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Guide to BME: Medical School

Guides to BME List

Medical School

So you want to be a doctor? Lucky for you the BME department trains us really well for medical school. Your academic prowess, however, is not all that is required to get accepted. The admissions board is excellent at selecting the people that have a true passion for medicine. Help yourself (and the admissions board) by figuring this out before filling out your medical school applications. Discover what you’re truly passionate about and why. Here’s a few tips that to help along the way.

DO volunteer, ideally in a clinical setting. Volunteering not only shows that you have a big heart and are compatible to work with people but also shows that you have an idea what a physician’s life is really like. Medical school is both a commitment for you and for the school. The admissions board is tasked with making sure you know what medical school and eventually a career as a physician will be like.

DO research and understand what you’re researching. It’s one thing to just participate, but you’re on a much higher ground if you can talk intelligently about your contribution and the research goals as a whole. Show off your ability to think analytically and work in a team!

DO complete your pre-med classes as early as possible. The standard requirements are listed here (http://www.prehealth.wisc.edu/explore/documents/PreMed_2012.pdf). Be sure to check each school’s requirements as individual schools may have slightly different requirements. Unlike pre-requisites for undergraduate classes, this is a serious issue. Each medical school requires proof in the form of formal transcripts to show completion of every prerequisite listed. For specific classes, Zoology 570: Cell Biology was highly recommended as the advanced biology course by multiple current med students/UW BME alumni. Although not required for a BME degree, I highly recommend Biomolecular Chemistry 503: Human Biochemistry. This class provides a solid background (without covering plants) but requires lots of memorization of molecular names and structures. Exams are strictly short answer or draw the structure, no multiple choice. This rigorous coursework will provide an excellent foundation for future learning in medical school!

DO get good grades. Medical schools also like to see improving trends over time.

DO take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) early. If you are set on medical school, there is little benefit in waiting once you have completed the pre-med requirements. You will need to rememorize all of those projectile motion equations from Dynamics and the basic functional groups from Organic Chemistry. There are ample private test prep organizations that will sell you comprehensive packages or countless books to prepare. Even the most expensive prep package will not replace dedicated study time. Plan on studying for approximately 200 hours. I highly recommend focusing on the kinds of questions you will see on test day as opposed to just trying to memorize the information. Treat the MCAT like an engineering mid-term, not a biology mid-term. The best resource for this is the free online MCAT practice test available on the AAMC’s website. This has the exact same format as you will see on test day so get used to it! There are other practice tests available for purchase at approximately $30/each. Also, the format of the MCAT is changing significantly in spring of 2015 to include more psychological, social and behavioral sciences.

DO start your personal statement early. DO make your personal statement about YOU. The personal statement is arguably the most important part of your application. It is the part where you have the most control. By the time you are writing your personal statement, your GPA and MCAT score are likely set, and your résumé is nearly complete. The personal statement is your last chance to shine! Show what really makes YOU unique. A wise mentor once told me, “it’s not an essay for summer camp! Wow me!” With that said, the personal statement should play your strengths: every activity or task you complete is a success. You must be truthful in your writing, but even the most dire circumstances serve as points for learning and self-growth.

DO have many people read your personal statement, not just people that love you or know you well. Many outsiders’ opinions will be extremely helpful in confirming you actually said what you meant to say. Non-science majors are great editors for grammar, flow, etc. The writing center was also very helpful for this. Professors or other science mentors can help with the professionalism.

DO ask faculty, research advisors and employers for recommendation letters. Be sure to check each school’s requirement individually. Some schools do not count research advisors as faculty/professors. Ask in person for a recommendation whenever possible. I highly recommend bringing a copy of your transcript, résumé, MCAT scores and the most recent draft of your personal statement. Recommendation letters are submitted online through AMCAS (centralized medical school application) or other private services. Part of the application process requires the applicant the right to review his or her recommendation letters. You will receive an email when a letter has been received. Chances are the people that you have selected to write your letters are busy too. If the letter isn’t getting written in a timely manner, a simple personalized, hand-written thank you note might jog the writer’s memory. A thank you after the letter is completed is also a good idea.

DO apply as early as possible. Sensing a trend here, eh? Be on top of your coursework and applications; I sincerely wish someone would have told me this earlier. The AMCAS primary application opens in early May and you can begin submitting in early June. The main components of the application include personal/family information (all simple fill-in-the-blank), coursework, experiences section and the personal statement. I highly recommend printing out a copy of your DARS or unofficial transcript in order to fill in to the coursework section. It’s tedious to enter in the course department, number, name, category and your grade for every class you ever took in college, but it just makes it that much easier to read the printed version as opposed to flipping back and forth in online windows. You are allowed to enter up to 15 different activities in the experiences section. You also have the option to select 3 activities as “most meaningful” and write more about those. These experiences can range from employment to leadership positions to awards. You are allotted 500 characters to explain the significance of this event. The most important part of this section is to show continuity in activities throughout your undergraduate (and possibly post-baccalaureate) career. Do not be afraid to list activities that aren’t the most riveting. It looks a lot worse to list nothing then to say you flipped hamburgers.

DO be patient. It takes AMCAS roughly one month to verify your primary application. Just sit back and relax. Secondary applications come shortly after your primary application verification. The prompts for these are commonly re-used from year to year. If you know someone who applied to the school the year previously, ask them, or the prompts can typically be found online through blogs like Student Doctor Network. Just be careful! These type of blogs can literally make you crazy! It wouldn’t hurt to at least do a bit a brainstorming for your secondaries though.

DO mock interviews to prepare for upcoming medical school interviews. Engineering Career Services and the Pre-Health Advising Office offers mock interviews. Interview skills are universal so any type of interview can serve as practice.

DO send thank you letters to your interviewers and admissions staff within a week of completing an interview. This is by no means required, but again everyone likes a thank you.
Applying to medical school is a marathon event. Not one single score or activity creates an outstanding application. Keep on top of your studies and application throughout the entire process!

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