Raising the Bar

Hello Premeds,

I hope your day is going well. Mine is. I’m spending it with my family and contemplating what I’d want to know if I were in your shoes. I was there once and felt that getting into medical school was impossible. I felt as if no matter how high my scores were or my grades, I could never measure up.

The fact is the medical school admissions process is getting more stringent. That’s right – its getting harder. Now more than ever before. some schools are requiring higher GPAs – 3.4 and above and high MCAT scores (> 85th percentile). This is higher than previous times and makes it much harder for students to qualify. Not all schools have adopted these criterion – so don’t fret. All is not lost. I just want you all to be apprised to what is required, so you can improve your grades and scores accordingly.

If I were in your shoes, I’d take longer to do my post bac or retake coursework and I’d study longer for the MCAT with a prep course to ensure I make these scores. The average MCAT score for African American applicants  is near 496 and average MCAT for African American matriculants is 504 which is 61st percentile.     Latino applicants have average GPA 3.4 and average MCAT of 499. Latino matriculants have average GPA 3.6 and average MCAT score of 505.

Source: https://www.aamc.org/download/321498/data/factstablea18.pdf

Having an score of 85th percentile on the MCAT is near 512, which may prove difficult to achieve for students underrepresented in medicine.The reasons are multifactorial. including not having money for a prep course, having to work in order to support oneself and other matters. My concern is that with having these criterion, certain schools will become less diverse in terms of ethnicity and be robbed of a perspective that comes with having a diverse student body.

So premeds, please be advised some schools have these higher criterion. At a minimum in my opinion, to apply to medical school, you need at least a 3.2 GPA and MCAT score of 75% percentile. This seems low, but for some students who are disadvantaged and don’t have the same resources as others, I’d say these are absolute minimum numbers and you MUST apply to many schools (25-30).

Please feel free to contact me with any questions. Just trying to give you all a heads up.

I hope I’m not the bearer of bad news, but I do believe its better to know now vs. not preparing well.

Candice Williams MD, D.ABA

Premed Consultants

Interview Season is Upon Us….

Hello Premeds and Medical Students:

Interview Season is here! It’s such an exciting time. It’s the time to show the medical school or residency program of your choice that YOU belong there. You landed the interview, they’ve seen your file, your writing, your motivation for medicine. So now you get the chance to sell it! But how do you do this? First- let me share some of my experiences with you.

When I was a premed student like many of you, I doubted myself and my ability to be a physician, let alone a good one. I didn’t feel I belonged in my undergrad science courses at UC Berkeley, let alone in medical school. So – how did I go about mustering up the courage to stare Dean’s of admissions in the face and tell them – I’m the one you want, I belong here and I can contribute something to your class? The honest answer is I’m not entirely sure, but I know that I wanted it so badly. I came so far, I invested so much and I was not going to let anything stop me from achieving my goal, including fear.

I employed a number of strategies that I found worked for me, and I want to share them with you. These also apply to residency interviews as well, so medical students, don’t check out. 🙂

1. I prepared for my first interview well as a template for the rest of my interviews.

What does this mean? I looked up the Dean of Admission and Assistant Dean, their specialties and major research areas in the medical school. I rehearsed speaking out loud at a mirror stating why I wanted to pursue medicine and what it is about the school in particular that made me want to study there. I took care to wear a black, conservative suit and pearls. I did everything I could think of. I arrived, and I can pretty much say my interview day was anything but successful. I remember being asked why I wanted to attend there, why would I come there, and when I gave answers, I was simply grilled further. I was asked to design a research study on the fly. This threw me for a loop as I hadn’t given thought about this before. I tried my best but I knew I was floundering in both my interviews. Finally, the one of the Deans of Admission used a term that I interpreted as harkening to the Old South and slavery. For me, this was the last straw.  I instantly knew this place was not for me, no matter how badly I wanted to attend medical school.

So what was that? A failure? A flop? No. It was practice. Yes, I used this first interview to get the kinks out, to learn how to think on the fly and to answer unanticipated questions to the best of my ability. I realized that if an interviewer was hell bent to seeing me in a negative light, all I can do is present my best self – that is all. So in each subsequent interview, I did just that. I learned from the first one, devised a sample research study based on my prior work, knew my research projects inside out and was able to discuss them in detail and shored up those weak areas so that I shined on subsequent interviews.

2. I want to say that I rested well, took care of myself and all those things. It’s just not true. I was a tragedy mess on my medical school and residency interview trail. I was on flights, in and out of airports and walked in New York once so far in high heels I had a blood blister on my foot the whole interview day. I’m confessing this because I don’t want you to do this. Don’t walk through New York crying because you didn’t bring the right shoes. Wear tennis shoes with your suit and change a block away. Bring a purse big enough to house said shoes. Bring a nice portfolio with you to carry around with you. Bring extra deodorant, mints, pins for your hair etc. Believe it or not, these simple things can help allay the stress and anxiety that comes from preparing for one of the biggest days that determines your admissions status to medical school or residency. If you are rested, calm and collected, that goes a long way. I also must stress to SMILE even if you are not a people person. Smile at the staff, greet the front desk people, shake hands, look them in the eye. DON’T look down at your phone continually. Be a human being and be polite to everyone. This helps believe it or not. The admission staff have very much pull in this process. If you are rude to them over the phone or in person, especially on interview day, this could ruin your chances of admission or matching.

3. I made sure to let my first choice institution know that I would go there above any and all schools. Interestingly I don’t remember my medical school interview at UCLA. I do remember my residency one, and I embarrassingly messed up on a question I knew the answer to with a faculty member I knew. I was scared. It happens. I tried my best to recover. I another interview with the Chair of Anesthesiology, I asked her how she trailblazed as a woman to be Chair and what advice she would give an up and coming student who wants to pursue academic medicine. This changed the tide of our interview and the tone. It was not going in a good direction as she was questioning my involvement in a minority based program and implying I was excluding those who were not of color. I told her, on the contrary, the organization I worked with was national and appealed to all students and those who had a passion for serving underserved populations. Just as I felt that this was not going well, I  asked this when she asked – Do you have any questions for me?

This is key. You MUST come prepared with questions.This is paramount. I did this and it saved my residency interview. I also recommend that after you finish the interview, send a thank you letter by email or snail mail or both. In this letter to UCLA during my medical school application process, I stated unequivocally that UCLA was my first choice. Further, after I was waitlisted to the school, I emailed the Dean of Admissions in a last ditch effort plea to let him know that UCLA was where I felt I belonged and could contribute a diverse perspective to their student body as a woman of color that is from Los Angeles and who desires to serve the patient population locally. I didn’t think this would work and I don’t necessarily recommend that everyone try this approach as it is a real gamble. I did however a few weeks later, receive acceptance from UCLA off the waitlist. It was my first choice and I was elated.

I hope these tips help you in your interview season and beyond. Hit me up with questions via email or in the Forums. What questions do you have about the application process to medical school or residency?

Candice Williams, MD, D. ABA

Premed Consultants

 

Premed Myths 3

Hello everyone!

It’s been awhile and I’ve been working hard in both my personal and professional life. I’ve been doing research, talking to students, mentoring premeds and medical students. I am dedicating this post to some premed myths about admissions.

Premed Myths:

1. If I don’t have a perfect MCAT score or GPA then I won’t get into medical school. Similarly, if others don’t they don’t deserve to be there either.

This is patently false with a caveat. You need a strong GPA, whether in college, post bac (formal or informal) in upper division biological or hard sciences. This establishes ability to complete the rigors of science education in medical school. You also need a strong MCAT score: at least 70th percentile or above to get in the door. But we must remember you are more than just a score! Your preparation, your years of researching, volunteering, shadowing, community service etc. that demonstrate YOUR why for medicine are the things that give context to the store. The ad coms do not look at these numbers without the context of who you are, your story and your motivation. If those things are weak, numbers won’t help you. But- if you have a strong motivation for medicine that is demonstrated clearly through experiences and your grades and MCATs meet certain thresholds, then you could get the chance to convince the committee that you are a great candidate by gaining an interview.

As for others worthiness of being there – each person has a unique story. Don’t judge or look down on your fellow premeds. They will become your colleagues. You may need them one day.

2. Certain ethnicities or underrepresented minority groups have lower scores and unfairly get in to medical school.

I had to touch on this eventually because I clearly recall dealing with this as a premed on SDN (Student Doctor Network). I felt as if being African American, Latino or other minority was considered dirty, you were a cheater and you had to have a low GPA. You were seen as keeping all the worthy White and Asian students from getting into school. Some people said as much directly. This is patently false as well. If you have questions- I can attach the AAMC admissions numbers by race. The sad reality for African American students is that only about 1,500 got in 2017-2018. This is vs. 10,000 of majority students.

https://www.aamc.org/download/321474/data/factstablea9.pdf

So it’s easy to blame the minority students for the fact hat some majority students didn’t get in- but the reality is that it couldn’t be. There’s just not that many getting in, and those that are have the scores. I know because I’ve seen it and have been on both sides as an applicant and as an attending physician. I make this argument because I want ALL students to know they are needed, wanted and worthy of this profession. In spite of current events and the state of our world, health care involves a diverse array of patients, who need a diverse array of physicians. Everyone is needed. Race and gender do not determine whether someone can achieve excellence. It’s sad I have to say these things in 2018 but it bears repeating. All of us can and will succeed if we put our minds to our goals. Instead of thinking of things as a zero sum game: you win, I lose – think more inclusive and synergistic. You can learn so much and a different perspective from working along side people different from you. I encourage all of us in this community to bounce ideas off each other and to use this as a safe space to be ourselves and to learn.

 

I hope these premed myths have been helpful. Next time, I’ll touch on some aspects of medical practice and what it’s like being on your own.

Cheers,

Candice Williams MD

Premed Consultants

Premed Myths 2

More premed myths….

3. I have to be a “premed” major to apply to medical school.

First, there is no such real thing as a premed major, but people usually mean majoring in Molecular Biology, Biochemistry and related degrees. While if you are at a four year institution this helps to streamline completed the medical school admissions requirements, it does not change the fact that you have to do them even if they aren’t included in your major. As such, there is no inherent advantage in having such a major. It helps to have something to differentiate you from the crowd. I recommend majoring in what you want to, what you will do well in, and doing your best in the prerequisites for medical school. This way, you are likely to have and keep a high GPA.

For non traditional students and those who attended community college prior to university, please see these as an advantage. Play up these diverse experiences in your personal statement and use the community college coursework to boost your GPA prior to transfer. This helps have a higher overall science GPA. If this is your situation, it may help to do more upper division sciences at a university to show you can handle the rigor of the coursework.

4.Your  GPA and MCAT score must be perfect, or you will NEVER get into medical school.

This attitude was pervasive at UC Berkeley when I applied. I was told to my Face that I would NEVER get in to medical school with my GPA. They were right. This is why I took more upper division coursework, retool courses I did poorly in at a junior college and had a serious upward trend in my grades. This all occurred after I was able to stop working so much for a short period, as I had to support myself. Many students I know have the same situation. My advice is to take it slow, don’t take too many difficult courses at once, and focus to score highly to fix any GPA problems. That, coupled with a solid MCAT score of 75th percentile (508) and above, helps alleviate Committee concerns that an applicant can not handle the academic rigor of medical school.

If you are only a score then there would be no need for interviews. The fact is if you haven’t adequately explored your motivation for medicine or you haven’t demonstrated dedication through your activities, then your application is at a disadvantage no matter how high your grades are. Committee members can tell if you don’t quite have a solid idea of what you are pursuing. Don’t get them a reason to guess. Prepare yourself by doing free clinic work, overseas medical missions, shadowing, research with clinical focus and clinical exposure, health fairs etc. These are just a few ways to show you know what you are asking to do and why you are asking to do it.

I hope these two myth busters have been helpful. There are many more to come!!!!

 

Best,

Candice Williams

Premed Consultants

 

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

Medical Schools that prepare well for Anesthesiology

Read this article featuring Medical Schools providing strong preparation for aspiring anesthesiologists that offer a third-year anesthesia rotation. I’m in agreement that UCLA did an extraordinary job on my third year rotation and especially sub internship with helping me get involved and understand that anesthesiology was my specialty of choice. Look for large teaching institutions that offer a wide variety of specialties and experiences including research. You never know what you will end up doing. I did not go into medical school planning to be an anesthesiologist, and I didn’t know I was headed in this direction. I am fortunate to have scored decently on Step 1 and to have met with the program directors and my sub internships to let them see what I knew and my interest and commitment to matriculating at UCLA for residency. These are some of the tactics I suggest for medical students.

For premeds, you don’t have to go to the same medical school as your residency. You could drastically change your mind a few times as I did. It’s generally a good idea though to have a variety of large institutions you apply to. If not, all you need to do is perform your personal best and do audition rotations where you’d like to go for residency or summer research. Seek out mentors at the places you are interested in. Research helps open the door for some, or a strong performance in audition rotations. Try your best to plan ahead medical students. Matching is becoming more competitive. Good luck everyone and check out the article.

Candics Williams MD

Premed Consultants

https://www.usnews.com/education/best-graduate-schools/top-medical-schools/articles/2018-05-24/how-to-find-top-anesthesiology-med-school-programs

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