Should I give up premed?

Hello all,

I know this post will strike a chord with some as you are in a crossroads. From students I mentor to those on Twitter and social media, every day I see students leave premed. They become a myriad of things: Pre pharmacy, public health, PA school, RN and any other allied health profession. Many of them really have soul searched and found the path that was best for them. This is not what I’m writing about today. In fact, I encourage this! Please do your due diligence in evaluating whether Medicine is for you! For some, the sacrifices you make to get in, make it through and practice medicine may outweigh benefits and motivations if they aren’t not true and pure motives. For instance: money alone won’t make missing your kids first steps or family events worth it. You have to have a deeper why.

No, I want to speak to those who have a clear motivation, purpose and deep call/passion to be a physician and have tried to improve grades, MCAT scores etc, but to no avail. You’ve taken necessary steps and years pass by and you feel it’s past your time. I have three simple words: don’t give up.

Why? Because you’ll never be satisfied with another route and sometimes a bit of reworking your strategy is all it takes to take you from premed to med student. For many students, a general strategy of retaking courses of C and below or B- and below that are basic and upper div sciences along with more upper division biological sciences will help bring up a science GPA. The key is to take the courses at places where you’re likely to get an A because that’s what’s needed to really bring up a GPA. For others, a more targeted and nuanced approach is needed.

Another huge hurdle is the MCAT and that requires dedicated study over months or possibly a year. Take it in spring to know your score PRIOR to applying. My prior MCAT course post that is a sticky has good information for those who are on a budget. AdaptPrep MCAT is a good resource and affordable too.

Sometimes these improvements need a boost with a national level research experience like the National Institutes of Health or CDC. Longitudinal Research for more than 1 year with a mentor that will vouch for you can help greatly in strengthening an application. If you improve your numbers then you are left to explain you WHY and passion. This will take you a long way.

FYI if you are above 25 it does not mean you are too old!!!

Bottom line: if it is for you, it is for YOU. DO NOT GIVE UP ON YOUR DREAMS!!!!!

Candice Williams MD

Premed Consultants

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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

Retake Courses vs. Post Bacc? What is right for me?

Hello there premeds!
I get this question all the time and I want to give you the short answer. If you are a non science major or have major work to do in terms of fixing your GPA, look into post bacc programs. They cost money and sometimes you have to travel, but it’s worth the time and investment IF you commit to doing your absolute best (A’s and B’s but mostly A’s.) Some of these programs have conditional admission upon completion of the program. Others are considered Special Master’s Programs and they may have a conditional admission provision if you do well in the program.

Please note if you retake a course, AMCAS averages the retake score with the original grade. It doesn’t replace it. Here is the source:

https://students-residents.aamc.org/applying-medical-school/…/section-4-course-work/

You should retake courses if the following apply:

  1. You did poorly in premed prerequisite courses
  2. You don’t plan to do a postbacc program
  3. You don’t have many upper division science courses

The AMCAS GPA provides the medical schools with a standard way to compare each applicant’s background. The BCPM GPA is comprised of Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Mathematics courses. All other coursework will be calculated in the AO (All Other) GPA. (see source above)

I generally recommend retaking courses such as calculus, physics, organic chemistry or chemistry if you’ve done poorly to demonstrate that you can do the work. It doesn’t really change the BCPM GPA BUT taking further upper division courses at a state university or extension can help in this effort.

Best wishes in preparing for medical school and crafting your best application,

Candice Williams MD

Premed Consultants

*Post any question in our forums http://www.premedconsultant.com/forums

Hurry up and wait…..

Hey there premeds, medical students and residents,

I thought of you today as I waited an hour to start my cases. Sure, I was able to eat some oatmeal and drink tea – it’s rare in private practice to eat these days so that was welcome. However, it can be painful to rush to work in a car for an hour, run inside sweating, see your patient, set up and get ready…all to know you won’t start for an hour and you will be rushed as soon as the surgeon arrives. Such is the life of an anesthesiologist I guess.

But life is this way for all of us right? We hurry to be 10 when we are 5. We hurry to be grown and out of the house. We rush to get to college, then medical school, residency. We say – “I can’t wait until X happens, then life will be great then.” We also say the evil phrase “I should have done ____ by now.”

Let’s be careful not to get caught up in rushing. The next thing we know, our lives will be over. So while we have the chance, while we are waiting, lets enjoy the ride. So what does that mean for you?

As a premed, enjoy learning biology, microbiology, pharmacology or biochemistry. Soak in the learning. Enjoy your time being able to schedule the day away and study on your own. It’s lonely yes, but you can meet up with friends and have dinner. Most of you won’t have children and a family at this point in your lives. It’s nice to relish in relative freedom.

In medical school you are sooooo rushing to be a resident. You are like – I am getting the hang of this and want to be a doctor already. I want to get through this and have so many years ahead. Let’s go! Well, enjoy not having all the responsibility or being blamed for something. At least it’s not ultimately your fault, whatever happens. I’m not saying enjoy being called heymedstudent (all one word), or being berated. No, that isn’t fun. But the learning and adventure of learning from others is kind of cool.

In residency, you sooooo soooo want out of the pain, sleep deprivation and just all out terribleness of being a resident. When you are on your own, you call the shots, you make the choice. It will be great and best of all, you will be rich finally!!!

Hahahaaa, says the salty attending writing this piece. As an attending, guess what? You get to hurry up and wait. Hurry to work, see patients and ultimately there is no one to look back to in order to make decisions. Each step you took from premed, to med student to resident helped make the physician you are today. And rich? If you planned well and have no debt, more power to you. Most of us are swimming in all kinds of debt.

So in the waiting to be whatever you are pursuing – what to do?

Smell the roses, enjoy the good things, don’t despair. If you are working to get in med school, be sure to eat right, get fit and take care to keep your hobbies. As a matter a fact, do these at every stage. Then if you are an old crusty attending like me, you work on being efficient in your waiting time. You work on projects, build businesses, play music (my personal passion) and help premeds and students like you.

Time has had its way of giving me perspective. When I turned 40, I realized I shouldn’t have wished all that time away, crying, lamenting, complaining. It didn’t help and still doesn’t help. Instead, use the time you are waiting to get to where you want to be in order to build yourself in some way. Learn something new, build yourself spiritually, mentally and physically. One day – you will make it “there”. Don’t put off enjoying your life until tomorrow. Live it fully today.

Till next time,

Candice Williams, MD

Premed Consultants

MATCH 2019: What happens when you don’t match?


Hello all MS4s. Congratulations to those of you who have successfully navigated the matching process. I fondly recall that day in 20xx then I matched and realized I could stay home with family and loved ones through my training. It was a truly blessed and overwhelming day. All of my work so far culminated in this moment of opening an envelope.

Some students have a different story. Some match a choice that takes them away from their home, loved ones and security, while others can return home. Other students found out this week they did not match. So what happens when someone doesn’t match?

The process is called SOAP: Supplemental Offer and Acceptance Program. It is a secondary match if you will, in which programs reach out to students via ERAS to match into their unfilled program spots. Unfortunately ERAS has been having technical difficulties for the past couple of days, leaving thousands of students wondering how they will navigate this process or if they match this year. My thoughts and encouragement goes out to each and every student coping with this. It’s hard enough to go through, but the uncertainty can be unbearable. Just know that you are worthy, you are capable and be determined to improve your application in your year off if need be. I recommend a research year, preferably paid if you can get it, applying to an NIH program for medical students such as the Medical Research Scholars Program https://clinicalcenter.nih.gov/training/mrsp/index.html

My thoughts on this are that things are different now than they used to be. There were approximately 42,950 applications to AAMC accredited residency programs in 2018-2019 vs. approximately 90,000 seats in medical schools. Granted there are 4 years of medical school, but even if you assume only 1/4 of those students graduate, you have 22, 500 people across specialties only accounting for US medical grads. https://www.aamc.org/download/321526/data/factstableb1-2.pdf

When you factor in medical grads from non US medical schools, students who didn’t match in prior years and consider what specialities are involved, the number of applicants easily outstrips the number of available residency positions. More residency positions should be made available as students invest so much time, money and effort to pursue medical school, and barring any glaring deficiencies, they should be able to earn their MD. Unlike other allied health professions such as nursing, there is no staging of degrees. You cannot practice medicine without completing a residency, but some alternatives include pursuing an MPH, policy degree, research career or working in industry.

A final thought to Match Applicants: There are many options, but whatever you choose, please do not feel sorry, embarrassed or ashamed of your journey. We (physicians) are here to support you and we are cheering you on no matter what path you choose.

Candice Williams, MD

Premed Consultants

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

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

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