Tuesday, July 1, 2008

#21: Pass-fail grading

Many schools are moving towards a strict pass-fail grading for part or all of the lecture years of medical school, which means that your actual numerical percentage for each sequence is never seen by anyone, and can therefore never count for any kind of future job placement. This is the only criteria worth taking into account when deciding on which medical school to attend. The medical school curriculum is taught at a breakneck speed, and pass-fail grading is the only thing that will allow you to stop backstabbing your classmates and appreciate the material instead. That kid who can't shut up about the research he's doing, your annoying anatomy lab partner, and you (who stays in bed past 1 p.m. every day) are all on the same page for as long as pass-fail grading lasts. Go ahead, take that breather. For once, you're not falling behind.

While medical school will bombard your brain with a ridiculous amount of information, pass-fail grading will remind you that being able to guess 75% of the correct answers on the test is good enough to be a doctor. Since no one will ever see your scores, you might as well use the least amount of effort possible to get through the lecture years, and save that energy for improving your golf game or something.

The only downside to pass-fail grading is that medical schools are starting to use it as an excuse to not improve their curriculum. Why worry about how hard you're pushing your students, how badly classes and events are scheduled, and how poorly information is distributed, when instead you can just say that they should be able to deal with it because everything is pass-fail? Although the giving up of a competent administration for a pass-fail curriculum is more than a fair trade, it would be nice if such a trade never had to be made in the first place.

Monday, June 30, 2008

#20: Student interviews

As mentioned before, there are two kinds of individualized interviews: faculty interviews and student interviews. While faculty interviews are clearly the more important of the two, student interviews should not be completely overlooked. They will not make or break you, but they may help to give you a little push over other, more socially inept applicants. While both types of interviews will basically be run in the same manner, there are a few important differences to be aware of.

First of all, unlike faculty interviewers, student interviewers actually want to be at the interview, and probably won't do things like looking at their watch while conducting the interview. They actually believe they are making a difference, so they enjoy the opportunity to be there. Use this to your advantage. Know that they tend to recommend accepting those interviewees with whom they connect with most, rather than those who are most qualified. Your goal should be to move past the "acquaintance" stage and directly into the "close friend" stage with your student interviewer. Feel out your interviewer's personality, and pander to it copiously. Med schools generally pick the same types of people for their student interviewers, so you should have no problem with this after the first few rounds.

Student interviewers are also much more idealistic than their faculty counterparts. This means that you need to act as if becoming a doctor is the greatest profession on God's green earth, rather than just one of many equally good options. A good way to handle this situation is to specifically mention a few of the negative aspects of the medical profession that you have heard about, and then immediately proceed to downplay and poo-poo them. This will prove to your interviewers that you are just as idealistic as they are and are therefore worthy to enter their medical school. Nothing will boost your value in their eyes more than having unrealistic expectations about what your life as a doctor will be like.

Student interviews are also your opportunity to find out about the more "fun" aspects of medical school, which is really just another opportunity to make student interviewers feel that you will fit in well in their school. Make sure to ask a lot of questions that center around student happiness and well-being, such as:
  • What kinds of things do you do students here do for fun?
  • What is the hardest aspect of this school?
  • What made you decide to come to this school?
  • How does this school compare to others, in terms of curriculum structure, administrative involvement, and overall student happiness?
  • What are a few things that you would change about your school, if you could?
Remember that asking questions is nothing more than another way to impress your interviewers! Not having questions to ask is not a sign of strength; it is a sign of unpreparedness. Do not make the mistake of thinking that the answers to your questions are relevant in any sense of the word.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

#19: Rankings

Medical schools have a love-hate relationship with the U.S. News & World Report rankings. On the one hand, they will tell applying students that rankings don't matter, in order to get the applicants to consider the school over more highly ranked schools. On the other hand, if any department of the medical institution gets ranked well in that magazine, you can be sure that they will shove it in your face and never let you forget it. Going to one of U.S. News's Top Hospitals is like walking into an advertisement for the hospital itself; you will see posters up everywhere telling you how awesome they are, as if that knowledge is somehow going to improve the quality of care that you receive.

Medical school rankings are important to some people (like Asian parents), but it is true that they don't really matter in the grand scheme of things. For example, the reason that U.S. News & World Report always ranks Harvard Medical School and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine so highly is because people are always going to be impressed if you attend medical school there. The people at U.S. News & World Report like to state different factors that they "took into consideration" when ranking schools, but overall the statement of these factors is just their attempt at justifying their own bias in school placement. The placement of any school after Harvard and Johns Hopkins is irrelevant, because in the eyes of residency directors, all these other "good" schools are completely equal to each other.

If you are ever told by a school official how well their school placed on the latest rankings, be sure to ask a lot of questions about how the rankings were derived. Ask for a lot of specifics, such as how much improvement there was in the factor of alumni donations from the previous year. Asking for this kind of detailed information allows you to seem like you possess a wealth of knowledge about the process, which will easily fool most administration officials.