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Category: ADCOM Q&A

ADCOM Q&A: Why our program?

racial diversityA dear friend of mine is Muslim, and is currently fasting for Ramadan. The last couple of weeks, I have learned so much about this period of fasting, as well as other aspects of Muslim culture and religion. This morning, I was sharing some of my new-found knowledge with my mom. I told her I was so thankful to have this wonderful friend, and to be exposed to another culture. “I only wish I had a more diverse group of friends!” I told her. Then it hit me: my closest friends in the Chicago area, the ones I actually hang out with and see on a regular basis, ARE indeed very diverse. I just don’t think of them that way, if that makes sense – when I see my friends, I see them as people, not as a different skin color or ethnic background. In fact, none of my closest friends here are white. (Not that I’m prejudiced against my own skin color, and I have plenty of white friends, but they’re not the ones I spend the most time with.) One of my best friends here is Indian by ethnicity but South African by geography, another is Latino, another is half black and half Polish, another is Nigerian, and my Muslim friend has roots in Pakistan and India. Talk about a diverse crowd.

I thank my parents for helping me see people as people, not as a skin color or ethnic background. You see, I was raised going to an African-American church in the inner city of Chicago. At this amazing Baptist church, there were two white families who regularly attended. The vast majority of my friends there were black. I went to their houses, and they to mine. Their families came over for dinner. We had picnics together on the lake. This did not at all seem strange to me.

So having a diverse crowd of friends now doesn’t seem odd, either. And clearly, as I was talking with my mom about my current group of friends, I even forgot that we are all “different” by race and ethnicity. Not that I don’t appreciate, or celebrate, our differences. I enjoy learning about my friends’ backgrounds, cultures, languages, etc. I simply don’t see them as “other,” to use the anthropological term. They are people, and I love them for who they are.

Which brings me to my ADCOM Q&A for the day: What drew you to our program?

Of course, my answer to this question would be multifaceted. I would talk about the medical school curriciulum, the laboratory opportunities, and so on. But one thing I also want to be able to say about this question, one thing that I want in a medical school, is that it offers a diverse environment, hopefully both in terms of its student body and the surrounding community.

I don’t want to make it sound like I don’t enjoy the company of people who share my own skin color. As I said, I have close friends who are white as well. And there is diversity to be found within the same skin color, if you think about it – diversity in religious beliefs, sexual orientation, and ancestry, as well as seemingly less important (but actually significant, I think) factors such as music tastes, food preferences, that sort of thing.

My point is that differences, as well as similarities, should be celebrated. I look forward to celebrating all of those things in my future as an MD/PhD student.

Diversity should not divide us; diversity should unite us. I firmly believe this.

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ADCOM Q&A: Reading a Book (for Pleasure?!)

One theme I have noticed in admissions interview questions for medical school is that they want to see that applicants are well rounded, and do things other than study, work in a lab, or volunteer. I.e., that they involve themselves in activities that don’t necessarily strengthen their med school applications. That they know how to decompress and relax. Because these are skills that are so important, especially in such a high-pressure field. So, one of the ADCOM questions I want to answer is this: Discuss a book that you have recently read for pleasure. Why does this book interest you?

And here was my answer, as of a few days ago: Uhhhh … pleasure? I don’t have TIME to read for pleasure!

Thankfully, I do have a little more time now, as I am not in school (and inundated with the requirement of reading textbooks). So I picked up a of book a few days ago, and started reading for “pleasure” again. And it’s felt absolutely wonderful. While I haven’t finished it, I will tell you a little bit about it, and what I have learned thus far. I will also share my reading list, books that I hope to read throughout the next months (when I will still have more time, before the insanity of medical school starts).

What I’m Currently Reading:

book 1Nature’s Robots: A History of Proteins

(Charles Tanford and Jacqueline Reynolds, 2004)

I downloaded this Kindle book (to read on my iPad) on Dec. 25, 2011, according to my Amazon.com account. And honestly, I totally forgot I had it. But I was looking at my Kindle books a few days ago, and there it was! I was thrilled, it was like Christmas (even though I bought it for myself). I started reading it that evening. And was pleasantly surprised. It’s definitely a history book, at least thus far. But there’s a lot of science – especially chemistry and biochemistry – in there, which makes me happy. And the authors detail a lot of the theories, and arguments over theories, that were proposed in the past regarding proteins. I’ve made it through chapter 5, and am quite pleased with how the book is going. Proteins were my first “love” in science, and they continue to fascinate me. They are such an important part of our lives, and anyone who is in the biological sciences needs to have a good understanding of them. Learning about their history, in terms of scientific advances, is a way for me to understand where we have been, as a scientific community, and also to be inspired about where we are going in the future.

My Future Reading List:

Fiction:

book 2The Life All Around Me by Ellen Foster
(Kaye Gibbons, 2011)

One of my favorite authors is Flannery O’Connor, and Kaye Gibbons reminds me of O’Connor (very high praise, in my book – pun intended). This book is a follow-up to the book Ellen Foster, which I read several years ago. After reading that, I flew through several other Gibbons novels. I look forward to reading more about this lonely girl, and the struggles she goes through.

book 3A Wizard of Earthsea
(Ursula Le Guin, 1970)

I was first exposed to Ursula Le Guin when I was a textbook editor, and worked on the American Literature lesson for the hilarious but disturbing short story SQ. “SQ” stands for “sanity quotient,” and the story is a wonderful parody. I highly recommend it, even if you are not a huge short story lover (I am not). I immediately checked out Le Guin’s Earthsea series, and this book is the first of that series. I have read it before, but I want to read it again. And I rarely read books twice, simply because there are so many books I want to sample.
On your Facebook info page, you can list favorite quotations. I have only one listed, and it’s from this book, from the creation story that is entwined throughout. I find it beautiful, poignant, and enigmatic, something to ponder:

Only in silence the word,
only in dark the light,
only in dying life:
bright the hawk’s flight
on the empty sky.

– The Creation of Éa

 Memoirs:

book 4Genetic Rounds: A Doctor’s Encounters in the Field That Revolutionized Medicine
(Robert Marion, 2009)

This book, which I found rather randomly while searching my library’s online catalog, looks fascinating to me. I don’t know much about it, don’t know whether it’s well written, but the topic is definitely something that interests me. I enjoy a good medical memoir for sure, because it gives me a glimpse into the field I will be entering soon. And this one piqued my curiosity in particular because it marries medicine and genetics, which is something I am interested in doing myself in the future.

book 5The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
(Anne Fadiman, 2012)

This was recommended to me by a physician I highly respect as “must read” for any physician, or physician-to-be. According to Amazon, its “explores the clash between a small county hospital in California and a refugee family from Laos over the care of Lia Lee, a Hmong child diagnosed with severe epilepsy. Lia’s parents and her doctors both wanted what was best for Lia, but the lack of understanding between them led to tragedy.” Given my interest in multicultural issues, and health literacy, it seems a poignant book to read right now.

Nonfiction:

book 6The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
(Rebecca Skloot, 2011)

One of my dear friends – who is most definitely not a science person – read this book and told me it was amazing. Here is a portion of the summary posted on Amazon: “Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells—taken without her knowledge—became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. If you could pile all HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale, they’d weigh more than 50 million metric tons—as much as a hundred Empire State Buildings. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions.”
If you read any scientific literature, you are bound to come across HeLa cells as a subject of study. Reading the story of their “birth,” so to speak, and such a controversial and heartbreaking one, seems like a natural thing to do for a budding scientist such as myself.

book 7The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements
(Sam Kean, 2011)

It was my chemistry major friend who recommended this one to me. And as you know from some of my previous posts, chemistry – and the periodic table – have piqued my interest of late. I look forward to reading the history of this seminal scientific tool. This is what the Amazon summary says about the book: “The Periodic Table is a crowning scientific achievement, but it’s also a treasure trove of adventure, betrayal, and obsession. These fascinating tales follow every element on the table as they play out their parts in human history, and in the lives of the (frequently) mad scientists who discovered them. THE DISAPPEARING SPOON masterfully fuses science with the classic lore of invention, investigation, and discovery–from the Big Bang through the end of time.” Sounds pretty cool, eh?

Conclusion:

Clearly, I have plenty to keep myself busy. The wonderful thing is, I’m not afraid to use my local library (or the wonderful library loan system). So reading all of these amazing books won’t cost me anything. In addition, a couple of these books are available through my library’s digital lending center, which will allow me to read them on my iPad. As I read these treasures, I will definitely post about them. So stay tuned …

ADCOM Q&A: Problems in U.S. Health Care

stethoscopeIt is undeniable that we in the United States have access to all kinds of health care procedures, medications, and specialists that, in many other countries, are only a pipe dream. Well, some of us. One of the responsibilities of the future generation of physicians – and politicians – is to help shape a better landscape for health care in which all Americans have access to these resources. That, of course, is easier said than done. But recognizing the problem is the first step toward a solution, so it makes sense that admissions committee members would ask a medical school interviewee something like this: What are three of the greatest challenges facing health care in the United States today?

First of all, that’s not an easy question. I don’t think anyone would argue that our system is systemically broken. So there are quite a few “challenges” I could talk about. But I will talk about three that dovetail into each other. That is, they are all related to money. Of course, pouring money into a broken system is not the solution in and of itself. But there are three money-related issues in health care that I want to talk about here. I don’t have answers, perhaps only more questions. But asking those questions has gotten me researching these topics and learning more about the difficulties facing our health care system, and at least thinking about some possibilities for the future.

So here we go.

1. The lack of comprehensive health insurance for all Americans.

When I want to go to the doctor, I have to pay a small copay, sure. But the bulk of the charge gets paid by my insurance company. For an annual check-up, doing without insurance might not be such a big deal. But what if you have a chronic health problem such as diabetes, or wind up in the hospital for a week or two? You’re looking at some hefty medical bills, medical bills that many, if not most, Americans couldn’t pay out of pocket. So how big of a problem is this? Well, according to the most recent Census Bureau report, the number of uninsured Americans topped 50 million in 2010. That’s 1 in 6 people in the country. Obama’s health reform bill is supposed to help with this, but there is much controversy (and litigation) surrounding that bill. So while the number may have dropped some, it is still high. Too high. And that makes good health care – any health care – unaffordable to too many people.

pill bottle2. The rising cost of prescription drugs. 

Prescription drug costs have increased wildly over the last few years. If you have decent insurance and are taking a round of antibiotics for a mild infection, this is not much of a concern. And there are some drugs available at Target and Wal-Mart for less than $5. But there are a couple of big problems facing people today. One is for those lacking insurance all together (see issue 1 above). For those people, drugs can cost, tens, hundreds, even thousands of dollars, depending on the medication. Clearly, that can make some drugs unaffordable all together. For people who have insurance, the rising cost of prescription drugs is still a concern, even though you might only be paying a fraction of the actual drug cost. Insurance companies are charging more for drug copays, especially for newer, brand-name, “fourth-tier” drugs. If say, you have diabetes, and you’re on several of these pricier drugs (and a fixed income), that adds up to a lot of money, even with insurance. So why have these costs gone up? Well, for one thing, pharmaceutical companies charge a lot for their drugs. According to a study published on Kaiser.edu (a Web site associated with the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation), pharmaceutical manufacturing was the third most profitable industry in the country in 2008 (it was first between 1995 and 2002). Many argue that these high prices are necessary to encourage more research and development of new drugs, though … so there’s a dilemma there. Retail prescription prices have also outpaced inflation between 2000 and 2009, according to the same Kaiser Web site. Another issue is that most of the top-selling prescriptions are those newer, higher-priced drugs. And while hospital and other professional services have increased in cost, the growth rate for prescription drug costs is projected to overtake other categories of services between 2010 and 2019 (again, via Kaiser.edu). You’ve probably heard stories on the news of people having to decide between buying medicine and food. While these situations may not affect someone you know personally, they do happen. And that’s not right.

3. The shortage of primary care physicians.

In the town where my mom grew up (the sleepy, 1,500-person town of Caldwell, Kansas), there was a town dentist – her father – and a town doctor. Everyone in town knew these two practitioners, because everyone in town went to them for their body aches and toothaches. These days, though, it’s becoming less and less common for those little towns to have a resident physician, or even one anywhere nearby. PCPThis also applies to many urban and low-income areas. In fact, Kaiser.edu estimates that 60 million Americans (that’s 1 in 5, folks) lack “adequate access to primary care due to a shortage of primary care physicians in their communities.” So what’s the problem? Again, in part: money. There is a huge income gap between a family physician or internist (we’re talking well under $200,000, says Kaiser) and the mugh higher-paid specialists (try around $400,000 for radiology or cardiology). With the cost of medical school debt sometimes rising to $200,000 or $300,000, that higher salary looks appealing in terms of loan payoff, not to mention lifestyle considerations. Fewer medical school graduates are going into primary care, in part because of these financial issues. Which stem from our payment system. You get big bucks for procedures, pennies for an office visit. And all those phone calls that your family doc makes? He or she doesn’t make a dime for that time.

Our health care system here in the United States is, in some ways, the best in the world. People come from all over to see specialists at places like the Mayo clinic, for example. But the system doesn’t work for everyone. We need to figure out a way to resolve that.

ADCOM Q&A (coping with stress)

There is no doubt that medicine is a stressful career. You literally have people’s lives in your hand. So it’s understandable that admissions committees would want to know how someone handles stress, because that is a predictor of how they will handle it in the future, as a physician.

So, if asked: How do you handle stress?

Here is how I respond:

How I cope with stress depends on the time constraints of the situation and the type of stress. If it is “acute” stress (a short-term issue that must be acted on quickly), I handle it differently than if it is “chronic” stress (a long-term issue that must be dealt with over an extended period of time).

For acute stress, such as having a lab report, an exam, and a quiz all on the same day, what I do is first allow myself a moment to acknowledge that I feel stress. I think that is very important, not to deny that feeling. Because all that does is bury the feeling and give it more power over you. But I do not wallow in that feeling, or I would become paralyzed. Instead, I quickly move on to a plan of action, which empowers me. I prioritize what I have to do and then set about to doing it.

I find that this strategy not only works for when I feel stress, but it helps prevent stress. On my Google homepage, for example, I keep a running to-do list, organized by “low,” “medium,” and “high” priority. This keeps me on task, getting done the most important things first.

Chronic stress is different. You cannot necessarily act immediately and make it go away. An example from my current situation is that my husband, Geoff, got laid off from his job about three weeks ago. No amount of my prioritizing will find him a job. But no amount of my stressing will find him a job, either. So what I have to do is alleviate the feeling of stress that this situation causes so that I can continue to focus on what I need to do, namely, my school work. The way I do this is through several means of positive self-expression.

First, I talk. With my husband, with my family, with my friends. I tell them what I think, feel, fear, and hope. Expressing these things helps me feel a release, and also often helps me find remedies for the problem.

Second, I write. In writing, I find I can sometimes access a deeper level of thoughts and feelings because I have more time to consider my words. But it is still a method of sharing, of expressing, of releasing. And I find great relief in it.

Third, I create. Through color, shape, form, and texture, I express what is going on in my heart and head, whether it is frustration, anxiety, or anger. And often, the deeper I feel something, the more interesting my art is, because the more emotional inspiration there is behind it.

Fourth, I play. Music, that is. This is actually something that I used to do all the time and have gotten away from. But am trying to rekindle it now. I have played the piano since I was about 8 years old (I took lessons for 9 years). I have an extensive repertoire of songs that I can play, based on my mood. But I also find it rewarding to channel the nervous energy of stress into learning something new. I have recently gotten back into ragtime music (after being a childhood fan). And I just ordered Scott Joplin’s complete rags for piano on Amazon.com today. So I will have plenty of material to keep me busy, and to help me de-stress.

I believe that having several coping mechanisms in your “toolbox” for dealing with stress is extremely important, because we all know that life is full of stressors. That is unavoidable. But I believe it can be overcome, and I believe the above-mentioned methods help me do that.

ADCOM Q&A (leader vs. follower)

I started a series several months ago in which I began answering some potential medical school interview questions. I haven’t written any posts on this in some time, but plan to pick that thread up this semester, beginning here.

Are you a leader or a follower? Why? 

This seems to be a common question in many medical school interview samplings that I have looked at. It would seem that the obvious answer to this question is “leader,” but I believe this question can really be looked at in a more nuanced way. And regardless, it’s the “why” that is the important part.

When you go to a restaurant, one where the hostess has to seat you, you wait in the foyer until your table is ready. Then you follow the hostess, usually single file, into the restaurant. Ever since I was a little kid, I have always led that family parade. This alone, of course, does not make me a leader. But it hinted to me early on that I liked to be out in front, in charge of things. Leading the pack.

As I got older and went off to school, I often found myself as the group leader on school projects and group discussions. In part because I was willing to work hard, in part because I was organized and good at keeping people from getting distracted. I was focused on the task at hand. But more than that, I was confident in these abilities. To be a leader, you have to first believe in yourself and what you are capable of doing.

As an adult though, especially in the professional realm, I realized that it wasn’t always my job to be the leader. In fact, sometimes it was my job to follow someone else. Like my boss. She (or he) was the one with more expertise, and I had something to learn in those situations.

That said, I believe there is some stratification in the leadership process. I followed my boss, yes, because she was the one in charge of the whole office; but I led the interns because I was the internship coordinator and was in charge of their learning environment and assignments. So clearly, it’s important to be able to do both, and to recognize your role in a particular situation.

If you enjoy leadership, though, and are good at it, I believe you will seek it out and find the opportunity to exercise those muscles in some way, no matter what your level on the hierarchical ladder. When I got my job as a textbook editor, for example, I started out at the very bottom as an assistant editor. But after about a year, I had earned the confidence of my superiors, who entrusted me with more responsibility. I took those responsibilities and asked for even more, because I felt I could contribute, I was capable, and I would enjoy the challenge. I ended up in charge of one section of our textbook review, though I of course reported to my editor. So really, being a leader and a follower can be intertwined.

Why am I a leader? I believe I have indirectly answered that question: I have self-confidence, I am organized, I am focused, I enjoy the challenge of leading people and projects. But I think there is a related quality that must be teased out of the “leadership” role, and that is teaching. When done well, leadership is very much about teaching others, about helping them to excel and improve, not just about making yourself look good. And I find great joy and fulfillment in that part of the leadership process.

When I was a textbook editor, I spent a great deal of time with one of my co-workers, who was unfamiliar with many of the computer “basics” I take for granted (“save as,” cutting and pasting, finding where you saved something, and so on). I spent hours of my own time coaching her on those skills, and could only smile as I watched her improve over the weeks. (She is now a dear friend.) I consider that a part of leadership, and see it as integral to what I do in the future.

So I am a leader when it is appropriate, a follower when that is appropriate, and whenever I can be, a teacher.

ADCOM Q&A (learning from your mistakes)

Everyone makes mistakes. Even pre-medical students. And one trend I’ve noticed in the medical school interview questions I’ve looked at (this applies to job interview questions as well) is that the interviewers quite often will bluntly ask you about those mistakes or other shortcomings. For example, there is the infamous “What is your greatest strength and weakness?” question, which I have been asked in multiple job interviews. A similar medical school question I found online literally begins with these words: “What has been your biggest failure … ?”

Clearly, though, if an applicant goes on for 10 minutes about how badly he did in organic chemistry, that’s not going to go over well. That’s why the question about your “biggest failure” ends with these words: “… and how did you handle it?”

So if an applicant did poorly in organic chemistry, explaining why he didn’t do well — such as that he didn’t have good study skills — and then what he gained from the experience — such as that he developed better study skills as a result of his failure– would be a much better answer.

ADCOMS want to hear us pre-meds admit that we’re not perfect, and then talk about what we have learned from our mistakes, shortcomings, failures, weaknesses, and other “problem areas.” Because failing is part of life (as much as I hate to admit that). It’s what you do after you fail that sets you apart from other people.

The reality is, everyone falls down sometime. The question is: Do you get back up?

My answer is: YES. And here’s an example from my childhood.

(Let me preface this example by saying that I was homeschooled from preschool through the end of fifth grade. So when I talk about my mom giving me a test … it’s because my mom was my one and only teacher from age 4 to age 10.)

When I was about 7 or 8, my mom gave me an impromptu spelling test. You know the kind — the ones that are supposed to gauge where you are and where you need improvement. They’re called diagnostic exams, I believe. As someone with something of a failure complex, I hated these exams because I never did well on them — you’re not SUPPOSED to do well on them. At the time, this point escaped me.

Anyway. I miserably failed this spelling test. I don’t remember the number of right and wrong, and it’s probably better that way. I was distraught at first. I had failed! What was I supposed to do? Then my mom sat me down and explained the purpose of this “diagnostic” exam. Her explanation brought some comfort. And in the end, while I was not necessarily happy that I had failed, I understood that the test pointed out some areas where I needed to improve.

And so I made it my absolute mission to become the best speller possible. I learned all the rules. I memorized the exceptions. I practiced spelling words until I was practically murmuring them to myself under my breath in the bathtub.

Then came time to take the exam again. And I aced it. All that work paid off — I had learned what I didn’t know, what I needed to work on, and I made it a point to not make the same mistakes again.

And guess what? When I attended public school a few years later, I went on to win several school spelling bees, and even a district spelling bee.

To this day I am a fantastic speller, and in my previous jobs, earned a reputation as such. All because I failed an elementary school spelling test and made up my mind that wasn’t going to happen again.

And while I still don’t like failing (although who does?!), I try to remember this example when I do. Because it proves that you can learn from your mistakes. And perhaps, that without making mistakes, we wouldn’t learn quite so much.

ADCOM Q&A (working under pressure)

Being a doctor is, quite often, about working well under pressure. If someone stops breathing, for example, you better figure out how to get them breathing again, and quick! There is no time for consulting the Internet, a textbook, or (very often) other doctors. You must act. Now. Or someone might die.

That’s why ADCOMS often ask pre-medical students a variation on this question (which I found on the Internet on a list of practice questions):

How do you work under pressure? Give an example. What, in hindsight, were you most dissatisfied with about your performance? What did you learn from your experience?

“I’m no stranger to working under pressure,” I thought when I read that question.

And that is the truth. For the year and a half that I worked at the Forest Park Review, a local weekly newspaper in the Chicago suburbs, “pressure” was my constant companion. (And this was my first job out of college, so I learned it early.)

It was especially intense, though, on Tuesday mornings. That was deadline day, when the paper was sent to the printer. I would wake up at 2 or 3 a.m. in order to write a half-dozen or so stories and an editorial by 7 or 7:30 a.m. And then I would go to the office. What for? For another three hours of deadline drama: writing headlines, creating captions, approving page layouts, and so on. It was grueling.

But through it all, I had to be at peak performance. Exhaustion was no excuse. I had to get the facts right, get the dates right, and get people’s names right. And do it all in captivating prose. Oh, right — make that captivating prose in less than 700 words per story.

But I didn’t need any excuses. In fact, I kicked things up a notch on deadline day. I was intense, driven, focused. When I have a goal, and time constraints for completing that goal, I find myself subdividing time into estimated allotments for each portion of the task I have to complete. This helps me stay on track so that I don’t spend too much time doing any one thing. On deadline day, that might mean 30 minutes for one story, and one hour for another. (I prioritized as well as subdivided.)

The process was intense, and I was intense during the process. It was hard to turn that intensity off right away. So when I’d leave the newsroom at around 11:30 a.m. or noon, snippets of stories would float through my mind. And I would question myself: Did I do X right? Did I change Y like I told myself I needed to? Maybe I should have opened that one story with another lede …

Then when I saw the newspaper the next day, I saw the in most cases, yes, I did do X right, I did change Y, and in actuality the lede I opened on that one story with was fantastic.

I gradually learned to trust myself, not to second-guess myself in those high-pressure situations. Because I knew what I was doing, I really did, I just needed to BELIEVE that I knew what I was doing, and go with that. Because it was often the second-guessing that led to the mistakes.

This is an essential skill for a physician to have. There is often no time for second-guessing. Making a second guess might mean your first act is one moment too late. So trusting yourself, your skills, and also your intuition, is something that a physician must do … is something that hopefully I will one day do.

ADCOM Q&A … (an introduction)

ADCOM (ăd´kəm) n. An abbreviation that refers to a member of a medical school admissions committee. Can also refer to the medical school admissions committtee as an aggregate. ADCOMS are, essentially, the gatekeepers to medical school. It is their decision–based on a student’s application, GPA, MCAT score, and interview–whether the student will be offered a slot at that medical school. Thus pre-medical students refer to ADCOMS with, alternately, fear, derision, and respect.

The above definition (my own) is the way most people think about the ADCOMS: cold and impersonal. And in a sense, they are. They have to make dozens of decisions, based on established criteria, in a limited amount of time. To do that effectively, you have to be a bit calculating and unemotional. (That is not meant as an insult, rather as a compliment.)

On the other hand … ADCOMS are people. In fact, I know a handful of them personally. They smile, laugh, eat, sleep, do all the things we “normal” humans do. I have even found them to be helpful, if you can believe that. No, they are not the enemy. In fact, it would behoove more pre-med students to make ADCOMS their friends. But that is a topic for another day.

Right … ADCOMS are people. Which means that, essentially, they respond as people, at least on some level. They possess curiosity and emotions, for example, which no amount of established criteria can completely wipe away. (That’s my belief at least, however naive.)

Why do I care about all of this? The reason is simple: in a couple of years, the ADCOMS will hold my fate in their hands. So I need to understand what that means. And what that means is that I need to affect them — to stand out above my peers — in some way that says “Look at me! Choose me! I’m different! I’m the ONE!” I need to do this both on my application and during my interview. (Um … in a slightly more subtle, professional way, of course.) Because there will be, literally, thousands of people just as qualified, on paper, as I am. And not all of them will get in. I want to be one of the ones who gets in.

So how do I do that? Well, there’s no sure way, of course. The best way I can figure (other than do well in school, do well on the MCAT, volunteer, and get clinical experience, which are givens) is to get into the right mindset. No, I haven’t gone all New Age-y. What I mean is to think about what the ADCOMS will likely want to know beyond my statistics, what types of things they are likely to question me about during my interview, and have my answers ready. And no, I’m not trying to predict the future and conjure up a list of questions that I will be asked.

My plan is two-fold: to prepare for common questions (i.e., “Why do you want to be a doctor?”) and for common categories (i.e., medical current events), using sample questions to jump-start — but not contain — my thinking. Because the sample questions I have found online (and believe me, there are hundreds) are only a small slice of what could potentially pop up. I then plan to use this blog as a sounding board for some of my potential (but certainly not final) answers.

You might be wondering why I am giving away my strategy, and why I plan to give away some of my answers. After all, couldn’t the ADCOMS, then, just ask me different questions than the ones I’ve prepared for?

To address the first issue: My strategy is not brilliant. It is common sense. So why hide it? In fact, I’d kind of like the ADCOMS to know that I can analytically approach something and realize it has a real-life, common-sense solution (as opposed to a nebulous theoretical one). There are plenty of pre-meds I’ve met — very smart people, to be sure — who have exactly zero common sense. I understand theory; I also understand real-world application. To be a doctor, you need to be able to understand both. So read on, ADCOMS!

To address the second issue: I don’t plan to write a blog post about every single question or question type that I prepare for. That would take for frickin’ ever. So I am not worried about showing my whole hand. Showing part of it, though, I don’t think is such a bad thing. The medical school interviews I will (hopefully) have will be short, and there will be no way for me to communicate to the ADCOMS everything I want them to know about me. If they stumble upon my blog and discover some more pertinent information that puts me in a good light, even if it means they throw in a few more difficult questions during the interview, it is worth it to me.

As I see it, the ADCOMS and the interview are not what keep you OUT of medical school (which is how a lot of people seem to look at it), they’re what get you IN. So best to embrace them, early and often.