Monday, July 25, 2016

How to Explain Inconsistencies in Your Medical School Application

You put your heart and soul into your compelling, charismatic medical school personal statement; you showcased your accomplishments and drive to succeed in your activities section; and you demonstrated the endorsement of respected faculty allies in your letters of recommendation. Now your hard work has paid off and helped you get a foot in the door: You’ve been invited to interview at your dream medical school.

But how do you manage the medical school interview when you have a gap in your resume? Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that you took a year off after college and moved to Barcelona to pursue an exciting romantic relationship, only to find yourself dumped two months later. You moped the rest of the year and had neither research nor volunteer experiences to show for your time off. Your interviewer asks you that dreaded medical school interview question: What exactly did you do, anyway, during the gap year?

A prepared candidate can see this interview question as an opportunity to turn a skeptic into an ally. Responding with a calm demeanor – without making excuses or delving into the intricacies of your personal life – will make you look professional. This is a great time to explain that, although you graduated college with a minimum of life experiences, your year off helped you consider alternative professional paths and strengthened your resolve to enter medicine. Consequently, you will pursue your medical career with greater maturity and commitment and a broader perspective than those who went straight through.

The medical school interview requires preparation and an optimistic attitude. Support your candidacy with practice and enthusiasm.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Managing Difficult Medical School Interview Questions: Rehearse Your Elevator Pitch Now

An important key to preparing for tough medical school interview questions is realizing that a) interviewing is a skill and b) practice improves performance. Every year too many medical school (and residency, fellowship, and dental school) candidates expend tremendous energy assembling fantastic applications, only to undermine their chances by approaching the interview with twisted laws of entropy and enthalpy: They prepare for it with maximum randomness and minimum energy.

Once you’ve done adequate groundwork, the medical school interview represents your opportunity to distinguish yourself and impress your interviewers as the type of candidate they’d love to have at their institution.

That’s not to say every interview will be full of hugs and puppy kisses. Like the story of the interviewer whose window was nailed shut, there may be uncomfortable moments and even illegal questions. With a bit of preparation, you can learn to hit these curveball questions out of the park. Let’s explore an example that has come up in the not-so-distant past.

Rehearse Your Elevator Pitch

While most interviewers take the time to read your application materials in advance, don’t be offended by the faculty member who did not prepare, is blankly flipping through your application right there in front of you, and who asks open-ended (and dreaded) medical school interview questions, such as “Tell me about yourself” to be brought up to speed. View it this way: These faculty members are offering you the opportunity to define how you’d like to be remembered.

Your goal should be twofold: 1) to persuade them how much you’d add to their institution and 2) to make their job easier by giving them the bullet points they’ll need to persuade their peers about your candidacy’s worthiness. When your interviewer sits around a table advocating on your behalf, steer her to use terms that will be germane to your candidacy. Are you the, “global health advocate who volunteered with Mother Teresa and ran his school’s homeless food program?” Or perhaps you are the “first generation college graduate who held premier leadership positions in medical school?” Help your interviewer help you.

In the end, difficult interview questions are less intimidating if you both prepare well and have an attitude that they are an opportunity to clarify and further your candidacy.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Residency Personal Statement: What's Your Best Strategy and How Do You Execute It?

I've had several applicants recently ask me if they need to showcase their accomplishments in their residency personal statements if they have already drafted a strong ERAS activities section. The simple answer is yes.

First, remember that you don't know at what part of your application the readers will be starting. If some start with your personal statement, and it's pale, you will have lost those readers from the beginning.

Also, note that the faculty members seeing your application are reading many more ERASes than just yours. If you only mention an important achievement once in your application, the program director might simply forget your accomplishment. After all, s/he is reading scores or even hundreds of similar applications. Your readers have to be reminded several times of your candidacy's strengths. (You'll mention those accomplishments in your interviews as well.)

To a program director who hasn't yet met you, you are what you've done. You need to use substantive examples of your achievements to demonstrate your worthiness for a potential residency position. Evidence is persuasive; use it!

Monday, July 4, 2016

How to Design Your Life

I just watched a great video called, "Designing Your life: What Do you Want to Be (When You Grow Up)?" The mini-workshop is part of the Stanford (University) Connects program and showcases design professors Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, who run a course about life design at Stanford. For those who want to make considered choices about their professional and personal future (and who doesn't?) I recommend the video workshop. You'll be taken through exercises about how to craft different versions of yourself and how to explore options through prototype conversations.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Medical School Interview Questions - Discerning or Disturbing?

This fun piece from the Harvard Medical School (HMS) alumni magazine is worth a read. The article, "Stress Fractures" by Dr. Jules Dienstag, a member of the HMS Admissions Committee, briefly chronicles a history of the "stress" interview at HMS, specifically whether a well-known professor Dr. Daniel H. Funkenstein used the dubious tactic. The famous nailed-shut window story is explored.

Monday, June 20, 2016

ERAS Help and Scheduling

Just a reminder that U.S. medical students can already register for MyERAS and can start inputting their application materials. IMGs must wait until June 21 for their tokens and then they, too, can register. Both groups can "assign" their documents early September, which means that at that time they can start sending their completed applications to ACGME-accredited residencies.

DO candidates for AOA-accredited residencies have a somewhat accelerated cycle; please check it out here.

No matter what camp you are in, please start working on your materials early. Good writing takes a lot of time, and that mad rush at the end is never strategic.

Monday, June 13, 2016

How to Navigate the Residency Personal Statement when You're Applying for a Preliminary Year

Candidates who apply to certain fields - dermatology, ophthalmology, etc. - need a preliminary or transitional year of residency before initiating their specialty training. So does that mean those applicants need to toil over two personal statements?

No, thankfully. It's very appropriate (and strategic) to use the same essay with modifications. Ensure you explicitly address why a prelim year will advance the rest of your career and how you will contribute to the training program as a future specialist.

When you use a very similar essay, you can be honest about what your professional goals are. After all, the reader knows you're applying for a one-year position anyway.

Remember that many preliminary/transitional year programs are eager to match residents who are moving onto competitive fields. In general, those applicants will have strong USMLE scores, evaluations, and clinical skills.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Medical School Help: What are the Next Steps Once the AMCAS is In?

Once you've submitted your AMCAS, what can you do next to best prepare for what's to come in the medical school admissions process?

Here are a few tips:

1. Start to draft secondary essays. Even if you haven't yet received the prompts, you can begin to craft responses to common themes like "how would you add diversity to our school?" and "describe an extracurricular activity that might be of interest to the committee." Good writing takes time, but if you wait for the onslaught of secondary applications, you won't be able to impart your essays with your highest quality effort.

2. Get a head start on preparing for the medical school interview. Practice, practice, practice. Start mocking up answers to interview questions so that you distinguish yourself.

3. Consider what you want. Do some soul searching to determine what you are really seeking geographically, philosophically, and educationally. You want to make considered decisions when the time comes.