Sunday, March 28, 2010

Med school and residency strategy for a high-schooler

I am a junior in high school looking to become a surgeon. What would be the best way to get to Hopkins for their MD/PhD program, and from there to CHOP for residency?
Thanks so much.
Wow. That is a specific plan you have there. I think the only thing I was sure of when I was your age was a) I wanted to go to college, b) I wanted to be a doctor. Or maybe a writer. Or  maybe some kind of unspecified star...., and c) I wanted to wear my hair in an updo for the junior prom.
I guess my first piece of advice is to be open-minded about your future. There are so many fantastic places to train --all which can help you become a wonderful physician. Having your heart set on one specific place could lead to disappointment.
You say you want to become a surgeon. That's wonderful if you know now that is what you are meant to do for a career for the rest of your life, but also be open to other possible career options. Speaking about myself, looking back at myself while in high school, to college, to medical school and now, it's hard to believe how much I've changed in every dimension.  I went to medical school thinking I would most certainly become a neurologist (neuroscience major in undergrad), then it was most certainly a neonatologist, and then it was a general pediatrician, before finally settling on internal medicine. The important thing is to always stay true to yourself and follow your heart. It's too easy to get trapped in a path that we think we should be on.
I think it's probably too early to be thinking residency strategy at this point, but if you're looking ahead to MD-PhD programs, good grades and strong research experience in undergrad probably goes without saying. But, in speaking of what makes a good med student applicant versus a so-so one, is less about the perfect 4.0 or MCATs, it's the entire package of the individual - what makes someone standout is what makes you unique.
I happened to go to Hopkins for med school. As a student there, I served as a student member of the admissions committee. What came up time and time again was that we wanted to find multi-dimensional applicants - those who clearly had outside interests and talents, unique prior experiences, and, importantly, showed a clear commitment for medicine through their application. We had the chance to mingle and talk with all of the applicants on interview day and advocated for those who were interpersonally engaging (as opposed to the clearly insincere / egomaniacs / gunners / robots / Mr.Spocks).
I'll close with this piece of advice: becoming a physician is a long road - you need to have fun and live life to its fullest on that journey. It is so not just about the destination.Your experiences outside of the classroom or lab are just as important in shaping you as the physician you will become. Live, play, love, listen. Don't let a singular focus for the future make you miss smelling the roses. The roses are key.


  1. I always tell people the story that the founder of the geriatrics club at our med school ended up becoming a neonatologist. (It was a good story when he just became a pediatrician, but the fact that he's specialized in neonatology makes it even funnier.)

  2. more med schools should do spock screenings

  3. Sounds like great advice, KC!

  4. Wow. As a current med student, I would love to go back in time and tell my high school (or college) self a few things. Namely, forget "planning" for med school. I would definitely still go to med school... but I would have done it so much differently. I certainly would have skipped the expensive prestigious schools, wasting time on science majors I had no interest in, and stress about the program/school/etc. I would get into.

    Best advice? Pick a major you like (I wish I'd done art or photography... or languages! SO useful in medicine), get involved deeply in things you like, get good grades in what you do, and do the least science and medicine stuff you can (just enough to get you in). You'll have the rest of your life to study medicine and science. This might be your last chance to give your FULL attention to another academic subject. Don't miss out!

  5. um, I was a political science major. My recommendation letters were from Chem TAs. When I went to my interview they told me it was a formality...and asked about my honors thesis in PoliSci. And were really interested in the politics of a pogrom. Do what you love. Then be a physician. I have a colleague who is a flautist.

  6. Great advice, KC! Tough to add anything to that.

    I'm rather enjoying the hyacinths this spring. They don't last long, but the scent is intoxicating.

  7. I'm sure you've read about this, but be sure to get involved in some clinical opportunities where you can learn more about healthcare. I volunteered at some fabulous hospitals when I was in college, but I can say that this was nowhere near as eye-opening as actually working in a hospital and a nursing home. I was worried I had been romanticizing medicine, and I was right!

    In retrospect, for other cool clinical experiences, it might have been useful to take an EMT class during college. That would definitely be an interesting way to spend a summer.

    I also wish that I had been less shy off the bat about shadowing. Reach out to the physicians around you.

    And like everyone has said, do what you love! For me, it cultivated a work ethic stronger than I knew I had.

  8. My junior year in high school I knew exactly what I wanted to do ... be an infectious disease doctor dealing with the containment of emerging diseases.

    After more than 10 years of circuitous wandering, I'm back on that route. I wouldn't give up the experiences I had in undergrad as a business major or the 5 years I spent as a consultant on the east and west coasts.

    Those experiences are going to make me a better doctor. And now, sort of like my path to school, I'll get to my point. Don't be afraid to try something different. Don't be afraid to explore and try new things. If you're meant to be a surgeon, you'll be a surgeon. Just don't bypass something else that might be an incredible opportunity that you weren't even aware of because of your surgeon blinders.

    Good luck!


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