Navigating the Medical School Admission Obstacle Course. (Real Questions from Real Readers)

(I have received quite a few emails over the past two years asking for advice as well as anwering a lot of questions about the medical school admission process on The Student Doctor Network. I thought I’d publish some of them along with my replies. -PB)

Dear Panda,

I said I spoke Spanish on my AMCAS application when in fact the only Spanish I know is the Taco Bell menu. Was this a bad idea and will it come back to haunt me?

Sincerely,

Nervous in Nebraska

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Dear Nervous,

I also claimed to speak a foreign language. The problem with this is, obviously, that someone who interviews you might actually speak the language and want to bust out with you, his homie, in his native toungue.

So Spanish is definitely out. Although the possibility is remote, I have heard that some members of admission committees (and even some doctors if you can believe it) speak a little Spanish.

I picked “Walloon” as my language and wouldn’t you know it, one of my interviewers was from the Low Countries and started jabbering at me the minute I walked into his office.

That’s when I played my trump card and had a full-blown Grand Mal seizure. They took me to the Emergency Department and I was post-ictal until the end of that particular interview slot. But it’s cool. I had devoted some of my personal statement to how I had fought and overcome epilepsy to achieve my goal of Medical School so I had them in check.

Like I said. You have to think quick and be prepared.

Respectfully,

P. Bear, MD

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Dear Uncle Panda,

In a desperate attempt to make myself more diverse I may have exaggerated some of my extracurricular activities and qualifications. Do medical schools try to verify these things?

Respectfully,

Worried in Wyoming
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Dear Worried in Wyoming,
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They most certainly do check on your qualifications and extracurricular activities. My medical school has an office that does nothing but verify everything you list on your AMCAS application. Fortunately they are kind of short-staffed because of budget cuts so if you play your cards right, delay submitting your application to the last minute, and use a little common sense the odds are that they won’t get around to checking your extracurriculars and qualifications until you are well into first year at which time, possession being nine-tenths of the law, it will be very difficult to dislodge you.

In fact, I listed myself as “Native American” and even described some of the suffering of my people in my personal statement.  I’m not really a Native American except in the sense that I was born here (so technically I am a indeed a native American). One day towards the end of first year I got an irate email from the registrar inviting me to explain to the verification committee how I could possibly make this claim.

As soon as I walked into the registrar’s office I let out a blood-curdling shriek, charged his desk, and touched him with my coup stick…you know…just to establish my tribal cred’.

“We prefer to be called Indians,” I said as I adjusted my loin cloth and sat down, “And I don’t know how those people from Calcutta or Bombay get away with calling themselves Indians either. It’s shameful and I don’t think they’re fooling anybody.”

The registrar politely inquired as to when we they would get my tribal certificate from the Bureau of Indian Affairs who had claimed to have never heard of me.

“I don’t need the white man’s worthless paper,” I replied fixing him with what I hoped was a don’t-give-me-your-small-pox-infected-blanket stare, “Or the white man’s laws, the white man’ unnatural technology, or the white man’s corrupt political system.”

“Hey, is that some of the white man’s coffee? Mind if I get a cup?”

Apparently the North Dakota Sioux in which tribe I may or may not have claimed membership had never heard of me either.

“Did you call my Uncle John Raging Pony? He’s the chief, you know.” Actually my uncle John couldn’t chief his way out of a paper bag. We only call him Raging Pony because he drinks a lot of Malt Liquor. But he lives in North Dakota. In a trailer. With no phone which is not really my problem.

“Oh, and my tribal name is Turgid Ferret.”

The registrar insisted that there was no record as far as they could tell of my belonging to any tribe in the United States.

“Well, there’s yer’ problem Great White Father. Our ancestral homeland straddles the border with Canada. We actually spend most of our time in Alberta. More bison, you understand”

Very pained look from the registrar. I could see he didn’t relish negotiating Canada’s incredibly primitive phone system. Plus he didn’t speak French so talking to the Canadians was going to be a problem. Always pick a third world country for your extracurriculars. It slows the verification process.

“Well, if that’s all I’ll be on way,”I said prying my tomahawk from his desk, “I go now to commune with the spirits of my ancestors over the traditional frothy coffee drink of my people.”

The medical school admission process is tough. You have to be smart and you have to keep your options open.

Glad I could help

Regards,

P. Bear, MD

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Dear Dr. Bear,

What keeps people from making up extracurricular activites?

Respectfully,

Curious in Klamath Falls

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Dear Curious,

What keeps people from making up extracurricular activities?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Yours,

P. Bear MD
Winner, 1998 Noble Prize for Chemistry

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Dr. Panda,

What is the purpose of the essay on the Secondary Application? I mean, I wrote my heart out on the AMCAS personal statement and now I have nothing more to give.

Sincerely,

Perplexed in Paducah

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Dear Perplexed,

The secondary essay gives you a place to explain why you called Mahatma Gandhi a “urine drinking magnificent bastard” in you AMCAS personal statement. It is also a good place to admit that you don’t actually have any kittens and yer’ Grandma who you claimed to have cared for until she “slid gently into a peaceful dream of death” is actually in a third-rate nursing home in the suburbs of Dubuque and you actually haven’t seen her in three years because the smell of “poopy” makes you gag.

They do check these things you know. My medical school had a whole department of “verifiers.”

Glad I could help.

Respects,

P. Bear, MD

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Dear Dr. Bear,

Do medical schools really verify all of the crap we list as extracurricular activities in our AMCAS application? I may have stretched the truth a bit (well, more than a bit) and I am starting to worry.

Respectfully,

Nail-Biting in New York

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Dear Nail Biting,

About six months into fourth year I got called into the Dean of Students office. Apparently they had found out that I hadn’t actually won the Nobel Prize for chemistry.

Thinking quickly, I said, “Nobel prize? Of course I didn’t win the Nobel Prize. I won the Noble Prize. See? Right there. Call my undergraduate institution and ask them about it.”

“Sure, I keep the Harvard registrars phone number in my wallet. Here ya’ go.”

By the time they sorted it out I had graduated.

I didn’t actually go to Harvard, by the way. A few months later I got an angry letter from the Dean of Students saying that there was no record of my having attended Harvard.

“Harvard?” I wrote back, “I didn’t go to Harvard, I went to Harvarads…you know, in St. Croix.” I gave him the phone number of the registrar which was really my cell-phone number. Every call I got for the next three months I always answered (in a thick Jamaican accent), “Hello, Registrars Office, can I help you mon?”

Incidently, if you look closely at my ID badge, between the “M” and the “D” is a tiny “C.” I actually didn’t go to a real undergraduate university but I did attend McDonald’s Hamburger U as an assistant night shift trainee. It said “University of Hamburg” on my AMCAS application so I’m not really lying. Besides, are they really going to call Norway to verify that I went there?

You just have to be smart.

My Best Regards,

Panda Bear, MD

20 thoughts on “Navigating the Medical School Admission Obstacle Course. (Real Questions from Real Readers)

  1. Hilarious. But if someone really says that they speak a language they don’t – they’d better be ready to explain why they can’t actually communicate in that language. Lying about something like that will surely get you busted – since the admissions committee will likely send you over to the hospital to interpret during your interview.

  2. This was awesome. I almost peed in my pants.

    You know, I DID get pimped about my extracurriculars when I interviewed. The only problem was a) I hadn’t exaggerated about them at all, and b) one douche bag basic scientist felt that the research he did on MICE in TYPE 1 diabetes made him an expert on HEALTH ECONOMICS in TYPE 2 diabetes. He more or less insinuated that I had lied on my CV throughout the entire interview. Maybe it was supposed to be a stress interview or something? He misquoted statistics all over the place during the interview, and then informed me that I HAD NO IDEA WHAT I WAS TALKING ABOUT when I corrected him on what various trials that we had based our study on had shown. Gah!

    Not sure what I was supposed to do during that interview…. sit there and take it? Whip the references out of my suit pocket and rub his snotty little nose in them? Fortunately it didn’t matter anyway since I got in somewhere else, but still. Annoying.

  3. Hilarious. I love these sorts of posts.

    One nitpick, though: it’s Gandhi. Sorry, that’s just one of my pet peeves.

  4. The Silent Observer says:

    “Noble” prize, lol…

    If the whole doctor thing doesn’t work out, you could always write sitcoms.

  5. I don’t know if it is the fact that I am about to sit through a boring lecture on enzymes or that I am running on coffee, but this was laugh out loud funny.

  6. Shining Hector says:

    They do tend to ask you about activities in interviews, though. I got a disapproving look from one guy because it took me a few seconds to remember the most memorable patient I saw the last time I was at a clinic I actually did volunteer at frequently. I probably would have been better off just making something up on the spot rather than trying to thumb through what had become a routine process and not especially worth filing away for immediate retrieval. I wanted to say, “What did you eat Monday night last week and what were you wearing at the time…. GO!”

  7. This is fucking brilliantly hilarious.

  8. Amazing. I knew I should have gone with the grand mal.

  9. I did write on my AMCAS that I’m Native American. I meet the federal definition of the word by percentage of Indian blood, but I do not have a certificate of authenticity from a tribe. Otherwise, I’m very white.

    The very first question at the very first interview when applying was, “I see that you said you’re Native American. Is that something you identify with or is it something you put on applications to draw attention?”

    I replied, “Yes, it’s true. You’ll also see on my application that I listed my race as Caucasian. You ask about identifying with it. I don’t go waving the flag of injustice and saying that the White Man stole my land. Many of my ancestors are white. That would make for a very awkward family reunion.” The rest of the interview went downhill from there.

    I was waitlisted and never accepted. Pretty painful since it was my top choice for medical school.

  10. Half MD,

    Don’t even get me started on this one. I have a friend who was born in AND grew up in Zimbabwe. You’d think that would make him “African American” but nooooooo. He just so happens to be Indian also, and not the Native American variety. Fortunately he did end up getting in somewhere in the end.

  11. Skinner's Pigeon, MS2 says:

    PB,

    I hope you write a compilation book of all these pearls of “advice” for applicants, med students, and residents. I am sure it would be a best seller. I would be first in line for a signed copy!

    Keep us laughing, Turgid Ferret!

    Regards,

    Chief Spanking Monkey

  12. Panda,

    Can you use your powers for good and do a take-down expose…er, critical evaluation of Stewart University/New Scotland International School of Medicine? It’s kinda irritating that it hasn’t been shut down for scamming yet, and someone is spamming all the amusing medical YouTube videos advertising it. C’mon, you know you want to leverage your readership to make it show up higher than the actual site on search engines. Think of the potential new crank mail!

  13. ProtonDense says:

    People are still applying to med school? Huh, I thought it was all debunked by now. Weird

  14. BlackSails says:

    Skinner’s pidgeon has a good idea. If you came up with more of this, interspersed it with actual advice, you could get a decent selling book out of it.

  15. Dr. Bear/Ferret,

    All laughing aside, what do people actually do in this situation. Also, if a person is not in this situation yet, do you know a safe extent as to how far one should or can exaggerate their extracurriculars? Thanks

  16. Shining Hector says:

    “All laughing aside, what do people actually do in this situation. Also, if a person is not in this situation yet, do you know a safe extent as to how far one should or can exaggerate their extracurriculars? Thanks”

    If you’re the type who really has to ask, I wouldn’t even try it, you’d more than likely be out of your depth. Each interviewer probably sees a dozen or so cocky 21 year olds who imagine they could sell ice to an Eskimo every week.

    Why exaggerate anyway? You’ll probably have two interviews per school about 30 minutes each. At most they’ll have time to go in depth about one major extracurricular, unless you listed picking up trash for several local organizations as your major accomplishment in which case I’d probably ask why you’re not applying for janitor instead. If you can tell a nice tale, and better yet show that you’ve seen and thought a bit of the dark side of medicine but haven’t turned away, you’ll probably be fine. If not, count your blessings and pursue an easier line of work.

  17. Definitely worth more than a few laughs. The stuff about demonstrating your “native American heritage” was absolutely priceless. I’ll have to forward that to my anthropology buddies.

  18. I, too, enjoyed the post. It would have been a lot funnier, though, if it weren’t for the sad fact that med school applicants actually do ask these questions.

  19. You should seriously consider writing a book! Hilarious! You definitely have a way with words. :)

  20. Sohaib Sajjad says:

    haha, this is too funny. I enjoyed reading the responses to your questions quite a bit.

    I did want to ask you If it takes the Medical Schools so long to actually verify your extracurricular activities, then does that mean that that does not become a factor in you admissions since they don’t check things before your acceptance?

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