Quick post: application numbers are rising

May 18, 2007 at 5:47 pm (Applying to med school)

During the past week, I’ve seen two medical blogs say that applications to medical schools are decreasing yet again this year. I want to set the records straight before this rumor spreads farther. Look at the graph below:

Applications vs matriculants

The AAMC recently released this study showing the number of applicants and matriculants each year since 1982. You’ll notice that the numbers have been increasing steadily each year since 2002. You’ll also notice that applications to medical school seem to follow a cyclical behavior. The AAMC does not try to explain this behavior, but I think that it’s due to the economy. When the economy is going great, people feel that they can make money in other fields and abandon medicine. When the economy turns south, college students flee back to medicine. Now look at the graph below:

Quarterly change in GDP, 1977-2006

Here, I show the quarterly change in GDP since 1977. Notice that whenever the economy is growing quickly, the number of applications to medical school drops five years later. Once the economy slows or enters a recession, application numbers rapidly rise. The lag is due to the time required to fulfill all of the pre-med requirements and to make the commitment to enter medicine. I touched on this issue in an earlier post. Now, the AAMC has released more data points further giving evidence towards my claim.

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Preparing to become a doctor

April 25, 2007 at 1:38 pm (Applying to med school)

Every week, some ninny starts a thread on SDN asking a question that goes something to the effect of, “I’ve been accepted to medical school. What should I do between now and August before matriculating?” Despite all of the calls from current medical students to take the summer off, many self-righteous dipshits other pre-meds will offer advice of studying anatomy or getting a job as an EMT to gain clinical experience.

All of those suggestions are nonsense. Medical school will teach you everything you need to know about being a doctor—including anatomy and clinical skills. Trust me, you’re going to get a lot of experience with patients. You certainly don’t need to start working with them now. If you’re going to ignore my advice and still feel the need to “do something” over the summer, I have two suggestions.

The first is to do an immersion program in Latin America to learn Spanish. If you live with a Mexican family and are forced to work on Spanish for as little as eight weeks, you’ll be conversational enough to at least be able to speak with your patients. Some immersion programs offer a hospital experience so that you can learn medical Spanish. These trips are relatively inexpensive—about $200 a week for everything—but will require some work on your behalf.

The second option is to hit the gym. Take a look at the figure below:

Obesity map of the United States

As you can see, the country is fat. All of those pounds take their toll on you, the healthcare worker. If you want to do your patients a service, bulk up with protein shakes and pushups so that you can successfully transfer your patients from their double-sized wheelchairs to the MRI bed. Otherwise, you could very likely strain your back trying to move patients. Also, chicks dig muscles—even on other chicks.

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How to behave on an interview

April 17, 2007 at 11:15 pm (Applying to med school)

If you’re lucky enough to be invited for an interview for medical school, take a moment to breath a sigh of victory.  Smile at your hard work.  Feel free to slip in passive-aggressive comments to other pre-meds such as, “What’s new with you?  By the way, did you hear that I got an interview for med school?”

There are tons of guides out there about how to properly answer questions that might be posed.  While those books and websites are fine for the 30 minutes that you’re in front of a member of the admissions committee, my goal is to tell you that you need to act properly during the rest of the interview day.  In other words, don’t be a jackass on the school’s tour.

I’ve been a tour guide for the past year for my university.  While most students are so nervous about their interviews that they’re quiet for the bulk of the day, I’ve met some real a-holes who make me want to run straight to the admissions committee and scream, “You can’t let this person in here!”  While most student guides will preface the tours by saying, “I don’t report to the admissions committee; you can ask me anything,” if you are unbearable during a 30-minute journey through the school and hospital, you won’t be matriculating there during the fall.  I can think of one instance off the top of my head where an applicant was outright insulting toward other students and even a physician.  He didn’t get in here.

Although I meet several quirky applicants each week, there have been a few occasions where I’ve wanted to personally sign rejection letters for the outright losers who make the tour difficult for me.  Therefore, I offer these tips to avoid pissing off the medical student volunteers:

1. Don’t interrupt.  There is no question so important that it can’t wait until the end.  I once began a tour by saying, “Here is the student lounge where we…” when some girl jumped in with, “What’s you student-to-body ratio in anatomy?!?”  For whatever reason, this question gets asked every week.  I don’t know why the student-to-body ratio is so important to pre-meds.  I’ve never met a person who made his decision on where to go to medical school based upon the student-to-body ratio.  Yet every week, I know it’s coming.  That being said, don’t interrupt your tour guide.

2. Don’t lead the tour.  No matter what you’re read online about the school you’re interviewing at, you don’t know anything about the university.  I had one interviewee who started telling other appicants that first-year students perform surgeries without assistance.  She even tried to show off the computer lab and the microscope lab.  Aside from getting several critical pieces of information incorrect, she undermined my tour and spread false rumors.  To make things worse, she had never visited the campus before.  I don’t know where she got her information.

3. Don’t ask stupid questions.  I know you’re dying inside to find out the school’s student-to-body ratio.  Hold off for a few minutes; I’m sure that the tour guide will tell you.  Some other things you shouldn’t ask (yet I’ve heard from applicants) are:

- Do you have a gym?  Seriously, I get asked every week if we have a gym.  I don’t know of a university in the entire country that doesn’t have a gym.  But somehow every week some woman asks.  It’s always a woman.

- Do you have a library?  I never saw that one coming.

- (In our Windows-only computer lab): Can I request a Macintosh instead?  No, you can’t have a different computer simply because you’re on a self-righteous trip to rid the world of Microsoft.

- What are the names of the dermatology professors here?  One guy pulled out a sheet of paper and was ready to start taking names.  There’s a faculty roster near the building’s entrance.  You’re welcome to spend some time there.

- What’s your student-to-body ratio?  Never ask this question.  I wish a had a trap door in the anatomy lab so I could send applicants away who feel the need the ask.  “You want to know our ratio, eh?  Just take two steps to the right and one more step forward.”

I hope this list helps.  Please do your tour guides a favor by quietly listening to the monologue, laughing at the jokes, and nodding your heads in firm agreement to whatever opinions he/she may offer.

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Are you going into medicine for the right reason?

March 21, 2007 at 2:28 pm (Applying to med school)

When you apply to medical school, you’ll have to write a personal statement in which you give reasons why you want to practice medicine, your preparation for going to medical school, and what future plans you have for the field. When writing this essay, you’ll have to demonstrate that you’ve seriously considered why you’re going into medicine and what the life entails. You’ll also have to show maturity in stating your personal reason for wanting to undertake such a hard—yet financially rewarding—life. Every year, applicants cite their desire to help others or some other vague statement as to why they want to become doctors. I’ll leave other authors with the task of teaching you how to write the perfect personal statement. My goal here is to challenge students who say that they are pursuing medicine for reasons other than money.

Look at the graph below [1]:

Applicants vs. Matriculants from 1995-2006.

The blue line gives the total number of people applying for medical school each year. The green line shows the number of acceptances. You’ll instantly notice that admissions were harder in mid 90′s than today. Various reasons are thrown out for the decline and subsequent rise in applicants over the past decade. Some theorists point to malpractice insurance or even T.V. shows. While there might be some validity to these claims, I have a different idea: economics.

Now look at this second graph [2]:

Quarterly changes in the U.S. gross domestic product

Here we see the quarterly change in the American gross domestic product since 1991. You can instantly spot the tech boom and stock market bubble of the late 90′s. You can also see the recession of 2001 and the slow economic growth thereafter. Instead of
claiming that pre-meds are following malpractice treads, I maintain that people are following the money.

Whatever the trend in the U.S. economy, there is a 2-3 year delay in the actions of the applicants. When the economy is strong—as it was during the latter half of the 90′s—entering college students realized that they could make a quick buck in computer science. Instead of killing themselves with pre-med courses, followed by rigorous training in medical school, followed by more training in residency, people could quickly achieve similar earnings by learning how to write code. All of the people who would have
originally pursued medicine to get rich bailed out and chased after the tech boom. After the market bottomed out, the next round of college students realized that the safety of the Internet bubble was gone and that they could go into medicine for a stable, predictable income.

My prediction is that in the coming years, if the U.S. economy continues growing, the number of applicants to medical school will plateau around 2009 or 2010. At that time, the cycle will be repeated as college students once again realize that jobs in business and engineering yield high incomes without sacrificing 10 years to achieve the same result.

My question to you, the reader: are you going into medicine for the right reason?

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How hard is it to get into medical school?

March 20, 2007 at 6:41 pm (Applying to med school)

If you think that you want to become a doctor, you’ve got to do a serious evaluation of your competitiveness of getting into medical school.  Getting accepted is hard.  Real hard.  Last year, only 44% of applicants to allopathic medical schools got accepted [1].   I’ll pulled some data from the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) and the U.S. News & World Report’s annual rankings to give you an idea of what to expect.

First, you’ll have to make sure that your undergraduate GPA is comparable to other applicants.  Your high school GPA doesn’t matter anymore.  Further, any graduate work you do won’t offset bad grades from college.  Next, you’ll have to take the MCAT.  This test must be taken by everyone considering medical school.  The exam consists of four parts: verbal, physical sciences, biological sciences, and writing.  The first three subjects are graded on a scale from 1-15.  The writing sample is given a letter score: J-T.  When the first three parts are added together, you’ll get a score from 3-45.  According to the AAMC, the average on each subject test is an 8, meaning that the average overall score is a 24.

Look at the table below:

Comparison of applicants’ to matriculants’ GPA and MCAT scores

The first data column shows that the average applicant is applying with a 27, three points higher than the national average for test takers.  Already we see that some people have dropped out of the med school race with average numbers.  Now look at the second column.  Of people accepted to all medical schools in the country, their average scores were an additional 3 points higher than the people applying.  Now look at the last column.  I pulled this information from U.S. News & World Report’s rankings of medical schools.  Of applicants matriculating to top 10 programs, their average MCAT was 4 points higher than all medical students combined.  You’ll also notice that the GPA gets higher as one progresses from applicant-to-accepted-to-accepted at a top 10 program.

The story doesn’t stop there.  In addition to having strong numbers, you’ll need to show admissions committees that you have “soft” skills, too.  As far as I can tell, the most common extracurricular activities that admissions committees are looking for are research, volunteering, and clinical experience.  You can’t fake your way through these.  Signing up for a week-long summer trip through the Andes to tame the savages isn’t going to impress anyone if your parents paid for you to have a sheltered trip.  You need to find a charitable organization and make a real, long-term commitment to serving others.  The type of volunteering (or research for that matter) is of no concern to the admissions committee.  So long as you can demonstrate an understanding of the scientific method, a familiarity with working with others, and a idea of how a healthcare setting functions, you should be fine.

There are lots of guides out there on getting into medical school.  I’ll let you decide which is the best resource.  The Student Doctor Network maintains a list of books on the subject.

P.S.:
Readers,

As I have already mentioned, I do not want this webpage to become an advice column on “What are my chances?” There are forums on the Student Doctor Network dedicated to this topic. I have closed this page to comments.

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