there are hundreds and hundreds of flashcards (and over 4000 questions for the Step 1 about 1200 or something for the MCAT) to go through, the questions are riddled with typos and errors. Of the multiple choice questions, there are several questions that have double answers. You know the type, when question B and D are literally word for word the same exact answer TO THE LETTER? On the questions were you have to fill in the blank or answer freely, more often than not when you click “show answer” what it does is link you to a flashcard with the key concepts. Which, while all well and good, usually doesn’t give you the answer. And assuming that you actually click any of the images in the “answer” it automatically ends your review section requiring you to log out and back in and you don’t get access to the flashcards that it would have suggested that you review and that is the only way to see those flashcards. Another thing that upsets me is that when I logged in today I saw that I had 176 review questions. And that is all well and good, but the website will only allow you to do 50 (upper limit) per session so I would have had to do four sessions today. I’m sorry, that isn’t going to happen since the typos are just too much for me. Another pet peeve is that it automatically addresses you as Dr. If I were a doctor, I would not be using this site. – I really like WikiPreMed. The site is free and there is a LOT of stuff on it. It’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s pretty darn good. It relies heavily on ExamKrackers so you should have those books. The creator also sells his own collection of materials. I don’t really think they are needed since the sheer amount of free stuff on the site is enormous. He claims there are over 100 hours of small group video. The videos are quite good if you prefer thinking about things in a more interdisciplinary way since he provides explanations and tons of questions and then explains the answers. My degrees were all interdisciplinary as was my research, so of all the MCAT review this is the only thing that explains things in a way my brain can grasp. He also provides writing samples and verbal advice. Unfortunately the sheer amount of material can make the website a puzzle to navigate although the owner states that he will be redoing the syllabus. Luckily this is something where one can pick and choose some of the resources to use. Be warned though, it will take you longer than what he suggests to get through each unit especially if you keep falling asleep during the first unit like I did! It does get more interesting. I wish I would be able to finish it by my second MCAT test date. If I do not break 30, I will not schedule another until I am on the last unit of WikiPreMed so I am sure I get through all of it.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Shadowing Part 3 : What to do when shadowing

As I mentioned in one of my previous entries, my shadowing advice was so long, I needed to divide it up for ease of use. This is part three, what to do when shadowing. Since some things are OR specific, I am going to divide this into sections.

Part 3a : What to do when shadowing (general)

1) Make sure you are wearing the correct outfit you are supposed to wear.

If you don't know what the doctor wants you to wear, ask.

Business casual is pretty standard if you are going to be seeing awake patients. Think button-down collar shirt with a tie for men, equivalent for women. Nice pants, decent shoes.

No white coat unless you are asked to wear one. I've only had one doctor ask me to wear the white coat. I felt like an idiot. And yes, when someone says white blazer, they mean white coat. You can get one from Scrubs & Beyond.

Only wear scrubs if you are going to spend the day in the OR AND your attending okays this and doesn't want you to just change before you go in. On days I am shadowing in the OR, I just show up to the hospital in scrubs of the appropriate colour (light blue is typical at that hospital). I don't get a locker so I don't have anywhere to put my clothing anyway. I've been allowed to round in scrubs, but I felt out of place. I once heard from the neurologist I shadowed to never wear scrubs outside of an OR because it's disrespectful to the patients. I can kinda see that.

In the OR, you will be wearing scrubs along with a mask, hat, shoe coverings, and eye protection.

2) Be careful of who you listen to.

In the OR, listen to the nurse. When in doubt, ask the nurse. Apparently attending surgeons will do things that will get you as a premed into trouble if you listen to them.

In a private practice, you can probably trust the attending's word. It's still amazing how many of them double check with the nurse. As one of my doctors said about his nurse "She's the one that's really in charge!"

3) Don't ask questions in front of the patients

It could be considered rude.

4) Don't even write notes in front of the patients unless your attending is ok with this.

Also, probably rude. Here is a time when it would probably be ok to write notes, such as when your attending says : "Hey FA, you might want to read up on XYZ." You can probably write XYZ down on the note pad you brought.... you DID remember to bring a notepad right? Just in case you didn't think to do it, I will add it on the checklist just for you.

5) Bring a notepad

Just in case you didn't think about it. By the way, it's faster than typing on an ipod touch, which yes I've had to do that too. That's why I use the notepad now. A neurologist used to call my ipod touch, "my auxiliary temporal lobe." Very funny.

6) Know how to use any medical apps that you have on your ipod/iphone

This of course if only relevant if you have the ipod/iphone/BB or whatever and you have the apps like epocrates. I cannot tell you how many times I had to use epocrates when I shadowed.

7) Put your cell phone on vibrate.

I sometimes forget this one, luckily I'm not that popular so no one calls me.

Part 3b : What to do when shadowing in an OR

1) Don't touch anything blue.

Dark blue generally means it's sterile. Try to avoid that. A decent rule is to stand at least a foot or two away from anything you shouldn't touch.

2) If an attending asks you to come closer, do it even if you are scared to.

The OR is a crazy place and the people have the weirdest sense of humour. If they threaten to throw blood on you if you don't come closer, the best response is to just go closer, not say "You can't hit me from here." Now, they can hit you, they probably won't try though because then the nurse will get upset. But do you really want to take that chance?

3) Don't ask a surgeon why their name is on supplies

Just don't.

4) Do not show fear.

The more scared you act, the more the OR staff will mess with you. It takes a special type of person to do their work and when they decide to be weird, the weirdness really comes out. I could never be a surgeon but I have respect for anyone who can do that type of work. I'm convinced they eat their young.

5) Try to resist comparing the OR to what you've seen in M*A*S*H or Scrubs.

It's hard not to do. First time I saw my attending in a doo-rag, I nearly cracked up. When he started playing music through his ipod, I was biting my lip to keep from laughing. I almost couldn't take him seriously anymore. I was really, really hoping the theme to Scrubs was on his ipod and that it would play.

6) Make sure there is always a place to sit

This is more just in case you feel faint. It can get warm in an OR, plus it's pretty bloody.

7) Ask your doctors (your actual doctors, not the person you are shadowing) if it would be wise to take prophylactic medication if you know you are a queasy person.

My doctors knew I was very queasy and said I was going to be fine and gave me some suggestions on how to avoid fainting and avoid vomiting. I was on so much medication the first time I shadowed in the OR, that there was no way I could have passed out or vomited even if I wanted to.

Back to the main Shadowing page

Shadowing Part 2 : Tips on contacting people

As I mentioned in one of my previous entries, my shadowing advice was so long, I needed to divide it up for ease of use. This is part two, some tips on how to approach contacting people. This might be a little out of order, from how a lot of people do it, but I've never been like normal people.

Part 2 : Tips on contacting people

1) Keep track of who you've contacted, where you found their contact information, who you have to contact still, and who you've already contacted, etc

This is unlikely to come in useful at first but when one has started to contact a lot of people, you will realise how useful it is provided you started early. I have three computer files related to shadowing.

The first is a word document which includes all the people I haven't contacted yet and it includes the website I found them, their contact info, their name, practice information (if available), etc. If I find someone that I think might be good to shadow, I copy their info and put it in my Word doc so I can contact them later.

The second file is an excel sheet and I use this to keep track of who I've already tried to contact. The Excel sheet lists their last name, their specialty, their reference, method of contact, month of contact, and most recent response. This has made my life much easier as far as assuring I don't accidentally bother the same people. And to make my life even easier, I have it colour coded and sorted.

The third file is just a list of all the dates I shadowed, the person I shadowed, the specialty, and the times. I have things automatically added up and cross listed to another sheet which has specialty aptitude rankings, my feelings about the specialties, etc. (Yes, I know I am OCD, but who are you to judge?)

2) Make a CV

Some of the doctors have been requesting a CV (Curriculum Vitae). Have one ready. Ideally, you already learned to create one. If you don't know how to create one, here is a collection of links that could help you :

3) Contact people in the way that feels most comfortable for you.

Personally, I prefer contacting people by email. Not only can the doctors respond whenever they can, you know it is less likely to be screened by someone at the front desk. Of course you also run the risk of having a defunct email address or your email could be caught by spam filters or whatnot. I also think it's easier to do email at first because I can send out three emails in 10 minutes and that includes the time it takes to update my files.

4) Know what you are going to say.

I have a little email script I have already written up as an introduction. It is about two paragraphs and includes how I found their contact information, who I am (a few sentences about myself and my educational background), and if they allow students to shadow them. Sometimes I will even add a line or two about a connection I have to their specialty (for example, when I called the neurologist's office, I also disclosed that I have mild controlled epilepsy so I think highly of neurologists for saving my sanity.)

5) Have an answer for why their specialty.

I was asked by one doctor to write an essay on why family medicine before he would answer if I could shadow him. I already gave him a few sentences about why I was interested in learning more about it, but I was asked to write a longer essay.

6) If you have a medical phobia, use it to your advantage.

I had the medical phobia from hell and I'm not afraid to mention that to doctors I shadow. It isn't every day that they run across a premed who is terrified of doctors. This gives them a chance to legitimately help a student in an actual medical/psychological sense as well as an academic one.

Back to the main Shadowing page

Shadowing Part 1 : Where to find physicians to shadow

As I mentioned in one of my previous entries, my shadowing advice was so long, I needed to divide it up for ease of use. This is part one.

Part 1 : Where to find physicians to shadow

1) Ask your own doctors if you can shadow them.

One of the first things I did when I decided I wanted to shadow was ask my own doctors. A lot of people make this suggestion and by far it is the easiest to do since they hopefully already know you and think well enough of you.

I have four doctors and I get along very well with three of them, so I asked my plastic surgeon, my neurologist, and my family doctor. My family doctor and my neurologist declined because I was their patient. It would apparently interfere with their objectivity.

However, my plastic surgeon could NOT have been more enthusiastic. I've shadowed him several times now. Now there is a restriction on what hospital I can shadow him in so it's hard for me to do anything but shadow a few hours at a time. (Apparently the usual places he works out of don't allow any students at all, not even medical students.) Even though I'm only able to catch a surgery or two per day when I am shadowing, it's been a good experience since it was ALL OR time. Not only did I get to see him work, but also got a little taste for anesthesiology. As of the time of this initial writing, I have 25 hours with him. This included some of my most memorable experiences.

I think part of the reason my surgeon said ok was simply because he was a surgeon. Most people are not going to have super long term relationships with their surgeon, not like they would have with their PCP. Also, I think surgeons like to show off.

2) Ask your doctors for contacts that might be willing to let you shadow.

Of my doctors who wouldn't let me shadow, one (family) refused to give me any suggestions of others to shadow, but the other (neurologist) was incredibly helpful.

I was big on wanting to shadow a neurologist because all my aptitude tests showed my ability to do neurology to be fairly high ranked (actually the highest), plus I am starting to become an expert on a few neurological disorders that plague my family, so it was a logical choice. My neurologist passed me on to a friend of his who let me shadow him for 36 hours. That was, so far, the best overall shadowing experience. It was a very informative look of how things work "behind the scenes" at a doctors office. I was able to obtain a pretty good letter from him from what I understand which I can use for some schools.

Once my neurologist (as in my own neurologist not the one I shadowed) realised I was looking to go into medicine and wasn't just shadowing a neurologist to be a stalker, he helped me shadow a nephrologist (~6 hours) and keeps trying to track down other doctors for me like I have an upcoming few days with Infectious Disease that he arranged. His office is even calling the other doctors on my behalf. I think that is really going above and beyond for your patients. Someone is taking that part of the Hippocratic Oath a little too seriously. LOL.

Also my plastic surgeon tried to help me shadow other surgeons to get some variety, but unfortunately those haven't worked out yet. I'm not too sad, after all, I have a good amount of time in the OR. More than a lot of people.

3) Ask the doctors you shadow for contacts.

I know, this is related to #2, but I bet most people don't even think about it.

The neurologist I shadowed also gave me a list of possible primary care doctors who might let me shadow. I still have to go through the list. It's about a dozen doctors, but I am told I can use his name to get in the door.

4) Find a mentor list and start emailing/calling

I started with the DO Mentor list. I contacted every DO within a several hour drive of me and not once has one responded. From what I hear on SDN, a lot of other students have that problem. Seems to be really hit or miss. If you really want to shadow a DO, try it. Just be sure to not put all your eggs in one basket.

If you have an interest in shadowing a specific type of doctor I would recommend trying to find the local society for whatever specialty you are interested in. (For those in Georgia, I recommend this page : Georgia Medical Societies to get the entire list of societies in Georgia, then do a search on the name of the society you are interested in. The phone numbers on the page are somewhat out of date so don't bother calling them). See if the organization has a mentor list somewhere. If they don't, try contacting a staff member and have them ask some doctors to see if someone would be willing to take you on.

I used a mentor list at the Georgia Academy of Family Physicians and simply emailed people on the list to see if they allowed premeds. I found a "family doctor" who identifies exclusively as an obgyn and pediatrician who would let me shadow for a day. I met a few others who were very willing, but red tape is making it a challenge. One of those who was very willing to help but couldn't because of red tape, passed me on to a staff member at the Academy who found three or four mentors for me for family medicine. I spent about 60 hours with one of the doctors I met this way.

5) True Cold Contacts

As I am LGBT, I wanted to find someone who did LGBT health so I found local LGBT doctors at the Gay Lesbian Medical Association's "Find a Provider" list and started emailing. Of all the contacts I have tried to make, these have been the most responsive (only one person did not email me back). One has been very helpful by giving me advice, reading my statement, and providing phone numbers to other doctors who might allow me to shadow. (He would have been happy to help me himself with shadowing but there was no room in his office.) Another doctor from the find a provider list... just wow. It is hard to imagine a better person to shadow since everything I ever wanted in a mentor is in one package. He is the only person who was affiliated with a teaching hospital and he ranks as my overall second best shadowing experience. (He loses points only because 1. his medical students scare me when we are on rounds, 2. his schedule is absolutely crazy, and 3. the theme to Scrubs automatically plays in my head on autorepeat in my head for the entire 2 hour drive to him regardless of what I do. Other than that, he rocks.)

I also tried contacting other offices which I found through other means, such as google, but so far those have not been successful. I also found a very long list of DOs in my state through the Georgia Osteopathic Medical Association and depending on how things work out, I might use that list when I am looking for another set of people to shadow. It's much longer than the DO mentor list and I'm sure other states have a similar osteopathic organization.

Back to the main Shadowing page