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MCAT!!!!!

Recently I’ve released a survey for premeds on their wants, needs and pain points. I genuinely want to know how I can help.

Here is the link to my survey, please take it so I can understand how to help you! https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/TT5RGR6

A sticking point keeps coming up- that huge elephant in the room: THE MCAT!

I find this to be a HUGE barrier as preparing for the test and scoring a needed score (> 75th percentile or more ideally >85 th for some schools) proves to be difficult for many to afford and accomplish.

Traditionally I recommend prep courses because they helped me and many others score a solid score for admission. Being with other people with a common competitive goal and having face to face accountability help you achieve faster in my opinion. These days, things are so competitive and expensive that for some, having course books and online resources may be a preferred route since the test is in a digital format. However I still emphasize that you retain more if you take pen to paper, listen and/or recite at the same time. Use all your senses to help and utilize question banks that simulate the testing environment.

Khan academy has free resources and the AAMC has free testing resources too. This area has lots of resources including exam content outline (which is key to know what is on the exam!)

MCAT Exam Content

  • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems Section
  • Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems Section
  • Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior Section
  • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills Section

The AAMC MCAT Official Prep Hub button is where you can access practice exams. Sign in with your AAMC account information and go to Free Resources section. Select Practice with Exam Features Tool.

I’ve recently come upon another online platform for MCAT prep called AdaptPrep MCAT. It lets you identify your strengths and weaknesses on the exam and has 4,000 simulated test questions in a bank format. It gives the ability to asses your difficulty level of questions you can handle as well as flexibility and dynamic practice questions. The writers recommend that you have an “Earned Level” of 7/10 on a 0-10 scale before you are MCAT ready. Their website can be found here. There is also a free three day trial that can be found here.

I know full well how daunting this step is. I remember taking this test in a room full of people near UCBerkeley and my friend and I were the only African Americans in the room. It was intimidating to say the least, but we are now both practicing doctors and moms. I think back and remember the times studying alone, in groups, with friends and using a whole Saturday to take and scored full length exams. I would then adapt my studying based on what I consistently scored poorly on. I knew physics was a weakness and I concentrated on this. It helped- I scored higher on that section than others. Hard work does pay off!!

Best and hope these resources help inform your study process and plan!

Candice Williams MD

Premed Consultants

Uncertainty: How do you deal with it?

Hello all,

Summer is upon us and for many, this means you are starting the application cycle, filling out applications, taking the MCAT or starting residency. Things are new, you are embarking on a new journey and not sure how things will pan out. How do I know? I’ve been there and oddly enough, I’m there now.

You see, just because you become an attending, it doesn’t mean that is the end of life changing and needing to shift. Sadly, I have to break it to you that things can and will change and it’s normal to feel unsure or uncertain. I’d like to share with you my situation and how I’m coping with uncertainty as a working anesthesiologist, spouse and mom.

Long ago in the dark ages of residency, I was trying to envision a future where I kept my passions alive (music, family) AND working as an anesthesiologist. It seemed impossible as I was barely keeping my head above water with working and being a new mom. I just saw a dark future and really had to visualize better times to make it through. Along the way I had many jobs, bounced around and experienced many disappointments with my working situations and environments. I didn’t anticipate ever having to quit, change jobs or move anywhere. In residency and as a medical student, I thought you just get a job and stay there and everything is perfect and happily ever after. I came to find out that instead, I was experimenting and finding what is the best fit for me and my family.

Recently I’ve once again realized it’s time to shift and return to my specialty of pain management as I’ve been practicing OR anesthesia in a great group for the past year. I’ve had such a challenge finding the right environment to practice in while staying in the place I want to live. Many have suggested – just open a practice – as if it’s that easy. I will write more on this later as the current landscape in medicine requires so much of independent physicians that its designed to make it hard to survive. I’ve doggedly insisted on not moving and on not having a practice because of the work, money, time and commitment involved. I wanted to pursue locum tenens (temporary work) but this didn’t pan out either.

So now I’m left in an uncertain place. I know I need to move on and practice in my specialty, but there’s no opportunities that fit my needs or that fit my practice style. So- I’m continuing to pray, soul search and open myself to more opportunities. I’m exploring more practices in other locations and I’m simultaneously drawing up plans for a solo practice.

I’m writing mission statements and really envisioning what an ideal Pain practice would be. I am passionate about being part of the solution of the opioid crisis and I am a believer in non opioid adjunctive pain medications, interventional pain procedures, physical therapy, occupational therapy, mental health strategies, exercise, regenerative medicine and other strategies that emphasize a multimodal approach to pain management. I’m in a place with a lot of competition and I am currently assessing the landscape I’m in and feasibility of opening a practice that will thrive and serve patients well.

So, I’m right in the thick of it. I don’t have an answer today, but trust me I know what it’s like to be uncertain and not knowing the future. I trust that God knows what is best and that I will find my way. I am trusting that for all of you as well.

Stay strong, keep pushing, studying and striving to be your personal best no matter what stage you are in. It can and WILL get better.

Email me at premedconsultants@gmail.com or reply to this post about your uncertainty and where you are right now. This is a safe space and we should be able to share with each other. I’m here for a listening ear and to answer any questions you have about the path to becoming a physician.

All the best in your endeavors,

Candice Williams, MD D. ABA
Premed Consultants

How did Operation Varsity Blues make you feel?

Hello there medical community,

I’ve been waiting to comment on the college admissions scandal, aka Operation Varsity Blues, as it struck a chord with me immediately upon hearing the charges and accusations. This is a sensitive subject, and the opinions shared here are simply my own thoughts on the scandal and higher education. You may choose to agree or disagree with my point of view, but I feel it is important to share as a physician of color and advocate for students.

Everyone thinks the system is built solely on merit, but as suspected, this story is one that shows that is not always so. I for one resented the assertion that someone with wealth could simply bribe their way into institutions that I and several colleagues spent years preparing for and working our tails off in order to get in and graduate from. UC Berkeley, my alma mater, was named in the scandal, as well as UCLA, my medical alma mater. These schools were literally hell to get into and make it through, especially as an underrepresented minority student from inner city Los Angeles. I was told in no uncertain terms many times while on campus, that I did not belong there. I was questioned on many occasions why I needed to take Organic Chemistry, or if I was on a sports team. I was pretty out of shape for any sport, so these comments were difficult to take at 17 years old. While the scandal is about money and someone buying their way in, my feelings immediately went towards the students who couldn’t buy their way in AND who were told they didn’t belong, myself included.

During a silent protest that I participated in while on the campus of UC Berkeley that was to bring to light that the voice of African American students on campus was not being heard, various insults were hurled at us calling us Nigger, saying the only reason you got in is affirmative action and the most hurtful – a professor told us that this campus was not designed for people like you.

These words stuck with me. Although they stung, I was determined to prove the campus was for people just like me. I graduated with a Molecular Biology Degree, music minor and was well prepared for my future career in medicine. I conquered that place and as a practicing anesthesiologist and pain specialist, I seriously consider the question – “Who is the University of California designed for?”

The answer is that these campuses are designed for the diverse student body that reflects the population the state of California. I and my black colleagues had every right to be there because we worked hard and earned it – not because our mom or dad paid someone to let us in.

I’ve heard the argument of “race doesn’t matter” in admissions assumes that a meritocracy would be inherently fair. This isn’t fair if those with resources to get the grades needed are only from certain ethnicities while others are purposefully left out. It’s definitely not equitable if some with money are allowed to simply buy their way in. This scandal has caused many to lose faith in the system – the one that says – if you work hard, you can gain admission.

On the cusp of decision day for UC Berkeley and many other schools, I reflect on the lack of diversity, especially concerning students of color and it’s disturbing to me. There are so few African American students admitted that will attend both UC Berkeley and UCLA (medical school included) compared to the population in the state. A couple of years ago, I attended a welcome event for students accepted into UC Berkeley in Southern California. I saw 1 African American student at this large reception with at least 200 students. I was disappointed, but realized that in this day and age, many students are opting for other environments other that UC, such as historically black colleges or private universities.

It was often assumed I didn’t belong in undergrad and in medical school just because of the color of my skin, but someone else who is another race inherently is assumed to belong. I think of so many students of color who are treated as if they are taking away spots from the “good” students, with the assumption that every African American student has a 1.0 GPA and just walked in the door with no credentials. These ideas are often freely shared on SDN (Student Doctor Network) and other premed sites. This was an unhealthy place for me as a premedical student and eventually I learned to make other communities and connections. These assertions are patently false. This experience prompted the creation of Premed Consultants and this blog.

Sadly, racism, classism and discrimination are rampant in higher education and there is an idea that certain students are deserving and others are not. In regards to medicine, medical schools in particular need to put their actions where their statements are and truly make strides to ensure they are treasuring diversity, treating students well and as if they belong, no matter their culture. If this occurs, maybe UC Schools wouldn’t have as much trouble in their recruiting efforts amongst some ethnic groups.

I hope this admissions scandal brings these conversations to light and helps everyone understand the importance of diversity and transparency in higher education. No one should be able to buy, lie or cheat their way into a school at any level of education.

What are your feelings about the admissions scandal? Should the students have their degrees taken away? Should parents be solely responsible? Should universities be held liable?

Blessings to all,

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