Can Blogging Help You Get Into Medical School?

This guest post is from Ryan Nguyen, a medical student who blogs at WhiteCoatDO.

“So tell me about PracticalPremed…”

It had only been two minutes into a medical school interview when the physician sitting across from me asked me about the blog I had started as a third-year undergrad. Her face showed a slight smile, conveying her curiousness on a topic that deviated from the usual questions on volunteering, ethics, and academics. For the next few minutes, I discussed why I started PracticalPremed and what I hoped to get out of it. The confidence and connection built with my interviewers from these talking points lasted throughout the interview. Two weeks later, a call came in from the Dean of Admissions, offering me a spot in their class.

Among all the decisions I made during college, starting a blog easily ranks among the top five (right besides playing innertube waterpolo, that game is friggin’ awesome). Blogging became a creative outlet, giving me the sanity to keep memorizing the steps of TCA cycle and pushing through those brutal five and a half hour practice MCATs. When filling out primaries, I listed blogging as one of my activities, but had no idea how much it could help me with the application process. By the end of the application season, blogging had played a key role in helping fill out secondaries, acquiring interview invites, tackling interviews, and even securing acceptances.

How Can Blogging Help Premeds Get Into Medical School?

Talking Points For Interviews

For each of my five interviews, blogging and social media were topics of discussion for at least 5-10 minutes (most interviews lasted around 30 minutes). As a topic I probably knew a little more about than my interviewer, blogging was something I could discuss with relative ease. From a strategic standpoint, this meant there was less “dead time” for me to squirm during ethical scenarios or for off-the-wall interview questions such as “which kitchen appliance would you say you are?” Yes, that is a real medical school interview question.

Displaying Initiative and Creativity

In early November, a guest post I wrote was featured on HackCollege, one of the most visited college blogs on the internet. The post became pretty popular, as it was shared over 140 times on facebook and 60 times on twitter, and so I put it into one of my update letters I sent to schools in November. Just a week and a half later, an interview invite came from one of those schools.

In the sea of tens of thousands of applicants (the AMCAS twitter reports 21,732 applications submitted as of July 17th), blogging provided a unique way for my application to stick out beyond the usual GPA/MCAT/extracurriculars criteria. The website for my medical school states they desire an applicant who “demonstrates excellent verbal and written communication skills,” and so blogging became a natural way to display such skills.

Learning Responsible Social Media Usage

Between facebook, twitter, and the epatient movement, the rise of social media holds unforseen implications for the future of healthcare. A 2006 paper states that 18% of adult internet users go online to find healthcare information for themselves or others and that health searches are one of the more popular uses of the internet. And as not everything on the internet is 100% true (someone would really lie on the internet???), physicians have the unique positions of combating misinformation with their knowledge of evidence-based medicine. One such example is Dr. Howard Luks, an orthopedic surgeon who has embraced social media and posts informative medically-related articles on topics such as degenerative joint disease. Thus, an underlying theme I employed throughout my application is that I would use my skills in social media and blogging to meet patients where they were at (i.e. searching for health information online) in order to advocate for evidence-based medicine in the online world.

At the same time, many of today’s health care leaders are also wary of the dangers of social media and HIPAA violations. KevinMD features a great post on steps physicians are taking to stay careful on social media. Blogging as a medical school applicant was also a challenge in constantly being aware of the nature of published content. The knowledge that an admissions committee member could be looking at my site at any moment pushed me to maintain a sense of professionalism. Developing these skills as a premed will hopefully give future doctors the time to develop effective and professional writing skills by the time they are healthcare professionals.

Offsetting Costs Through Side Income.

With application fees, flight tickets, hotel fees, and acceptance deposits, applying to medical school is a costly endeavor. And I don’t want to even get into the six-figure average indebtedness that medical school graduates are facing in the US. In this post, Steve details how his total costs during the application year totaled $6,024 (and that’s with the $4,290 he was able to save). One of the beautiful things about blogging is the ability to convert website traffic into side income. In the past two weeks, PracticalPremed has generated $53.44 through a combination of affiliate programs and Google Adsense. While not a ton of money compared to my student loans (sigh…), it still is income that will be coming in when I’m eating, studying, sleeping, and studying some more. Now if only I could get some sponsor to pay for all of my tuition for the next four years…

For the past two years, Ryan has been blogging over at PracticalPremed. Now an upcoming first-year medical student at WesternU COMP, he runs WhiteCoatDO to document his perilous attempt at navigating medical school and beyond. Get in touch if you’re interested in starting your own blog!

Applying to Medical School this Summer?

Two years ago I started the medical school application process. I learned a few things along the way and thought I’d highlight some of my past articles that I think are helpful for the application process.

This is a checklist of the most important things to keep track of while applying.

The Financial Cost of Applying to Medical School – Applying is expensive, this is a breakdown of what I spent to apply.

And this is how I saved money during the application process.

How To Use Google Docs to Streamline the Application Process. I found Google Docs to be incredibly helpful.

Thoughts on Interviews.

I hope these articles are helpful for you as you navigate the winding journey to medical school.

Update: Ryan at Practical Premed offers another viewpoint on using the internet to streamline the application process: How to Hack Secondaries with Google Docs and SDN.

The Financial Cost Of Applying To Medical School

If you are currently applying to medical school you are probably encountering a harsh reality: it is not cheap. So what sort of expenses will you be looking at?

In this post I will break down exactly how much I spent during the entire med school application process from the MCAT to deposits holding an acceptance. This will give you an idea of the costs to apply and then plan accordingly. I’ll also toss in where I saved money, some of which I mentioned in this post.

The MCAT

  • MCAT Test Fee: $225
  • MCAT Practice Exams from the AAMC (3 at $35 each): $105
  • Lost wages due to giving up shifts to study: $360

Total MCAT Cost: $690

How I Saved Money

  • I chose to self-study as opposed to taking an expensive review course. $1500-$2000 in savings.
  • I borrowed the Examkrackers MCAT Complete Study Package from a friend. $110 in savings.
  • I used practice tests and material from the local library. $35 per test.

Primary and Secondary Application Fees

  • Applications to 7 MD schools through AMCAS: $346
  • Applications to 8 DO schools through AACOMAS: $390
  • Secondary application fees to 13 different medical schools: $1,110

Total Application Fees: $1,846

How I Saved Money

  • I chose not to complete secondary applications for 2 MD schools. Approx. $200 in savings.

Interview Costs (7 Interviews)

  • New Suit, Shirt and Tie: $220
  • Flights to 4 cites for 5 interviews: $823
  • Hotels (2 nights): $140
  • Rental car for one interview: $100
  • Gas money to the other 2 interviews: $50

Total Interview Costs: $1,333

How I Saved Money

  • One flight was free as I earned a voucher on a previous flight. $300 in savings.
  • At three interviews I stayed with student hosts instead of hotels. $210 in savings.
  • I turned down interviews to 2 DO schools and 1 MD school. Perhaps $1200 in savings.
  • I scheduled back-to-back interviews saving another flight. $400 in savings.

Miscellaneous Costs

  • Nonrefundable deposits to hold acceptance spots at two osteopathic schools: $2,000
  • Deposit to confirm acceptance at Creighton University: $100
  • Thank you notes with gift cards for everyone that wrote me a letter of recommendation: $55

Total Miscellaneous: $2,155

Grand Total: $6,024

Wow, that’s a lot of money. No doubt about it, applying to medical school is expensive. I feel like I did a lot to cut down on costs too. Adding up my potential savings comes to approximately $4,290.

Hopefully you can use this post to gauge how much you will spend to apply to medical school. I recommend planning ahead and saving that money, unless you’re lucky enough to have parental support.

Have I missed any other costs? Does this compare to your experience applying to medical school?

Med School Update, Home Sweet Home Edition

It has been a busy past few months! After traveling in Peru for nearly three months I’m now back in the states enjoying the beautiful northwest summer. The transition back has been smooth, save for a minor illness (which thankfully was not some strange tropical disease).

Now I’m in full preparing for med school mode. Right now, this mostly means spending time with friends and family. Soon it will mean working out all the details for a move halfway across the country. I’m also going over the “DMU Primer” which is reviewing some basic science stuff.

I hope you have enjoyed the more frequent posting the last couple months. In case you’ve missed some of the newer posts, here are a few highlights:

My review of the Examkrackers MCAT Complete Study Package

10 Great MCAT Study Tips

How To Save Money During The Medical School Admissions Process

Thanks for reading and commenting. The blog has been growing in readers lately and it would be great for this to continue. Tell your friends and share articles you find useful!

How To Use Google Docs To Streamline The Secondary Application Process

Sending primary applications to fifteen medical schools means you will like receive fifteen secondary applications from those schools, provided you meet some minimum requirements for those schools. I used Google Docs to streamline getting these applications done for three reasons: I could work on the essay questions at any computer with internet, the work is constantly saved and I did not have to worry about accidental deletion.

Getting fifteen secondary applications within the span of a few weeks is naturally overwhelming. Each school is different. Most have web-based applications, some do not. Some want pictures. Most have additional essay questions. All need varying amounts of application fees varying from $50 to $250.

All this amounts to a staggering amount of information to keep track of. In this post I’ll describe how to organize all that information and keep it in a secure place using Google Docs.

Here’s what to do.

First, create a separate folder for secondary applications. Then, create a unique document for each school. I titled the documents with the name of the school and when I got the application. This document will be where you collect any and all information pertaining to that application.

Here are 4 examples of what you might might put in it. Keep it simple.

1. A To Do List. May include sending extra transcripts, paying the application fee, uploading or printing a picture, finalizing references and completing essay questions.

2. Address to Send The Application (for paper applications).

3. Application Fee Amount.

4. Essay questions.

Most of the time I used these documents to work on essay questions. Having all the information in one place was handy too, especially keeping track of when I received the application. When I finished the essay questions I would print and edit them, then copy and paste them into the application. Easy as pie.

That’s it. It’s a simple system but it works and it cuts down on a lot of paperwork. Hope it’s useful to those currently in the application process.

How To Save Money During The Medical School Application Process

moneyApplying to medical school is expensive. We pre meds are already staring at astronomical debt when graduating from med school. What follows is an article outlining ideas to save money while applying to med school. The post is divided into how to save money during applications and how to save money during the interview process.

Applications

Cut Schools Out. Wherever you are at in the process you can decide to cut schools out. Do more research on the schools and you may find one you absolutely cannot see yourself at. Cut it from your list and save money on more application fees and potentially the costs of an interview (flight, hotel, food etc).

Fee Assistant and Waiver Programs. Have your application fees reduced or waived by seeing if you qualify for the Fee Assistance Program for AMCAS (MD) or the Fee Waiver Program for AACOMAS (DO).

Interviews

Combine Nearby Interviews. If you have been invited to nearby schools for an interview try hard to make it all one trip. Schools understand you are on a budget. If you explain your situation you may be able to move your interview day. Back to back interview days can be tiring, but considering the time and money involved in a separate trip it is well worth it. I did this combining interviews for Creighton University and Des Moines University into one trip.

Ask For A Student Host. Many schools have programs where current students will host interviewees. You save the money of a hotel and gain an up-close perspective of student life at the school. Be nice and bring your host a gift for their hospitality (I brought coffee and it was a hit).

Save On The Suit. Male or female, you may be tempted to buy expensive interview attire. Why bother? Application committees are unlikely to be impressed (if they can even tell the difference). Find something you’re comfortable in or use something you already have. I bought an awesome suit from Burlington Coat Factory for $160 and I’m looking forward to wearing it for a long time.

Avoid Renting A Car. I spent a few minutes researching a bus route to a hotel near a school. Hotels will often arrange airport pickup as well as a ride to the school. Ask your hotel.

Flexible Travel Dates. I earned two free flight vouchers by giving up seats on overbooked flights. One I used for another interview and the other I will use to fly home to visit the fam during the school year. They are basically as good as cash to me.

Hope these tips are helpful. Do any of you have some money saving tips for the application process?

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Applying To Medical School This Summer? Check Out This Checklist

If you are applying to medical school for the 2011 cycle, hopefully you have started working on your primary application. If not, it’s ok, you still have some time. Click for AMCAS (MD applications) or AACOMAS (DO applications) to get get going!

Here is a checklist of things you need to keep track of for your application.

    Transcripts. You must send your transcripts from every college you attended (even if you only took a class) to AMCAS or AACOMAS.
    Letters of Reccomendation. If you have not asked for letters of reccomendation yet, today is the day. If you’re applying to DO schools, do they need a letter from an osteopathic physician?
    Personal Statement. This is your time to shine. Do you have a good working 1st draft? Have you asked for feedback from multiple sources who know you well? Make sure you edit carefully! Check out this post from a med student on how to ace the personal statement. Hat tip: Pre Med Hell
    MCAT. If you’ve taken it already, great. If not, do you have a study plan? Have you thought about what you will do if your score is not as high as you would like?
    AMCAS or AACOMAS (or both). Even if you have your personal statement done and all your activities listed, this can be a huge time sink. The most time consuming part? Probably entering in every grade from every class you have taken. It’s maddening.
    Money. Applying to medical school is expensive. Do you have enough money saved up? Think around $500 for the primary application, and then about $100 per secondary application. Then flying for interviews. It all adds up very quickly.

The application is long, but do not be discouraged. In the big scheme of actually getting into medical school, you are towards the end of the road. Finish strong.

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Waiting

I had just cleared the security checkpoint at the airport after a hectic three days. I paused for a moment. A few hours prior I left my seventh and final interview for medical school. This needed to be celebrated!

Sitting down to a delicious beer and Philly cheesesteak I reflected on where I had been. Seven schools. Five DO, two MD. Seven different states. Four trips that involved flying. A bunch of money (I’ll break it down for you all soon, applying is expensive).

I realized I was done with all the hard work of the application process. No more essays, no more prepping for interviews, no more smiling all day long. Now I get to sit back, relax, and wait. The relaxing part is the hardest.

I have heard from every school except one which is a state MD school. I’ve narrowed my choices down to that MD school and a DO school. And I’m waiting. Waiting to hear from the state school. Waiting to hear if a scholarship is possible at the DO school.

Waiting.

Waiting

My First Deposit to Medical School

I just put down my first deposit for medical school. $1000 to hold my place at my top choice so far.

One thing I didn’t realize about osteopathic medical schools is that they have early and expensive deposits. They want deposits 2-3 weeks after you are accepted.

This was tough to do, but I didn’t really have a choice. I have three more upcoming interviews but the deposit was due today. If I didn’t pay it I would lose my spot in the class.

It is essentially a $1000 insurance policy in case I do not get in anywhere else (assuming I would want to go to another school). While a grand is tough to swallow if I end up going somewhere else, in the big scheme of things it’s not a huge deal. And if I end up going to the school it goes towards tuition anyway.

Man, this process is long and financially costly. Hopefully I’ll know where I’m going within the next month though. I’m not complaining though, I’m going to be a doctor!

Accepted!… and exhausted

I will be going to medical school.

It feels great to type that. I recently heard back from my first interview and was granted an acceptance. I was also accepted at my second interview.

All the hard work, the long hours studying in undergrad, the revisions of the personal statement, the tedious application process and the nerve wracking interviews, well, it’s all starting to pay off.

Not that the work was not rewarding itself at times, but ultimately the purose was to get into med school. And I have accomplished that goal.

Unfortunately I have had little time to reflect. I’ve had three interviews in as many weeks. Sandwhiched in between has been 12 hour scribe shifts, Christmas parties, family problems and flight delays. Last week I came home from an interview at 11PM Friday night, worked at 6:30AM the next day, then worked a string of 12 hour shifts until Wed when I left for another interview. I finally made it home yesterday.

I’m tired and looking forward to a break.

But I made it into med school. And that is awesome.