Friday, April 23, 2010

MiM Mailbag: Feeling like an outsider applying to med school

Dear Mothers in Medicine,

I found your blog about three days ago and it is just what I needed.  It is like I placed a special order with the blog gods.  Thank you all for your humor, insight, and honesty.

What brought me to the site originally was MomTFH's guest post about med school with kids. What I read spoke right to me.

I am a single mother of a beautiful, charming, sweet 15-month-old daughter and I would really like to start med school in the fall of 2011.  Last year I applied to the one med school in my state, but just as MomTFH said, I entered the application process woefully unprepared and blew my application because of stupid stuff (and attended my interview 38 weeks pregnant which certainly made me stick out like a sore thumb).

Now I'm ready to get serious about applying for the fall of 2011, but I'm still woefully uninformed. I have  good undergrad grades (3.96 GPA), good MCAT scores (35Q), a strong research background with a research-based MS from the University of Michigan, and I ran varsity track & CC in college, but I've never been part of the pre-med world and I have no idea what I should  do or know to be prepared.  At the time of my interview I felt like such an outsider and I still feel like an outsider. What do I need to do to be in the know? I volunteer weekly at a Children's Hospital, but what else should I be doing to prepare myself to apply and for any interviews that may come my way? (I do work though, so I don't have TONS of time at my disposal).

Also, sorry to trouble you, but I have a second question: I may not be able to fully grasp the depths of difficulty that come with attending medical school and doing a residency with a child, but I can certainly imagine.  (Luckily if I am able to get in and go, I will probably have a lot of help from my family.) I also understand that there is a lot about being a doctor today that is no picnic.  I think it is only sensible to do this if I am fairly certain that I will be passionate about medicine and being a doctor.  Can you make some suggestions as to what I could do to get a good idea about that?

Thank you so much for your time!


  1. In answer to your second question, I've proposed that every pre-med be forced to take a semester-long course called The Med School Experience.

    Overview of the Med School Experience:

    1) Students will be forced to take a full courseload in addition to this course

    2) Students will carry a pager with them at all times and will receive no less than 20 pages in any given evening, at least 25% of which will be during dinner hours and the other 25% during sleep.

    3) Pages will by made by teaching assistants, who will be asking permission when they want to eat, go to the bathroom, or go to sleep. If the teaching assistants wake up during the night, they must page the students for permission to go back to sleep. If any injury is sustained, such as a papercut, the students must go to the teaching assistant's room to evaluate it.

    4) Students will wake up every morning at 4AM and have to report to a designated location by 4:30AM, where they will have to stand in one place holding a metal object for 5 to 6 hours. If they move at all, they will be berated for several minutes, sent out of the room to wash their hands 100 times, then come back and continue holding the metal object.

    5) During regular daily courses and sections, students must remain standing at all times.

    6) Every four nights, students will stay awake all night. Every few hours, the student will be paged and an angry, smelly, drunken man will read them a page from the encyclopedia, which they must memorize. At noon the next day, the students will be quizzed extensively on the pages from the encyclopedia in front of a group of their peers.

    7) Every day or so, a student will be paged to speak to a parent of a teaching assistant who will yell at them continuously for about 20 minutes for all the problems they've had with their child over the years.

    8) If for any reason, a student is sick and cannot fulfill his duties, he must pass on his pager to another student, who must take on double responsibilities for that night.

    9) All meals must be finished in ten minutes or less.

    10) Students will have two opportunities during the day to go to the bathroom. Before going, students must ask the permission of a teaching assistant. On their way to the bathroom and while inside the bathroom, they will be paged repeatedly. If they don't return those pages within one minute, they will be in danger of failing the course.

    11) There will be only four days off per month. They will not be allowed to choose which days.

    12) At some point during the course, students will be dumped by their significant other or undergo some other personal tragedy. At that time, their grades in all their other course will automatically drop to 65 and they will require at least an 80 average on their next set of exams in order to keep from repeating the entire year.

    13) Every day, students will give foot massages to the members of whatever athletic team has been playing the longest, sweatiest game that day.

    14) Actually, this course lasts for 8+ years.

    (I wrote that at the end of my intern year, when I was feeling particularly bitter.)

  2. Fizzy: LOL! You really make it seem glamorous! ;)

  3. Oh come on F, it's not THAT bad. Ok, maybe residency is, but med school was *sometimes* ok.

    In all seriousness though, you're going to need to figure out your finances and what you're going to do with your child while you're in med school. Family around to help? Boyfriend? If yes, then find out whether they're more or less willing to be full time parents while you go to school full time.

    Also (and you may already have this) but you need a story about why you want to become a doctor. A really compelling story. There are a lot of people out there with good stats, and it's the ones with the good stories who stand out among the rest.

    Good luck!

  4. My undergraduate college had a list of questions that were asked at different med schools' interviews. A lot of people from my college had applied to and interviews at my first choice med school (if there's only one school in your state, you'll probably find that the same thing is true), and while the questions weren't exactly the same, I had a good idea of what to expect.

  5. I have four children. I wanted to become a doctor in order to avoid housework. I am serious. I did not say that at my interview. Make something up if you need to. :)

  6. OMDG, yeah, I'm not sure why I titled it the med school experience because it was clearly more representative of residency.

  7. I'm just finishing up my first year in medical school and I have a 2 year old. He was 19 months old when I started school. So far I think medical school is totally do-able. However, you have to have amazing discipline and you have to have amazing family support in order to make it work.

    For example, on my very first day of school, my son was running a fever. It was like God was asking, "Are you sure? Are you really ready to leave him with family when he's sick?".

    Then, two days before my very first med school exam, my son fell out of his high chair while at his grandparents house in another state (my husband had taken him home to visit family so I would have time to study) and he ended up in the ER for a concussion. Because I had been disaplined, I was able to drop everything, hop in the car and make the drive to meet them in the ER for the CAT scan and still pass the exam with honors. If I hadn't studied EVERY SINGLE FREE MOMENT I HAD prior to that weekend, I would have failed the exam.

    I love what I do, but it's a hard road. Only go down this path if medicine is the only thing you can do. And even then, make sure you have double layers of family proteciton backing you up and prepare to work harder than every other student in your class.

    Hope that helps!

  8. Don't feel like I'm adding much but - - -

    I had my kids during residency. I feel like that was harder b/c in med school, at least the first couple of years, your time, and how you budget it, is your own. Childless - I was busy studying, but still had lots of time to goof off and procrastinate. And fourth year was such a dream - you can stack some pretty light rotations once you've decided what you want to do and put in your choices for the match - it should allow some good old fashioned kid time.

    Old MD Girl (a.k.a. Rock Star MD Girl) is so right - you need a good story. That is what they want to hear, in the admissions process, and that is what will make you stand out. Grades, shmades, scores, schmores - they've seen it all and get bored by the numbers. Talk about your passion, your experience, and your hopes and dreams.

    Granted, I had no idea I would become a pathologist, but I talked about serving people - tell your personal stories about a kid that really touched you in your volunteer work, or a childhood experience that got you hooked on medicine.

    Good luck! You've obviously got the brains, and having children will give you the discipline to succeed.

    Fizz - you are hilarious. -- Gizz

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  10. Hi all, thanks so much for your thoughts! I can't tell you how much I appreciate it.

    I know that there are hundreds of applicants with good stats. I guess I just get a little defensive about being a single mom. I feel like I need to prove that I'm not a screw-up...

    What I guess I need to know is how one REALLY KNOWS that one wants to be a doctor? Everyone says you shouldn't pursue the profession unless you are 100% sure or unless it is the only thing you ever want to do in your life. How do I know that without doing it?
    Thanks again!!


  11. I don't think most people REALLY KNOW. At least I didn't. Not REALLY, until I started doing my clinicals and loved them. Is there a way you could shadow a doctor in your area to give you some sense of what being a doctor is? That might get you some better idea of what you're going into. Just make sure you shadow different types of doctors, b/c one field might just seem boring.
    As for med interview stories, an older nurse in my class told the interviewers that she was applying b/c she was sick and tired of having residents half her age tell her what to do in the hospital when more often that not, she knew better than they did what needed to be done.

  12. P.S. She was right. She ended up being the number one student in our class

  13. LOL all of you - you are all so funny!

    I don't think you have to explain why you will never feel guilty or regret choosing a career in medicine. I think that would be impossible.

    You just have to know (and show) that you have a strong desire to do it, one that will override the pressure when the light at the end of the tunnel is at the end of a really, really long tunnel full of crap like Fizzy wrote about.

    Another recommendation I almost hate to make is to check out, if you haven't yet. They will have threads dedicated to what the interview experience is like, down to what to wear and how to fix your hair. I think they have links to a searchable database of interview experience descriptions.

    Dress, look, and try to act like you belong there (which you do). Anyone with a file like yours can handle it, intellectually. Be prepared to answer the obvious questions about the variability in your academic history, and your childcare. I would assume that the majority of the academics there (who are the people interviewing you) have children, so it won't be a foreign concept that people do juggle and can succeed.

    I was asked why I thought I was unsuccessful in my last application round, and I was prepared for that: (I was unprepared and stuck out due being dressed slightly too casually, I only applied to one institution, I had no clinical experience, I showed an ignorance of real research and practical medicine, and, oh yeah, was pregnant. None of these things applied the next time around).

    I was asked about my unrelated undergraduate degree, and they wanted a narrative about why I ended up there, and what I would do if I didn't get in (reapply in the next cycle to more schools in a wider geographic area).

    Good luck. I am sure you will do really will. Keep us posted!

  14. Your GPA, MCAT, and research are impressive, and being a single mom is an accomplishment that makes you stand our in a sea full of priveleged 10th generation med school applicants.

    I interviewed 4 months pregnant and concealed my pregnancy. My friend (an MS-1) started with an 8-week-old and is doing just fine. My recommendation is to apply to as many schools as possible, but look into programs that offer child care subsidy programs (I believe michigan does). Med School and motherhood are very compatible, you can attend classes while your baby is in daycare, and study after she goes to bed at night. It's not easy, but it's do-able, very do-able.

    Contact me with any questions,


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