The road to medical school is muddy, and one often stops to clean off the threatening mud.
In my last post, I highlighted the difficulty in getting into med school as an international student, and how hard I know I will have to work to make it happen. I have spent the last year meeting medical school deans, chief medical directors and chief of departments, volunteering at the hospital and shadowing a physician.
In all my meetings with these people, there has been one thing each of them emphasized: hard work. They said I will have to work twice as hard as an American applicant to get into medical school. I don’t doubt that. Already it has been predictably rough to follow this dream.
I try not to stress myself too much over that, but I also know that stress is an intrinsic part of the process that no one can avoid, including U.S. citizens. Even doctors are stressed so there is no need looking for the easy way out. In the long run, one can only hope the hard work pays off.
The right scores
Something everyone emphasizes to me as vital for getting into medical school is high academic performance. Most med schools accept students with an average GPA of somewhere around 3.7. For an international student, a 3.9 would be helpful. Medical schools often say that test scores won’t make or break your application, but everyone I’ve asked has advised me to get a 30 or more on my MCAT.
Honestly, the bar is high. Even a champion high jumper would have trouble clearing it. Okay, forget the joke, but the standards admissions officers expect from foreign students are overwhelming. I shudder whenever I speak to medical school admission officers.
However discouraging the path may be, though, I will advise anyone passionate about medicine to keep taking those steps one at a time. If you are thinking of medical school, shadowing a doctor should be on your to-do list. It speaks a ton of you on “D-Day,” a.k.a. decision day. It shows you have at least some clinical experience and know first-hand what medicine is about.
Beyond good grades
The other day I was speaking to a dean at a medical school in the Midwest, and she told me that shadowing a physician is a vital qualification for a pre-med student applying to her school. Yes, it matters that much. And you never know if the physician you shadowed will agree to write a recommendation for you.
Volunteering at a hospital, or at any other place that involves patient contact, can also be helpful. Maybe you’ve only visited a hospital before when you were sick, but believe me, you want to rebuild your relationship with the hospital for a different reason now. And you may want to volunteer for a good amount of time. If that does not show anything else, it shows the extent of your devotion to this career path.
You might also think about gaining research experience if you want something that will set you apart. Medicine today is becoming research-oriented. If you are lucky and your paper becomes published in a respectable journal, you may as well be as competitive as anyone else in the medical school applicant pool.
Unfortunately, there are no guarantees. You can do everything to increase your medical school chances, but it all comes down to whether you and the medical school are a fit. That’s why I am going to keep working hard to get the scores I need, talking to people who can give me good advice along the way, and gaining as much experience as I can working with real doctors and real hospitals.
If you want to follow my journey, I am starting a new personal blog about my pursuit of medical school admissions at http://thef-1medicalcase.blogspot.com/.