Month: October 2015

Y2K, the Terminator and my path in Medicine

In a couple of hours, I’ll be spending time with several people pursuing their dreams of a career in medicine. I really enjoy getting a chance to meet these future docs as they contemplate applying to my alma mata St. George’s University. I remember how tumultuous the entire experience of applying to medical school felt.

It was at the turn of the millennium when everything changed for me. My worries at that time paled in comparison to the entire planet panicking about the Y2K bug and the end of mankind. I was simply trying to get into medical school. I just wanted an opportunity to put on that white coat, attend classes, prove my worth on the wards and then practice medicine in the Y2K post-apocalyptic future. That is all I wanted. But after 3 attempts, I was denied by countless US medical schools and my future appeared as bleak as the future depicted in the Terminator movie series where “SkyNet” or in our case the Y2K bug destroys the world and enslaves humanity. With each rejection letter, it really did feel like the end my world was approaching.

But just like Hollywood, this story had a happy ending. The world along with my hopes survived Y2K. I rested my hopes on the proverbial hero that gave me a chance and rescued me from a path and alternate endings to my story that I cannot imagine today. Just like in that classic scene of the Terminator where Arnold Schwarzenegger reaches out to the protagonist Sarah Connor and says “Come with me if you want to live, ” I feel like St. George’s reached out to me and said “Come with me if you want to practice medicine.”

And with that, the rest is history.

15 years later, I’m doing what I love. Staying with my silly Terminator analogies, I feel like John Connor, leading the resistance. I’m making a difference in people’s lives while fighting for the future of our broken healthcare system.

That fight is another story and sequel to this  saga.  🙂

arnold

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The Latest MCAT

Recently, a young aspiring doctor asked me about tips for the new MCAT and I really didn’t know what to say to her because it’s been such a long time. When I studied for the MCAT, I  was using a Sony Discman, listening to Brandy and Monica lyrically duel to “That boy is mine.” It was a long long time ago! So, much like a novice MCAT test taker, I had to go figure out what exactly the latest iteration of this test is all about.

A large portion of it appears unchanged. Biology, inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry and physics still constitute a large part of the science sections. There seems to be a greater emphasis on biochemistry which is an appropriate addition because it is slightly more clinically relevant and the subject better simulates the breadth of basic science classes in medical school. Even today, mastery of these subjects comes down to a few basic tenants. Learn it well the first time when you’re taking the actual college course. Nothing should seem unfamiliar when preparing for the MCAT. Secondly, commit the time to repetition and absorb as much high yield material as your brain will allow. Thirdly, spend a tremendous amount of time, practicing your test taking skills by doing questions and training your brain to access your memory banks accurately and efficiently.

A couple of things are very different in the current MCAT compared to when I took it. First off, they’ve gotten rid of the written part of the examination. To me, this is absolutely wonderful. It might seem surprising especially considering how much I enjoy blogging/writing these days. But the fact is, the ability to write something meaningful and intelligent cannot be assessed under time constraints. Writing with a time limit was always a personal bugaboo ever since I tried to write a 20 minute essay as a 6th grader about my personal hero to gain admittance to a specialized junior high school. Thankfully the current generation uses computerized testing because I’m pretty sure my putrid hand writing always brought my scores down that much more. Needless to say, the writing portion of my MCAT was my lowest score. Good riddance!

Next, the addition of a behavioral sciences section is a welcome addition. The medical education community is really trying to emphasize this aspect of medicine in order to train doctors to be more empathetic, appreciate patients beyond their physical biology and focus on systems issues that affect healthcare outcomes. In theory it does seem like a good idea to get medical school applicants to appreciate these issues before committing to a life in medicine. But I do have concerns about the medical community placing faith in yet another standardized test score in the hopes of finding that great applicant who will be a meaningful contributor to medicine. 1 semester of psychology and sociology and prep courses will certainly prepare them for the MCAT and perhaps some of the social science courses in med school. But I question whether this new section will get them to truly care about these issues when sitting across from a real patient. I just worry that a behavioral sciences score will falsely carry with it, a perception that a high score means a better potential physician.
We continue to place a lot of faith in standardized testing as a measure of potential when the reality is, medical educators like myself often find little correlation between the quality of a resident or student to an MCAT taken many years prior.

After having looked at this a little bit, my advice to young aspiring doctors facing the MCAT hasn’t changed much. You have to excel in it to give yourself the best opportunity to get a chance. But what you do with you that chance, has little to do with your MCAT score and everything to do with your desire to do great things that actually matter.