Saturday, June 14, 2008

#5: Volunteer work

Volunteer work is one of those things that you need to have on your medical school application, for a number of reasons. First of all, every other med school applicant will have it on their application. So if you want to be a competitive applicant, it is one of those things you need to have on yours as well. Secondly, not having volunteer work on your application is like directly telling the selection committee that you have always hated poor people and want to deport them all to Mexico. Since this is looked down upon for the most part, it is best to avoid the whole situation in the first place.

You may be under the impression that medical schools like applicants who talk about medically-related volunteer work, but this is not necessarily the case. Medical schools know that most people who have done "medically-related volunteer work" have not done anything more than taking people's heart beats or babysitting sick kids in the hospital's surgical ward.

The easiest way to have volunteer work on your application is to lie about what you've done. The only problem with this method is that if you get asked about what you did in an interview, you will need to be able to talk at length about how much you accomplished and how much it meant to you. If you go decide to take this approach, make sure to rehearse your story so that you know it well and can tell it the same way every time.

Another way to put volunteer work on your application is to volunteer for something small and then exaggerate about how much you did. For example, a two-hour volunteering session can easily become a three-month-long organizing-and-implementing endeavor by picking the right language and spacing out the timeline of events.

However, if you have a lot of time before sending in your application, actually doing a more long-term volunteer project saves you the trouble of having to think of really creative ways to embellish your accomplishments.

Friday, June 13, 2008

#4: Alcohol

Medical students love alcohol. No less than 85% of activities that they partake in have alcohol as a key component, which is probably not that different from most other groups of people. They will use anything as an excuse to get inebriated, including boredom, the end of a sequence, the release of the new Harry Potter movie. If you are thinking of going to medical school, having a hearty love of the bottle and a disregard for the health of your liver is imperative in order to establish yourself in your medical class's social pecking order.

Most potential medical students have already prepared for this situation during college (or high school, for the overachievers). If you fall into this category, congratulations! You are well placed to surround yourself with drinking buddies who you will claim are friends.

However, there are always a few applicants who, for various reasons, do not drink alcohol. This is a straight path to social suicide, so here are a few recommended solutions.

Probably the easiest solution for most is to make up for lost time, and start drinking as soon as possible. Make friends with the alcoholics and follow them to every event they attend (e.g., "Guitar Hero Bar Night Fridays"). When drinking alcohol, go for quantity over quality, as this will help build up both your social standing and tolerance quickly. You should see results within two weeks with this method.

If you don't drink alcohol because of religious restrictions, converting to agnosticism or atheism is your best option. Neither of these religions have any restrictions against anything, so they offer a pretty permanent first step to solving your problem. This method has a secondary mode of action that makes it particularly potent, which is that without the hope of happiness in an afterlife, alcoholism should come fairly easily for you.

Finally, some of you may have moral objections to drinking alcohol. For those of you in this case, your best bet is to consider a different career choice, such as construction, waste management, or teaching. A less popular alternative is nursing (for obvious reasons).

Thursday, June 12, 2008

#3: Subject- vs. systems-based teaching

Medical schools like to fight about things with each other. Subject-based teaching vs. systems-based teaching, M.D. vs. D.O. programs, affirmative action vs. racism, etc. The more things that medical schools can argue about, the more types of medical schools there can be. Mostly this allows medical schools to jack up the price of tuition, but rarely, these factors are important to some applicants when deciding on a school.

The distinction between "subject-based teaching" and "systems-based teaching" is confusing to many applicants because the two terms are never properly explained at any point in the application process. "Things not being explained properly" is a recurring theme in medical school and beyond, so those of you planning on going into medicine should be prepared for a lot of it. "Subject-based teaching" and "systems-based teaching" are simply two different ways that medical schools can decide how they want to teach the material. Based on this decision, they then divide up their curriculum accordingly. They like to give these divisions fancy names like "sequences" or "modules", which is done for the sole purpose of making your life a little more confusing. This is another recurring theme in medicine.

Subject-based teaching means that the sequences are based on broad subjects such as anatomy, biochemistry, physiology, and ethics. There is less potential for integration between the different subjects in this form of teaching, so it's good for those of you who survive school by cramming, information-dumping on tests, and then immediately forgetting everything.

Systems-based teaching means that the sequences are based on body systems, i.e., cardiovascular, pulmonary, neurologic, dermatologic, etc. During each sequence, students learn the anatomy, biochemistry, physiology, etc. that is relevant to that system. Because everything is being taught all at once, this form of teaching could potentially do a great job of integrating the material. In practice however, the topics are never integrated properly because the different lectures are taught haphazardly based on the lecturers' availability. Additionally, professors feel less guilty when they ask really nit-picky questions because they assume that at some point you learned everything about the given system. This is a better system for those of you who have already studied medicine.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

#2: Applications

Medical schools are always looking to fill their ranks with the best and brightest students available. That's why they sit around in dark rooms and arbitrarily decide on measures of success to apply to applicants. Mostly this consists of drunkenly throwing darts at each other, and then shouting the first thing that comes to mind upon being struck. The final set of agreed-upon measures are kept completely secret, and are not made available to applicants, ever. This is done to keep them from knowing why they did or did not receive an acceptance.

However, the people on medical school selection committees are not very creative, and the set of measures that they finally decide on are generally similar from one application cycle to the next. If you want to have a strong application, it is best to include things that medical schools have a history of drooling over, such as a high MCAT score, volunteer work, leadership positions, and/or having a parent who is a physician. If these are not options for you, you might want to try spending a few years after college doing something a little off the beaten path, such as helping to prevent the spread of nutritional parasites through rural populations in Kyrgyzstan.

Be careful, however. An excess of the above-mentioned factors is known to cause medical schools to preemptively reject applicants for no plausible reason whatsoever. In order to prevent this from happening, you need to present yourself as being both passionate and normal at the same time (unlike Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer). It may be necessary to place less emphasis on some of your accomplishments in order to create the proper balance that selection committees are looking for. Doing this is a painful process, but it is nowhere as painful as realizing that a school couldn't even be bothered to send you a rejection letter on actual paper and instead sent you your rejection in email format.

Additionally, careful rewordings of simple-sounding phrases and outright hyperbole are important tools to use when selling yourself in your application. Use websites like to find other ways to say what you want to say. For example, if you worked as a janitor for a few months, you might want to use some of these alternative job titles:
  • Custodial technician
  • Domestic engineer
  • Environmental services associate
  • Guest service associate
  • Industrial floor maintenance sanitation engineer
Finding the perfect synonym to replace an inferior sounding word is always a satisfying feeling, and will fool even the most astute of selection committees without being a complete fabrication.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

#1: Medical school is hard

Medical school is hard.

During a typical four-year curriculum, medical students are inundated with literally everything that is known about every major topic in medicine and a small amount of information from a few of the more specialized and more interesting areas of medicine. For testing purposes, medical schools then expect the students to become more proficient with this material than actual practicing doctors. While this is clearly an impossible task for non-android students, a passing grade can be acquired through thoroughly studying old tests for repeated questions.

The sheer volume of information students are expected to learn borders on the absurd. For example, a typical packet of powerpoint-style notes for a four-week long subject can easily reach 600 pages of information, two-thirds of which will be lecturers' piteous attempts at being "hip". Of all the testable material in these packets, everything except the title slide is written in very dense, technical language by someone with upwards of twenty years of experience in their respective field, and every year, more and more material is added as new things are learned. Really, the only people worse off than medical students are each successive class of medical students.

If you are considering entering medical school, there are a few things you can do beforehand to make your life a little easier. Speed reading classes are often useless, but may prove beneficial for some. A faster, easier approach that results in a higher yield is faking a behavioral issue, such as attention deficit disorder. Sympathetic psychiatrists have been known to prescribe medications such as Ritalin liberally.