Interview Season in Pictures

The best year of medical school is the year you are accepted. The second best year is 4th year. Or so I was told four years ago. =)

Somehow it is already Christmas Break of my 4th year of medical school and in less than 5 months people will start calling me “Doctor” and I’m actually going to know how to do stuff and know things. It’s pretty unbelievable that after so many years of wanting to go to medical school and going through the process of applying to medical school four times and thinking it would never happen for me…. I am actually almost done. It doesn’t quite feel real.

I am very happy to report that the nightmares I was having back over the summer, before the ERAS residency application opened, were completely unfounded. I have more interviews than I know what to do with and the odds are in my favor that I will actually Match in March and will have my first job as a physician come next June/July. It’s been an incredible experience, if not time-consuming, alienating, and exhausting, but a necessary evil in the long run. I have met so many incredible people in the field of Pediatrics, and I feel so lucky to be going into the best specialty! (I may be a bit biased 😉 and I’m sure all of my colleagues in other fields feel the same way about their specialty.) I can’t wait to get started on my career but at the same time, I wish this year would slow down.

Over the past several months, my Instagram feed (@PagingDrAllie) has been flooded with snapshots of the interview trail. Because what else am I supposed to do when I’m going to new states, new cities, new places all by myself for nearly three months?

I purposefully do not share where I am interviewing. Not only for anonymity (which really, in having this blog, I’m probably not doing a very good job about that anyway), but I feel that sharing and bragging about those sorts of things is just in bad taste. A program that I am not thrilled with may be a friend’s top choice and they may not have received an interview invitation…. and I’m not the type of person who relishes in others’ despair. Below I’ve gathered some of my Instagram shots from my travels, with captions. I hope you enjoy a small taste of my life living out of a rental car!

One of the unexpected bonuses of traveling so much in November/December: all of the hotels and hospitals are wonderfully decorated for Christmas (and Hanakkuh, and others), which delights my soul in a particularly special way. There’s just something about twinkle lights that makes me deliciously happy.

 

This has been my view for so long that anything else almost seems foreign. After awhile, all of the hotels just blur together. There have been a couple that have really wow’d me in terms of the bedding. As a mom of a two-year-old, having a full night’s sleep, alone, without interruptions (or being kicked in the face) is a luxury beyond belief. Even so….. I do miss my own bed at home. Once I’m actually working, maybe we can investigate investing in a bigger bed that is as comfortable as this one was!

 

The bad thing about racing home, while driving alone, is that when you’re driving into a beautiful sunset, there is no one to share the experience with. Which means you pull over onto a safe pullout/shoulder and snap a few quick shots before getting back behind the wheel and trying to make up for those minutes.

I spent a week and a half in a new state to interview at several programs, thinking that would be best for my rental car and time. What I didn’t anticipate when I scheduled those interviews was how much I’d already be missing home and my kiddo, even that early in the interview season. So the Handsome came up with a brilliant scheme: instead of coming all the way home, I’d meet him and the Ladybug at the halfway point between home and the next interview to spend a weekend doing things she’d love like swimming in a heated pool and an excursion to the Children’s Museum there. So after my last interview of the week on a Friday, I raced to our rendezvous as quickly as I could to surprise the little one and when I came into the room….. she was already asleep. Figures.

Again, racing home (or to the next interview city) and I was alone with a great sunset.

This one, though, was on my way home for a weekend. This shot doesn’t do it justice, because it was seriously one of the most gorgeous displays I’ve ever seen.

This year, I’m taking a course that explores the marriage of Art with Medicine and Wellness. One of the stipulations of the course is that we make time to visit museums, aquariums, etc to help boost our wellness. The Georgia Aquarium is one of the very, very few aquariums to house Whale Sharks, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit when I was in Atlanta. I really wish I would have had more time there!

One morning right before I left home for the majority of three weeks straight. Foggy yet golden, I couldn’t help but snap a shot to remind me of home.

Thank you notes are the bane of my existence. I was raised to express gratitude where it is due, so I’ve always been a fan of handwritten notes. I had no idea that I would be writing 4, 5, or 6 or more per program, though. Mentors have pressed upon me that for Pediatrics, thank you notes are pretty important, so I should make sure each one is personalized because all of them may wind up in my file, and if they are verbatim alike, it could be a mark against me so….. I spend a lot of time writing these things.

In one city, I came into town a bit early to catch up with an old friend from college at a local coffee shop before dinner with the residents. I wanted the chance to walk the city to get a good feel for it, and as I made my way to the coffee shot, I happened to notice the sky. This shot doesn’t really capture the cotton-candy sky, but I still liked the way it turned out anyway.

I left one program just in time to sit at a coffee shop in a different city for an hour or two before meeting the residents of another program for dinner, so I took that time to compose more thank you notes.

Niagara Falls at dusk! 🙂

Probably one of my favorite shots. It doesn’t quite look real, and this is #nofilter.

There was one interview that was really, really far away. Luckily, the Handsome could go with me and we made the executive decision to take the Ladybug with us and stop over at the halfway point, Niagara Falls. She LOVED it, and I am so glad that we weren’t deterred from bringing her with us. The first thing she said was “Whoa!” which was quickly followed by, “Mommy! BIG WATER!” All three of us marked off a couple new states and this little one got to add a new country to her passport as well!

I never knew the northeast was so pretty, even in late autumn! One thing I didn’t get to take a photo of: while driving through the mountains I saw where a semi took out the biggest black bear I’ve ever seen. So sad!

On the very first morning where I was supposed to be traveling to an interview, I went out to our deck for some meditation before beginning the long drive. It was so peaceful until the small flock of geese came by to interrupt me. Not a bad way to start out an interview season, I think.

I am almost done with my interview season. Some of the advice I got from last year’s graduating class were to wrap up the interview season before Christmas break, but that didn’t work out for me. I’ve been on a ton already, but I still have 5 more in January, and I am really excited for those programs. I’ve been keeping a running “rank list” and my top 5 are very clear in my mind already, programs that I loved to pieces. I’m hoping a few of my last interviews also make it into that category.

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Rotation: OB/GYN

Now that I am done with my rotations until the New Year, I am catching up on posts about my third year rotations. Expect more frequent posts from me now that things are –somewhat– slower for me.

Name/Location of Clinical Rotation

2 weeks of GynOnc, 2 weeks of private practice (urogyn/reconstructive) and 2 weeks of L&D

What did I like most about this specialty?

The number of immigrants and refugees that we saw on a regular basis; finding fetal heart tones, deliveries! I got to catch a lot of babies, there were even several cases of twins, I got to use the Ultrasound machine and help run triage in L&D, and I felt like a part of the team.

We used the DaVinci robotic unit in GynOnc surgery, which was cool… but the first time I scrubbed in on a robotic surgery, I’m sure the resident thought I was the dumbest med student ever because I asked if scrubbing in was the same as for non-robotic surgeries…. because you just stand in the corner while the surgeons have their backs to the patient, working with the robot, and at the end of the surgery you might get to place a few sutures on the laparoscopic sites.

When I was on Labor & Delivery I was the only unpaired student, so instead of seeing half of the triages, births, and doing half of the morning rounds and prescriptions, I did ALL of them. I was exhausted all the time but I got some of my best evaluations of the year on that service. The one bonus was that my chief let me go home a couple hours early on the Sunday of Mother’s Day because I rocked my job, so I got time to spend with my own baby instead of catching someone else’s.

What did I like least about this specialty?

It basically meant another 4 weeks of surgery…. ug.

Did this clinical rotation give me a good sense of what practice in this specialty would be like?

I think we got a very well-rounded view of what OBGYN entails, with having two-week sub-rotations in the clerkship, with time in the outpatient clinic as well.

Did my interests, values, kills and personality fit with this specialty? If yes, how did they fit? If not, why might they not be compatible?

There are a lot of ethical issues in OBGYN, which can be draining if you get lots of them back to back. There were cases that I was in on that made me question a lot of my beliefs, which I found to be a good — if not essential, really — experience for me as I develop into a physician.

What are the possible practice settings exist for this specialty? Do any of them interest me and do I know enough about them?

Inpatient and outpatient, community-based with hospital privileges; lots of options.

What info do I still need?

None–I feel like I got enough experience to understand their work and their thought process in regards to the services they offer to know that it is not a specialty for me.

Has my perception of this specialty changed? If yes, how?

So, parts of it I really liked, like L&D. Other parts, like GynOnc that were mostly surgical, I didn’t like so much. Overall though, it was a great experience.

Did my clinical rotation experience influence the likelihood of choosing this specialty?

I know that OBGYN is not the specialty for me because I am not surgically-motivated or enthused, and there is a TON of surgery involved in OBGYN.

Right now, how interested am I in this specialty?

It’s actually higher up on my list than I anticipated, but still below Pediatrics and Internal. One of my attendings even told me that she hoped that I went into OBGYN because I would be great at it (and it was my second highest shelf score).

What information do I still need to evaluate this specialty? Any other comments or reflections?

There were times that babies died. We had several pregnant ladies that came in with vaginal bleeding and absent heart tones. That part is heartbreaking. There is a scream that only expectant mothers can emit, and it is the most heart-wrenching sound I have ever heard. There is nothing like it.

What I Should Have Done & Why: Part 1

In recent months, a few friends and friends-of-friends of mine have asked if I had any advice about this whole applying-to-med-school process. Uh, yes. Lots. So, I thought I’d share. My apologies in advance for what is sure to be a long, long post.

Let me preface this post with this: Failure is good for the soul. It keeps you humble, keeps you hungry. Certainly, I wouldn’t have fought so hard if I didn’t have to.

High School

Yes, starting with high school. I didn’t find out until well into my first semester of college that I had the grades and SAT/ACT scores to get me into combined MD/BS programs at several universities across the nation. I have no idea how on earth those programs escaped my research, but they did. If there is anything that I can count as a pet peeve, it’s not knowing about something until it’s too late–it aggravates me so much. That’s probably why I plan well in advance for every little thing.

I started volunteering in hospitals while I was in high school. If I could do it all over again, what I should have done was to get my CNA while I was still this young. It would have been a tremendous help, gaining experience in health care settings of all sorts while stashing away a little extra cash over the summers.

College

College is so much more than just a degree and toga parties. There is so much outside of that that is worth going to college and earning that degree. I met most of my best friends there; it’s surprising how close you can get to new friends while in college, it’s definitely more accelerated than in high school (in my experience, anyway). There were friends to be made, opportunities for leadership, research, and just figuring out who I was, after all. Not to mention the time management skills that were honed. I would definitely do it all over again, at my school. Although, if I could go back and do anything, I would have done two other things: studied abroad and picked up a double major in nursing.

Why? Many reasons. As far as study abroad goes, when else would I have had the ability to travel, learn new languages, made friends across the globe at such a young age? I love learning languages and learning to communicate with other people. It would have been a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but I never pursued it because my mindset was to graduate “on time”–and study abroad would have pushed back my graduation a semester or two, which at the time wasn’t worth it to me. (If I had only known!) I had let myself think that study abroad was not possible–big mistake. Now, for the double major… having that extra degree in nursing would have opened doors for employment after college once I didn’t get into med school the first time I applied. There have been so many jobs I didn’t qualify for because I didn’t have the necessary time spent with patients, that could have been obtained with a nursing degree; aside from that, think of all the practical stuff I would have learned that would have been a great help in medical school… but oh well. Can’t change it now.

Now, back to my pre-med advice for college:
First and foremost, be your own advocate and advisor. Search out information and do not, I repeat DO NOT just follow information you got from one sole source. Bad, bad idea. I highly recommend starting off with a copy of a medical school strategy book (my personal favorites are Kaplan’s Get into Medical School: A Strategic Approach, and Medical School Confidential. I do not have any financial conflicts of interest to address; but out of all the books I’ve read, these two are probably two of the most helpful.) just to give you the basic ins-and-outs of how it all works and what it will take to get you to where you want to be. (Especially if you haven’t done so yet in high school. I did, but only because that’s my neuroticism showing.) Personally, I am an information junkie. If I’m interested in something, I will track down every thing about it so that I know I am well-informed. This is a great way to start. Also, seek out your campus pre-med (or pre-vet/pharm/nursing/PA/podiatry, whatever) advisor as soon as possible and see what information they have for you. [*Caveat: I do not, DO NOT recommend taking what this advisor says as the end-all and be-all of information, and here’s why: all someone has to do to be a pre-med advisor is to volunteer. There is no training, no seminars, no nothing. He or she may have incorrect or outdated information. This is why I always recommend having multiple sources for this type of information. Do not be blindsided by something you did not know.

Also check out the free information available from the American Association of Medical Colleges, aamc.org. They’re the guys that put together the lovely MCAT and who you’ll use later for your medical school application, AMCAS, and rotation/residency applications later on. You’re going to have a lot of fun with these guys, so you might as well get used to them now.

Extra Classes
If you are not a biology major (I wasn’t), it is definitely in your best interests to pursue classes in biology that are above and beyond your degree requirements, especially: Cell Biology, Developmental Biology, Anatomy, Human Physiology… etc. etc. Because, having seen some of it before medical school would be a big help. If you only have room for one of them, I recommend Anatomy. It is well worth your time to take it in advance.

STAY OFF OF SDN.
SDN is the Student Doctor Network. It’s an online forum, where you can have an anonymous username, read forum threads, create them, find answers to your questions about anything related about health professions from start to finish. Sounds great, right? In theory, yes. But my advice is to stay away from the Pre-Med Allopathic/Osteopathic sections. Why? Think about it. Those who are “gunning” for medical school know that it is obscenely competitive, and by nature they’re strong Type-A personalities to begin with. These are the kids that think they’ll have an edge by telling you the test is on the wrong day, or boast that the never study but make A’s, etc. etc…. just to psych out the competition, and they derive much sadistic pleasure from seeing others fail, or squirm. Now put a bunch of those strong Type-A personalities behind an anonymous username and give them the ‘power’ to post their opinions on an online forum… and you have disaster. Misinformation, wrong information, hateful opinions on every single question that is posed… and let’s not forget they all boast 4.5 GPA’s, 45T MCAT scores, and “above average” extracurriculars. There are a lot of opinions about what medicine is, how it works, how it is changing–all by people who are not even accepted to or enrolled in medical school yet. If you want to feel inferior or discouraged, or if you need someone to ruin your day and your outlook on a career in healthcare fields, by all means read those forums. Be prepared to sift through a mountain of BS for a few gold nuggets of information.

CAVEAT: Just like in chemistry class, as soon as you learn a hard-and-fast rule…. you learn all of the exceptions to that rule. So with that being said, I will say that there is a goldmine of great resources on SDN. Personally, I read the Pediatrics and Neonatology forums, and the moderators/med students/residents/fellows are all super helpful and encouraging. Also, there are separate forums for every single medical school for your particular application cycle, so you can ask questions about personal statements, supplemental applications, due dates, interview prep (this was pure, unadulterated GOLD during my interview cycle), etc that is definitely worth your time and attention. Those are the areas I used the forums for the most, and yes it helped me tremendously.

Get Involved
…but only if you want to. Grades will always be the most important, but you need to have fun too… if only to keep your sanity. You do not have to be the guy that basically lives on campus (guilty as charged). Medical schools will want to see that you have a passion for something and a strong commitment to it. It does not have to be medicine-related. Just find something you are passionate about and go after it. Maybe it’s hiking/rock climbing/mountaineering/running marathons. Awesome. Maybe it is starting a Frisbee golf group on campus. Cool. Just go do it, and do it with all of your heart. That is where the meat of your Personal Statement can come from, or it can be fodder for questions during your interview. The ADCOMs will want to see that you have a way of dealing with stress, that you have outside interests from medicine, because that is going to save your sanity when you matriculate and proceed through this battlefield. It makes you interesting. Be able to talk about it.

Volunteering/Shadowing
This is pretty much expected of you, if you want to be a medical student (of any sort). Doctors need to be compassionate, help people from all ages and stages of life, and have some hands-on experience. It doesn’t have to be in a hospital or in any certain field. It can be seen as just “checking the box”, but if you really get something out of it, it can be a powerful ace up your sleeve. Not to mention some of your supervisors may write you glowing letters of recommendation for your application(s).

Work on that CV
Having a CV, and a well-organized one at that, can open doors. I don’t remember exactly when I first heard of a CV (curriculum vitae), but basically it’s a more detailed resume. Develop one, have several people read over it, and keep adding to it. I have had so many compliments on my CV, and it’s definitely helped me land jobs since college. Another plus, keeping all of this information in one place will be handy when you start filling out your applications.

Other Opportunities
If you find out about some sort of opportunity that you would LOVE to do, by all means go for it! You won’t know if you don’t try. The first time I applied for summer research positions, I didn’t have the first day of research experience, and the one program that I wanted, I thought was well out of my grasp. I only applied to five or six programs, but the only one I secured was this one I thought was beyond my reach. This one program has opened countless doors for me afterward, including getting published and having a mutual acquaintaince with an interviewer at my future medical school.

The Dreaded MCAT
Do not underestimate this exam. It’s a bear. No, more like a monster. Yeah, that’s a better descriptor. I bought a copy of Kaplan’s MCAT Review as a freshman, and used it as a guide to study from my first two years of college. Looking back, I wish I had taken the actual Kaplan (or Princeton Review, pick your poison) class way back then. The strategies help, and practice, practice, practice. At the time, I didn’t want to spend the money for it, and finding time to go to another campus to take the class are the things that deterred me from it. You do NOT want to have to take this thing more than once, so prep early, be dedicated, and if you don’t feel that you are ready yet, push your test date back. Be sure to note that the MCAT is currently changing and will make BIG changes in 2015. I’ve heard it’s going to gradually grow into an eight-hour exam. Check with the AAMC for the most recently updated information.

Plan B, C, D….
Have backup plans. Several. At one point, I had even made a flowchart. If A doesn’t work, go to B… but if C comes along, drop B…. It may sound a little crazy, but it kept me motivated (and for the most part, employed) during my “gap-years”. If Plan A doesn’t work, there are 25 other letters in the alphabet; I kept that in mind as I figured out what I would do if my application cycle(s) didn’t work out, and it saved me a lot of stress since I knew that no matter what happened, I had options and I was going to be okay.

In speaking of backup plans…

Graduate School/Employment

Graduate School. Oh, grad school. It’s wonderful, it’s awful, it’s a mess. I found a program that interested me that would accept my MCAT scores (because I did NOT want to have to study for, pay for, and sit for the GRE). There are so many programs to choose from. Most pre-meds that go to grad school opt for MS degrees in some sort of field of biology; some of these programs are tied to medical schools and can be known as ‘feeder’* programs to the MD/DO degree… and are sometimes referred to as SMPs, or Special Masters Programs. *Be careful with these though; more often than not, these DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT guarantee your entrance into medical school, so don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. Read the fine print, ask questions, be proactive.

Here I would also like to note that an MS Bio-related program may not be the best choice. From my experience, I would say that if you do not eat-breathe-sleep whatever thing it is that you would study in grad school, DO NOT DO IT. Grad school requires you to be utterly consumed with whatever-it-is that you are studying. So if you do not love it enough to marry it, don’t go to grad school for it. Of special note, I will also add that in my interviews, my interviewers were majorly impressed that I wasn’t like everyone else and got a different degree than an MS Bio-whatever. If you’re wanting to set yourself apart and gain some hands-on experience with medicine/healthcare, I highly encourage you to purse a Masters of Public Health or Masters of Bioethics/Medical Humanities. Sure, Social Inequality in Healthcare didn’t help my background knowledge in biochemistry to make med school biochem any easier, but I know more about helping people in the community… which has translated into some very engaging interviews and ultimately, several acceptances.

I will add this caveat though: it would have helped my earning potential in the interim if I’d have gotten the MS Bio-whatever anyway. As a lab tech, all of my interviews for jobs were interested in the MA, but since it wasn’t an MS, I couldn’t negotiate for higher pay based on my education. Which sucks. But I was able to use my lab skills to land a good job that has afforded my husband and I to live quite well, I think. So take that with a grain of salt if you’re considering grad school, employment, then med school and beyond. (Remember that flowchart I mentioned? Yep, that was all on there.)

Just don’t give up. The door will open. I may have had to kick it open, but it did finally open.

The Application Season
This process is awful. Soul-crushing awful. My best advice is to be totally, completely prepared. I started gathering information for my application a year in advance. I downloaded the instruction manual from AAMC.org, so I knew every exact thing I would need, and when. Doing that saved me SO MUCH TIME. I knew the application would open in May to submit in June, and the entire process could take until August of the following year if I happened to get waitlisted. I knew how many activities I could enter and that each would need a description. I knew how long my essay, or Personal Statement, was supposed to be. So I started early, and kept a binder (I keep a binder for everything). I wrote my essays early and had several friends read it and give me feedback. I asked for all of my letters of recommendation early. I sent off for my transcripts so they’d get there well before I submitted, so I’d be first in line for verifcation. I knew which schools I wanted to apply to, which ones gave out secondary applications to all students, which ones had a ton of essays. I also knew how crazy expensive all of this was going to be, from fees to send transcripts, to the MCAT, to the application processing fee, to the secondary fees, to the interview attire/travel/hotel costs. I took the time to get organized. It was so much less stressful this way! Start early, get organized, and you’ll be less stressed. (And actually, the first time I applied, I had never even heard of/bothered to check out (the useful parts of) SDN. Sometimes I wonder if maybe that could have hurt me, no matter how prepared I was.)

Also: find something to preoccupy your time that summer/fall. If I had nothing to do that summer, I would have driven myself crazy. It’s even worse now that I have my email on my phone. Every little “ding!” from my phone would make me jump, thinking that it was a secondary application/interview invite/acceptance email. Have something to keep you occupied.

My advice to anyone, doing anything under the sun: Be polite. Be nice to people–everyone from the professor to the secretary to the Chair of the ADCOM is going to be watching your demeanor and how you treat others. Someone is always watching. Find a way to go out of your way to make someone else’s day better. People will remember you by your actions and how you treat them, not by what is on your resume/CV or what your grades/scores were. Having a positive attitude and being willing to lend a hand will take you far, no matter what your goals are.

So there you have it. Eight years of trial and error have now graced this blog in my longest post ever–which is why Part 2 is on its way. I hope someone finds it useful and learns from my… errors. 😉