Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Medical School...the Backstory

During the last year of blogging, I’ve been purposefully obtuse about the details of my medical school application and selection process. Many schools are known to check what you “really think” about things by finding your blog or Facebook page. I didn’t want to risk turning off Harvard Med by telling you how superior I find Yale Med. Or that my experience interviewing at NY Med was completely abominable and my experience at Stony Brook was hilarious. We were trying to maximize our options (acceptances) so we’d be able to find a suitable pair.

Thankfully, we are on the other side of all that and now that I can, I wanted to fill you in on the “real” story behind the process.

First, a little background. Advisors tell you that if you want to be “sure” you’ll be accepted to one school, you need to apply to at least ten schools. It’s “reasonable” to expect ten applications to generate two interviews. And approximately half of interviewees are accepted. So, I applied to twenty schools in the hopes that I’d get two acceptances and at least one would be in commuting distance of Ron’s accepts. We applied to cities to maximize our chances of matching up – I applied to 7 in NYC, 3 in Boston, 4 in Baltimore/DC, 2 in SFO, 2 in LA, 2 in Connecticut.

After submitting transcripts, MCAT scores and an essay about “why I want to be a doctor” to all twenty schools, each responds and asks you to write up to six more essays specific to their school. Questions range from “What makes you special?” to “How will you prepare to be a physician of the future?” Forty-seven essays later I waited impatiently for interview invitations. This was complicated by our trip plans and my restricting my available interview time to one month at the beginning of the cycle.

I suppose I should take a minute to explain what exactly I’m looking for in a med school. I am obviously a non-traditional student (not straight out of undergrad) who comes to medicine for both the science and the communication aspects. I am not looking to be a research protégé or a world-famous surgeon. If I had to guess right now, I expect to enjoy primary care – complete with long-term patient relationships, the ability to impact diseases through preventative education, great variety and lack of emergent situations. I’m not interested in the drama, prestige or pure academia that defines success at many of the “best” medical schools. Teaching doctors the art of patient care often has historically been secondary to learning research skills or cutting edge technology related to a very rare illness.

There is a drastic shortage of primary care practitioners in the US, precisely because it has been considered “less than” by so many medical schools over the years. I value a more holistic approach to both patient and physician wellness. I’m not talking chakras, but I think it’s ridiculous to ask your patients to eat well, exercise and get enough sleep when you’re working 30 hour shifts, eating out of vending machines and calling walks to the pathology lab exercise.

I’m not competitive. It seems to me that rather than encouraging peacocking, doctors could use an education in cooperation, collaboration and viewing the world a little less stratified.

You fill out an anonymous survey when applying to medical school indicating your reasons for becoming a physician. There were some I found downright insulting - Prestige, Power, Financial Compensation, Competitive Environment, Family Expectation. Others I really identified with - Lifelong Learning, Challenging Coursework, Bright Peers, Helping People. I thought the list of options illustrated really well the spectrum of things I am turned on and off by in the field of medicine. I’m not competitive, and think pursuing medicine for the sake of money, power, reputation or family expectation threatens the integrity of the whole endeavor. I’m perhaps not the most empathetic, compassionate person in the world, but I think access to healthcare shouldn’t be restricted by money.

Back to the story. Given these biases, my top choice going into the application process is a school just north of Manhattan in the Bronx, NY called Albert Einstein College of Medicine. It’s an affiliate of Yeshiva University and its Jewish heritage places a lot of value on many things that matter to me – training physicians to incorporate healthy habits into their lifestyle, valuing research and patient care education and serving a diversity of patient populations, including immigrants and those less able to pay. As a school, they point out the ways they’re different from the average med school and I appreciate that.

I knew there was a lot I couldn’t know about these schools when my primary source of information was a the school’s own website. Was the school actually compelling, or do they just have a great copywriter?

I was outright rejected by UCSF and Stanford, ruling out the Bay Area right away.

My first interview invitation came from Einstein and that was a huge boost to me. My next invitations came from New York Medical College, SUNY Stony Brook, Boston University and Loma Linda University.

In the interest of time, I’ll just describe the good, the bad and the ugly which occurred in reverse order.

No comments: