Premed Myths Part 1

Hello PREMEDS!!!! Application season is upon us. I saw a family friend and they asked me a series of questions that let me know many myths exist about being premed. I’m working to dispel a few. This is the purpose of this blog.

I will start with a few myths that are important to debunk.

 

1. You have to attend a college with a medical school to have a better chance at admission.

This is patently false. Admissions to medical school is competitive no matter where you attend for undergrad. Perhaps by some associations and premed societies you could meet medical school admissions staff and form connections. With some effort, this can be done regardless of your college of choice. I recommend attending a college that matches your interest and will give you the greatest number of options to explore not only sciences, but other subjects as well. There are combined colleges and medical school programs and these are limited and only few exist in the country. I recommend that a student really do their homework with shadowing physicians, being mentored and being certain of their career choice prior to embarking on something like this. Burnout is a reality and it takes a lot to commit to a path so early. For some though, these programs do prove to be the best choice.

https://students-residents.aamc.org/applying-medical-school/article/medical-schools-offering-combined-undergraduatemd-/

2. If you have a high GPA as a high school student, this means you will get into medical school.

Achievement at the high school level sadly doesn’t always translate to the college level. Suddenly you go from the best in your class to the middle of the pack. Don’t despair. This is a normal phenomenon of college life. It takes perseverance and hard work to adjust to university life. It takes even more to pursue the path to medicine. You won’t be a shoe in because you have a 4.5 GPA now as a high school senior. It takes more than just grades to be ready for medical education and it takes a body of work, achievement and a demonstration that you’ve done your homework to know you really want this path.

Admissions committees see many applications. What will make yours stand out? How are you unique? These questions are important to consider when planning the activities you participate in, your shadowing or volunteer experiences and pursuing your passions and hobbies. All of these facets including the MCAT and your ability to effectively communicate these things in writing have an influence on your application.

These are just two myths that I’ve heard as of lately that I thought it important to address. In part two, I will address if you need to be a “premed” major to get into medical school and other myths about this process. My goal is to lay things out for you so you don’t have to sift through so much information out there. Please ask any questions you like, either here or in the forum.

Keep striving towards your goals!

Candice Williams MD

Premed Consultants

Go For It!!!

Hey everyone,

It’s been awhile, but I’ve been reflecting about what to write next. To be transparent, I’ve been thinking about what to address that would help people most. I’ve been pretty reflective lately. What I came away with is this – If I were to speak to my former self, I would tell myself to “Go For It”!

The AMCAS submission date is here and now premeds can actually submit the applications they have been obsessing over. If this is you, my advice is to continue to work on your application, have it proofread and make sure you put your best foot forward. Score the best you can on the MCAT. A ballpark score should be well above 500. Interestingly, 500 is near 50th percentile, but 508 is 75th percentile and where you should aim to score at the least. If you have the requisite numbers (GPA at last 3.3 science and MCAT score 508) AND you have a STRONG and INFORMED motivation for medicine – I say “Go For It!”

What if you’ve already made it through this hurdle and you are a 3rd year medical student. All you’ve ever wanted to be is an orthopedic surgeon. You even did research at the NIH in bone growth. You are doing your best and busting your jump on rotations and you are exhausted. When it comes time for sub internships you feel intimidated. You need a letter from the head of orthopedics to help you match. You are intimidated because you are the only woman, or you are an underrepresented minority or maybe you realize that matching ortho is just plain hard. When it comes time to do sub I’s you do ER as a back up. When it comes rank time, you are afraid to rank ortho because you think the odds are stacked against you. This is the time that I tell you to “Go For It” and don’t settle for less than what you want out of a specialty. Having a backup is great and is prudent, but don’t settle for another field because you feel you aren’t good enough. You can do this!!!

Lastly, to my residents- who are just plain tired and too exhausted to care about much, You also should “Go For It” in going for chief resident, or in trying to land your dream job or faculty position. Have confidence in yourself. You can do this! I remind myself every day that as a physician, I’m blessed because I have options, and this profession is rich with opportunity. From clinical practice, research, public, private practice and in between, administration, consulting – being a physician opens up a world that is literally yours for the taking. Make sure not to shrink back and be sure to “Go For It”!!!!

Candice Williams MD, D. ABA

Something for Nothing

Hello Budding Physicians!

I want to talk today about the concept of something for nothing. This is a pervasive idea in society. You may feel as if you are doing plenty of this now as a premedical student, medical student or resident. You study, you work, you struggle and sacrifice. You feel that you are gaining nothing and getting no money in return, or better yet – you are PAYING LOTS OF MONEY to become a physician with some nebulous promise that it will “get better one day”. You speak to your colleagues and realize that while your dad’s doctor may be rich, certainly younger doctors are not. You are expected to work, work, work with nothing to show for. The microwave society we have now is kind of bad…I mean it makes you think you should have everything now!!!

I felt that way many times and I do sometimes now. One thing I realize now that didn’t occur to me in the past is that nothing that is difficult is gained without hard work. You can’t eat pasta and get a 6 pack without exercise. If you drink sugar, you may gain weight. Similarly, you can’t magically have a 3.9 GPA. Also, you’re unlikely to gain admission to medical school with a 2.0 GPA. I don’t mean to be facetious but to emphasize that hard work is required in every stage of life. To be a successful premed, you need to have grades that are solid (GPA >3,5), MCAT scores in 70-80th percentile AND have experiences that inform your decision to be a physician. You have to have a passion and a why that is conveyed in your application. To gain these things, you have to work to reap the benefits.

On the other side of the coin, now that you are in medical school or residency, many of you feel as if the sacrifices are becoming too many and time is taking far too long to see rewards. That’s how I felt at least. I couldn’t afford a home, a car that didn’t break down, or basic luxuries of self care. I felt sleep deprived, depressed, abandoned by friends and family that stopped calling long ago because I could never hang out. Been there. Honestly I didn’t think it was worth all the sacrifice all these years. Helping people was great, it was what I started this journey for. However, when you miss out on life one too many times, you end up asking yourself – To what end? When will I see some rewards for my hard work?

I had one moment that I wanted to share when I realized that some of my hard work payed off. The first time I felt this feeling was after taking my anesthesiology oral boards.

You see, in residency, I was a mother twice. I was expecting as a CA-2, possibly one of the most grueling times to be pregnant as cases were getting harder and the learning curve was steep. Then again as a CA-3, going into private practice, which was also challenging and very stressful. Along the way I was told I was going to fail oral boards. I was told this because I didn’t do well on intraining exams and the mock oral boards. I was scared out of my natural mind! I was the sole breadwinner, lots of pressure was on me to pass and I had my family looking to me with a 2 year old and a baby.

I remember taking one prep course and thinking….that was good, but not enough. I then gratefully had the resources for another. Then another closer to the exam. Many of my colleagues said it was overkill, but I knew I wasn’t ready. My confidence was shot, I was weary and tired. This was because I had to take care of two small kids and try to study and practice will being on call during the week and weekends. It seemed impossible!

Near the end of my studies, I went back to my institution to have a mock oral board. I sat there across from the attendings who taught me. Some of them gave me a really hard time, others were very supportive in the past. I knew I was getting somewhere when one of our legendary professors gave me a different look when I answered his questions. Afterwards he shared that he was proud of me.

The actual exam was a hair raising experience that I have to relay in a different post altogether. Needless to say, when your last words on an exam are “I don’t know”, the test was probably difficult. I left scared but relieved. I faced my fears and I gave it my absolute best. 6-8 weeks later, I logged on to see my results. I cannot relay to you the joy that filled my heart when I saw I passed!I celebrated with my colleagues that I practiced with and who I quizzed the night before their test and who quizzed me. I definitely knew it was not only a blessing, but a green light to continue my learning journey and efforts to be an outstanding physician.

Guys- life isn’t perfect and it will seem as if sometimes your sacrifices are a waste. They aren’t. Sometimes you will give of yourself and get nothing in return at the moment, but your actions will pay you dividends in the long run. When I realized I passed, I saw all the days I slept on the couch in Biology Scholars Program at UC Berkeley because I stayed up all night studying. I saw myself studying for STEP 1 with my friends and wondering why I never got the right answers. I saw myself crying on wards when I felt the team hated me and preferred the other med students. I saw myself in the OR during difficult all night craniotomy cases or trauma cases where the patient didn’t make it. I realized that I gave a whole lot of something, but that I would never come away with nothing. It can and will pay off.

 

Stay encouraged,

Candice Williams MD

Greetings from Neverland

Hello Premeds, Medical Students and Residents,

I am indeed writing this blog post from a locale far, far away from my normal state of mind. I was fortunate enough to be able to arrange a time and space to get away to Neverland, which, by definition, is a place I don’t get to go to often. It’s a place where I celebrate some personal victories, reflect, operate in joy and to ultimately enjoy life! While reading some books and thinking about my needs and what I want out of life, I thought about how I could change this so that I make of habit of enriching my life and actually start living it to the full.

One thing that energizes me is to help others. So, this is my PSA for today, to remind  you all that self care is important at every stage. I’m emphasizing this because too often we (myself included) make excuses not to eat properly, exercise, pray (or meditate), practice our various disciplines or spiritual practices, spend time with our loved ones. We neglect ourselves to either pursue our dream (medicine), or to take care of others or fulfill our obligations to our jobs and to others. All the while neglecting the main attraction – ourselves. I have to consistently remind myself that if I’m not well, then neither will my family be. And if so, how can I be of help to anyone else? We are in deep denial that our bad habits or lack of maintenance of ourselves will not have deleterious consequences, both physically and psychologically.

So while you are studying hard, worrying about your grades, studying for the MCAT, forgoing sleep to study or up during a 24 hour call or 16 hour shift – when you are post call and after your nap, or when you get a free moment, don’t forget to go back to basics and do the things that maintain your spiritual, emotional, mental and physical health. Eat well, sleep well (when you can), exercise (eek), do the small things that bring a smile to yourself like – take a bath, take a walk, shower (the residents can relate to this one), buy comfy socks, get your nails done or hair groomed, go on a hike or a bike ride. Whatever it is, take time for YOU!

I send this note as one of encouragement and to acknowledge in this age of burnout at all stages, that self care and maintenance is key and it’s not entirely optional. We are where we are as a result of our prior choices. If we want to be in optimal health, then it takes daily choices in the right direction in order to get said results. Similarly, if we want to be spiritually fit or psychologically whole, we must make choices that lift our spirits, help us reflect, recharge our determination and focus and choose life and joy.

So, as you continue to work hard and diligently pursue the path to medicine at whatever stage, DO NOT forget to take care of yourselves. Choose life. Choose joy. Choose YOU.

Best,

Candice Williams, MD

AMCAS Application Timeline Tips

Hey Premeds!

I’m writing this because of the emails and questions I’ve been getting from students like you! This is the timeline for application for AMCAS and AACOMAS for this year. App = Application.

AMCAS App Opens.                   May 1, 2018

AMCAS Transcript Submit       May 1, 2018

AMCAS App Submission.     JUNE 5, 2018

AMCAS Secondary Opens.  JULY 1, 2018

AACOMAS

App Submission Starts.            May 3,2018

App Processing Starts            June 15, 2018

I took the time to write this today because I’ve seen too many students ignore these deadlines and plan to apply way too late in the cycle. If your science GPA is lacking or you have an MCAT score that needs work, this is especially true. The applicant pool is getting more and more competitive number wise. Generally, a science GPA above 3.4 and MCAT more than 80th percentile (and I’m being generous) are guidelines to consider yourself in the middle of the pack or at least in the ballpark for admission. Even if you above these numbers, you should apply early.

Applying as close to opening as possible is to your advantage. Why? Because your application will be seen early, and consideration can be given and secondaries given in a timely fashion.

Give yourself a chance. Apply early. If that means sitting out a year – so be it! There’s no race! You can take this time to keep doing your volunteering, shadowing, working at free clinics and all the research your heart desires to strengthen your application. This allows you to make sure you score well on the MCAT by taking it in the spring, AND gives you the ability to plan your application carefully.

Food for thought. Take your time and get in the first time…

Your premed consultant,

Candice Williams, MD

Don’t Be Cruel

This quote below struck me today. As I am dealing with issues being a physician that we all have to deal with, I’m reminded to put on patience, peace and love. Don’t ever let your circumstances make you cruel, mean or angry. It’s normal to be stressed, to feel anxiety and all the things we feel as premeds, medical students or residents and even attendings. As you ascend in your career, don’t ever forget to treat those around you with respect and love – from the janitor to the CEO of the hospital. Premeds- this is especially important when interviewing and corresponding with admissions office or anyone connected to a medical school. NEVER be rude to anyone, as everyone is watching and has potential influence.

Ok everyone, have a great day and enjoy the quote from my amazing cousin Romeo Johnson, vocalist extraordinare and vocal coach to the stars!

 

Candice Williams MD

Just keep your eyes on God and He’ll handle your enemies.

Posted by Romeo Johnson on Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Importance of the Mentor Mentee Relationship

I’ve had many questions asked of me in this realm and I notice that premedical students, and all of us in the medical field tend to discount the importance of mentorship. So, what is a mentor? A mentor is an experienced and trusted advisor, according to dictionary.com. A mentee is one who needs guidance and help from the said mentor. In my opinion, many times this relationship is one sided. Either the mentee finds themselves in a one way conversation with someone extraordinarily busy, or believe it or not, the mentor keeps reaching out, only to get an , “I’m busy” response from the student. To avoid these mismatches, I recommend the following :

1. Find mentors however you can, through premedical societies, student medical associations such as Student National Medical Association, Latino Medical Student Association, American Medical Association and American Women’s Medical Association, or through friends, your personal physician or physicians you connect with virtually. Remember, a mentor doesn’t have to be in person to make an impact.

2. Make contact with your mentor via email, sending a message through a text or phone call ONLY with their permission, and be prepared to discuss your needs.

– How can they help you best?

– What are your needs? What phase are you in your journey?

– If premed or for any phase, be prepared to share information regarding grades, scores, school attended, motivation for medicine and how they can be of assistance.

-If you are looking for help, be sincere and professional. If someone cannot help, or seems disinterested, maybe it’s not the best fit.

– Be PROMPT with all communications and meetings. DO NOT make the person chase you! You need their help….

-If you are establishing a research mentorship relationship, or anything that is project related, such as writing a paper, PLEASE only commit to what you can complete. Stay in frequent communication with your mentor and give updates! Be honest and professional as to what you can accomplish and in what time frame. Treat it as an employed job.

3. Don’t be afraid to communicate expectations and to articulate these early.

-Would you like to meet them in person? Shadow? Have an online based mentorship? Articulate these preferences and listen to what they say they can provide.

4. Be PERSISTENT.

Nothing comes without hard work. Nothing. Don’t act entitled to someone’s hard earned time. They are bending over backwards to help, so you be the catalyst to keep lines of communication open. Email periodically. Send update notices and come prepared to any meetings with questions prepared.

If you start your mentorship relationship with these things in mind, you will be on your way to gaining allies and colleagues along the way that can help you down the line. The medical community is small, and you never know who can be the key to your next step!

Till next time,

Candice Williams, MD

http://lmsa.site-ym.com

http://www.snma.org

https://www.ama-assn.org

 

 

What’s it like to be a Doctor?

I’ve been asked this more than a few times. The other question I get a lot is – “How did you become a doctor”? The answer to both questions is – It’s a lot of hard work! I know, I know – that’s not the answer you wanted or were even looking for. I know you wanted to hear some scintillating stories about how I save lives and then meet the love of my life and have a steamy romance and then go to the bar afterwards… oh – wait that was Grey’s Anatomy.  The reality is that being a doctors isn’t fun or sexy the way they make it look on TV. It is however, gratifying in the way that something is when you’ve prepared your whole life it seems and then you are there to help someone in their time of need.
I’ve had a long journey in medicine and believe it or not the learning continues as long as you continue to practice medicine.
A little about me. I started my education at UC Berkeley as a premed student, bright eyed and bushy tailed. I was from South LA and had no doctors in my family, but I was determined to be one. I was sickly as a child and had my fair share of time spent in hospitals. I noticed that while my pediatrician was nice and I wanted to be like her, I didn’t see any physicians that looked like me. I wondered many times could I do it or could I make it?
At UC Berkeley I participated in Biology Scholars Program which was a program that helped underserved students and those who demonstrated need for extra support in the sciences. I was thrilled to have a community of students striving just like me to learn more and give back to their communities. The support that I received there was immense and I owe them a huge debt of gratitude. They had extra study sessions, seminars and just moral support which I desperately needed as a lonely premed student. I had a good number of friends and we spurred each other on, studying day and night for the MCAT and taking it on PAPER !!!!! (OMG)
Amazingly we made it together and pulled through. I attended medical school at UCLA and then residency in anesthesiology as well. These training experiences were tough, long hours, no sleep, taking care of patients into the wee hours. It instilled the ability to push aside my needs for someone else who couldn’t fend for themselves and to give them outstanding care day or night. It hurt, but the training I received at UCLA was again priceless. All these experiences, including my fellowship training, prepared me to make autonomous decisions regarding patient’s care. It taught me to study the evidence, read research articles, discuss with colleagues and formulate my own opinion with evidence to back it up. My training helped instill confidence that I can make the appropriate decisions I need to for a patient’s wellbeing.
Now, being an attending, I am still constantly updating my skills, learning new things, attending workshops, doing continuing medical education (which is required) and making sure I am equipped to keep doing what is best for patient care. This is the focus of medicine.
So, as a premed, how do you know if medicine is right for you? One clue is if you consider that you are asking to make decisions that affect patients’ lives, does that make you cringe? Does it make you a little scared? I think it should to some degree. But if it makes you run away…then maybe this isn’t right for you. Having a healthy fear and respect for what we do I think is key to being successful. As an anesthesiologist, I am dealing with life and death decisions often. I have to have a healthy respect for this aspect of what I do. I have to check, double check, triple check, plan and anticipate. It is no passive sport. All fields of medicine aren’t the same as this, but in general, what differentiates a physician is being someone who makes decisions and takes ownership and responsibility.
So – do you still want to do it?? I thought so. Keep up the hard work. Fight the good fight. Keep studying, keep going. You will be a doctor yet.

 

Premeds, You Can Do This!

Dear Premeds,
I know this time is very hard for you. Time is the principle thing and the source of the problem. You are wondering: When will this happen for me? What are my chances of being a doctor? How long do I have to wait and continue to work, volunteer, get good grades, show I’m dedicated, found clubs, dig wells in Africa, and teach for America? Will it all be worth it in the end? Is it worth spending my time, money and effort not only to get into medical school, but is being a doctor worth it? What is the meaning of life?!!! *#@$^%&#(!!!

Trust me – we have ALL been there. I remember stressing out over my grades, my courses at UC Berkeley, getting gray hairs in my 20s, falling out after staying up 24 hours straight. I was studying for an organic chemistry exam, only to drink coffee so strong I couldn’t draw structures straight and I had to use the restroom at least 5 times during an exam! Lesson learned. I’ve cried and doubted, I’ve been told I’d NEVER get into medical school (gained admission to 6 my first time applying). Regardless of where you come from, you are bound to get some discouragement along the way. Fortunately I had support from my family, loved ones and trusted mentors that I gained throughout the years in college. So how did I combat these negative feelings and messages?

First, I had to first consider the source. If the person discouraging me was either a fellow premed, knew nothing about the process or someone I knew did not have my best interest at heart, then I had to learn to ignore the negative comments. However, when mentors or trusted professors offered constructive advice, I was quick to adjust my attitude and my efforts to improve.

Then, the most important thing I did was to finally decide to BELIEVE. I had to believe that the ENTIRE journey, start to finish (being a practicing physician), was worth it in order to make it there. Now as a wife, mother, practicing board certified physician and mentor to many students, I have a certain perspective on the process I’d love to share with you to help simplify your path.
1.   First things first: Love yourself and the ones around you.

Yes, I said it. Love yourself, take care of yourself, eat well, rest etc. It is easy to get so caught up in studying that you forget that you are NOT a machine. I don’t care how many times you tell yourself “strong work”. That doesn’t work when you haven’t slept in 30 hours. DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT take caffeine pills, stimulants, alcohol, smoke etc. or other habits to either “enhance alertness” or to numb the pain. It only makes things worse in the long run. What will you do when you can’t function without these things? You only have one life, one body and one chance. Pursuing medicine is not worth your sanity or your life in exchange. Make sure you are healthy and whole first. It is a difficult undertaking, but not impossible. You can achieve your goals in a better way by approaching it with a healthy mindset and positive outlook. Of course if you experience depression or anxiety, absolutely seek medical attention or counseling. There is no harm in having a neutral voice to hear you out. Last point on this is that your loved ones are absolutely a part of this process. Make time for them during study breaks. Make phone calls, Skype, but by all means do not isolate yourself.
2.   Realize that the grind and the hard work you are putting in now will pay off and will prepare you for the future.
The journey is long I’ll admit and it seems you will NEVER get there! EVER! It’s just a journey that never seems to end. But in truth it goes quickly. Match Day was this week and it was 10 years ago for me. This is the day medical students around the country find out where they will spend the next 3+ years in residency training and become the physician they dreamed of as a kid. Better yet, it’s been 16 years since I took the MCAT and it was on paper! I digress….I feel old now. Bottom line is that the premed requirements you are taking now are a SOLID foundation for the basic medical sciences. Physics and organic chemistry are underpinnings of molecular biology that gives a solid foundation for understanding of physiological concepts. I use these things daily as an anesthesiologist. So my studying over the years did build on itself, giving me a depth of knowledge that is both necessary and priceless when it comes to the ability to render outstanding patient care.

3. It NEVER hurts to Take Your Time.
“Take your time? What do you mean? It’s already taking long enough!”
Yes, yes I mean take your time. Take your time to study. Don’t take too many courses at once that may affect your GPA adversely. Give yourself adequate study time and rest time. Take your time to APPLY. This is important. It’s best to give yourself a longer timeline to get superior grades, do research, volunteer, and show that you’ve done your homework on what being a physician entails and that you REALLY want to pursue it. Many students say – “I’m applying this summer and taking the MCAT this spring with no gaps.” This seems to be worn like a badge of honor. Let me pose this question: What if you don’t gain admission the first time? Would it have been worth it to spread out the prerequisites, complete a postbac program, special Master’s or take upper division courses in order to ensure better grades? Would it have been worth it to take longer for MCAT preparation to ensure a higher score? Or to spend more time volunteering in a patient care setting or working in one to demonstrate your dedication and strengthen your application? The answer is a resounding YES! Don’t waste your time, energy, resources and MONEY without being adequately prepared to apply. Take your time and qualify yourself. Make sure you are ready to embark on the journey of life long learning. The only timeline that matters is yours. Do not become distracted looking at someone else’s journey or how they do things. You are unique and it’s best to work within your circumstances to craft the BEST application the first time around.

So it is all worth it? Only you can answer that question, but it has been certainly worth it for me. So keep the faith, believing in your “why” and reasons YOU want to be a doctor. Take your time and forge your own path to medical school and beyond.