Monday, May 22, 2017

Insider Medical Admissions Searchable Blogs

Have a specific medical school or residency admissions question? Don't want to rifle through blog entries individually?

I've been writing my blog since 2008 and have a wealth of answers to your questions - all free.  But many folks do not know what I have two platforms on which my blog is published.

The first is on my website here. The entries are all tagged, so you can pick a topic and search using that tag.

The second is on Blogger here. This one allows you to search any phrase in the right margin (about a third of the way down the page).

Either way, feel free to use the blogs to get your questions answered easily and quickly.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Ten AMCAS Mistakes You Absolutely Want to Avoid

Here's a quick and dirty list of AMCAS Work and Activities section errors to avoid at all costs:

1. Don't write to write, and don't fill to the maximum character count unless necessary. While you want to include many strong achievements, you do not want your AMCAS to be so wordy that your reader is tempted to skim.

2. While you need to be brief, don't write in phrases; use full sentences. It’s a formal application, and you want to make your written materials as readable as possible.

3. Don't assume your reader will carefully study the "header" section (including the title of the activity, hours, etc.). Make sure your descriptor could stand alone: Instead of "As an assistant, I conducted experiments..." use "As a research assistant at a Stanford Medical School neuroscience lab, I conducted experiments..."

4. Don't be vague or trite. Make sure you spell out your accomplishments clearly and substantively. If your reader doesn’t understand an activity, you will not get “full credit” for what you’ve done. Make no assumptions.

5. Avoid abbreviations. Again, you want to be formal, and abbreviations you think are common might not be familiar to the reader.

6. Write about yourself and your role – not an organization. For example, don’t use the space to discuss Doctors without Borders. Use it to discuss the specifics of your role at Doctors without Borders.

7. Avoid generalities and consider using numbers to be persuasive. Saying that the conference you organized had 300 participants says it all.

8. Don't merge the descriptors with the most meaningful paragraphs because they are separate sections: You can complete descriptors for up to 15 activities with up to 700 characters each plus up to three most meaningful paragraphs of up to 1325 characters each.

9. Unless your PI won the Nobel, avoid using supervisors' and/or doctors' names in your descriptors as they will be meaningless to the majority of your readers.

10. Get help. Do not submit your medical school application without having it reviewed. You do not want to showcase suboptimal materials for a process that is this important and competitive.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Be A Dirtbag Millionaire

For many of us, medical training means taking on significant debt and learning to manage complex personal finances. Many financial advisors "specialize" in physicians (like wolves who specialize in sheep?), and young doctors have a reputation as easy targets. 

How can you defend yourself against financial predators, kill your debt early, and learn to manage your own portfolio? (And where can you even learn what a portfolio is?) David Presser, MD, MPH at Crispy Doc offers a blog dedicated to financial literacy for the newly minted physician with an emphasis on early financial independence for doctors.  

Check out his blog, and learn from Dr. Presser's recent Student Doctor Network article. Disclosure: I found his advice so compelling, I married him. ;)

Monday, May 1, 2017


I've started editing a lot of medical school essays of late, and I want to give a shout out to the importance of brevity. I focus on a work count of 700 or fewer for my advisees for a few reasons: First, I've found that that number is just the right balance of content and streamlining. Under 700 words for an admissions essay leads to a lack of substance, and more lends itself to meandering writing.

Second, your reader is likely stuck reviewing tens or even scores of applications in a short period of time. S/he is looking to spend as little time as possible on your written materials, while still getting a good flavor for your candidacy. Don't burden your reader with verbiage.

Here's a helpful trick: Imagine AMCAS or ERAS is charging you $10 per word. How would you keep costs down?

Monday, April 24, 2017

DO vs. MD

As the medical school application date looms nearer, I’ve had several pre-meds ask me about DO school. There was an excellent article in the New York Times a few years ago about what doctors of osteopathy do and how their admissions criteria are different from allopathic schools’. It’s here and worth a read.

The topic of DO schools is an enormous one. A few quick points many candidates don’t know about DOs:

1. Many doctors of osteopathy practice medicine just like allopathic doctors do. I do per diem emergency shifts at Kaiser and work with many DOs. Candidly, I usually do not know which colleagues have osteopathic degrees and which have allopathic ones unless I see a prescription blank or a signed computer note.

2. If applying to osteopathic school, candidates are generally better off with at least one (strong) letter of recommendation from a DO supervisor.

3. Osteopaths currently take the COMLEX for their board tests, instead of the USMLE. If an osteopathic medical student wants to enter an allopathic residency, s/he may need to take the USMLE in addition to the COMLEX. On the other hand, there are many allopathic residencies that accept the COMLEX. Also, there is talk that in the future (when exactly is unclear, however) there may be just one board test that both groups take.

4. The osteopathic Match occurs before the NRMP Match, a fact that can be difficult for osteopaths applying to both types of residencies. If those applicants are successful in the osteopathic Match, they cannot enter an allopathic residency. If, on the other hand, they wait and enter the NRMP Match, they run the risk of simply not matching.

Again, this topic is complicated and nuanced. If you’d like to discuss your candidacy and the DO option, contact me for a Strategy Session.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Make It Pop: Your Residency or Medical School Personal Statement

As I've written many times, the personal statement should be substantive and crafted in a persuasive essay format. Yet, the introduction is a place where you can let your hair down (to a point) and write in a narrative fashion.

It helps to start your essay with a "clincher," something that will convince the reader your statement is worth reading:

I found this short piece in an old Stanford Magazine to be worth a read. The author compiled a list of first lines from the application essays of Stanford's newest college class at the time.

Some of my favorites:

Unlike many mathematicians, I live in an irrational world; I feel that my life is defined by a certain amount of irrationalities that bloom too frequently, such as my brief foray in front of 400 people without my pants.

When I was 8 years old, I shocked my family and a local archaeologist by discovering artifacts dating back almost 3,500 years.

As an Indian-American, I am forever bound to the hyphen.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Time to Take A Reading Break

It's a stressful time of year for you, pre-meds. (Then again, maybe all times of the year are stressful for your cohort, unfortunately.) Why not take a break from crafting your personal statement, starting your AMCAS activities, gathering your letters of recommendation, studying for finals (and maybe the MCAT), and attending all of your extracurricular activities to read a book? Here's a piece I wrote that was featured last week on Student Doctor Network regarding great books to read for doctors in training.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Your Residency or Medical School Application: Maybe Leadership is Overrated

As an Assistant Residency Director at Harvard, I often heard my colleagues ask, "Will she be a leader?" or "Can we count on him to show leadership qualities?" when we discussed applicants.
But maybe being a leader or even an extrovert is not what we should be seeking in all applicants. Poor leaders can bully, be arrogant, and may ignore excellent advice. In academics, I saw many leaders who were not role models in their behavior or scruples.
Here's an interesting New York Times piece about the need for introverts and even followers in college admissions. I found the story about the young woman who tried to overhaul her personality and activities to fit the admissions mold to be particularly telling.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Residency Match!

Congratulations to so many successful Insider Medical Admissions applicants in dermatology, plastic surgery, internal medicine, psychiatry, anesthesia... and many others. You should feel good about your hard work.
And speaking of hard work... It's time for third year medical students (and graduated IMGs) to get started on a plan for this coming Match season. As of this writing, I have a few Strategy Sessions slots left in April. Advising discussion topics at this time of year should include creating a fourth year schedule, if/where to do away rotations, potential letter writers, crafting an outline for a personal statement, understanding how to write solid ERAS activity descriptors, reviewing an individual's prospects in a desired field - using data, and producing a timeline for the application process. Also, note that some applicants contact me to discuss their current indecision about what field to pursue, and that's fine too; those conversations should happen soon.
Here is a list of my residency services. Contact me for help.

Monday, March 20, 2017


Many congratulations are due to those residency applicants who had a successful Match. I would really appreciate hearing from this year's clients regarding their Matches. 

On a related note, unfortunately, as of July 1, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) will allow first-year residents to work 24+ hours without a break. I'll come out as saying that I think this is a very poor idea.

I remember a horrible week during my internship in which I worked 138 hours (absolutely true). I still have nightmares about the experience. I also remember surgical resident friends who were "rewarded" with operating the morning after being on-call all day and night.
Here's an NPR piece and a Forbes piece on the topic. Extreme hours lead to danger for patients and residents and keep talented folks out of medicine.