The One Letter to Rule Them All

letter of recommendation

As an undergrad, one of the reasons you devoted so much time to a research experience was to earn an epic letter of recommendation–one that speaks to your strengths, resilience, character, self-reliance, cultural competencies, ability to solve problems, and contribute to a group effort. This letter will be a comprehensive endorsement of your medical school application complete with specific examples that influenced your PI’s opinion. This one letter has the potential to outweigh all other letters from a professor whose class you attended, or from someone who oversaw a volunteer program you participated in for a semester.

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Five Simple Tips for a Better Personal Statement

The personal statement is, for many, one of the most dreaded aspects of the medical school application. It can be quite intimidating to be given a blank space so large, with the expectation that you will use it to answer a simple yet complex question: “Why do you want to go to medical school?” This question can be difficult to answer in the form of a personal statement because it is so open-ended; even students who “know” the answer for themselves may feel worried that they are not structuring the personal statement correctly, or are not saying everything that they feel admissions committees want to see. There is also the issue of deficiencies or weaknesses elsewhere in the application; the personal statement is supposed to be a platform for addressing these, but many students struggle to write about these openly and tie this into the rest of the personal statement.

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Opinion Column: A fundamental flaw in the USMLE exams

There exists a fundamental flaw in the USMLE exams – applicants who pass the exam cannot retake the exam. This means that applicants who score poorly in the exams are prevented from applying to competitive specialties and in some cases even from practicing as a doctor in the US. Why does the USMLE not allow candidates to rewrite exams to improve scores? To understand this, we have to delve into the purpose of USMLE.
The United States Medical Licensing Examination or USMLE as it is popularly known, is a critical set of exams that medical students and graduates must pass before they can practice medicine in the US. The USMLE is a multi-part exhaustive evaluation of a physician’s ability to apply knowledge, concepts, and principles, and to determine fundamental patient-centered skills that are important in health and disease and that constitute the basis of safe and effective patient care. It is highly regarded not just in the US, but also in various other countries around the world. So much so that one can use the USMLE in lieu of that country’s exams.

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Marriage in Medical School: A Memoir (So Far)

During my senior year of college, I asked my girlfriend to marry me. We had been together for almost three years and planned to get married the following summer, since we were both graduating in the spring. The timing seemed perfect to start our new life together. There was just one minor problem: in the fall, I was planning to begin medical school.
While engaged, we dealt with a mixture of apprehension and excitement about marriage. The typical questions asked by engaged couples–questions like, “Where will we live? What will our source of income be? How will we make time to see family? How will our relationship change?”–were the same questions we asked, except with the additional uncertainty of medical school. We had learned how to juggle our relationship with the demands of college, but we were unsure about how it would change while I dealt with the great challenge of medical school. (Neither of us were oblivious to the “horror stories” surrounding medical school and its required time commitment).

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Of Capacity and Communication

I am about 45 minutes from the end of my night float shift, that dangerous hour all residents learn to wait through with baited breath, when my pager goes off. Pushing the button to silent its insistent beep, I read the text: “STAT 4-9876.” I am slightly bemused. STAT pages in psychiatry are few and far between. If one of the patients on the psych floor has had an MI, stroke, or something else that necessitates an immediate response, I may be the last to find out, as the nurse will often call a code and bring a medicine team running before letting me know what is going on. Even a consult for a suicidal patient on a medicine floor, considered a psychiatric emergency, doesn’t exactly necessitate the same sort of urgency as anaphylaxis or an acute abdomen. I like pondering and deliberation, making me naturally suited for psychiatry. Rather than engendering excitement, the word STAT makes my blood run a little cold. Besides, I typically assume that if someone is paging me, urgency is implied, and I return the call immediately; the two year old inside me smarts at being told to hurry up.

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It's Not a Failure: Taking Personal Leave from Medical School

August 2, 2009 is a day that will be forever engrained in my mind. “We would like to offer you a seat into the class of 2017 if you’re interested,” was the most wonderful phrase I had ever heard in my entire life. I had made it. I got accepted into my top choice D.O. school, right in my home state! However, the changes that ensued hit me like a whirlwind. The call occurred on the first day of orientation. I had 24 hours to pack all my things, move three and a half hours away from home, find a place to live, and start class on Monday. Of course there was slight hesitation in my mind, wondering if I should take a year off because I wasn’t prepared to go that fall. I didn’t even think I would get accepted, and here my dream came true!

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This is No Lake Wobegon: When Medical School Means You’re No Longer Above Average

 “Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.” 
– Garrison Keillor, A Prairie Home Companion

While NPR’s Garrison Keillor entertains listeners with weekly monologues highlighting news from Lake Wobegon, his fictional home town, it is that closing line “and all the children are above average” that has taken hold in the popular culture. The Lake Wobegon Effect refers to that normal human tendency to overestimate one’s abilities.

The problem is that an average is just that, an average, meaning that while some are above, there are also those below. We all want to be above average. Who shoots for the mean and makes it into medical school? The truth is, if you made it into medical school – or even if you’re somewhere earlier along the path – you have almost certainly been “above average” academically and otherwise most of your life. You were on the honor roll from the time you started receiving grades. You graduated near or at the top of your high school class, many being valedictorians. You were in your college’s honor society and graduated some version of cum laude. You were accepted to medical school.

Average just isn’t in your vocabulary.

And then medical school happens. . .

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What You Should Know Before Your First Interview

This article is reprinted with permission from the American Student Dental Association. It originally appeared in the February 2014 issue of ASDA News.
Interviewing is a stressful experience. Knowing some typical interview formats and the expectations of your interviewer can help put your mind at ease while pursuing acceptance into dental school.

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Searching for Your Dumbledore: Finding a Mentor

Where would Harry be without Dumbledore? We all need mentors, and they can be critical throughout your career development. Whether you are an undergraduate thinking about applying to graduate or professional school, a medical student wading through residency options or a post-doc looking for faculty positions, the relationships you develop with your mentors can be invaluable. Mentors can give advice, provide encouragement or a reality check, offer insight from their experience, and expand your network by connecting you with their own friends and colleagues. The ideal mentoring relationship is one that evolves over time where the mentor takes a genuine interest in the success of the mentee. We all recognize that mentors are important. But how do you find them? And, once you have, how do you nurture the relationship so it can thrive?

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A Call For Compassionate Doctors

compassionate doctors

Remember—actions speak louder than words, kindness counts

By Mary Calhoun

I had been terribly sick for three months before finally going to the doctor. It felt as though I had the flu and just couldn’t shake it. The doctor did the necessary tests and told me he thought I had lupus. Since one of his patients had just died from the disease, he wanted me to see another doctor; he could not have picked a better one.

The rheumatologist I saw a week later did a ton of lab work on me, but not before asking a boat load of questions and attentively recording every word. I noticed the concern in his voice and wondered if I should be worried. When I returned a week later, the doctor walked in with solutions to how we would kick the monster.

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