31 January 2007

Choosing a Medical School

After I received my first acceptance, I knew that I was going to medical school but the question remained as to where I would be attending school. At that point, I had interviewed at three of my six schools and was holding one acceptance. It was late in December and I had interview invitations from three more schools. These interviews had been scheduled, two in January and one in early February. I had taken the August MCAT (MCAT was only offered in April and August in 1997) with my first interview invitation coming at the end of October. My interview season would run from early November to early February.

By my second medical school interview, I was well seasoned in the order of the day. There was always a meeting where someone from admissions/administration would speak with the group (8 to 20 people), then Financial Aid, then the scheduled interviews with lunch and a tour. Every school followed some version of this plan. Sometimes the tours would be after lunch and sometimes the tour would be first and interviews after lunch. In any event, there was a tour. (Even at the medical school where I taught, I elected to particpate in the tour much to the delight of my student tour guide).

By my third interview, I found that I was easily annoyed by the boastful pre-med. Every interview group has one or more persons who will brag about their publications, undergraduate GPA or MCAT score i.e. their general superiority. These folks will usually "scope out" one of the quieter folks in the group and proceed to attempt to "explain the ropes" to the quieter student. I observed one fellow brag about his undergraduate school and how everyone of his friends had been accepted to multiple medical schools and how his acceptances were likely in the mail. He also bragged about how he was going into Cardiothoracic Surgery and that the particular school that we were interviewing at was not particularly good for Cardiothoracic Surgery so he hoped that he didn't get in there. I often think of this guy today because I never encountered him later. I guess his hopes that he was not accepted at my medical school came to fruition. I wonder if he every got into medical school with his abrasive personality traits and booming voice.

By my last interview, I had five schools to choose from. My first criterion was location. All of the schools that I had applied to were located on the east coast (South Atlantic Region). I didn't want to attend medical school more than 200 miles from where I had grown up. The city, where I lived, had six medical schools within a 40-mile radius and eight medical schools within two hours drive. It was not difficult for me to apply to a variety of schools and still stay fairly close to home. Location was high on my list of priorties in choosing a medical school.

My next criterion was the "vibe" that I experienced during my interview day. I wanted to attend a medical school where I knew that I could be happy on a day-to-day basis. I was looking for a medical school that had a diverse student body (ages and ethnicities) because I thought that it would be fun to interact with many different people. i was also more intested in a medical school where the atmosphere was more cooperative than competitive. I also wanted a patient population that was fairly diverse too. Three out of my six medical schools met that criterion very nicely. The other three were acceptable. Generally, an urban medical school was going to suit me better than a medical school that was located in a rural area.

I didn't care so much about curriculum or USMLE pass rates. The one thing that graduate study taught me well was the my performance on any exam was based on my preparation and not on materials presented in lectures. If one person from a particular school had passed USMLE Step I, then the school was fine. USMLE Step I was not a significant factor in my choice of school nor was the match list as the matching process is self-selecting. As long as at least one person from any of my prospective schools had matched into the specialty of their choice, I knew I would be fine.

I did listen to my uncle's and father's friends when it came to medical school selection. At my top choices, I definitely knew that these schools provided an atmosphere that was condusive to an adult learning style. I also picked the brains of a couple of my cousins who had attended medical school. I wanted to know why they chose the schools that they chose and what was great about those schools. I was also fortunate to be a resident of a state that had three excellent medical schools that were reasonably priced.

By the time it came for me to make a selection, my number one and number two schools had offered me scholarship money. This money was based on my incoming GPA and MCAT scores. I carefully weighed my choices and was heavily leaning in the direction of my top choice when my number two school offered me a full-ride scholarship. Well, my choice was made and I was very happy to accept their offer. I am happy to admit that I could be bought by a good school offering a full-ride tuition scholarship. The conditions of my scholarship were that I would have to keep a high GPA in medical school which meant that I had to start strong and stay strong.

In the end, I chose well. I attended a medical school with an excellent faculty, cooperative student body and was exposed to some of the finest medical practice in the country. I am now quite happy to be an alum. When I started my intern year, I never appreciated my medical school more because I was a definite self-starter. I knew how to take very good care of patients and how to get things done. It was not much of a step to go from fourth year medical student to intern for me.

Things that I have realized now that I have been out of school. It is not the prestige of your medical school but your performance at said school. In the end, paying $250,000 for a medical education has to be worth every penny for you and you have to make the most of your education. I am happy not to have attended a school that cost $250,000 because that kind of debt would not be worth those enormous interest payments on loans. I am happiest with my total debt of $40,000 for four years.

Any medical school in this country, provided you do well, can prepare you for any career that you want. People who do not perform well in medical school can knock themselves out of competitive specialties and the prestige of their medical school will not overcome a poor performance.

Osteopathic versus allopathic medical school is a non-issue in today's world of medicine. Either type of school can provide the teaching that will enable you to become a physician. It is a myth that graduates of osteopathic medical school must go into primary care. I have worked with every type of specialist that were osteopaths from orthopedic surgeons to ENT surgeons to neurosurgeons. If you perform well in any medical school in this country, you can enter the specialty of your choice.

In the end, choose a medical school where you know that you can excell.


Jacqueline said...

When your 2nd choice came to you with the full scholarship, did they know that you were leaning toward another school?

Drnjbmd said...

My second choice did not know that they were in second place. There actually wasn't much difference between the two schools other than class size. One school had a class size of more than 200 and the other had a class size of 125. Both schools were located in an urban area and both more than met my needs.

Most scholarship offers come with your acceptance letter or shortly after your acceptance especially if you fill out financial aid forms (FAFSA) at the same time as your AMCAS application.