Medical School Admissions [aka the crapshoot, the lottery, the ninth circle of hell]

Quantitative Data

Non-science GPA – 4.0

Science GPA – 3.70

MCAT score31 (I don’t what the fuck this correlates to on the new scoring system)

The quantitative data is how they weed out the “weak.” Different medical schools have different cutoffs with regards to GPA and MCAT; these thresholds determine the level below which they will not consider applicants. Do these numbers actually correlate with exam scores in medical school, such as the holier-than-fuck USMLE Step 1? Hell fucking no. But medical schools don’t care what kind of doctors they are producing, just that they are producing doctors who perform well on standardized exams, because as we all know, patients have a tendency to present in multiple choice with a full work-up and H&P already completed. I have heard it rumored that back in the day, medical schools would not send out secondary applications to students who did not fulfill the quantitative requirements, but in my experience, secondary applications are just a form of free money for medical schools. I received a secondary application from literally every school I applied to, and I doubt that any of them looked beyond my MCAT score and GPA before tossing my application aside [whilst keeping the check in hand] into the reject pile [read: garbage].

With the huge number of applicants to medical schools every year, I understand that they must have some means to whittle down the pile. But they should at least have the decency to not offer secondary applications to applicants whose applications they have no intention of reading. Thanks for wasting my time and money, assholes. Here’s to the soul-suckers on medical school admissions committees: fuck you.

Unbridled resentment over my many, many rejections aside, this shitty story has a happy ending. I did end up getting interviewed at two of the schools I applied to, and by December of the year I applied, I already had an acceptance in hand (which for those of you keeping score, is worth two in the bush).  So if you’ve ever encountered a doctor who’s a real asshole, now you know why. Compassionate persons need not apply; only the must cutthroat candidates will be considered.

Through AMCAS or the AAMC, you can find out the average GPA and MCAT scores of the most recently matriculated class at various medical schools. Full disclosure, 95% of the schools I applied to had averages at or below my GPA and MCAT scores, yet I only received two interviews. Part of the problem is that many schools give preference to people within their state; more than 85% of the people in my medical school class are from the Northeast. But alas, I had the misfortune [hah] of being born and raised in the Yay Area, and California has too many qualified applicants to begin with. Furthermore, they can charge way more for out of state applicants, so for medical school admissions purposes, being from California means applying to medical school is even more of a crapshoot.

Qualitative Data

  1. Activities
  2. Essays
  3. Interviews

The qualitative data comes in three forms: activities, essays, and interviews. While I don’t have any experience on medical school admissions committees (read the aforementioned “fuck the system” statement for further clarification on why), I do volunteer with the alumni association of my alma mater by reading applications for their scholarship programs, and there are a few standard philosophies that accompany applications, whether you’re applying for college, medical school, or residency.

Activities 

When it comes to activities, less is more with an emphasis on quality over quantity. In other words, the emphasis is on quality engagement over a significant period of time in a few activities that are clearly important to you, as opposed to marginal engagement in a shit ton of activities or organizations for a short period of time. Similarly, while this is just my opinion, I personally find that adding a bunch of activities in which you were marginally engaged in to beef up the appearance of your CV actually serves the antithetical purpose; in my personal opinion, it dilutes your CV, and makes the few high quality activities you engaged in seem less important.

The kind of activities you do are also important. The big three in medicine are research (bench or clinical), clinical experience (shadowing), and community service. Community service should be somehow relatable to medicine; this does not mean volunteering in a hospital. Focus on community service which centers around the social determinants of health, such as education (think tutoring or teaching). Remember that whatever activities you do, you want to make sure they are things you actually give a shit about. This is important because it will make it easier to maintain continuity in your application to residency programs. For example, if you have a genuine interest in teaching, they will see you have sustained a long term interest in education by all the tutoring you have done over the years. Teaching is a pretty big deal in medicine; whether you train or work at a teaching hospital or university one, you’re probably going to be responsible for teaching medical students at some point in your medical career, not to mention all of your patients, whom you will be counseling and in a very real sense, teaching. So if you’re not a fan of teaching, do everyone else a favor [especially the third and fourth year medical students who will invariably hate you because they know that you hate them], and don’t become a doctor.

Essays

Don’t start with a quote; in fact, don’t ever put a quote anywhere in any essay. Ever.

I’m a writer, it’s a significant part of who I am, and writing comes fairly easily to me. I’m not great at it, but I’m a hell of a lot better than 99% of the other medical students and doctors out there. Essays are pretty basic in my opinion; they really can’t help you, but they can hurt you. Steer away from polemic subjects. As you may have gathered, I am a pretty opinionated person. As my boyfriend would say, I have an opinion on everything. Literally every inane, mundane, shitty little thing. We get into a lot of fights because of it, but I digress.

When it comes to practicing medicine, I keep these opinions to myself, because nobody gives a shit and they don’t matter; nobody gives a flying fuck what I think. What they care about is how well I do my job, how I interact with patients (despite my salty, spicy, at times acerbic world view, I am a non-confrontational eternal optimist  who assumes the best in people), and how I get along with others. Your job as a doctor is to treat every patient exactly the same, whether you like them or not, whether they are a rapist or a rape victim, whether they are a Trump supporter or worked on the Obama campaign in their senior year of high school (yours truly), whether they are incarcerated or free, undocumented or legal, indigent or wealthy. If you can’t do that, if you can’t put your personal and political preferences aside, and just practice medicine, or if you only assume the worst in people, don’t become a doctor. You can’t fake compassion, you can’t fake empathy, and you can’t learn it either. So unless you truly give a damn, it’s a long, winding, exhausting road, and unless your goal is to be the best damn physician ever, it’s not worth it.

Diatribes about disillusioned doctors aside, don’t be polemic. And don’t be generic. You have to be somewhere in between; be interesting but not too interesting. You want to stand out just enough and for the right reasons.

Interview 

You really can’t fuck up the interview, unless you say something controversial or offensive. If you’ve made it this far, you already made the paper cut. Once again, keep your opinions to your damn self. Be cordial, be polite, be a human being. You’ll be fine. The goal again is to be just interesting enough, to stand out just enough. If you’re male, the dress code is pretty standard. As a woman, it’s important to keep your look conservative. Don’t wear anything higher than a low, kitten heel, skip the eyeshadow, lipstick, blush, and lower lid liner. Make-up should be super basic; foundation, mascara on your upper eyelashes (but not lower), and lip gloss that ensures your lips aren’t too moist, but aren’t too dry either. Your goal is to appear polished and professional, not “pretty.” Not that you can’t be pretty without any make-up at all, et cetera.

Once you get into medical school, you can wear whatever the hell you want, within reason. During the preclinical years, nobody gives a shit. During the clinical years, when you are seeing patients there are certain expectations. I personally hate wearing my hair up, but I do during my rotations because otherwise it gets in the way during physical exams. I have a five minute make-up routine in the morning: foundation, blush, mascara on my upper and lower lashes, and lip gloss. I rarely wear lipstick to my rotations, but I do wear lipstick to didactic sessions. I only do liner and eyeshadow if we’re going out to a club or bar. Psychiatry is a little different; I wear interview style make-up to my psych rotation.

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