This is more or less a personal inventory, so that I can keep tabs on my progress (or lack thereof). Please shoot me a message if you have any questions/qualms/queries or the like. Unfortunately, you probably already know more than I do. As for stats and demographics â€“ I'm a CA resident with a LizzyM score of ~80 and applied one gap year out of undergrad.
Now that I'm pretty removed from the application process, my anonymized activity descriptions are posted in my blog.
Big thanks to MDapps for being such a phenomenal resource and good luck to all visitors!
interview impressions are based only on my personal opinions and experiences. I found other MDapp-ers' school impressions to be very helpful, so I decided to compile mine here for public use. Hope they can assist in school selection and interview planning, but do not take my words as gospel. Good luck!
SR = secondary received | SS = secondary submitted | SC = secondary complete | II = interview invite | IA = interview attended | WD = withdrew | R = rejection | A = acceptance | WL = waitlist
// Applications //
Application Cycle One: 06/01/2014
Undergraduate college: Non-Posh State School
Undergraduate Area of study: Biological/Life Sciences
MCAT (taken winter 2014): For reference, my AAMC practice test average was a 38 and had a standard deviation of about 2 points. I studied via the Kaplan On Demand online package from September to January, spending roughly 1.5 hours each day on practice problems. I really did not spend much time on content review, since I knew my weakness was primarily in digesting/reasoning through passages.
1. Grab bag of non-prestigious awards 2. 1 year of full-time research 3. 2.5 years of full/part time research in a non-medical field (1 publication, 1 abstract, 2 intra-institutional presentations)* 4. 6 months medical scribe 5. 1.5 years hospital volunteer* 6. 6 months volunteer at a health clinic 7. 6 months glorified test-tube cleaner 8. 3 months research fellowship 9. 1.5 years head volunteer at a nonprofit organization* 10. 1 year volunteer at a similar nonprofit organization 11. 4+ years obscure sport 12. 5+ years semi-professional hobby 13. ~80 hours of shadowing, across mostly surgical specialties 14. World-renowned procrastinator
1/23/14 MCAT 2/25/14 Score release 3/--/14 Requested LORs early-March, wrote activity descriptions 4/--/14 Drafted PS, sent drafts out for editing 5/--/14 Requested transcripts early May, finalized PS, worked on AMCAS 5/21/14 All LORs arrive to pre-health office 5/24/14 AMCAS ready for review, all transcripts received 6/3/14 AMCAS submitted 6/5/14 AMCAS verified 6/10/14 Began pre-writing secondaries 6/27/14 Cornell and UMich secondaries received 6/28/14 U of A â€“ Phoenix secondary received 6/29/14 WashU secondary received and submitted 6/30/14 UChicago secondary received, UMich and Cornell secondaries submitted 7/1/14 When it rains it pours: UC Davis, Baylor, NYU, Columbia, and Vanderbilt secondaries received, Baylor and UC Davis secondaries submitted 7/2/14 Hopkins, VCU, U of A â€“ Tucson, and UVA secondaries received, VCU secondary submitted 7/3/14 Pitt and UCF secondaries received, UCF secondary submitted 7/4/14 Columbia secondary submitted, still waiting on LORs to be transmitted from pre-health office 7/5/14 Hopkins secondary submitted 7/6/14 Pitt secondary submitted 7/7/14 Yale secondary received, UA â€“ Phoenix secondary submitted 7/8/14 Einstein, Dartmouth, and Mount Sinai secondaries received, half of LORs uploaded to AMCAS, Einstein and Mount Sinai secondaries submitted 7/9/14 Dartmouth secondary submitted 7/10/14 Stanford and USC secondaries received, Vanderbilt secondary submitted 7/11/14 UCSD secondary received, UChicago secondary submitted 7/12/14 NYU secondary submitted 7/13/14 Took a break from my secondary-a-day spree for the World Cup. Los Deutschland! 7/14/14 UC Irvine secondary received, UVA secondary submitted, final LORs uploaded 7/15/14 Tufts secondary received, Tufts, UCSD, and UC Irvine secondaries submitted 7/16/14 Pitt interview invite 7/17/14 UVA and UC Irvine interview invites, UCSF secondary received and submitted 7/19/14 Stanford secondary submitted 7/20/14 Yale secondary submitted 7/21/14 Vermont secondary received, Case/CCLCM secondary unearthed in spam folder, USC secondary submitted 7/23/14 Case/CCLCM secondary submitted 7/24/14 UCLA secondary received and submitted 7/25/14 Northwestern secondary received 7/28/14 Northwestern secondary submitted 8/4/14 USC interview invite, breaking a 2+ week lull 8/13/14 Cornell interview invite 8/15/14 Mount Sinai and Vanderbilt interview invites 8/19/14 U of A â€“ Phoenix interview invite 8/20/14 Northwestern interview invite 8/21/14 UCF interview invite 9/1/14 Dartmouth interview invite... on Labour Day! 9/3/14 UCSF interview invite 9/18/14 UCSD interview invite 9/22/14 Simultaneous Case rejection and CCLCM interview invite 9/25/14 Hopkins interview invite 10/14/14 USC acceptance ~pterodactyl-like screech~ (technically it was 10/15 on the east coast) 10/15/14 UCF acceptance 10/16/14 UVA acceptance (yeee), Northwestern deferral to March (booo) 10/22/14 WashU interview invite 10/25/14 UCI acceptance 10/30/14 UCSD acceptance 11/12/14 Sinai acceptance 12/12/14 Hopkins acceptance ~ugly crying~ 12/18/14 UCSF waitlist ~so sads~ 1/--/15 Lots and lots of finaid stuff (FAFSA, Need Access, school-specific forms) 1/12/15 Recieved CBC request 1/15/15 CCLCM "high hold" 1/28/15 CBC complete 1/29/15 Pitt acceptance 2/19/15 Northwestern acceptance 2/24/15 Vanderbilt waitlist 3/2/15 CCLCM acceptance 3/11/15 Cornell acceptance. Barring movement at UCSF, it looks like I'm done! 3/19/15 And speak of the devil, accepted off the waitlist at UCSF. ~primal scream~ 4/19/15 And so it ends. Never thought I'd wind up in this position, but it was quite the ride. See you right around the bend, B'more!
University of Arizona
Combined PhD/MSTP: No
Secondary Completed: No
Interview Invite: No
Interview Attended: No
Summary of Experience:
SR 7/2 | WD 7/20 |
Will not be completing secondary. Excellent school, but I did not "click" with the secondary prompts and I am likely not the type of student Tucson is looking for.
Summary of Experience:
SR 7/16 | SS 7/23 | SC 7/24 | R 9/22 |
Note: secondary was sent to spam folder and not discovered until 7/21.
First rejection; Case is a brilliant school, though the idea of shelling out an obscene amount of tuition money to live in Believeland isn't too appealing. (Or at least I'll just keep telling myself that).
Summary of Experience:
"Primary received" e-mail 7/24 | SR 7/24 | SS 7/24 | SC 7/25 | R 3/13 |
EDIT 3/13: How's that for some Friday the 13th luck? The one school I thought I had the best shot at an interview invite turned out to be my last rejection. So glad I ended up casting my net wide because this whole app cycle has turned out to be an utter surprise. Phew. And that's a wrap, guys!
This is one of the few schools within driving distance from me. C'mon, UCLA. This kid needs an excuse to visit Diddy Riese again.
Summary of Experience:
SR 7/1 | SS 7/1 | SC 7/11 | "has been reviewed" 7/16 | WD 10/31 |
Baylor is home to the Center for Space Medicine. THE CENTER FOR SPACE MEDICINE. How cool is that? Add extremely low tuition (even OOS), high step averages, and a condensed curriculum into the mix and you have one school awesome enough to tempt me to move to Houston.
In the end, it didn't seem like Baylor had it in for me. This may be for the best, seeing how I can't handle the Houston humidity.
Summary of Experience:
SR 7/1 | SS 7/12 | SC 7/12 | WD 11/1 |
I really think I would have loved NYU and I've heard nothing but good news about Bellevue. However, NYU ends their interview season early and I was probably not going to eek out a last-minute interview. Just wanted to save myself the rejection. ;)
NYU has this huge "withdraw application" button at the bottom of their secondary, which some people have accidentally clicked. The button doesn't even open up a dialog box to confirm your withdrawal â€“ it just vaporizes your application without a second thought. Following my UCSD acceptance I finally got to click it.
Summary of Experience:
Secondary opened week prior to data transmission (6/20) | SR 6/29 | SS 6/29 | SC 7/14 | II 10/22 | WD 11/3 |
I was actually a test subject in a research study conducted here and I had great interactions with the researchers. Really would have loved to visit, but I have already been accepted to schools I'm very happy with and would rather put the travel money towards a destination more enticing than St. Lou (impromptu backpacking trip through SE Asia, anyone?).
Wish I got this invite earlier in the cycle. I'm certain it'll go to an awesome applicant, though!
Summary of Experience:
SR 7/8 | SS 7/9 | SC 7/21 | II 9/1 | WD 10/15 |
Holy moly me oh my â€“ super grateful for this invitation! I would have loved to visit New England, but alas I have taken an excessive amount of time off work and don't want to start digging into my savings account when I already have an acceptance in hand. :(
Summary of Experience:
SR 7/1 | SS 7/10 | SC 7/16 | II 8/15 | IA 11/1 | WL 2/24 | WD 2/24 |
EDIT 2/24: Got tossed on the good 'ol waiting list. While I loved the faculty I met at Vandy (gold star to their awesome admissions office folks, too) I don't want to wait this one out, especially since I am clearly out of the scholarship running. Just honoured to have had the chance to interview here. Sadly, there'll be no Hattie B's hot chicken in my near future.
EDIT 12/17: decision deferred till February.
I had always assumed that Southern Hospitality was a myth. That was until I interviewed at Vanderbilt.
Unfortunately, the ripple effect caused by the O'Hare delays severely impacted my flight, resulting in two reroutings and a seven hour delay. By the time I rolled into Nashville, I just wanted to burrito myself in a down comforter and pretend like I didn't have an 8 am interview the next day. However, the Uber driver I got was set on telling me his life story. Before I checked into my B&B, he gave me a long, passionate blessing (as it turned out, he was a lay pastor). Slightly stupefied and unsure how to thank him, I stumbled out of the car and into scenic, lush Nashville.
Unfortunately, the hosting program at Vandy did not seem to be running that week, so I got a place via AirBnB just two blocks from campus. My hosts turned out to both be NPs at Vanderbilt and quickly set to work raving about the facilities and programs here. They epitomized Southern Hospitality, setting me up with a lavish master bedroom and endless home cooking. That night they invited me to a small kickback with their coworkers to watch the humiliating Packers vs. Vikings game. Though I remained utterly mystified by fantasy football, despite their best attempts at explaining it, I enjoyed the warmth and friendliness of all there. Before long, I was stuffed to the brim with portobello burgers and pumpkin ale. Later, a resident showed up with an impressive array of whiskey and a mason jar full of white peach moonshine. "My dad knows a guy," the resident explained enigmatically. Protip: moonshine is to be casually sipped and not shot. It was actually quite delicious and curiously potent.
I'm not sure if this was something unique to this particular group of friends or to Vanderbilt, but I have seldom seen nurses and physicians interact at non-workplace related events. It was heartening to see such camaraderie across occupations. All too often, the medical professions are divided into a sort hierarchical caste system, which I feel detracts from the main goal: to heal people. Vandy is supposed to be piloting a program in which med students can take classes along side social work and nursing students, but I cannot recall the name of it for the life of me. I do think a greater degree of interaction across these distinct professions will instill a healthier workplace environment. Good job, Vandy *slow clap.*
The next morning I wandered into Vanderbilt, appreciating the rows of oak trees and slight morning drizzle. Much like UVA, Vandy is a historic campus, with the more modern medical campus attached to the undergrad. Since Vanderbilt is also an arboretum, grand old trees sprawled out, letting in dappled light. At first I thought the campus was infested with chubby rats, but I quickly discovered they were in fact chipmunks. (Mind you, I had never seen a chipmunk before). The medical campus contains a mix of newer, metallic buildings and some older, more humble-looking brick structures. It was not as glitzy and glamorous as Northwestern, but I could not complain.
The day started with a warm welcome from Dean Rodgers, who will unfortunately be leaving Vandy within the next month to be with his partner. Dean Rodgers had invested over ten years in the med program and has been credited with a lot of its unique programs, such as the Learning Communities and Curriculum 2.0 (more to come about those). He seemed genuinely saddened to leave, but assured us the program would be in very capable hands. The rest of the staff were wonderfully friendly and would stop to talk to the interviewees about Nashville. This was actually my favourite batch of interviewees to date. Everyone was so accomplished and friendly! I think this bodes well for the student body Vandy draws in, as the current students I met were similarly extroverted and accessible.
According to Dean Rodgers, what differentiates Vanderbilt from many other medical schools is how student-centered it is. While all medical schools pride themselves in the support and mentorship students receive, Vanderbilt takes that and amplifies it. The school itself only has about 400 medical students... but over 2000 physicians. From day one, students are sorted into their Hogwartsian Learning Communities, with "Head of House" physician mentors, and also given ample opportunities to secure a research mentor. The Learning Communities conduct their longitudinal clinical programs together and meet on a weekly basis for professional development sessions (there's even a speciality speed-dating event, which sounds super awesome). Once a year, the four houses compete in a fiercely competitive College Cup, with athletic and non-athletic events. Unfortunately, there is no Sorting Hat, though each Community boasts an impressive Game of Thrones-esque house sigil and Latin motto. While a handful of other schools have similar programs (ex: UVA, Pitt), Vanderbilt's appears to be the original.
As well, in regards to curriculum innovation, Vanderbilt is pioneering the one-year preclinical, known as Curriculum 2.0. Some are a bit hesitant about this program, which was just introduced last year, citing that it may be too overwhelming to tackle that much information in such a short timeframe. However, the students I met seemed to find the workload doable. It's hard work, but then again, what preclinical curriculum isn't? Vanderbilt stated that nothing essential was omitted from the sole preclinical year; instead they cut down on minutiae and ensured that PhD instructors would not ramble on and on about their research for days on end. Personally, I was sold on C2.0. The second year presents the students with their core clerkships, allowing years three and four to be entirely elective. You heard me right. Two years to do what you please. Two years of individually-tailored study. Wow. In addition, the first two years are strict P/F (even the core clerkships!) so by the time you reach honours grading, you are studying what you want.
The formal research program takes place in 3rd year, but can be scheduled whenever desired. In fact, about a third of the class even elects to take a 5th research year, providing themselves with more than enough time to hone their project. So-called "immersion courses" allow third and fourth year to be a mix of research, lecture-based courses on areas of interest, and clinical electives of personal choosing. This is clearly an asset for residency applications, since students are able to tailor their final years towards their specialty of choice. As well, in the words of Dean Rodgers: "There are over 200 specialties/subspecialties. Most clerkship years let you rotate through 6. How will you know what you want to do for the rest of your life?" As someone looking into obscure subspecialties, the extra time afforded by C2.0 for exploration is a godsend.
To reduce the inevitable stress of medical school, Vandy champions student wellness. Students are encouraged to continue their outside interests and to hone their talents. My faculty interviewer emphasized that Vandy encourages five things: clinical skill, research, leadership, service, and (most importantly) fun. I found it ironic that one of the most aggressive curriculums is implemented at a school in low-key, casual Nashville, but it seems the wellness programs serve well to counteract any adverse effects.
The interview day includes two morning interviews, one 20-minute closed file interview and one hour-long open file interview. Both are conducted with faculty members. The short interview does not really allow for you establish rapport with your interviewer, since they essentially read questions off of a sheet of paper. While this interview has a reputation for being stressful, I found it kind of fun. The questions I got were fairly open-ended and allowed for a bit of creative thinking. Meanwhile, the long interview was one of my longest yet. My interviewer was a soft-spoken elderly gentleman who went over my entire application and even let me visit some of his patients with him. There were no real "interview-y" questions at all... he mostly talked to me about the school and asked me to expand upon some of my experiences. In addition, random faculty members would literally stop me while I walked through the hospitals, raving about how much they loved Vandy. It was surreal... I never got that at any of my other interviews.
Most of my long interview focused on my interviewer selling Nashville. I admit, I was a bit hesitant about the prospect of attending a school in the Bible Belt, but my interviewer assured me that Nashville was becoming more and more cosmopolitan. The school has ample resources for LGBTQI+ individuals and a high degree of religious diversity (dispelling the Bible Belt myth, 1/3 of the class identifies as atheist and every major world religion is represented). Nashville itself, as the staff loved reminding us, is the next "it" city. It's growing, but neither too big nor too small. If anything, Nashville reminded me a lot of a Southern Pittsburgh. Like Pitt, the major urban portion is condensed alongside a riverside, while the surrounding areas are more suburban. Thankfully, the cost of living is fairly low, though most students spend between $1000 and $700 per month on housing. There's a huge music scene here, but as one of those "I'll listen to anything but country" people, I'm not sure how much time I'd spend frequenting the downtown honky tonks.
Nashville does provide Vandy with a very unique patient base. They have an excellent Life Flight program, as they are the only major medical center within a 300 mile radius. Some students get to go along on Life Flight trauma rotations or transplant medicine electives. As well, their neonatal ICU receives over 100 babies per month, bringing in some incredible pathologies. In addition to a massive children's hospital, there is also a large VA center, rehabilitation hospital, and numerous clinics. The Shade Tree Clinic is the student-run program, which provides care to the un/under insured. To meet the need of Vanderbilt's growing Hispanic populations, the school offers medical Spanish courses.
Overall, I left Vandy very much impressed. It seems like a very nurturing, supportive school. I understand a lot of the mixed feelings regarding C2.0, but I feel that these new changes are a step in the right direction. As is, a lot of top-tier schools are working to follow in Vandy's footsteps. Seriously, their curriculum is bar none. The first year would be a lot of work (keyword: a lot), but in return you get an unparalleled amount of focused time for individualized study. If I'm lucky enough to gain an acceptance, I think Nashville itself would be a harder sell than the curriculum. While I was more impressed with Nashville than I thought I'd be, it's just not as big as I'd like.
We'll see what December brings. As always, I have my fingers crossed. Vandy also gives 75% tuition scholarships to 75% of its accepted students... If I was wildly lucky enough to get accepted AND get one of those scholarships, I could see Vandy being a clear pick. I am a bit worried about acquiring a Southern accent. After listening to all the twangy accents, I found myself unconsciously mimicking their speech. We'll see how much the word "y'all" becomes a regular fixture in my vocabulary.
Pros: C2.0, flexible and individualized years 2-4, support for 5th research year, structured research program, Learning Communities, emphasis on student wellness, Southern Hospitality, easy access to mentorship, smaller student body (88 per class), excellent patient population, cohesive student body, lower cost of living... I'm kind of stoked about those Hogwartsy houses.
Cons: curriculum is intense and will only be in its second year, humidity, lots of mosquitoes, Nashville may be a little small, location is somewhat isolated from other major cities, I may need to bring my car... I really don't like country music.
Summary of Experience:
SR 7/17 | SS 7/17 | SC 7/21 | II 9/3 | IA | WL 12/18 | A 3/19 | WD 4/20 |
EDIT 4/20: If you ever told me that I'd end up withdrawing from UCSF I would have referred you to a psychiatrist. I love UCSF, I truly do. My decisions for withdrawing rest mostly upon intangibles and I find it difficult to express these thoughts articulately enough, but here it goes.
So in regards to location, clinical opportunities, research, food, people, and on and on UCSF has it. Unfortunately, my interview day was rather brief and I got little to no interaction with current students (as I was preoccupied with my Bay Area friends and declined the opportunity to stay with a host). As such, UCSF's second look was instrumental in my decision. Second look was phenomenal. The students were remarkably laid back, the class was beautifully diverse, and the faculty were accessible and transparent. (I was randomly selected to dine at Dean Wofsy's hillside Twin Peaks home?!? So amazing). However, I just didn't get that elusive sense of "fit" that I felt so urgently at JHU. It may have been because I had sinus issues second look weekend (and spent the whole weekend sniffly and feverish), but I think my feelings were well founded. When I spent half the weekend talking to people I had previously met at JHU's second look and wishing I was back in Baltimore, I knew it was a sign I had to withdraw.
The practical, more concrete reasons for withdrawal were as follows: 1) money, money, money. While my package at SF wasn't bad, I would have shouldered way more debt there than at JHU. 2) I've been in CA for the vast majority of my life. I was born abroad and traveled a lot during my childhood... but once my family settled in LA things began to stagnate. I need to see more of the world, even if it may be colder and more slushy than my favourite state. Plus, I didn't want East Coast residency programs to hesitate before considering my application. 3) I felt like I was more in love with SF than UCSF in particular. Location is an important factor in any decision, but I felt like going to a school I felt at home at trumped living in a city I felt was exciting. (Not that B'more isn't exciting!).
It feels almost blasphemous as a CA resident to withdraw from UCSF, the great crown jewel of the UC system, but in the end it wasn't a very painful decision. I still would love to go to UCSF, but maybe during a different chapter in my life. I'm sure we'll meet again, CA. To quote my favourite song from The Eagles, "You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave."
EDIT 3/19: De-waitlisted? What am I going to do with all these feelings? How can I possibly be expected to choose between UCSF and JHU?
EDIT 12/18: C-C-C-C-combo breaker! An acceptance would have been dreamy, but it was a miracle I got seven straight acceptances in a row. I still can't believe I managed to squeeze myself into an interview spot here. Historically, this waitlist gets good action, but I'm going to treat this like a rejection to make future plans a bit easier. I'm down, but not out. If you change your mind you have my number, SF.
Let me preface this by saying that UCSF gives me lots of feels. When I originally set off to apply to medical school, my pre-health counsellor asked me what my dream school was. â€œUCSF,â€ I mumbled sheepishly, turning bright red. Naturally, UCSF had some very high expectations to live up to. While my interview day was not all lollipops and unicorns, I am pleased to report that UCSF delivered.
San Francisco is situated on the tip of a peninsula â€“ since itâ€™s confined by water on 3 sides, SF cannot really â€œsprawlâ€ like LA does. Thus, the city can only grow more and more concentrated. Every inch of land, even the sheer faces of formidable hillsides, are lined with colourful little townhouses. Some hills are so steep that the tilted houses make you feel like youâ€™re in a carnival fun house with trick floors and warped mirrors. If you have the time, you must wander the streets and survey these little homes. They occupy every hue, with facades ranging from Mission-style stucco to gingerbread Victorian. The obvious pitfall is that SF has insane housing prices and it can be a real challenge to secure rent-controlled housingâ€¦ like NYC, some people even hire a real estate agent to snipe out rentals.
Despite being a major urban area, SF manages to retain its natural greenery; Golden Gate Park unfurls before the feet of Parnassus Heights and the Presidio stands directly to the north. UCSF sits smack dab in the middle of SF, sandwiched between these two parks. UCSFâ€™s vantage point atop the Heights is clearly a good selling point; interviewees begin the day on the top floor of the library, with an impressive panorama of Downtown and the SF hills stretching out before them. (Note: be mindful of the Muni stop you get off at, otherwise youâ€™ll have to trek up a very steep hill to get to the campus). Unfortunately on my morning the city was shrouded in fog, with only the very tip of the Transamerica pyramid poking out of the gloom. The SF fog, which has a mind of its own, can be found on Twitter at KarlTheFog. Thanks, Karl.
However, after Karl had been chased away by the midday sun, we climbed up to the top of the Regenerative Medicine Center and were able to gape out upon an impressive view of the Golden Gate. Their sparkling new anatomy lab shares the same view, so it is any wonder that students can actually get work done. UCSF wins for best vista, with Sinai at a close second. UCSFâ€™s Parnassus campus consists of a single street (Parnassus Ave) flanked by medical education buildings and UCSF Medical Center facilities. This gives UCSF less of a college-y feel than some other medical schools, which have their own exclusive campus. However, there is a small terraced plaza (Saunders Court) for studying/relaxing outdoors.
The Parnassus facilities are an interesting mix of new and old. While their exteriors appeared blocky and austere, some of the interiors had been completely renovated (ex: the first year lecture hall and anatomy lab). The UCSF lecture halls and student resource areas were scattered all throughout the Parnassus buildings. Since there is no contiguous medical school building, the campus was somewhat hard to navigate and I was very grateful to have a current student with us at all times. I was particularly impressed by the collection of early 19th century Japanese woodblock prints in the Kalmanovitz Library â€“ I wish I had more time to play art geek.
FYI: most interviewees had one of their interviews conducted at a satellite campus (either Mt. Zion, Mission Bay, or SF General Hospital). I went to Mission Bay â€“ the campus UCSF had considered relocating the medical school to. The UCSF Mission Bay Medical Center is slated to open early 2015 and looks drop-dead gorgeous! Unlike Parnassus, Mission Bay was sparkling new and on a large, flat campus, with stunning glass-and-steel research buildings and a courtyard full of evergreen trees. There is student housing available at Mission Bay and free shuttles connect all UCSF campuses, though most students elect to live near Parnassus. While the Mission Bay area was all fresh and glossy, it lacked the historic charm of Parnassusâ€™s neighbourhoods and the surrounding areas were clogged with Giants fans flocking to the adjacent stadium. Too many chain restaurants in MB, too.
The interview day opened with an intimate speech by Dean Wofsy. He admitted that med school admissions are an uncertain, stressful process; while nearly all students that UCSF interviews go on to medical school, they can only admit 275 out of the 450 people they invite â€“ a decent sum, but obviously not the 100% acceptance rate everyone hopes for. ;) Dean Wofsy continued to expound upon UCSFâ€™s admissions process, stating outright that the interview was not the deciding factor in admission. â€œYour application is the summation of years of work,â€ Dean Wofsy reminded us. â€œThe interview is just one day.â€ As such, interviews are conducted completely blind and with people who are not on the admissions committee. Instead of rating interviewees on a scale, interviewers simply write a short narrative describing the interview. From there, the committee reevaluates each applicantâ€™s entire file and admissions decisions are released. â€œItâ€™s almost kind of arbitrary,â€ Dean Wofsy lamented, reminding us not to take rejection personally.
Despite rumours, UCSF does not try to pull students from the waitlist to balance the class in terms of gender/ethnicity/geographic origin. A slight preference for California residents exists (this is a public school, after all), but out-of-state applicants are interviewed/admitted at a ratio nearly the same as their in-state counterparts. However, the final class ratio of 80:20 instate vs. out-of-state reflects the number of OOS kids who turn their offer down. As well, UCSF does not recruit for any sort of career path. They simply want the best from every area of expertise, be it global health, research, policy, primary care, or what have you. I really appreciated the honesty and transparency of UCSF; Dean Wofsy made us feel very loved and kept reassuring us that weâ€™d end up wonderful placesâ€¦ though I think we all just wanted to throw ourselves at his feet and beg for acceptances.
From there we were given a tour of the facilities, sat in on a MS2 lecture, and had lunch with a few MS4s. Unlike most medical schools, UCSF gives you a prepaid card for lunch so you can pick out whatever tickles your fancy from the cafeteria. I was tempted to spend my whole card on snickerdoodle cookies, but I noticed my fellow interviewees loading up on salads and curries, so I decided against a sugar binge.
The MS4s were enamoured with their school and agreed that they felt well-prepared for residency. Nevertheless, the one hiccup they had with UCSF has do deal with the old curriculum â€“ which will no longer affect incoming students. Previously, UCSF only gave 3 weeks to prep for Step 1, so students would be forced to neglect their MS2 studies in order to squeeze in extra study time. Thus, for a while, UCSF had an average Step score that did not reflect its caliber â€“ it was still above average, but nowhere near the averages of similarly ranked schools. However, the Step scores did not seem to impact residency placement, as those classes matched splendidly. â€œThe UCSF name counts,â€ our MS4 stated. Ooof. So prestige is a major player in this game.
Thankfully, UCSF amended this part of the curriculum. Currently, they offer about 6 weeks for Step prep and the most recent averages are just a shade below 240. In addition, the class of 2019 will be the guinea pigs for a new curriculum, known as â€œBridges.â€ The specifics of this curriculum are tightly under wraps, probably because it is still under construction. Our tour guide speculated that Bridges would include more online-based instruction, a longitudinal clinical program, and a research projectâ€¦ so nothing too radical. There is a current program known as â€œPathways,â€ which allows students to pick an area of concentration and delve into focused study for a 5th year. About 40% of the class elects to take on a research year â€“ even with some pursuing Fullbrights and Doris Duke fellowships. It is not necessary to join the Pathways program to take a 5th year.
Following lunch we began our interviews. My first one was with an MS4 and, though very conversational, focused quite a bit on health policy â€“ an area totally outside of my realm of expertise. This is because I donâ€™t think I was very good at directing an open-file interview, since I kind of surrendered the reins to my interviewer. However, it remained a pleasant experience. My interviewer recounted all the phenomenal resources available to UCSF students. Because UCSF is the only medical school in a major city, students have unparalleled opportunities. SF General, one of the countryâ€™s premier county hospitals, offers excellent exposure to all kinds of patients and pathologies. There is also a network of free clinics geared towards serving specific populations â€“ the homeless, Spanish-speaking individuals, Tagalog-speaking individuals, and women. The interview went on for about an hour and was highly informative â€“ though I donâ€™t know if I presented myself very compellingly to my interviewer.
The next interview was held somewhat late (4 pm) at the Mission Bay campus with a faculty member. They were congenial, though I think I caught them just before they were about to wrap up things and head home. After relaying an abbreviated version of my application to them and asking them a few questions, they stood up and led me out, indicating that the interview was over (we had only been speaking for about 20 minutes). Though length of time spent interviewing is no indication of how good a review will be written, I was kind of worried that my faculty interviewer wouldnâ€™t have very much to write about. Thank goodness UCSF does not weigh the interview that heavily.
And with that I was off on a cable car, prattling along the San Francisco Bay. My trip was a total dream, largely because most of my close friends live in the Bay Area. They made sure to stuff me full of only the finest sushi and treated me to a monstrous homemade veggie stir-fry. We went to free yoga classes, watched the sunset from the hills overlooking Berkeley, and danced â€“ or, in my case, limped â€“ the weekend away (I had spent the whole week in heels, after all). I found myself not wanting to leaveâ€¦
All in all, UCSF is likely my top in-state pick. Not only is the school the cream of the crop, but I have a huge network of friends close by. It sounds like a slightly shallow reason, but as I do not know most of my blood relatives, my friends are more or less my surrogate extended family. In short: I could be very happy here. Like NYC and Chicago, thereâ€™s no end of things to do in SFâ€¦ assuming, of course, that you still have money left over after rent.
Maybe the only gap in my interview day was regarding the opportunities available for LGBTQI+ health. This is partly my fault, since I did not bring it up at any of my interviews, but I have heard the opportunities available at UCSF are top notch. The school only mentioned, in passing, the work SF General did for marginalized populations during the emergence of AIDS. If extended the honour of attending second look, itâ€™s something Iâ€™d definitely look into further.
Decisions are out sometime between November and January. Eeek.
Pros: San Franciscooooo, P/F grading, world-class research support, Pathways program, large network of free clinics, extensive access to all healthcare providers in SF, do not have to compete with neighbouring med schools for clinical sites, students seem happy and well-rounded, excellent LGBT+ health programs, vibrant arts/music culture, close to friends, excellent public transit, in-state tuition, gorgeous balance of city and natureâ€¦ I love the rain/fog.
Cons: will be the guinea pig for the new mysterious curriculum, no subsidized housing options, SF rent is insane and house-hunting is vicious, may need to commute to clinical sites around the city (which should be okay, thanks to their free shuttles, though)â€¦ I got some insane blisters from hiking up Parnassus Heights.
Summary of Experience:
SR 7/3 | SS 7/6 | SC 7/9 | II 7/16 | IA 9/9 | A 1/29 | WD 3/9 |
EDIT 3/9: Had a very positive experience at Pitt, but I highly doubt I'd attend when I'm holding acceptances to some cheaper, more "geographically attractive" schools. Sadly, you know it's time to withdraw when you keep procrastinating on the finaid paperwork. Hope I get to push that waitlist along!
EDIT 1/29: Accepted? What is this sorcery? Hadn't kept Pitt in my mind the past few months because I swore I'd be condemned to their massive waitlist. Glad to have been proven otherwise. I was pleasantly suprised by the city, wowed by the cuisine, and had my favourite faculty interview here (srsly, if you get Dr. Speer he's uh-ma-zing).
An unexpected flight cancellation and a spur-of-the-moment E train closure had me scrambling to JFK at 2 am. I was thoroughly disappointed because, if my previous flight had not been axed, I would have been able to join my hosts in Downtown. Ah, well... desperately hoping I'll find myself back in NYC sometime in the near future. Such is life. To add insult to injury, my connecting flight was delayed because an elderly couple mysteriously wound up on the plane without having checked in. Not sure how they did it (they weren't 100% lucid and also had no idea) so I was forced to wait while airport officials manually went through the entire flight manifest. Nevertheless, I arrived safe and sound in Pittsburgh, albeit rather harried. I guess this is the "interview trail life" they speak of.
After having a sort of Valley girl crisis in the airport (two TGI Friday's in the same terminal, but no Starbucks?) I resigned myself to an evening without iced tea. Since this was my first time in Pittsburgh, I wasn't sure what to expect. I was pleased to find the city bright, clean, and full of rolling green hills. I hadn't seen roads that clean and well-maintained since I visited Sweden! As others have noted, the very instant you arrive in Pittsburgh, you are inundated with advertisements for UPMC. It's like: "Welcome to Pittsburgh! By the way DID YOU KNOW WE HAVE REALLY AMAZING HOSPITALS?" UPMC is a large and very excellent health system, which is certainly a boon to Pitt's medical students.
I boarded the 28x bus (a seriously good deal; only $3.75 per trip and with numerous stops in Downtown and Oakland) and pressed my face to window as the Pennsylvania countryside went whirring by. A man wearing a Pirates hat, Steelers jersey, and Penguins sweatpants sat a few seats away. Unfortunately, the small townships surrounding Pittsburgh leave a lot to be desired. They were chock full of chain restaurants (seriously, how many TGI Friday's does one city need?) and reminded me of the awful SoCal suburb my parents live in.
However, as the bus rounded a hillside and began to cross Liberty Bridge, I was greeted by Downtown Pittsburgh. If you interview here, be sure to take the 28x bus, because the view is beautiful. Downtown Pittsburgh is compressed into the tip of a riverbend, with a series of bridges springing into it. The mix of water, skyscraper, foliage, and steel was quite a sight to behold. If anything, Downtown reminded me a lot of LA's financial district, but cleaner and with taller buildings. I was pleased to find lots of art fixtures interspersed throughout the city. Oh, and the Burgh has plenty of non-chain eateries, for all you foodies.
I stayed at a local Hampton Inn within walking distance of Pitt for ~$100 per night, thanks to the Pitt reduced rate. There was a free shuttle, but it was monopolized by Steelers fans flocking to Downtown, so I walked everywhere instead. The weather was absolute perfection, though the enclosed bus shelters and double-doors in each establishment reminded me that it wouldn't last...
As with the prevalence of UPMC adverts, Pitt pride abounded. Everywhere Pitt banners rippled on signposts with "Hail To Pitt" slogans posted in numerous storefronts. Oakland, which is mostly comprised of students and UPMC/Pitt/Carnegie Mellon staff, clearly has a lot of school pride. Everywhere you go, the Cathedral of Learning looms over you, like some sort of educational panopticon. The area surrounding the medical school is very college town-esque, with gaggles of undergrads in Greek letters scuttling about and a "downtown" full of reasonably-priced restaurants. The surrounding neighborhoods of Squirrel Hill and Shadyside are more hipster-like and brimming with grad students. You can rent old Victorians there for about $400 a month, when split between roommates. I nipped into Pittsburgh's famous Dave and Andy's Homemade Ice Cream for a scoop of birthday cake ice cream (sweet cream with chunks of chocolate/vanilla cake whirled in) in a crispy waffle cone. After my hagglesome flight, everything was finally right in the world.
I was also able to tour the Cathedral of Learning, which is one of the tallest educational buildings in the US. True to its name, the inside looks exactly like a cathedral, with stunning stone work, wooden thrones (that you can sit in!), and ornate wrought iron pieces. I spent a good hour wandering the halls, just marveling at the architecture. It exudes a very Hogwarts-esque vibe, which was compounded by the fact that there were a bunch of undergrads playing quidditch just outside the Cathedral. If the day couldn't even get any better, I got a savoury crepe from Crepes Parisiennes (tomato, cheese, garlic-infused olive oil), which was utterly amazing. Don't know how to eloquently describe it, but it was like... a French pizza burrito. For all you UC Davis-ites, it was just as good as Crepeville.
The interview day started around 8:30 and began with a tour of the Pitt Med facilities and adjacent UPMC hospitals. Note: Pitt Med is atop one of the steeper hills in Oakland, affectionately known as "Cardiac Hill," so be sure to bring good walking shoes. Also, your faculty interview may be up to a mile away, so prepare for a brisk jaunt around the Burgh.
My interview group seemed a little drowsy and/or jittery, so the conversation did not seem to flow naturally until later in the day. There was a good mix of out-of-state Ivy Leaguers, Northeasterners from liberal arts colleges, and a grab bag of Californians. Unfortunately, our tour guides also seemed a little sleepy. We had enough guides to break into groups of 2 or 3, allowing for really personalized tours. My guide praised Pitt and constantly fielded our questions, but did not have the rah-rah Pitt spirit I was expecting. Sadly, I only got to meet three Pitt students total (again, really wish I got a host), but one very friendly student talked with us all throughout lunch... not even opting for any of the free food. I guess they genuinely just wanted to talk about their school. They mentioned that they had turned down a top-5 school for Pitt, largely due to Pitt's student body and pass/fail curriculum (which is unfortunately ranked). Another vote for P/F.
Nevertheless, I was pleased to find Pitt Med a lot like its namesake city: clean and utilitarian. I've heard a lot of people berate Scaife Hall for being uglier and less flashy than most medical school buildings, but I honestly could not complain. (Then again, most of my undergrad classes were held in an asbestos-riddled refurbished dormitory from the '60s... so I may not be the best source of opinion). The anatomy lab, lounge, and lecture halls were clearly no Sinai, but students seemed to have adequate study space and are next door to the huge, shiny Pitt gym.
The area by the medial school is jam-packed with biomedical research buildings and UPMC hospitals, with a winding corridor connecting each of the facilities. Wall-E-ish robots roam the hallways transporting biohazard waste, issuing dejected beeps when you get in their way. Most rotations are done at the flagship program at UPMC Presbyterian, but due to the monopoly UPMC has, sites abound. Standouts include Western Psychiatric (which has almost every kind of inpatient psych available and is the only psych hospital in western PA), a brand new Children's hospital (which, unfortunately, was too far away to tour but is supposedly phenomenal), and Magee Women's (where over 85% of all babies in Allegheny County are born).
In addition to the cornucopia of clinical sites, Pitt takes great pride in its researchers. "Pitt wants creative leaders," My faculty interviewer emphasized. "Pitt wants people who constantly ask "why?" and want to push medicine forward." As one of the top NIH-funded institutions, Pitt expects each and every student to conduct research, whether it be bench, clinical, translational, or policy work. There is a mandatory scholarly project and about 20% of students opt to take an "area of concentration," which is like an undergrad minor. The AoC and scholarly project do not have to be related, and more often than not (due to the understandable changes in specialty choice most med students go through) they are totally different.
Research money seems to flow freely, enabling most every student to conduct funded research their first summer. The PSTP (more bench research geared) and CSTP (clinical research) provide students with a fifth research year and substantial scholarships. There appears to be plenty of support for non-laboratory ventures, including a variety of global health connections (India, Brazil, Haiti, and the Philippines were amongst those mentioned) and there is a collaborative relationship with the Pitt schools of law and public health. Of course, like most every school I've bumped into on the trail, there is a longitudinal clinical program and several free clinics.
The interviews were supposed to be 45 minutes long, but my student one went no more than 30 minutes and my faculty one went for over an hour and a half. Unfortunately, my student interviewer had hoofed it over from Shadyside at last minute and appeared utterly exhausted. While the other interviewees reported that their students asked them questions off a sheet of paper and would madly scrawl down notes, my interviewer took notes for the first minute and then tossed their notepad to the side. I'm not sure if they were too tired to write any more or if they had simply made up their mind about me. Either way, I think I was expected to fill the remaining interview time with questions, since they stopped questioning me. Note: since the student interview is closed file, be prepared to lead with an autobiographical spiel.
The faculty interview was open file, but blind to numbers. My faculty interviewer had already composed a laundry list of questions and appeared to have read my application quite thoroughly. They were extremely gregarious and loved to tell stories... hence why my interview went on for so long. I had difficulty getting a read off of Pitt's students, but the congeniality of my faculty interviewer was enough to have me fall in love with Pitt. They asked the traditional interview questions [greatest weakness... (they grimaced at mine. Ouch.), challenges in healthcare, why medicine] and then offered their opinions about Pitt. The interview truly was to test "fit", because they kept emphasizing that I need to choose a school that I will be happy with (ex: student body, location, etc.), even if that school isn't Pitt. Don't know if that's a good sign or not, but I enjoyed the interview regardless.
We closed the day with a mock PBL session, which I enjoyed, despite the fact about half the interviewees did not say a word. I can see how PBL can be hit or miss depending on the people in your group. Unfortunately, Pitt is infamous for its waitlist, which is divided into tiers. Over two thirds of the incoming class comes off of the waitlist, with the bulk from tier one. Last year they even dipped into tier two. It seems Pitt is terrified of over-enrollment, so they will be doing a one-for-one waitlist policy, where one person will be pulled off the waitlist for each person who declines their acceptance. Though Pitt is non-rolling, very few people are accepted outright on January 30th. Eeek. It seems like it's going to be a very long spring.
Long story short, Pitt appeared to be a very solid, strong school. I feel like its research program would provide me with exactly what I need and the faculty seem extremely supportive. I'm not 100% sure if Pittsburgh is the right city for me; while I enjoyed my stay, it may just be too small of a city. I'm used to places on the scale of Toronto/London, so I don't know how I feel just yet about a smaller city. However, the school itself was fantastic and I would be more than willing to put up with cold Pennsylvanian winters for a shot at a Pitt education. Again, since I did not get a feel for the student body (though I've heard wonderful things about it), a huge chunk of my decision would rest on second look. January 30th is going to be a nerve-wracking day.
Pros: pass/fail, hybrid PBL-lecture curriculum, very flexible curriculum (technically is a 2 year preclinical, but amount of elective time makes it more of a "1.75 year" preclinical), very friendly Pittsburghers, students get free public transit, low cost of living, access to an enormous health care network, collaborative relationship with CMU/Pitt undergrad researchers, heavy research support, 5th year programs. Oh, and proximity to that crepe place.
Cons: internal ranking, western PA may leave a lot to be desired, may need to get a car for clinical rotations, students mentioned that there have been some administrative hiccups with preceptorship scheduling, on-campus housing seems to be rather expensive for the location...
Curriculum: ranked p/f, two year preclinical, fundamentals and beginnings of organ blocks year 1, clinical rotations start near the end of year 2, dissection-based anatomy, 1 month step 1 prep.
Summary of Experience:
SR 7/16 | SS 7/23 | SC 7/24 | II 9/22 | IA | "high hold" 1/15 | A 3/2 | WD 4/13 |
Note: secondary was sent to spam folder and not discovered until 7/21.
EDIT 4/13: Some people will think I'm mad for turning down "free" med school, but in the end I didn't think CCLCM would be a good personality fit for me. CCLCM is the perfect option for highly independent students who thrive in a more "corporate" environment and are 100% set on academic medicine. Personally, I feel like I need a more collegiate environment and I had the lingering suspicion that it would be a very long 5 years in Cleveland thanks to the 32-person class size. It may be a perfect fit for some, but the class size made me feel really claustrophobic. No disrespect on CCLCM, though. Seriously, the resources available are pretty much unparalleled. However, the only reasons I was holding on to CCLCM were due to 1) the research opportunities, which I honestly could get at a few of the other schools I was accepted to, and 2) the price, which I felt was a really insincere reason. I have no qualms about spending the extra simoleons on a school I think I'd feel happier at, so a withdrawal it is. Hope my seat goes to someone who will be a better fit.
EDIT 3/2: This is a very good problem to have, but I have no idea what school to attend! Thank you, CCLCM!
EDIT 1/15: High hold, high hold, off to wait I go... Placed on the "high hold" list and not expecting any more news until April 30th passes.
Rounding out lucky interview number thirteen was the venerable CleClin. By this time I was feeling rather beleaguered from the repeated time-zone hopping, though I had miraculously evaded picking up any travel bugs. I never thought that I'd grow weary of interviews; I'm a vagabond at heart and I loathe poking around the same city for weeks on end. But let me tell you this: juggling medical school interviews with your day-to-day life can get real, real old. Hats off to those applying while in undergrad, because I don't think I would have been able to get through any of my courses. However, as soon as I reached the Cleveland Clinic, I wanted to smack myself upside the head for ever longing to hermit away in my hometown instead.
I had the honour/misfortune of living in the Detroit/southern Ontario region during my childhood, so I was well aquatinted with the Great Lakes weather patterns. However, I was spared two days of mild breeze and sunshine throughout my trip... a true mid-autumn miracle for the region. As my plane began to descend into the Cleveland region, I was amazed by the canopy of russet and ochre trees blanketing the countryside. Ohio's fall colours probably pale in comparison to New England autumns, and this wasn't even peak season for the trees, but I was still charmed by the sight of them. In California leaves go straight from green to brown -- that is if they were even green to begin with, considering the drought.
While the Clinic (which I will elaborate upon further) blew me out of the water, Cleveland itself did not make too much of an impression on me. If I had to sum it up, it was like a slightly-less-scruffy Detroit. Plenty of derelict factories and buildings, but thankfully no burned out crack houses... well, not any that I saw on my drive through the city. There were lots of elegant old relics of the prosperous automotive years (the Clinic contains some facilities built into a stone-columned Packard factory and my hotel was a renovated gentlemen's athletic club from the 20's). However, the suburbs encircling Downtown looked weather-worn and downtrodden. The residential areas immediately outside of the Clinic region are not the most pleasant, so be mindful of your surroundings if you happen to take the RedLine rail in (especially around the Quincy stop). However, the Little Italy neighbourhood to the north of Case Western was dotted with quaint little clapboard manors. Little Italy itself was... little, though I got a really scrumptious cannoli and some killer gnocchi.
One of Cleveland's biggest perks is its affordable cost of living. Case/CCLCM students often boast rents lower than $400 a month, housing is plentiful, and properties are spacious. One student I met was renting out a beautiful Victorian, which had just celebrated its 100-year-old birthday, with three other students for a whopping $300 per month. As for neighbourhoods, most students opt to live in Cleveland Heights (<20 min away) or Shaker Square (<10 minutes away). I didn't get to visit either neighbourhood, but I was told they were quite liveable and also full of CC faculty. Others opt to live in the midst of Downtown, where an apartment will usually run you $8-900 a month.
So onto the Clinic itself. At first blush I wasn't wowed by the facilities, as most of the older, blocky buildings line Carnegie (the Clinic's main thoroughfare). However, as we were guided along an indoor circuit linking the hospitals, I began to see why the CC was so special. Skybridges were lined with flat screen televisions, cycling through presentations about the clinic, with plenty of US News's "#1" emblems following you wherever you went. Ethereal-sounding music was piped into the hallways, which made me feel like I was wandering around in some dreamlike state.
It was the Clinic's Miller building that made my heart go aflutter. From the exterior, the building looks like a sheer, glassy wave. A blue-mirrored fountain occupies the courtyard and gives the optical illusion of a hovering ringlet of water. (You really have to see it lit up at night). The upper floor of the building, which was historically reserved for patients to meet with their physicians, presents an impressive view of the Downtown skyscrapers and Lake Erie. Inside, the Miller building reminds you just how world-class the Cleveland Clinic is. I thought that Mount Sinai looked like a modern art museum... well, the Cleveland Clinic looked like it could give the Getty or Tate a run for their money. The walls are stark white, with high ceilings and lots of glass. Everywhere bold, monochromatic prints filled the wall space; the waiting room of the Children's Clinic could have been easily been mistaken for a visiting avant garde photography exhibit. Suspended from the ceiling of the cardiac center, a gargantuan sculpture made of metal piping (generated from sonar imaging of an iceberg) caused visitors to crane their necks upward. The iceberg bears a suspicious resemblance from a human heart... and the fact that only 1/3 of an iceberg's mass can be seen above the water's surface alludes to the mysteries of medicine.
Ok, so the Cleveland Clinic is a special place. Well, what does CCLCM have to offer?
Well, CCLCM has offerings few other medical schools could provide. 32-person classes, no formal grades (even for clinicals), competency-based evaluation, no tests, full-tuition scholarships for all, and unparalleled access to the Cleveland Clinic itself. Just think: all of the Cleveland Clinic and only 32 students per class. The first year is highly flexible, with three free afternoons per week (class is held 8-noon), free Thursdays, and a well-developed longitudinal clinical experience from the start. Shadowing opportunities grow on trees; even top names in their field actively encourage students to shadow them. By the end of year two, students report feeling more than capable of taking histories and physicals. To paraphrase Dean Franco, CCLCM students are given boundless resources... it's just a matter of taking advantage of them.
The core clinicals are conducted primarily at CC facilities though, since it is primarily an academic center, EM enthusiasts will head to level 1 Metro hospital Downtown for emergency and aspiring OB/GYNs will seek out CC's Fairfax or Hillcrest clinics (high volume delivery centers). If you're looking for nothing but bread and butter, the "zebra" cases found at the CC may not be your cup of tea. But for budding academics, the Clinic is heaven. Following year 3, students are given ample elective time to conduct extensive acting internships within their specialty of choice and to pursue away rotations. However, Dean Franco recommends taking core clinicals at the main Cleveland Clinic sites, because the attendings are familiar with the unique evaluation style of CCLCM (more about this later).
The summers in first and second year are occupied by a bench (year 1) and clinical (year 2) laboratory rotation, which my student interviewer praised. These lab rotations are peppered with relevant courses (ex: bio stats, epidemiology), allowing students that are weak/inexperienced in any of these research realms to secure a strong foundation. As someone who has only known bench/translational research, this is a huge asset. Most students opt to take their research year after their first year of clinicals, when they have a better idea of what specialty they would like to pursue. Others, with a set speciality in mind, may opt to conduct their research immediately after preclinicals. The research year can be conducted at different universities or institutions, though if your specific research area has cutting-edge work currently being conducted at the CC it is highly recommended that you stay. International research will require extensive planning in advance. It seems that CCLCM wants students to select a project that is well-structured and likely to produce meaningful results, and understandably so. Dean Franco reported that pretty much every student publishes and receives grant funding, with some superstars publishing over 20 items during their stay at CCLCM. Woah nellie.
Back to that evaluation system. As in corporate settings (and in residency itself), CCLCM students are provided with competency/performance based feedback rather than letter grades. Students reported that they are given feedback at every turn in their education; sometimes more feedback than can possibly be interpreted at once. From the numerous feedback sources ( instructors, preceptors, board-style quizzes, and even their peers), students are encouraged to analyze their evaluations and to design areas for improvement. Throughout the year, students will compile these findings and pieces of feedback "evidence" into a portfolio, which is used by the promotions committee.
Some people will dislike this evaluation system if they prefer to have a strict, knowledge-based grading rubric and rely upon formal examinations to gauge their weaknesses. However, the current CCLCM students applauded the quality of the feedback they received and felt the system drastically reduced peer-to-peer competition. In addition, classes are conducted primarily through PBL. Due to the small class size, attendance is important -- you are not only accountable for your education, but ensuring a collaborative learning experience for your peers. As such, lectures cannot be streamed from the comfort of your home, while you loaf about In your pyjamas. This is why CCLCM stresses "fit." If you don't think this system will work for you, don't come. Those who do best at CCLCM are typically highly self-motivated students, who prefer group interaction over independent study. For me this sounds like perfection, but I could see how some people would long to watch lectures on their own time. (I think the ample free time in the preclinical years accounts for the mandatory lectures).
For those curious about the interview day, I won't lie: it's a long day. You receive countless opportunities to speak with Dean Franco and current students, so no question should go unanswered. Be sure to have a big, hearty breakfast beforehand because I was ravenous by the time noon came around. There is a PBL-esque discussion with your fellow interviewees regarding an open-ended ethical scenario, a student interview, and two faculty interviews. I ended up getting a surprise interview with the Dean, which kind of startled me, but she was an absolute joy to talk to and she knew my application remarkably well. The interviewers will have some pre-set questions they have to ask, but otherwise conversation flowed naturally. While some students reported rapid-fire questions and blank-faced interviewers, I experienced the opposite. Just goes to show you how these things are luck of the draw. I ended up really enjoying the conversations I had with my interviewers; don't know if this bodes well for my application, but I have my fingers crossed.
I know this is a short recap (and lawd knows I could write more) but I need to get some sleep. So, in short, I ended up liking CCLCM a lot more (key word: A LOT) than I thought. At first I was dubious of the small class size and lackluster nature of "the mistake on the lake," but I left impressed with the affable student body and certain that I could put up with the miserable winters for a shot at a CC education. The curriculum is a rare unicorn in the world of med school-dom, and though it may not be for everyone, I think my learning style aligns with it perfectly. While I'm tempted by the more "collegey" feel of UCSD, I know CCLCM would put me in a remarkable position for academic medicine. I would almost hazard to say that CCLCM would probably leave me the most well-prepared out of all the programs I have seen thus far. Given their extremely low acceptance rates (<20% post-interview), I don't know if this will be a choice I'll have to make. I should know "before Christmas" via status change. Egad.
Nevertheless, I'm rooting for you, CCLCM. If accepted, you would be a serious contender. You're a rare gem, CCLCM.
Summary of Experience:
SR 7/25 | SS 7/28 | SC 7/29 | II 8/20 | IA | A 2/19 | WD 4/8 |
EDIT 4/8: Northwestern was one of my biggest surprises this cycle, but I had to let this one go. Random pros/cons: 1) The area you're situated in is essentially the Rodeo Drive of Chicago. It's beautiful, but I felt like I was more drawn in by the location and pretty facilities than the curriculum itself. 2) Though I didn't get to stay with a host, everyone had really great things to say about the students here. They seem to be a really social, fun-loving bunch... maybe the PBL-heavy curriculum sort of selects for and/or encourages this? Either way, much like Sinai, I think I would have had a blast with these students. 3) In the end, the price was not right (despite some small need-based aid). 4) I would like to stay well away from the Midwest for now (despite how alluring Chicago is). Northwestern was undoubtedly great, but I just didn't get that visceral "pull" towards them that I got with places like JHU or Cornell... and since I got extremely lucky this cycle, I guess I can afford to nit-pick over the silliest things. Maybe next time around, Chicago?
EDIT 2/19: Woah, this came out of left field! Thrilled to have an option in Chi-town, even if it is -6 F there right now. Wasn't expecting an acceptance given my deferral, but glad to have been proven otherwise. Thank you, NU!
EDIT 10/16: decision deferred to March. A little saddened I won't hear in November, but this process can't all be good news all the time.
I had picked both the best and worst time to visit Chicago. The best because I was spoiled with cloudless, 70-degree days and not a hint of autumnal chill. The worst because just a day before my flight, a fire in an Illinois air traffic control tower caused widespread delays and brought O'Hare to a grinding halt. Nevertheless, I gladly took my 5 days of flawless sky in exchange for a 5-hour delay.
Ah, good 'ol Chi-Town; a city all my friends had spent some time in, yet I had never visited. I was pleased to find it like a cleaner, more spacious New York. Then again, I'm a freak of nature that loves public transit and narrow, skyscraper-lined sidewalks. It takes all kinds of people to fill the world (and the med school applicant pool!), so I would peg myself as an urban-oriented applicant; I prefer enormous cities, big crowds, and a fast-paced lifestyle. Places like NYC and Chicago appeal to me because there is no possible way I could ever exhaust these cities. Big cities are constantly in flux, bringing in new sights and opportunities at a remarkable rate. Hell, I still feel like a stranger in most parts of LA, even though I've lived there for over a decade. You're just never going to grow bored with a place like that.
Travel note: I ended up spending almost a week in Chicago's Near North Side, biding my time in between interviews. To get around, I got a pre-paid Ventra card for bus/subway. The city itself was easy to navigate and remarkably pedestrian friendly, but that may have been due in part to the weather I got. All said, I didn't end up using public transit all too much and walked about 5 miles each day, because I was feeling guilty about all the interview weight I've been putting on (curse you, free cookies). However, I don't think I would have walked nearly as much had I been interviewing in December. Northwestern's website recommends getting a taxi from the airport (~$50 one-way), but DO NOT DO THIS. Traveling via subway from either O'Hare or Midway will only run you ~$4. Save those cashmoneys so you can treat yo self.
A lot of applicants assume that the Feinberg School of Medicine is connected to the Northwestern undergrad campus, in the affluent suburb of Evanston, but it is actually in Downtown Chicago. Northwestern is in Streeterville, which borders the Miracle Mile, rendering the sidewalks congested with slow-walking tourists. -___- Just a block from the school, the thoroughfares are lined with Bentleys and Burberry. I have a feeling if I lived in Streeterville my bank account would be perpetually empty (I have a thing for really nice food, okay?). Their enviable address also removes Feinberg from Chicago's rougher South Side, where Pritzker resides. This could be a pro or con, depending on your personal preferences. One argument is to serve the needy, you must be amongst them (ex: the campuses of Pritzker, USC, and Johns Hopkins). The other argument is that you'd like to be able to walk around the neighborhood at night without being assaulted.
Feinberg and its hospitals meld seamlessly into the surrounding glitz and glamour. Everything is a beautiful amalgamation of new and old, all slick steel and weather-worn stone. The exterior of Lurie Children's could pass for the storefront of an upscale mall instead of a medical facility. Their atrium was filled with saltwater aquariums, massive models of humpback whales, and murals of kelp forests. Feinberg itself is a sight to behold, as it looks like one of the old Presbyterian cathedrals scattered throughout Chicago. Its entryway contains two steepled archways with great wooden doors and intricate stonework bearing the Northwestern crest. Swanky. The neighboring Northwestern law building is similar, but shrouded in ivy and with exquisite stained-glass panels. Extra swanky.
The interview day starts at 7 am, giving an edge to the natural earlybirds. While I'm usually up and fresh as a daisy by 5:30, I staggered into the admissions office looking a little haggard. Nevertheless, there was a bountiful array of pastries and some awesome interviewees to pep me up. We segued into the interview day with a presentation by Dean Wallace who, like many of the admissions deans I have encountered, has an awesome brand if humour. Northwestern omits the conventional introductory speech about their assets in favour of a curriculum overlook and a PBL sample.
Unlike most medical schools, Northwestern's curriculum is conducted mostly via PBL (with optional lectures interspersed). As well, their PBL is not case-based, but truly "problem-based." Thus, instead of reviewing hypothetical cases and anticipating the next steps to take in regards to procedures/labs, students work to understand the nature of the diseases affecting their case patients. The curriculum is organ-based and truly integrated, with normal and pathophysiology intermixed along with longitudinal clinical programs. About half the class engages in a longitudinal preceptorship, while the other partakes in a focused experience at a local clinic. This new curriculum debuted two years ago, so the curriculum committee is eager and optimistic to see how its entrants fare during Step.
However, one of the biggest facets of the curriculum is the Area of Scholarly Concentration. While most schools will give several months to dabble in research (if any), Northwestern students conduct a longitudinal 4-year program. Though the project is open-ended and can accommodate everything from public health to bench research, current students stressed that Northwestern is a research-centric institution. While Northwestern has been enhancing their primary care offerings, with a new family medicine residency opening just a few years ago, Feinberg is definitely a haven for aspiring academics (which is a-ok by me).
Interviews consisted of two thirty-minute open file interviews with faculty members and then a 2-on-1 closed file interview with an MS4 (meaning that there are two interviewees and one interviewer). I found both my faculty interviews relaxed; one was very straight-forward and focused on my research/time management skills, while the other was rather introspective and honed in on my hobbies/"touchy-feely" parts of my personal statement. However, this was likely due to my interviewers and not because of an inherent structure to Northwestern's interviewing process. I really enjoyed my group interview; my fellow interviewee was a joy to talk with and our interviewer asked us a series of lighthearted, fun questions. It was hardly medically-related. Near the end I was instructed to just talk to my fellow interviewee... I think Northwestern wanted to see if we could be sociable and connect with an unfamiliar face. Since so much of their curriculum is based on group work, this must definitely be a priority.
Again, I bemoaned the fact that I was unable to get a host. The Northwestern student body seemed quite relaxed and pleased with their school; many of my fellow interviewees reported nothing but glowing experiences with their hosts. While most of the students I met were young and overwhelmingly Caucasian, Northwestern's stats report that a quarter of their class is non-traditional and the faculty I met were very diverse in regards to age and ethnicity.
Alas, the sparkle and shine of downtown Chicago comes at a price. Unfortunately, Northwestern lacks the subsidized housing options that most NYC schools provide. The students report no difficulty in finding housing, but single apartments in Streeterville will typically exceed $1200 per month... a modest sum for upscale city living, but hefty when compared to places like Pittsburgh or Charlottesville. A portion of the class lives in outlying neighborhoods (ex: Lincoln Park, The Loop) where rent is more affordable and commute in via subway and/or express bus. Speaking of public transit, Northwestern provides students with transit support (nice touch!). Thankfully, most of Northwestern's facilities are located in downtown Chicago and connected by corridors/tunnels, shielding poor Californian souls from the Midwestern chill. The students that had a car admitted that they never used it.
This brings me to the clinical facilities. While I was doubtful how many hospitals could be squeezed into coveted downtown real estate, the facilities appeared plentiful. The flagship hospital, Northwestern Memorial, was like a skyscraper full of medicine. Each patient room gaped out upon Chicago cityscape, while others looked over a protected field of milkweed for the Monarch butterfly migration. Northwestern also boasts the top rehabilitation program nationwide and Prentice Women's (where over 12K babies are born per year)! As per our tour guide, Prentice was built to "emulate feminine nature." The interior is full of gentle curves and rounded, organic shapes... huh. The main off-site rotation mentioned was Jesse Brown, which is the only VA hospital within Chicago, and a place current students applauded for its very hands-on rotations.
I was startled to find that Northwestern's level one trauma center accepts most of the trauma patients from the South Side. Apparently, U Chicago used to have a level one trauma center, which was shut down (despite protests) for financial reasons. In comparison, Northwestern's comparatively wealthy patient base provides the hospital with enough support to keep their trauma center open. This means that trauma patients in the South Side may have to endure a forty minute ambulance ride until they reach any of the level one centers at Rush, UIC, or Northwestern. It was disheartening to hear about the factors affecting healthcare access in Chicago, but such is the sad reality of our healthcare system. I can only hope that equal access will be restored to all of Chicago in the near future. :(
On that sobering note, I will close by saying that I was favourably impressed with Northwestern. Their PBL-heavy curriculum will likely require an adjustment on my end, but I think that their program is intuitively-structured and that group study would prove conducive to my learning habits. One of their biggest perks is their structured research program, which seems to be a real gem. As always, the location was spectacular. Fingers crossed for November.
Pros: downtown Chi-town!, longitudinal research program, pass/fail grading, support for 5th research year, PBL-based curriculum, impressive clinical facilities, lots of awesome restaurants, would not have to bring my car, emphasis on academic medicine, access to full array of specialty programs, safe/vibrant neighbourhood, mid-sized class (~150), well-developed programs for public/global health and bioethics, students appeared relaxed and happy... so so many gastropubs.
Cons: winter chill, high cost of living, patient population may be less socioeconomically diverse than at other urban schools, like Pitt failure is set as 2.25 SD below the mean (versus a set P/F mark), curriculum will only be in its third year... I may spend all my money on fancy food and shoes.
Summary of Experience:
SR 7/8 | SS 7/8 | SC 7/11 | II 8/15 | IA 9/5 | A 11/12 | WD 4/7 |
EDIT 4/7: I never thought that I'd ever turn down Sinai, so it feels kind of surreal to have done so. This school was one of the best "environment fits" I met on my trail; the student body felt very active and engaged with their community, where as some other schools I felt like the students were more detached and invested in their private lives. (This could be a pro or a con depending on your preferences). Ultimately, my decision to withdraw rested on the following: 1) the cost would have been astronomical, since I only got aid in the form of unsubsidized loans; 2) I'm heavily leaning towards the surgical subspecialites and, while Sinai has some awesome clinical offerings (esp GI and geriatrics), some of my other schools had a better rep in the surgical arena; and 3) this may be an entirely unfounded reason, but I was leery of Sinai's transition towards a 50% FlexMed class in 2016... typically, the students who enter via these early assurance programs are more likely to be young, wealthy, have physician parents, and to have gone to top-tier undergrads (not that there's anything wrong with this). I was just slightly concerned how the massive FlexMed cohort might alter Sinai's "flavour" down the road. But that's just my totally speculative $0.02.
EDIT 11/12: My heart was going a mile a minute when I got the email. I was fully expecting news on Halloween, so the first few days of November were filled with a fair share of neuroticism. Really, genuinely liked this school. It may have been due in part to the fact that my hosts (who were just plain awesome) let me stay for longer, to kill time between interviews. Loved the people I met here and loved my interview day, even if I was grimacing in pain the whole while. (Note: don't be an idiot like I was and go jogging in brand new sneakers the day before an interview and then spend the next day walking 2+ miles in heels. My feet still bear the scars from my Sinai interview.) So stoked for second look. It looks like the battle of NYC vs. SD has just commenced.
My next stop thankfully did not involve a transcontinental flight, as I only had to go thirty blocks north of Weill. While Cornell sits firmly entrenched in the UES, with a panorama of Roosevelt Island, Mount Sinai straddles the divide between white-collar UES and underserved East Harlem, and boasts an incredible view of Central Park. Its location is quite advantageous; students benefit from seeing the interesting pathologies of an academic hospital as well as the bread-and-butter cases that arise from bordering a large underserved community. This startling mix of haves and have-nots came to life the morning before my interview; the streets were clogged with news vans, hungry for news of Joan Rivers's death, while no more than a block away elderly people rummaged through recycle bins outside of a health clinic. As such, Sinai has not only a remarkable research program, but strong support for urban primary care, global health, and patient education ventures.
Upon entering the Guggenheim Pavilion, I felt as though I had stumbled upon a modern art museum. The stark walls housed large, abstract paintings and an assortment of metallic sculptures were displayed within each atrium. Most remarkably, Sinai's hospitals have dizzyingly high ceilings â€“ a rare sight in Manhattan where empty space is at an all-time premium. The Sinai complex was designed by I. M. Pei (best known for the Louvre), which is reflected in the Guggenheim's pyramidal skylight. Our tour guide said that Sinai was designed so that natural sunlight could permeate throughout the entire facility; a welcome sight for both hospitalists and bed-bound patients. Sinai is also almost entirely internally-connected, with subterranean tunnels linking the main hospital with adjacent facilities (a feature which is surely a godsend come winter).
The admissions office is located in the Annenberg Building, an austere-looking pillar of black metal that erupts out of the Pavilion. The view from the office's roost on the 13th floor is simply spectacular and clearly a good selling point for all visiting interviewees. While students labour away in the anatomy lab, wall-to-wall windows gape out across Central Park. The contrast between the formaldehyde-steeped cadavers and movie backdrop-esque Manhattan skyline was rather peculiar.
I was very fortunate to stay with a MS1 student host at Sinai. The day I arrived I found the MS1s in a slight panic about their upcoming midterm, which was about a week away. As night fell, the MS1s vacated their apartments in favour of the library and anatomy lab, where they studied until the wee hours of the night. I was initially worried by this sight, but I later learned that this was an all-too-common occurrence amongst MS1s nationwide. [At Cornell, all the medical students overstudied for their first exam, since they had no idea what to expect. At my interview I had caught them immediately post-exam, where they were pleased to find the test far easier than expected (and with a 100% pass rate).] The very next day, when Sinai MS2-4s trickled in through the interview breakfast, they laughed off this story. "Everyone does this the first month," one MS4 said, rolling their eyes. "MS1 is easy and a lot of fun. It just takes a little while to adjust in the beginning."
It was funny to see the dichotomy between the new MS1s, who were exclaiming "Medical school is SO hard! All I do is study 5+ hours a day and try not to explode!" and the seasoned upperclassmen going "Yeah, med school can be a lot of work. But it's fun and totally doable." I'm going to try to keep this in mind if I am lucky enough to be accepted to medical school, because I fear I would fall all too easily into the freshly-minted MS1 panic trap. Nevertheless, my hosts stressed that they were still able to make time for outside activities and would go to Downtown almost once a week. The first few weeks of MS1 seem like a classic study hard, party hard lifestyle.
The night before my interview, for their study break, we trekked into Harlem and got some superb Mexican food (and got complimentary drinks that featured the intriguing mix of tamarind and tequila). I had quite possibly the best quesadilla known to man. It was a religious experience.
Unlike Cornell, Sinai appeared to have a much younger demographic, due in part to the HuMed program. This will become even more pronounced as the Flex Med early entrance program debuts its first students (which will comprise almost half the class!) during fall 2016. However, the current students assured me the HuMed students quickly integrated into the regular populace and were not insular. While it was great to be around people my own age, all happy to return to an academic setting, I was hoping I'd get to interact with more non-trads as well. Thankfully, the class appeared to be as ethnically diverse as Cornell. While I am from an over-represented ethnicity, I don't think I'd be happy attending a medical school with a homogenous student body.
Just like the new students, the elder Sinai-ers were quite amicable and eager to talk about their school. They praised the accessibility of the researchers and clinicians. "No undergrads!" They chorused. "People are practically begging for you to research/shadow." It was also nice to see MS3+ers, rather than the M1-2s I had seen at my previous interviews, since we were able to learn much more about the mysterious clinical years. The general consensus was that Sinai's clerkships were phenomenal. They are receptive to change and remove any attending with poor student reviews from the teaching program. My MS4 interviewer, who was a delight to talk to, exclaimed that she delivered over 15 babies on her OB rotation â€“ even one on the first day.
This leads me to the interviews themselves; the day started with an informal group discussion with Dr. Parkas, the assistant dean of admissions, who essentially began her introduction by asking "What do you want to talk about?" We ended up discussing some of the personal/professional challenges of physician-ship after Dr. Parkas relayed an anecdote about her struggles with a difficult patient. It was a lovely talk, but I think some interviewees thought this was a chance for them to come out of the gate hard and strong, as they kept trying to interject their opinion into the conversation at every possible moment. This was all too prominent in our icebreaker, where the "fun fact" everyone shared about themselves related to some grand accomplishment. It was very intimidating, because I could in no way compete with their achievements, so I decided to share a fact about my research instead of the more personable "I took sushi making classes during the summer!" tidbit I was planning to share. In hindsight, I shouldn't have been psyched out by the interviewees and talked about sushi instead...
However, as the day went by, I think everyone softened up. Not only were these people academic powerhouses, but they were also quite friendly. I was able to have some fun conversations and regretted not trying to engage in non-EC related discussion earlier in the day. It was just interesting to be a part of an interviewee group that was less at ease than my groups at UCI/Cornell, especially when the Sinai upperclassmen were all so remarkably mellow. I guess it just boils down to chance and chemistry.
However, when my hosts said that Sinai had the chillest interviews, they were not lying. The interviews are done between 9:30-11:30, where all the interviewees sit in a holding tank with fruit parfaits/coffee, while current students filter in and out. Periodically, interviewees would be called out of the tank for a thirty minute interview with either a MS4 or a faculty member. There are two interviews per person and a strict half-hour each, since the interviewers for the day have to string each interview back-to-back with another. Both were very, very conversational and allowed for me to direct the discussion. The interviewers seemed to be more concerned whether I could hold a conversation and were possibly testing to see if I'd be a good personality fit for Sinai. However, both interviewers had read my application/LORs and had a few pre-prepared questions. While pleasant, the interviews felt less "intimate" than UCI/Cornell's since they were held in a generic interview room (rather than in someone's personal office) and conducted in almost a speed-dating fashion.
The opportunities at Sinai seemed plentiful. Dean Parkas alluded that the school wanted to become more involved in primary care, which is likely why they emphasized the LCE (longitudinal clinical experience) and entirely student-run clinic (EHHOP; East Harlem Health Outreach Program). Global health opportunities were also bountiful, with language courses in Spanish, Mandarin, and Creole. As with Cornell, there is an open-ended mandatory research project, which can take place in the lab, clinic, or abroad. The tour guides reported that close to 100% of all students conduct research their first summer and one-third take a fifth year for scholarly pursuits. We even met one MS4 who was using his fifth year to get an MPH at Harvard, so it is by no means a basic research-centric option.
Since Sinai likes to balance both the arts and sciences, there are a number of humanities electives (ex: improv acting, narrative medicine, creative writing, art sessions at the Guggenheim!). Student wellness is huge, as seen in the FlexTime perk; students only have 2 hours of lecture each Tuesday, allowing them to pursue outside interests... or finally do laundry. Again, I found the offerings to be very reminiscent of Cornell. If I could boil things down, I would market Sinai as "Like Cornell, but with a 2-year preclinical and now with more primary care flavour!" Funny enough, all the students parroted what was said on Cornell's day: "If you go to a med school, make sure it is TRUE pass/fail." If two schools in a row make a point of saying this, totally unprompted, I'm guessing it's true.
However, Sinai's greatest asset is its hospital network. Sinai recently outbid NYU, acquiring the Continuum healthcare system, thus crowning themselves the largest health network in NYC. The new hospital sites (St. Luke's, Beth Israel, NY Eye & Ear, etc.) are quickly being incorporated into clinical rotations. Aside from Sinai's medical center, the pride and joy of their clerkship program is Elmhurst â€“ a public hospital in Queens with the most diverse patient population in the US.
However, some would argue Sinai's biggest selling point are the blue coffee thermoses they give first years at orientation. The thermoses allow the students to get free, unlimited coffee/tea at the hospital and a local Starbucks. But if lost or stolen, Sinai will not replace the thermos. Allegedly, they sell for upwards of $800 on the black market to caffeine-seeking residents.
Overall, I left Sinai pleased and impressed. Again, if I am lucky enough to be accepted, I think a huge deciding factor will be the mix of people I meet at second look. Since Sinai students have likely the best housing of all NYC schools (guaranteed all 4 years, enormous 4 or 6 person suites, brand new workout room, ~$700 per month), all students live within Aron Hall together. It's a close-knit, undergrad-esque community... which is actually a huge draw. Nevertheless, the "fit" aspect is paramount. I'm certain Sinai will draw in a stellar, collaborative class, but I really want to be certain that I would feel at home with my new comrades.
Decisions come out "sometime" in October. I'm not going to be able to sleep easy once the 15th hits. This is a school I think I would be very happy at, so I'm hoping for the best.
Pros: NYC (yaaaasss), well-rounded focus on research and urban primary care, unranked P/F, ability to take exams at home!, support for scholarly fifth year, advantageous location, arguably the best living situation, enormous breadth of clinical sites, quirky Nexus electives, free membership to 92nd Street YMCA, awesome thermoses, FlexTime, solid board scores (average is just shy of 240). Aesthetics shouldn't matter, but I love their cyan/magenta logo.
Oh, and the hospital cafeteria has a sushi bar. You heard me right. A sushi bar.
Cons: curriculum is still rather new (will be in its 3rd year for class of 2019), student body is on the younger side, new clinical sites may not have all the kinks worked out, traditional curriculum, fewer biomedical engineering opportunities due to lack of undergrad affiliations, (again, kind of grasping for cons)... Aron Hall is right next to the train tracks?
Curriculum: unranked pass/fail for preclinicals, two year preclinical, foundational principles year 1, organ-system with integrated normal/pathophysiology year 2, video recorded lectures, dissection-based anatomy.
Summary of Experience:
SR 7/2 | SS 7/14 | SC 7/14 | II 7/17 | IA 9/10 | A 10/16 | WD 10/30 |
EDIT 10/30: Now with two UC acceptances, there's no way I can rationalize the OOS sticker price here. UVA's student body was definitely one of my favourites and the NextGen curriculum seems amazing, but I'm going to let this one go. Couldn't see myself in Cville or doing 20+ weeks of away rotations. I promised myself I wouldn't be an acceptance hoarder (as much as I love all the places I've gotten into), so I'm going to try my damnedest to set my extra schools free.
EDIT 10/16: No way. Super shocked by their decision, as these were definitely my worst interviews thus far. Just goes to show you how little post-interview self-analysis matters. Thank you so much UVA!
I was a little taken aback when I found out my final flight into Charlottesville would be via a twelve-seater propellor plane. The flight attendants were forced to strategically seat all eight passengers and luggage so that the weight would be evenly distributed over the pygmy-sized fuselage. Despite my initial fears, the flight went without a hitch. As the plane began its decent, I was able to watch Cville unfurl before me. The land was rich emerald green â€“ lushly forested and mostly uninhabited. Upon entering the airport, I wondered what terminal I was at. How would my shuttle know where to pick me up at if I did not specify the terminal? But then it dawned on me: the airport was just one very small terminal.
Some time later, I was picked up and whisked off to the Cavalier Inn by their courtesy shuttle. The "freeway" into Charlottesville was more of a two-lane street and each big, clapboard home that bordered the roadway had to have been at least a quarter of a mile away from each of its neighbours. Everywhere, trees sprawled out across hills and gullies, blotting out the horizon. Sparing my occasional drives through the Central Valley or to Vegas, I had never been somewhere so empty and consumed by nature. It was eerily beautiful.
The driver was an inordinately friendly lady from the surrounding countryside, who provided her thoughts on Charlottesville the whole trip, since I was the only passenger. When I remarked how rural Cville appeared, she rolled her eyes. "You think this is the country? Charlottesville is a city! I live 45 minutes from here... you oughta see my town. Now that's real country."
Cville began to progressively grow more and more residential as I neared UVA. It is a true college town in every sense of the word: if you look at an areal view of Cville on Google maps, almost a quarter of the city is occupied by UVA grounds (and proud Hoos will be quick to tell you that it is the "grounds" and not "campus"). The Cavalier Inn is actually within UVA property and cost a respectable ~$70 per night with the UVA interviewee discount. Alas, I was unable to get a host in time for my interview... a really pity, as I soon found the UVA student populace to be some of the liveliest and friendliest individuals I have met thus far.
The day before my interview, I set off to roam the UVA grounds. Unlike the relatively new, neo-modern campuses I had seen thus far, UVA was a truly different breed. Stately manors made of red brick and braced by snow-white Doric columns filled the campus, the russet of the brick contrasting magnificently with the deep green turf. As Jefferson's "Academical Village," each structure had some grand piece of history attached to it. I found it hard to believe that these places were actual lecture halls, libraries, residence halls, and restaurants. Secret gardens were scattered throughout the campus, contained within undulating brick walls and thick with the scent of magnolia. Unfortunately, Thomas Jefferson's famous Rotunda (a UNESCO world heritage site) was undergoing renovations, spoiling my carefully-planned Instagram photo op and chance at history geekery.
The most fascinating aspect of the UVA campus was the Lawn (capital L, thank you very much), which stretches from the Rotunda to the very elegant Old Cabell Hall. A number of dormitories look out upon the lawn, all situated within two long, squat barracks. The Lawn rooms are supposed to house some of UVA's finest senior undergraduates and it is considered a great honour to serve as a Lawn resident. Each dormitory had a rocking chair shackled to the exterior doorway, which students would use to lounge about in, enjoying the balmy Southern air.
The UVA medical center, which is attached to the undergrad grounds, featured the same brick-and-pillar motif, but with a bit more modern flair. All the hospitals: UVA medical (the home base), the Battle Building (a brand new children's hospital), the Emily Couric cancer center (also shiny new), and numerous other facilities huddled within a square mile of one another. The cylindrical-shaped Claude Moore building, which houses the medical school and its associated facilities, was dazzlingly new. Its basement level houses one of the largest and most elaborate simulation centers worldwide, with a number of procedure rooms, an OR, a delivery room, and even a trauma bay.
Southern hospitality does exist. The admissions office had the sound of twittering birds piped into the interview waiting room, to ease our pre-interview nerves, and the woman who ran the front desk was literally (and I am not hyperbolically using that word) the sweetest person I have ever met. Our interviewee crowd was overwhelmingly female and had a good mix of students from the west, midwest, and southeast. Surprisingly, UVA was the first school we all interviewed at that didn't hand out interview folders or free swag... but we would soon find out that their funds were invested in an even better treat... the famous UVA lunch.
After a lively speech by the charismatic Dr. Marzani-Nissen (who wowed us by recalling our names, undergrad, and hometowns by memory), I was sold on UVA's NextGen curriculum. It's a 1.5 year preclinical, with both lecture and team-based learning, but with a bit of a twist. The curriculum is structured to be as patient-centric as possible; before each block, patients and their families come in to talk about their personal experiences with a disease relating to the subject at hand. Our tour guide said there is often not a single dry eye in the lecture hall. This case-based format reminds students of why they are studying the minutiae of a metabolic pathway or labouring over chromosome maps (ex: they just had a family with two children that had PKU come in and the students were able to sample the revolting-tasting dietary shakes the children have to take). Everything is for the patient. In addition, these introductory vignettes expose students to specialties they normally would not encounter until fourth year elective time. Anatomy is introduced later in the cycle when students begin the musculoskeletal block, "because cutting open a dead person doesn't do much for cultivating empathy," Dr. Marzani stated.
UVA was also the first school to have mandatory community service for first years. Students often continue with service ventures they did in undergrad (Cville even has a charity that caters to the absurdly rare volunteer work I did) or pick up entirely new projects. Volunteer gigs included coaching sports teams for disadvantaged kids, serving as a translator/interpreter, working with inmates, and whatever else you could possibly dream up. UVA has a free clinic that mainly serves the migrant workers who come to work at Virginia's apple and cherry orchards. It's not as autonomous as some of the other free clinics I have seen, but UVA states the oversight makes the clinic even stronger than if it were solely student-run. Cville is also an international refugee site, drawing in families from Bosnia, Myanmar, Rwanda, and many others. The patient population is surprisingly diverse for being such a small, remote city.
Research is encouraged but not forced, as there is no scholarly project. UVA offers a wide array of dual degree programs, ranging from masters in bioethics to JD. Global opportunities are also plentiful; about 20% of the fourth year class will be going to Guatemala for clinic work and Spanish language immersion, thanks to the flexibility of the NextGen curriculum. In addition, fourth years are encouraged to do a number of away/audition rotations in the speciality of the their choice and there seems to be a great deal of administrative support for securing such opportunities. What was unfortunately not touched upon was the fact that third years are often required to spend upwards of 24 weeks on away rotations. Room and board is covered, but due to the smallness of Cville, it seems students have to vagabond all over Virginia. Ouch. This could be a pro or a con, depending on your personal preferences.
Our tour guides were actually MS4s (a first!) and were obviously able to answer all our questions about both the preclinical and clinical years. I really appreciate it when schools allow you to have access to their senior students; too often you are inundated with curriculum info and miss out on the most important part of your education... the clinical years. While our tour guides held UVA's rotations in high esteem, particularly their very friendly surgery department, they admitted rural rotations could be a mixed bag. Overall, they seemed like a laid-back and fun-loving sort; our tour guides said they bonded closely with the students in their advisory colleges and would often go out to local festivals and vineyards for fun. Funny enough, going four for four with my OOS interviews, the first word out of their mouths was "Go pass/fail!" (Irvine, you gotta step up your game). Long story short: UVA definitely seems like a school that prioritizes student wellness.
The highlight of our day was the lunch. Seriously, if you're invited to UVA and have second thoughts... go. Not only was the school delightful, but their catering was legendary. We ate at the Garden Cafe on campus, a sit-down restaurant, which had an all-you-can eat buffet. I gorged myself on rosemary-seasoned pork tenderloin with a dark chocolate tart for dessert. Others got amazing peach cobblers. It was divine.
My interviews, unfortunately, were probably the most stressful that I've encountered so far. To end the day, you get two 30-minute open file interviews with a faculty member or MS4... it was exactly the same as Sinai's format where, ironically enough, I had my most relaxed interviews. My sessions started off conversationally and the segued into a fifteen-minute grilling session with lots of obscure ethical scenarios and prying personal questions. The interviewers did not go out of bounds, but I did not really appreciate how one insinuated that my parents must have coddled me all throughout college. (If they had read my greatest challenge prompt they would have known otherwise -___-). Another one had all the hours for my activities written down and was asking how I arrived at exact numbers (uh, I have a timecard?). None of the other students who had my interviewers felt this way, so I may have either been unlucky or simply need to toughen up. :( While both interviewers were personable, the experience left a sour taste in my mouth.
Slightly more concerning than my interviews was Charlottesville itself. Considering the fact that I found Pittsburgh to be small, Cville's ruralness was startling. Though the current students insisted that there was no end of things to do in artsy, up-and-coming Charlottesville, I found its offerings to be somewhat lacking. The two biggest hotspots "The Corner," a collection of shops and restaurants bordering UVA, and "Downtown Mall," a pedestrian shopping/eating center, were actually quite small. You could walk from end-to-end of both in about 5 minutes. While I would be thrilled to attend UVA, I think the small-town life would be a much harder sell. For whatever reason, I felt much more at home in bustling, brusque NYC than I did in good 'ol "Hooville." Pittsburgh seemed like a good compromise between the two, but I guess I'll have to see who likes me back. The great (and terrible) thing about medical school is that you may not get what you expect. As such, the best you can do is to go in with an open mind and adapt as need be.
Because UVA admissions are on the ball, decisions will be released promptly on October 16th. I'm hopeful, but given my seriously sub-par interviews, a straight rejection would not be a surprise. C'est la vie.
Pros: NextGen curriculum (seriously amazing), unranked p/f, active, happy student body, low cost of living, so so so many electives, accommodation for audition rotations in 4th year, ample time to explore different specialties, well-integrated team-based learning program, opportunities for 5th research year, collaborative relationship with UVA undergrad, drop-dead gorgeous campus, extensive simulation program, unique volunteering requirement... lots of vineyards in surrounding area yeaaaahh.
Cons: Charlottesville may not grow on me, very expensive for OOS with basically no chance of acquiring IS status, lots of rural away rotations during third year, will likely be required to bring my own car (I can't imagine bumming rides the whole time for away rotations), may not fit in with the Jefferson-worshiping culture, UVA medical center is a bit small due to the location... Pittsburgh had better crepes.
Curriculum: unranked p/f for preclinicals, 1.5 year preclinical, hybrid lecture-PBL curriculum, first half of year one covers basics, second half of year one though first half of second year covers organ blocks, dissection-based anatomy, entirely elective 4th year (!!!), one month for step 1 prep.
Summary of Experience:
SR 7/14 | SS 7/15 | SC 7/15 | II 7/17 | IA 8/25 | A 10/25 | WD 10/30 |
EDIT 10/30: Had to be very honest with myself, but I definitely prefer San Diego over Orange County. The staff at UCI were phenomenal and I had some truly exceptional interviewers. However, I feel that I'd be happier under UCSD's strict P/F system and UCI just didn't have the research-heavy emphasis I was looking for. Farewell, UCI. I am sure our paths will cross in the future.
EDIT 10/25: In-state love is so, so sweet. Very grateful to UCI for this opportunity. It looks like I'll have some hard decisions to make in the near future. Zot zot!
â€œIâ€™m not in LA anymore,â€ I whispered, as I merged onto the 605. â€œThe roads are wider and cleanerâ€¦ but thereâ€™s still traffic!â€ Thatâ€™s right, I reminded myself. Iâ€™m in the OC.
The night before my interview I checked into the Ayres Hotel, a sumptuous establishment whose self-described â€œEuropean-styledâ€ aesthetic looked more â€œSoCal mini-mansion.â€ It was quintessential Orange County. Everything was done up in tasteful shades of beige; elegant arrays of nautical-inspired artwork and exquisitely detailed model ships flanked the hallways. For being â€œEuropean-styledâ€ the Ayres was certainly not European-sized. After my long drive, the plushy king-sized bed and airy bedroom were a welcome change. I promptly stripped down to my underpants, ran a few laps around my gargantuan room, and binged on protein bars and HBO to quell my nerves until the pre-interview dinner.
If you stay at the Ayres Hotel, there is a complimentary shuttle service that will do airport, dinner, and interview pickup/drop-off. Renting a car is not necessary. The Ayres also offers a UCI reduced rate of ~$100 per night.
The pre-interview dinner was held at a pizzeria and hosted by several MS2s, who were all exceptionally affable. I appreciated their enthusiasm about UCIâ€™s pros as well as their brutal honesty about its cons (namely the 80% required attendance). It was very casual and basically a means of speaking with current students. Roughly 20 interviewees showed up and quickly began to break into small clusters for conversation. Once the applicants settled in and the â€œawkward small-talk thresholdâ€ was breached, everyone revealed themselves to be extremely sociable and accomplished. Blessedly, no gunners gunned.
So onto the student-voiced pros and consâ€¦ The oft-mentioned pro: location, location, location. Most medical students were native Southern Californians and appreciated the sunny, suburban locale and proximity to their families. However, they unanimously recommended living in Newport Beach (~10 min drive from Irvine) for its coastline and social scene. â€œAfter a test we just go to the beach,â€ One MS2 enthused. â€œHow many other med schools can let you do that?â€ Another MS2 had a hard time grasping for positive things to say about Irvine itself â€“ the adjectives that cropped up were â€œsafe,â€ â€œexpensive,â€ and â€œboring.â€
Other pros included the digitalized curriculum (iPads for all and Google Glass for clerkships!) and integrated ultrasound curriculum. The MS2s stated about half their class went abroad during the summer to teach healthcare providers in developing nations how to use ultrasound. Cons mainly focused upon the mandatory attendance policy, which they say may budge to a 50% mandate following student appeals. On the flip side, the mandatory attendance policy cultivated a very close-knit class, since students from UCIâ€™s already small class (~100 total) were forced to spend at least four hours a day together. Though the preclinical years are internally ranked and second year is honours/pass/fail, every MS2 I spoke with insisted peer-to-peer competition was at a minimum. â€œHonours lets those people who want to do the competitive specialties prove themselves,â€ Our pizza host said, trying to reassure me. â€œYou pick your own pace here.â€
However, the largest con (in my book) is the fact the medical school and its teaching hospital are separate. The medical school is located on the periphery of the undergraduate campus in Irvine, while UCI Medical Center is situated 30 minutes away in the city of Orange. As such, most students leave Newport/Irvine and move closer to Orange following their preclinical years. The students said this was necessary, since the OC does not have a county hospital. UCI's hospital in Orange serves the northern OCâ€™s large indigent population and underserved Asian/Latino immigrant communities. The MS2s mentioned they hardly went to the medical center their first year, save for one student who went there for a clinical research project that eventually fizzled out. Ouch. The required attendance doesnâ€™t bother me as someone who maintained perfect attendance in undergrad (yes, Iâ€™m a rare soul), but as someone who has spent 5+ years commuting, I wish both campuses were contiguous.
I highly recommend attending the pre-interview dinner; I entered feeling nervous about my upcoming interview and left feeling excited for the day ahead of me. The MS2s repeatedly stressed how low-key the interview day itself was, but warned us that we may have to take a shuttle to the off-site medical center for our faculty interview. (Possibly something to keep in mind if you are flying out of Irvine that night). I returned to the Ayres with a lot fewer worries and with a stomach full of veggie pizza.
The interview day started with the requisite curriculum, financial aid, and admissions talks, which basically summarized what the MS2s had told us the night before. Upon starting the day interviewees were also given handfuls of anteater-emblazoned swag. We even were given white coats to try on, so UCI could get our sizesâ€¦ o___o I thought it was a little premature, but Iâ€™m hoping itâ€™s a good sign for my fellow interviewees and I. Despite this interview being the first of UCIâ€™s cycle, the day flowed seamlessly and the admissions officials were very amiable. Their efficiency was quite impressive, considering UCI hosts about 40 applicants per interview date.
Obviously, there was heavy Californian representation amongst the applicants; about half came from UCs â€“ with a pretty even split between Nor and So Cal â€“ while the other half were OC natives who had left to attend Ivy schools. The longest time any one applicant had taken off post-graduation was three years and there was only one Latino individual. It felt odd to be surrounded by so many young, Asian/Caucasian applicants, especially since I had attended an undergrad with an average age of 27 and where over 60% of all students identified as [email protected] and/or African American.
Unfortunately, due to the separate medical center, we were only able to tour the medical education building. UCIâ€™s health science campus contains a number of shiny research buildings that encircle a gardened quad. (Be sure to check out Hitachiâ€™s Plumwood center, which is covered in opalescent pale-pink tiles and looks marvellous in the sunlight). The medical school itself consists of twin four-storey glass-and-concrete buildings, which house a number of study rooms, a spacious lounge, and SIM center. Currently, the fourth floors are being renovated to accommodate a permanent ultrasound training facility. Our tour guide informed us that the area is almost always quiet and receives very little undergrad traffic â€“ which was certainly the case on our idyllic interview day. A few MS2s scuttled to and from the cafeteria after their lecture, but by and large the campus was empty.
UCIâ€™s crown jewel was simply the people. At every step of the interview process, the faculty went to great lengths to ease our nerves. My first interview â€“ with an MS2 â€“ was more or less a casual conversation. UCI appeared to do an excellent job of pairing students up with people of similar backgrounds and both my interviewers had read my application. Unfortunately, since all the MS3-4s reside in Orange, I was unable to get any first-hand accounts regarding the clinical years.
Following my student interview, the applicants were rounded up and introduced to a new aspect of the interview day: the â€œstructured interview.â€ While I cannot divulge specifics, it was essentially a single 8-minute MMI station. I actually enjoyed the spontaneity of my structured interview; the prompt was open-ended and the interviewer I interacted with was receptive to my answers.
My faculty interviewer was with a soft-spoken, thoughtful professor. Once again, UCI partnered me up with someone who had a similar background; after discussing my research at length, they started to ask more reflective, personal questions. My interviewer was very pleasant and applauded me on the realistic expectations I had of physician-ship. I think they were used to being inundated by starry-eyed premeds, so they wanted to make sure I acknowledged some of the difficulties facing modern medicine. We discussed the future of healthcare, but (thankfully) did not dive into the nitty-gritty, economic aspects. My interviewer spoke highly of UCIâ€™s conservative approach towards the curriculum, by gradually introducing PBL, and the prospect of conducing basic research thanks to the medical school's relationship with the undergrad campus.
Before I knew it the interview day was over and I found myself back on the congested OC freeways. I havenâ€™t yet been able to fully process my experience and will not know if I performed poorly or well until Halloween, which is when I will either be accepted or condemned to alternate list purgatory (â€œNo update letters until May!â€ The dean pleaded). Nevertheless, I left UCI feeling energized by my fellow interviewees and the staff I had interacted with. Beyond the new cities and schools I will encounter along the interview trail, I think I am even more excited about all the new people I will meet.
Fingers crossed for Halloween; I think Iâ€™d fit in well with UCIâ€™s thoroughly Californian ethos. The location, price, and personable staff make this school a very logical choice. I only wish I stayed with a student host, as I was unable to get a grasp of the "flavour/culture" that permeated UCI. If I am lucky enough to be accepted, I think second look will be a major deciding factor.
Pros: proximity to the beach, well-developed ultrasound curriculum, iMed Education initiative, collaborative relationship with undergrad campus (results in strong immunology, cancer biology, and neuro research), ability to take a 5th year for research, every specialty represented at UCI health center, medical Spanish electives, hybrid lecture-PBL curriculum, in-state tuition, closeness to home, very warm, welcoming people!
Cons: high cost of living, H/P/F grading year 2, internal ranking, separate hospital (hullo commuting), inability to select clerkship rotation order, mandatory attendance.
Curriculum: regular physiology year 1, pathophysiology year 2, dissection-based anatomy, 8 weeks for step 1 prep, combination of traditional lecture/team-based learning/"flipped classroom."
Summary of Experience:
SR 6/27 | SS 6/30 | SC 7/15 | II 8/13 | IA | A 3/11 | WD 4/12 |
EDIT 4/12: Yet another school I never imagined myself withdrawing from. Nothing but mad respect for Cornell but, much like Sinai, they would have cost me an arm and a leg to attend. I felt this school really catered to my interests (research, academic medicine, specialization) and had a very well-curated class to boot. Seriously, the students I met here were some of my favourites and I know wherever I end up that I'll still look back and wonder what a life at Cornell would have brought me... oh well, there's always residency I suppose?
EDIT 3/11: Got a text from Sunflower18 asking if I got accepted to Cornell. Heart pounding, I flipped to my inbox. 9 unread messages. Spam. Weird alumni newsletter. Advertisement for $20 lavender honey. Frantic email from coworker. Finaid reminder from Sinai. Receipt from Sigma Aldrich. And there â€“ in between more spam and rejection form Stanford â€“ was an acceptance. Elated. Love you lots, Weill.
While my interview trail began in the costal Southwest, my second stop was the costal Northeast. Admittedly, NYC was just as hot as Irvine, with humidity to boot, as I was "lucky" enough to catch one of the dying summer's last heat waves. However, as I worked my way from JFK to Weill Cornell, I found myself becoming utterly smitten New York... taxi exhaust, suffocating crowds, muggy subway stations, and all. Long at last, I found a breed of pedestrian that walked just as fast as I did.
I had been to New York before when I was a tween, but I was too young to appreciate the history and scale of the city. While I have been fortunate enough to have lived in urban locales across the US and abroad, NYC is truly a singular place. The sheer size, population density, cost of living, and cultural richness is unparalleled by most other American cities, which presents its medical force with a whole host of unique challenges (el oh el Columbia prompt). I must concede that Irvine is a much more "livable" location in the long-term, thanks to New York's obscene housing prices and Byzantine rent control policies. Suburban localities also afford the ability for me to keep my car, which provides a sense of privacy and security. However, I am thoroughly enamoured with NYC and, after pouring a substantial chunk of my income into petrol/auto insurance, am more than willing to convert to becoming a full-time public transit user. I'm sure, if I am fortunate enough to be accepted to a NYC school, the rosy tint would slowly begin to ebb away with the cruel Northeastern winter. But for now, I almost want to hazard to say that I (gasp) prefer NY over LA.
Fortunately, I scheduled my NYC interviews with enough buffer between my flights to explore the city. Weill Cornell is situated in the "lower" Upper East Side, which is a very well-to-do part of Manhattan. The streets were lined with freshly-renovated townhomes (with undoubtably astronomical rent) and I saw plenty of children in prep school blazers being ushered about by nannies. The immediate area surrounding Cornell receives less hustle and bustle than Downtown, which meant I was able to sleep perfectly soundly... even though I was less than a block from a major hospital. Thankfully, Cornell's guaranteed housing and heavily subsidized rent (~$750/month, utilities and all!) makes student living in the UES possible.
Cornell's presence dominates their quadrant of the UES. Sleek, modern research buildings pepper the surrounding streets, their doorways bearing Cornell's shield. In addition, Cornell's Tri-Institutional affiliates (the Holy Trinity of Cornell, Sloan Kettering, and Rockefeller) are no more than a block or so from the medical school. Not to be neglected, the Hospital for Special Surgery, a leader in orthopaedics, rheumatology, and sports medicine, is physically connected to New York Presbyterian. The area also seems to be under perpetual construction; aside from NY Pres and the student housing, the bulk of Cornell's education and research buildings were sparkling new. The foyer in the new Greenberg Center exuded opulence; waiting rooms housed oil paintings of some of Cornell's greats and there was even a massive indoor fountain. While touring the SIM center and standardized patient rooms, the interviewees and I stopped to gawk at an open bathroom. Seriously, it was probably one of the prettiest public bathrooms I have ever seen... not that this should be a deciding factor in your medical school choice haha. If you have some time in-between interviews, check out the patio on the second floor of the Belfer building and buy one of the cafe's $1 bagels. It's a lovely little slice of greenery in the midst of multi-storey towers. One lot adjacent from Olin Hall (the first year housing) had been cleared for yet another glossy Cornell building.
Olin lacked much of the newer buildings' grandeur, though I found the student rooms generously-sized for New York. The units are private but have a Jack-and-Jill bathroom that links two bedrooms. There is a lounge and kitchen shared between each floor. Following first year, the vast majority of students move into Lasdon, which is apartment styled (versus Olin's dorm-esque vibe). My student host was a veritable saint and answered every possible question I had about Weill Cornell and the application process in general. I can say nothing but good things about my host experience.
I regret not staying with a host at Irvine, because I believe that's how an interviewee can best get a feel for the "culture" of the student body. Everyone on the interview trail has highlighted the importance of the intangibles -- that elusive "fit." Unfortunately, the "fit" often does not come through until second look. My host remarked that their interview day at Cornell was pleasant, but that the school did not sell itself as well as some other schools. However, upon attending second look, they knew Weill was the right place. If I am lucky enough to be accepted to either school, I know I will definitely attend second look.
My host was a fascinating individual (highly-skilled researcher, extensive international experience, musician) and seemed to be representative of the talented people that call Cornell home. Despite the small class (101 people, 18 of which are MD-PhD), my host said there was incredible diversity in socioeconomic status, ethnicity, country/state of origin, academic background, talents, and age. Roughly one quarter of the class took over four years off following their bachelor's degree.
I was worried Cornell's students would subscribe to the fast-paced, stereotypical East Coast mentality, but they were quick to disprove that stereotype. Everyone praised Cornell for its flexibility (unranked P/F, PBL-esque finals, strong support for extra curricular involvement) though they admitted the new 1.5 year curriculum would (understandably) be more time-consuming and intense. "If you can take one thing away from today, it is to attend a pass/fail school," Our tour guide cautioned. "Even if it isn't Cornell, go strict P/F."
PBL sessions do have mandatory attendance, so if that ain't yo thang, move along. So far there have been no major hiccups with the new curriculum and the staff appear to have been regarding the change with a great deal of optimism and enthusiasm. "New curriculum, new buildings!" They exclaimed. Personally, I am thrilled with the new curriculum. As someone who has a strong science background, is research-oriented, and uncertain of their specialty choice, the shortened preclinical enables much more time for exploration. Cornell is also incorporating "areas of concentration," which are essentially structured, scholarly projects in an area of interest... think "senior thesis." Students get 6-9 months of focused time to devote to their project, whether it be population studies, bench research, public health, bioethics, or whatever your little heart desires.
Clinical rotations can be done in any one of 12 hospitals all throughout New York, while the main location is the cathedral-like NY Presbyterian. Despite the fact that NY Pres is in the extremely affluent UES and primarily an academic hospital, Cornell students encounter a very diverse patient population and have access to one of the few level I trauma centers in NYC. Rotations in the Bronx's Lincoln Memorial are also highly recommended for ER and surgery. Students report there is boundless funding for trips to developing nations (largely Haiti, India, and Tanzania) and their Human Rights program, which teaches students how to conduct forensic medical evaluations and write affidavits for asylum-seekers, is unbeatable. They have a 100% success rate for those who come seeking asylum! Oh, and there's also the Music in Medicine program, if that floats your boat. A lot of these things aren't advertised on the interview, but thanks to my host I was able to learn plenty.
Much like the laid-back student body, my two faculty interviewers were also very relaxed and conversational. They seemed much more interested in talking about quirky aspects of my research and determining if I would be a good "fit" for Cornell than dissecting my application. Both had read my application quite thoroughly and I believe they had also seen my stats. Current students did warn that Cornell has a few stress interviewers, though none of those fabled interviewers had been interviewing on my day.
Cornell also has AM and PM interviews. If you opt for AM, you'll likely arrive at the admissions office, receive your interview packet, and then book it straight to an 9 am interview. For earlybirds, this is an excellent choice, since allows for you to relax throughout the afternoon tours and talks without upcoming interviews preying upon your mind.
My interview day was substantially smaller than UCI's, with 16 students split between AM and PM interviews. There was heavy elite school representation, with an even divide between northeastern-ers and Californians. As with my previous interview, everyone seemed very personable and accomplished. In fact, two other people there had also been at my Irvine interview day, proving once again that the pre-med world is a small, small world. Now, when I leave interviews, I find myself wondering why I didn't meet people this awesome while I was in undergrad. (I know it may be because "everyone is on their best behaviour," but I'm inclined to think that these people were just inherently fantastic).
Long story short: I think Cornell is going to break my heart. I found myself hopelessly in love with the school; as someone who aspires to break into academic medicine, I think I would be like a kid in a candy store with Weill's ample research connections. The faculty also seem like the kind of people who actively seek out students and, due to lack of undergrads in the surrounding institutions, opportunities abound. Most tellingly, Cornell has a very active, supportive alumni body, so they must be doing something right.
March is so, so far away.
Pros: New York City (everything in walking distance!), shortened preclinical, unranked pass/fail, unbeatable connections via Tri-I, subsidized housing, strong research support (forging connections with Ithaca's engineering students), main focus on academic medicine, tuition-free fifth year for research, Human Rights program, need-based financial aid (no merit scholarships), emphasis on internationalism (centrally located, globally minded), beautifully diverse student body, preceptorships/longitudinal patient program sprinkled throughout preclinical years.
Cons: class of 2019 will only be the second year on the new curriculum, high cost of living, subway station is several blocks away, Northeastern humid summers/harsh winters, a fair portion of mandatory PBL seminars, fewer primary care opportunities (I'm not too interested in PC, but if that's your thing you may be disappointed)... I'm really grasping for cons here... Olin doesn't have bathtubs?
Curriculum: hybrid lecture/PBL, mixed normal/abnormal physiology, dissection-based anatomy, weekly quizzes are multiple choice and board-style, ability to take Step 1 whatever time you please (before, during, or after clinical rotations).
Summary of Experience:
SR 7/3 | SS 7/3 | SC 7/18 | "Eligible for interview" 7/22 | II 8/21 | IA 9/26 | A 10/15 | WD 10/27 |
EDIT 10/27: I honestly never thought I'd be in this situation. However, with three other acceptances in hand â€“ to a cheaper state school, an equally-expensive P/F local school, and another expensive P/F OOS school â€“ I could not rationalize prolonging someone's wait on the waitlist. Don't get me wrong; UCF is an utterly brilliant school. However, I know I would be unhappy under a letter graded preclinical curriculum and Orlando just isn't the city for me. It may be a perfect fit for some, but it's just not my cup of tea. It hurt to withdraw, but in the end I felt like it was the right thing to do. Au revoir, UCF.
EDIT 10/15: Oh my goodness â€“ this was a real surprise! I'm just overwhelmed by the attentiveness of the staff and very grateful to squeeze into their OOS acceptance pile. I could write a long, soppy love letter all about how phenomenal the staff were during my visit here. This school is going places.
â€œWhere are you going?â€ The kid asked. â€œTo an interview.â€ I replied. â€œAn interview?â€ He furrowed his brow. â€œThatâ€™s boring. Iâ€™m going to Disney World!â€ â€œShouldnâ€™t you be in school?â€ â€œNope!â€ He gave me a crazed grin. â€œIâ€™m going to DISNEY WORRRRLLDDD!â€
Unbeknownst to my neighbour for the 5-hour flight, I was probably just as giddy as he was. A bit bitter about not being able to go to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but giddy all the same. The last time I was in Florida, I got to see one of the last shuttle launches (which was spectacular) and geeked out on all the local fauna. By the end of my trip, my travel companions were probably sick of me jabbing them in the ribs going: â€œLook, a roseate spoonbill! And snowy egrets!â€ Unsolicited fun fact: I have always been fascinated with wildlife and went through an intense (and very embarrassing) Animal Planet phase.
But this trip would be different (cue â€œOrlandoâ€ from Book of Mormon). Iâ€™m a definite â€œbig cityâ€ type of person, so I was curious to see how much Iâ€™d like Orlando. Funny enough, Orlando is located in Orange County, and I noticed a lot of striking parallels between it and its Californian counterpart. Like a lot of the SoCal cities, Orlando has a small, central urban area encircled by suburbs. UCF is situated in Lake Nona, a small development 10 minutes from the airport and 20 minutes from downtown. Everything was either brand new or left up to nature; swanky blocks of apartment complexes bordered cow pastures and untamed wilderness. And lakes. Lakes everywhere. Due to the flat, lush land, golf is huge. In fact, there is a strip of forested land adjacent to UCF that is a wildlife preserve, granting the school a beautiful view of the Floridian wilds from their library and anatomy lab.
The students admitted it could be oppressively quiet in Nona, but the incoming strip malls (and a Trader Joe's!) have made things much more livable. The two local hubs are a pair of bars/restaurants called "Nona Tap" and "Nona Blue," which naturally results in a lot of mix-ups when it comes to hangouts. However, Nona has expanded quite rapidly since the advent of the med school and its associated facilities, with a town center currently being assembled just blocks from the medical school and a number of other projects in planning. (I'll elaborate later on about Nona's growth and the surrounding medical community, since it ties in directly with UCF's unique mission). Unfortunately, gas prices in Nona remain sky high, thanks to their proximity to the airport. As for student living, most students live in Nona for the preclinical years and then migrate over to downtown Orlando for clinicals... another parallel between it and the Californian OC's UC Irvine. Apartment prices are reasonable, but can run a little pricey considering most housing developments are freshly-built. My host's place was no more than a 2-minute drive from the school and boasted a really impressive kitchen. Goodness gracious, it was a beautiful apartment.
That also brings me to student hosting: sweet jeebus, I cannot recommend it enough. My host was a bona-fine saint and shuttled me about the entire time, answering every possible question I had. Their roommate (who was feeling under the weather) even stayed up to talk to me the night before the interview. Both were very welcoming, down-to-earth people. In fact, all the UCF students I met were exceptionally lovely folks. My host said each class has a definite flavour about them ('16 is full of geniuses, '17 is very laid-back, etc.), but from my limited view on interview day, I felt like the different classes were pretty cohesive. Like UVA, UCF seemed to have a very active student body. A large number of students are into intramural sports, especially fÃ¹tbol/soccer, and there is talk of starting a volleyball league. In regards to diversity, there's actually a large number of HPSP students and (oddly) Oregonians. Despite being a state school, UCF tries to achieve a good 75:25 mix in regards to IS:OOS students for a total class size of 120.
The UCF medical building looks like a pint-sized casino; shiny new and with lots of reflective glass running floor-to-ceiling. It's built in a U-shape, with a palm tree-ed courtyard nestled into the bend, so that at any time of day part of the central area will be in shade. The U also increases the surface area of the school, maximizing the amount of natural light. Everything was sparklingly clean and the facilities had a definite "new car smell" about them. After touring well-worn education buildings, UCF felt like a luxury hotel. The entry room has a rounded, black ceiling with a number of twinkling lights embedded to look like stars. There were even treadmills with adjustable desktops clustered about on the upper floors, so students could study while getting some exercise in... I think I may need one of those.
So why is there a dazzlingly new medical school out in the middle of Floridian marshland? I was drawn to apply to UCF due to their unique, well-defined mission. While most new schools have a primary care slant or are devoted to serving a specific geographic location, UCF has set its sights high and wide. The charismatic Dean German aspires to turn Lake Nona into the next medical city, a worldwide destination for cutting-edge healthcare. Unlike the premier healthcare giants of the Northeast and Midwest, Nona is spitting distance from an airport and an amusement park village â€“ with a tropical climate to boot. If you're deathly ill, would you rather drag your family to Rochester or Orlando for treatment? The Dean stressed that UCF did not want to persuade its students to pursue any one specialty or to remain within Florida; for their name to grow, their students must excel in their passions... whether it be primary or subspecialty care, and to travel to wherever they will find themselves the happiest.
Though Lake Nona currently houses UCF, the UF pharmacy school, Nemours Children's Hospital, and a UCF biomedical research facility, there are a number of impressive projects in the the works. In fact, their VA hospital â€“ the second largest nationwide â€“ is nearing completion. The size of the facility, which has a giant eagle-emblazoned facade, is quite staggering. It is also slated to hold the nationwide training/simulation facility for VA employees. While ground has not yet been broken, there are also plans for a UCF university hospital, dental school, and nursing school. Unfortunately, some political hiccups with UF have slowed some of their progress. It'll be exciting to see what the next few years have in store for the humble little Nona.
However, one of UCF's greatest assets is their admissions office, which easily takes the cake as the best admissions office in all of med school-dom. REL, the director of admissions, has a fantastic sense of deadpan humour, which rivals that of USC's Dean Arias. Not only that, but REL offered his assistance down the road for school selection, reapplication improvement, or help with administrative snafus â€“ even if we were to be rejected from UCF or turn down their offer of acceptance. Their attention to personal detail (complementary pickup service, phone calls instead of emails for IIs, etc.) made us all feel welcome. I really appreciated UCF's transparency; they discussed the admissions process at length, removing any sense of mystery. Post-interview, students are voted on by an admission committee and ranked on the numerical score they achieve through their votes. Those at the top of the list are periodically skimmed off and offered acceptances throughout the year. Due to the numerical ranking, REL will notify waitlistees of their position in the pack and their chances of acceptance. Historically, UCF has gone roughly halfway through their waitlist.
The interview day was long and jam-packed with activities. Fortunately, interviews were scheduled right after the introductory talks. The interviews consisted of 30-minute exchanges with a faculty member and a MS4. Both are open file (numbers blind) and the interviewers ask a mix of required questions off of a list, as well as some additional questions they had formed based off of the primary/secondary. The interviewers will write down your responses, which are then relayed to the admissions committee (no interviewers are committee members). Due to the scripted nature of the interview, things did not flow quite as naturally and it was difficult to form a direct connection to the interviewer. Despite this, it was a very low-key experience. UCF's structure also probably removes some bias, since the questions are largely standardized between all interviewees.
The highlight of my day was our visit to Celebration Hospital, which is ~15 minutes from UCF and a part of the massive Florida Hospital network. Celebration is currently working on a number of telemedicine research projects and has a well-developed minimally invasive surgery program. At Celebration, which I swear looked more like a Disney resort than a hospital, we got to play around with Da Vinci simulation systems and watch part of a Da Vinci-assisted prostatectomy. I could have spent hours fiddling about with the Da Vinci simulator was reluctant to leave. I wasn't the best at the simulated tests, but I had a total blast. As a kid who grew up in a strict "no video games" household, I have a lot of catching up to do. I would have also loved to stay and watch the entire prostatectomy, but our group had to catch a shuttle back to UCF for lunch.
Though UCF is young, the admissions staff reassured us that their students are by no means unprepared come residency. In fact, the last Step average was a whopping 238 â€“ a number higher than many of the "top 20" schools. UCF students also consistently score above average on shelf examinations in each of the core specialties. The curriculum is integrated and runs for two years, with a research project known as FIRE interwoven in between the classes. Clerkships start immediately after Step (in May), allowing fourth year to be almost entirely elective time.
Much like UVA, I was smitten with UCF itself... but not so much the locale. While Nona is growing larger and larger, I was hoping for a bustling city rather than a sleepy suburb. Obviously, a car is a must. Since students typically only stay in Nona for the preclinical years, I would also want to explore more of Downtown Orlando (which I unfortunately did not get to do during my limited stay). As always, second look would be key. I just find it odd that location â€“ something that I largely dismissed during school selection â€“ has often been one of my largest complaints post-interview. We'll just have to wait and see where life will take me next summer.
In a nutshell: UCF is a vibrant, up-and-coming school. Due to its age, students have the potential to leave a lasting impact upon the school and help mould it for the classes to come. If accepted, I would love to join UCF's ranks and help it become the next medical city.
Pros: support for research thesis, flexible 4th year, access to large hospital networks in Downtown Orlando and around Florida itself, phenomenal student body, outstanding admissions office, Knights Clinic (a student-run free clinic), sparkling new facilities, proximity to airport, no snow (!!!), strong programs for veterans' healthcare, straightforward student housing, affiliations with a local charity that does the same volunteer work I used to do... and I could finally go to Harry Potter World.
Cons: letter-graded preclinical years (sadness), extremely high OOS tuition (and I cannot become an IS resident), will need to keep car, separated from the undergrad campus (both a pro and con), Lake Nona is somewhat dull, clinical sites are often newer (so staff may not be used to teaching students), may need to commute to regional hospital sites, humidity... and Florida has big, scary insects.
Curriculum: 2 year preclinical, longitudinal preceptorships, fundamentals for first block, followed by anatomy and then organ systems, letter grading for preclinicals and clerkships, pass/fail fourth year electives, 6 weeks Step 1 prep.
Summary of Experience:
SR 7/10 | SS 7/21 | SC 7/21 | II 8/4 | IA 9/16 | A 10/15 | WD 3/5 |
EDIT 3/5: I have a soft spot for USC, but my reasons for withdrawing are trifold: 1) LA and I need some time away from one another â€“ I refuse to spend a majority of my life in one city (albeit a large one), 2) I've commuted for the past 5+ years and want a more "residential" student body, and 3) there's no way in hell I can pay 86K/year. It's been a good run, Los Angeles. See you on the flip side.
EDIT 10/15: Muchas gracias, USC! First acceptance, so you'll always have a place in my heart. The Trojan Family is an invaluable community and I am so grateful for being granted a shot at a medical education. Thrilled to have an option this close to home. I'm practically blubbering right now... FIGHT ON.
After two weeks of jet-setting across the country, I was back within the smoggy, 110+ degree embrace of good â€˜ol Los Angeles. Since the past few weeks involved a lot of public transit, I felt a bit disoriented to be back in my car, braving the LA traffic. I have a fiery love-hate-relationship with Los Angeles, but I suppose everyone harbours similar feelings towards their hometown.
For those unfamiliar, LA is a big city â€“ both in terms of population and geography. Itâ€™s like taking Manhattan and then stretching it out with a massive rolling pin; the city spreads all over the SoCal hills, diluting down to blocks of suburbs as it expands. Instead of the classic skyscraper jungles of NYC and Chicago, there are small islands of stunted â€œshortâ€scrapers that sit amidst a sea of suburbia. This is earthquake land after all.
LAâ€™s size and woeful lack of a reliable public transit system means that the car is king. The freeways are pockmarked with use and some roadways are almost always clogged. More often than not, people do not live close to work; most opt to reside in the peripheral suburbs and then commute into central LA. This holds true for Keck School of Medicine of USC, where most students opt to live in the grad student-friendly, hipstery towns twenty minutes away in northern LA (ex: Los Feliz, Silver Lake, Pasadena). Because there is no true cohesiveness to LA, each disparate region/neighbourhood adopts its own character. USC and its separate Health Sciences campus are in eastern LA, the â€œrougher, poorerâ€ portion of the city. However, the surrounding areas â€“ especially DTLA â€“ are wonderfully diverse, with the population evenly quartered between African Americans, [email protected], Asian Americans, and Caucasians. UCLA, on the other hand, is situated in the western part of LA (think Beverly Hills and beachside villas). That is not to say that west LA is devoid of poverty or crime, just that USC is able to care for a more underserved population and thus is in the prime location for a teaching hospital.
The star of USC is â€“ of course â€“ Los Angeles County + USC Medical Center, one of the largest teaching hospitals in the US and the Holy Grail for emergency/trauma enthusiasts. I could write a soppy love letter all about how amazing County + USC is, but Iâ€™ll try to keep my sentimentality in check. Needless to say, every emergency physician I scribed with had either done their residency at County or wished they had done their residency there. One anesthesiologist I shadowed raved that after working at County, they were prepared for almost anything medicine could throw at them. â€œEverything you do from USC onwards will seem so boring in comparison!â€ They bemoaned. Being at a public hospital, which serves the poorest of the poor, is an incredible teaching and service opportunity. The patients who come to County will not refuse to be treated by a resident/med student â€“ while some of the wealthier clients in LAâ€™s high-profile private hospitals will.
All the Keck medical students raved about the strength at County. Medical student responsibilities there are definitely more experiential than observational, arming the students with intern-like skill by the time core clerkships are over. As such, USC students are often well-regarded by residency programs, thanks to their clinical capabilities. One student remarked that they had done over fifty pap smears on their family medicine rotation, while another recounted their experiences â€œcatching babiesâ€ in OB/GYN. This is a HUGE asset.
*Soapbox time: Iâ€™m somewhat frustrated with how medical school interview days focus upon the preclinical curriculum. Yes, preclinicals are important. However, its importance pales in comparison to the clinical years. Clerkship is where the meat of your training will be done and where you will get the best feel of your ideal specialty. I could care less how many multi-million dollar simulation rooms a school has â€“ I just want to know if Iâ€™m actually going to suture a wound, deliver a baby, and intubate a patientâ€¦. or if Iâ€™m going to be going along on a glorified shadowing experience. Okay, time to get off the soapbox. Anyhow, gold star for Keckâ€™s clinicals.*
The day started with a brief introduction by Dr. Arias, the Dean of Admissions, who has a truly unique sense of humour (very witty/bluntâ€¦ donâ€™t quite know how to describe it). She was charming and direct, offering nothing but brutal honesty about the medical school admissions game. You can thank Dr. Arias for Keckâ€™s unconventional secondary, as she was tried of reading fluffy diversity/â€œwhy Keckâ€ essays and found them to be largely worthless for gauging the merit of each applicant. She had three simple rules: no thank you cards, no updates, no trying to prove that youâ€™re smartâ€¦ to paraphrase Dr. Arias â€œif you werenâ€™t smart, you wouldnâ€™t be here.â€ It seemed Keck is really looking for â€œfit.â€ Dr. Arias emphasized that they are not looking for â€œuniquenessâ€ â€“ they are looking for solid, personable people. Keckâ€™s next class of 200 proto-physicians will ideally be just like the class before it: full of friendly, dependable workers.
The two interviews, which are about 45 minutes long and done with a faculty member and MS2, are done completely blind. Keck wants to see if you can hold a conversation and connect with your interviewer. No muss, no fuss, no â€œwhy Keck?â€ questions. I got the dreaded closed-file leader question: â€œTell me about yourselfâ€ and some other general questions, mostly probing my opinion on the recent changes in healthcare. While both my interviewers were very friendly and accessible, I donâ€™t feel like we â€œclicked.â€ Nothing awkward or wrong, just that the conversation was unable to move past typical interview fodder. Eeeh. Hope theyâ€™re not judging for fit that closely. The interviewers are not on the admissions committee: they simply fill out an evaluation form and move along.
In line with Dr. Ariasâ€™s direct admissions approach, there was no elaborate curriculum speech or detailed account about all the research/international programs. There was also no financial aid talkâ€¦ which I was intrigued about, considering USC is known as the â€œTufts of the West Coast,â€ with tuition and living costs exceeding 80K per year. Though none of the students or interviewers broached the financial aspect, I have heard there is minimal aid/scholarships for first year students. Some merit scholarships exist, which are largely reserved for drawing in highly desirable students, especially those who are underrepresented in medicine. I definitely do not fit in that category, so if accepted it looks like Iâ€™m SOL. Donâ€™t even want to think about this, even if October 15th brings in good news.
If anything, Keck sold itself the least out of all the other schools I have seen â€“ which I did not mind, however I got little to no â€œfeelâ€ for the student body. We got to see some medical students, but not all that many compared to other interviews. The students we did meet seemed happy with their decision and able to pursue a number of outside opportunities (thanks to P/F and videocasted lectures). Right before coming to the interview, one student even went to the â€œDaybreakerâ€ pre-workday rave down in Venice; a sober dance party held from 6 to 8 am, with kombucha and coffee served in lieu of alcohol. Awesome. While Keck looked promising, this is definitely a place where second look would be a huge deciding factor.
Due to the heat, I was grateful to have a short (8:30 â€“ 1:30) interview day. Unfortunately, the faculty cafeteria was under construction, so we did not get to have Keckâ€™s famous lunch. Instead, we got lunch boxes stuffed with red tissue paper and assorted sandwiches. We did get one of the fabled Keck cookies in our boxes, which made me a very happy camper.
Thanks to the oppressive heat, the traditional tour was cut short (not complaining). The Keck facilities arenâ€™t as shiny or new as other schools, but like Pitt they were clean and sturdy. The Keck graduate programs (med, pharmacy, etc) cluster about a small, grassy quad. A volleyball net was strung up in one corner and sometimes students hold a yoga class in the central green. Itâ€™s not a big campus â€“ probably the smallest Iâ€™ve seen thus far â€“ but I could not complain. Keck is attached to County, meaning that students do not have to run around Los Angeles for clinicals. They do have plentiful affiliations, including the top-ranked Childrenâ€™s Hospital of LA. Since the class is so large, it is broken down into smaller groups of 25, allowing each group to have a study room full of their own cubicles, kitchen appliances, and computers. Students report they form very close relationships with those in their group.
All in all, I was largely pleased with Keck. It ainâ€™t perfect by any means, but I think that I could get along quite swimmingly here (and be swimming in debt, but letâ€™s not think about that for now). Not 100% sold on continuing the commuter life, but I know the surrounding areas like the back of my hand and may not even have to move. The students I met seemed relaxed and fun-loving, which I think is a very good omen. SoCal is a good place to be â€“ especially LA.
While it was not discussed on interview day, USC has very deep pockets and has been sniping top researchers from the likes of UCLA, Caltech, and Scripps. A lot of the incoming researchers come for the ample funding and responsive administration. (As a private institution, USC can bypass a lot of the budget cuts and red tape that hinders researchers at UC schools). President Nikias is trying to groom USC to be the next research powerhouse, a â€œSoCal Stanfordâ€ if you will. I am hopeful that his vision for USC will have a positive effect upon Keck â€“ especially the research opportunities.
Câ€™mon, October 15th. Donâ€™t fail me now.
Pros: Losss Angelesss (whoop whoop, reppinâ€™ the 323), County+USC Hospital, clinical rotations seem rock-solid, pass/fail, non-mandatory attendance, plenty to do in Downtown, HTE program (health, technology, & engineering program; totally not mentioned on interview day, but I know for a fact it is awesome), collaborative relationship with Ã¼berwealthy researchers on undergrad campus, proximity to parents (I have no other family in the US), proximity to a bunch of my friends, performs really well on boardsâ€¦ Keck sometimes gets all the students free In-N-Out.
Cons: oh good god the cost, I would still have to commute, Keck isnâ€™t in the â€œbestâ€ area (surrounding area is a run-down industrial areaâ€¦ not the worst by any means, definitely not anywhere youâ€™d want to prance about all by your lonesome in), class may not be as cohesive due to students scattered all across LA, bigger class size, not as much of an emphasis on research as some other schoolsâ€¦ did I mention the cost?
Curriculum: pass/fail (which I think is unranked), two year preclinical, traditional-style lectures, dissection-based anatomyâ€¦ they literally did not give a curriculum spiel, so I have very little to ramble about.
Summary of Experience:
SSN request 7/7 | SR 7/11 | SS 7/15 | SC 7/22 | II 9/18 | IA 10/21 | A 10/30 | WD 4/14 |
EDIT 4/14: The vibe was right, the location was unbeatable, and the community was perfect... however, when stacked up against the medical juggernauts that are UCSF and JHU, I had to let this one go. I know I would have been genuinely happy at SD, but: 1) my aid package here left a lot of be desired, 2) I was not keen on commuting around SD county for clinicals, 3) I wasn't feeling a traditional 2-year preclinical, and 4) I feel like going to UCSF or JHU keep me from being branded as a "SoCal for life"-er. However, come wintertime, I know I'll be cursing myself for turning down a shot at eternal 75 degree bliss. Maybe for residency, SD? (Please?).
EDIT 10/30: Over the moon. Utterly adored this school â€“ the student body felt like a good "fit" and La Jolla is an absurdly liveable location. This was one of the campuses where I really felt I could be at home. I have a feeling SD is going to make it to my final round of decisions.
I never thought Iâ€™d grow weary of interviews, but after returning to LA for a 1-day stretch in between Hopkins and SD, I just wanted to fuse with my bed and pretend like I didnâ€™t have an application cycle to tend to. UCSD will always have a special place in my heart â€“ if finances and a family emergency hadnâ€™t stood in the way, I would have taken off there for undergrad. I was stoked for the interview, but painfully jet-lagged. To get myself pumped up for the 3-hour drive down south, I blasted cringeworthy 90s pop hits and wolfed down protein bars. Slowly, the 5 began to hug the coast and San Diego rolled out before me. Though Iâ€™ve lived in California for quite some time, thereâ€™s nothing like first catching sight of the ocean from the freeway.
San Diego is what Iâ€™d call a â€œbig small city.â€ Like Los Angeles, it sprawls; the central Downtown complex of high-rise office buildings is surrounded for miles and miles by suburbs. To the north of San Diego is Carslbad (home of Legoland, one of the most underrated Californian amusement parks) and La Jolla (home of UCSD). For those unversed in Spanish pronunciation, La Jolla is pronounced â€œLa Hoy-yah,â€ not â€œLa Joe-laâ€ or â€œLa Hoh-la.â€ Take note, kids. The name is actually a corruption of â€œla joya,â€ meaning â€œthe jewel.â€ If youâ€™ve ever visited LJ, you would know that it is a most befitting nameâ€¦
La Jolla is a beautiful seaside suburb, home to wealthy retirees and UCSD staff/students. Aside from the surf and sun, La Jolla is a haven for biotech companies â€“ the miniature Silicon Valley of the biology world. The hillsides are green and filled with eucalyptus trees (UCSD itself houses a eucalyptus forest!). It sits on a small bluff jutting out into the Pacific, with the university itself just spitting distance from the coastline. No more than a mile away, a gorgeous Mormon temple over looks the coastline like some sort of fairytale castle. Obviously, due to its enviable locale, UCSD houses one of the worldâ€™s top oceanography programs and is oft-regarded as the #1 school for surfing. Many UCSD students plan their day around the surf report. Funny enough, a large number of my fellow interviewees were involved in aquatic sports, though this may have just been coincidence. My host stated that sheâ€™d wake up at 5 am for an ocean swimâ€¦ goodness gracious, could I ever make myself at home here.
Out of all the campuses I have toured, from historic UVA to cutting-edge modern Hopkins, I think I found UCSDâ€™s to be the most aesthetically pleasing. The campus is what my ideal college would look like if I were given a â€œCollege Tycoonâ€ game. Everywhere modern art fixtures, part of the Stuart Collection, are incorporated into the buildings and natural landscape (ex: the engineering building features a small clapboard house perched precariously on its top level and there is a nature pathway shaped like a snake). Undergrads regard the Sun God, a statue of some sort of cosmic cockatoo-looking creature, as their unofficial mascot. The highlight is Geisel Library, which looks like an inverted step-pyramid â€“ a great ziggurat of knowledge. Apparently it was used as inspiration for some of the architecture in Inception. Since the campus is so large, you could wander it for hours, scoping out strange little sculptures and interactive art pieces.
The medical school campus is attached to the undergrad, housing a number of medical buildings and a central lawn. (I was able to watch a Costaâ€™s hummingbird bathe itself in one of the central fountains!). While some of the facilities are much older than the flashy undergrad buildings, the major hub of the medical school (the medical education and telemedicine building) is essentially a long bunker made out of glass panels. It was dashingly modern and ever so shiny. I liked the fact that UCSD medical students had their own campus, but which was still contiguous with the undergrad and one of their major rotation sites (the VA hospital). The Skaggs School of Pharmacy is attached to the campus and first year medical students share some of their classes with second year pharm students.
My UCSD experience started the night before my interview with a tour of one of their free clinics. Unfortunately, it seemed like they had thrown the event together at last minute because our tour guide didnâ€™t have enough transportation lined up to take all the students downtown. Nevertheless, one interviewee was able to summon their mother to take the remaining students. The Downtown clinic is built into the backside of a Lutheran church, right in the heart of Downtown SD. When we arrived, the clinic was bustling with patients and students. Its â€œlobbyâ€ was actually a gardened courtyard full of chairs, so patients got to have their history taken outside in the balmy night air. The UCSD clinics are unique in that they a) serve a distinct base of patients (meaning that they are not â€œwalk-inâ€ clinics) and b) offer full, comprehensive care. Every week, a unique specialty clinic is held, offering free orthopedic, dermatologic, and surgical consultations. The dental clinic also practices full, restorative dentistry, rather than the â€œtooth pullingâ€ charity care offered by many other nonprofits. UCSD believes that just because someone is poor, they should not have to receive substandard care.
The free clinic network is fully integrated into the medical school, with students from every year offering their time. Free clinic work can be undertaken for elective credit during the year, on a volunteer basis, or for compensation during the summer. The only con is that the clinic does not have air conditioningâ€¦ leading to a very interesting work environment during the summer. â€œAll the money goes to the patients!â€ The students reminded us. â€œThatâ€™s why we donâ€™t have air conditioning.â€
The very next day began with an informal Q&A session with one of the admissions deans, Dr. Kelly. UCSD gives the students â€œinterview homework,â€ aka: a powerpoint presentation full of all the preclinical and clinical information. This way, no time is wasted rehashing facts during the interview day and students can jump straight to any pressing questions. I actually thought this was an extremely efficient method. The highlights are, in short: UCSD has an integrated preclinical curriculum, which runs for two years and is arranged by organ-block. Thus, anatomy sessions are conducted all throughout the organ blocks instead of during a condensed period. Naturally, the preclinical is unranked pass/fail.
As with many schools, there is a preclinical preceptorship, which is often held in the surrounding San Diego region. Due to the wide variety of clinical locations (which span from the La Jolla VA to Hillcrest, home of the UCSD Medical Center) a car is often very useful to have. Students typically take advantage of the 2-years of subsidized on-campus housing for their preclinical years and then move to the Downtown/Hillcrest region for clinicals. Oh, and I should mention that the UCSD subsidized housing costs only $500 per month. Youâ€™re never going to live that close to a beach for that cheap. What a win.
UCSD housing includes the Coast, Mesa, One Miramar, and Rita Atkinson residences. Spots are highly coveted for certain locales (ex: Coast, which is literally next to the beach) and may have extremely long waiting lists. The older locales (Mesa, Miramar) are usually much more available and still excellent deals. The only con is that UCSD does not allow for students to select their roommate, so you may be paired up with a graduate student in a totally unrelated field. This could be a pro or a con, depending on how much you want to escape the med school environment and/or how awesome your random roommate may be. One huge perk is that the Miramar and Mesa complexes have free parking. Free parking is a thing of fairy dust and fantasy in Los Angeles, so I'm unusually excited about this aspect.
So onto the interviewâ€¦ Due to a nondisclosure agreement, I cannot elaborate upon my MMI experience. However, I found it invigorating and exciting. UCSD has 8 stations, which run for 8 minutes apiece. The time will flow by much quicker than you expect! By the time I was done with the whole MMI, I felt like I had only interviewed for 30 or so minutes. The stations were, in my opinion, very straightforward. I honestly did not prepare for the MMI, but any sort of preparation I could have done would have been largely useless. My fellow interviewees reported that they felt UCSDâ€™s MMI was easier than the ones held at UCLA, Davis, and Stanford.
One more thing Iâ€™d like to mention about USCD: the global opportunities. Due to its location, students are a mere hourâ€™s drive from Mexico. As such, UCSD has excellent relations with a university in Baja California and students take regular trips down to Tijuana to offer free care. The trips are truly an multinational undertaking, as SD students are able to work alongside Mexican students. In addition, there are plentiful connections for research/clinical opportunities all across the globe. UCSD has a permanent facility in Mozambique, with SD physicians cycling through it every time of the year. Overall, the school seemed very good at presenting unique offerings for both bench research and public/global health driven students. Given its location and offerings, Iâ€™m surprised why people donâ€™t rave about UCSD more often!
In short: UCSD felt like a school I could really feel at home amidst. The low-key, SoCal vibe permeated the whole student body; our tour guide confirmed the fact by stating, â€œUCSD draws the chillest student body.â€ I could get along quite nicely at a school like this. Decisions are due October 30th (gah, so close), so I have my fingers tightly crossed. Iâ€™d still prefer to live in a larger city, but you cannot beat the beach.
Love me back, SD! I want to be a merman! (Yes, their mascot is a mermanâ€¦ okay, officially itâ€™s called a â€œtriton,â€ but I prefer â€œmermanâ€).
Pros: San Diego is a real gem, the weather pretty much stays between 82-70 degrees year round, P/F preclinical, extensive free clinic network, very affordable housing given the location, phenomenal connections to many biotech industries, support for fifth research year, no more than an hour away from an international experience, agreements with clinical sites in Eurpose, Asia, and Africa, plentiful clinical sties throughout SD county, in-state tuition, their mascot is a frickin merman... San Diego is widely regarded as the #1 location for breweries.
Cons: SD isnâ€™t really as large/urban as Iâ€™d like, Iâ€™d still have to bring my car, the beach may distract me from my studies, I may not even want to go to medical school at all and become a surf bumâ€¦ yup, I think I could drop everything and just live on the beach.
Summary of Experience:
SR 7/2 | SS 7/5 | SC 8/5 | II 9/25 | IA 10/16 | A 12/12 |
EDIT 4/20: Matriculating and I could not be happier. I could write a long, saccharine love letter for all my feels towards JHU but I'm going to keep it short and sweet. Long story short: I attended JHU's second look and fell in love with both the current students and the soon-to-be MS1s. Everyone was accomplished, passionate, and energetic... but also open and grounded. The '18ers were excited to be at JHU and looked forward to calling us their peers. These were the kind of people that I wanted to befriend, learn from, and emulate. Thus far, they have proven to be both great role models and fantastic comrades. I'm a pretty cool, logical Mr. Spock type of person, but when I was there... everything just felt right. I don't know what it was, but it felt like the stars had aligned. To top things off I had an utter blast at second look. Compared to UCSF's second look, it was a very high-energy affair (which may be a turn off for some, but it really got me pumped). I met my soon-to-be roomies and had an all-out amazing â€“ if exhausting â€“ time.
As for the more concrete reasons: 1) moolah; JHU was extremely generous in terms of my need-based aid and I was flabbergasted when I got my package, 2) I want a break â€“ be it temporary or maybe even permanent â€“ from California, 3) the structure and support offered at JHU (class molecules, 4-college system, well-supported research track) was unrivalled and I felt like there was no way that I'd ever slip through the cracks, and 4) while Baltimore originally made me falter, it is the perfect setting for a medical school; to serve the underserved you must go to them, not reside along the sidelines.
And I'm happy. So happy.
EDIT 12/12: I'm still struggling to process this. So grateful and so humbled. Today was a good day.
They say the medical school application process will give you that one school which takes you by total surprise. I could argue that everything thus far has been a surprise, but an invitation to interview at Johns Hopkins left me staring agog at my inbox. "Wut?" I stuttered. "They have clearly made some sort of mistake!" I like to think that the admissions office either a) did not notice that they had accidentally sent me an interview invite or b) decided it would have been too cruel to rescind it. Nevertheless, I was soon off on my way to the infamous B-More.
Hopkins embodies the philosophy that to serve the needy, you must reside amongst them. The hospital could have been placed at the scenic Homewood campus, but instead it is located in East Baltimore, one of the rougher, more crime-riddled sections of Baltimore. As such, JHU patients run the whole gamut from wealthy businesspeople, flying in from abroad, to impoverished locals receiving charity care. The presence of Hopkins in this neighbourhood allows the school to be well integrated with its surrounding communities, enabling ample outreach and free health services. Whether or not Hopkins deserves its reputation for being "dangerous" is still up for debate. A number of unfortunate incidences in 1992 (including the kidnapping of a professor from a JHU parking garage) culminated in a security overhaul. Today, little guard towers sit at the corner of each block on the campus, protecting their realm. Security reports are available online and a printout of the past few years' records was even included in our interview packet.
Several of my coworkers were long-time JHU researchers and/or had grown up around East Baltimore, but during its "darker days." They were shocked to hear that I walked â€“ yes, walked â€“ to my interview, even though I was no more than four blocks from campus. They were also pleased to hear that medical students were able to walk from the campus down to Fells Point (a charming waterfront neighbourhood known for its British pubs and seafood restaurants). My hosts, who were all in their fourth year, conceded that such things were not possible when they first came to Hopkins. Thankfully, it appears that East Baltimore is on the mend. A number of chic restaurants had popped up around my hosts' house in the recent years and there is even a sparkling-new JHU-affiliated luxury apartment a block from the campus â€“ close to where, over two decades ago, a medical student was kidnapped. While Baltimore is not a coveted destination, the students agreed that it was a city that would grow on you.
*Of note: the change in East Baltimore bodes well for students, but alas it comes at a price. Thanks to Hopkins's resources, they have been able to buy up some of the surrounding neighbourhoods and level them, paving the way for new facilities and safer employee housing. "If you had seen some of those places you would have wanted them leveled," one of my coworkers stated. However, this ended up displacing many of the native residents and the influx of JHU employees has out-priced poorer individuals from their neighbourhoods. I'm sure there's a vast amount of research done about the East B-More gentrification from Bloomberg public health students/faculty. Since I'm interested in urban health, this is an issue I find particularly interesting.*
In fact, a good deal of the interview day focused on assuaging any of the fears interviewees may have had about B-more. There was even a vibrant pamphlet all about Baltimore's arts and cultural offerings tucked into our interview folders. Due to Baltimore's low cost of living, students can have an excellent quality of life; my hosts lived in a stunning red-brick row house with four stories, a stainless steel kitchen, and deck overlooking the Downtown skyline (for $700 a month!). I was able to get an amazing panini (complete with veggie platter and home fries) for a whopping $6... I could get used to these prices. As for housing, the popular neighbourhoods include Fells Point, Canton, and historic, artsy Mount Vernon. Many first years opt to live in the stunning 929 apartment complex due to its proximity to campus, though it is pricier (more or less 1K per month) than off-campus housing. Baltimore is an interesting city in that one street could be full of high-end restaurants and the next block could be in gang-controlled territory â€“ much like my darling Downtown LA. Thus, it is important for students to get an idea of the city before they select off-campus housing.
Johns Hopkins is an institution steeped in history. In fact, JHU was the very birthplace of residency. The historic medical school building, whose iconic cupola lends itself to the school logos, was once used as a hospital. Its atrium consists of a number of octagonal tiers encircling a massive marble statue of Jesus. The circular arrangement of wards is fabled to have been the origin of "rounding." Today, this building is no longer used for patient care or medical education, but it still remains an exquisite structure. The remainder of the JHU facilities were brilliantly modern and an interesting amalgamation of traditional Baltimore brickwork and glass paneling. My favourite was the JHU hospital â€“ one of the top-ranked in the nation â€“ which had a Piet Mondrian-esque facade of purple and green panels and lots of natural light. The Bloomberg Children's Hospital was simply stunning and had an amazing collection of cheery pop art pieces. In short: you could tell just by the sight of it that Johns Hopkins was something special.
Beyond the glittering facilities, rich history, and laundry list of Nobel winners was the true gem of Hopkins â€“ the students. It sounds sappy, but the students really sold the school for me. It was clear from the start that they were a very cohesive, talented group of individuals and were heavily invested in selecting the next class. This was more apparent than at other medical schools, as nearly every fourth year I met would exclaim how excited they were to help form the next cohort of students. The night before our interview some first/second years held a "greeters" session, where they shared their experiences and fielded questions about JHU. While all admitted that med school was hard work, I was pleased to find they had more than enough time to pursue their longtime hobbies... and to pick up new activities. In a stroke of luck, I had come just before the school-wide Olympics and got to see each student gearing up for the competitions.
This brings me to the Learning Communities. Like UVA, Pitt, and Vandy JHU offers a Hogwartsian college system, in which students are sorted into one of four colleges. Each college has their own faculty advisors and are further subdivided by class into 5-person "molecules." The molecules coalesce across each class to form a "macromolecule," allowing for peer-to-peer mentorship. Nevertheless, the students mingle across their molecule and college, producing a very close-knit community. My hosts were utterly amazing and let me get an extensive look into the day-to-day life of a JHU student. I stayed for the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics and got to see each college put on their own dance routine, allowing the resident hip-hop/ballet/break dancers to strut their stuff. Some were elaborately choreographed and the team spirit was infectious. Each routine was judged by a panel of faculty members, who offered plenty of witty critique. The one exception to the class-wide camaraderie came during the college dodgeball tournament, where students were able to unleash all their pent-up aggression. "I hope this doesn't turn you off!" My host warned. On the contrary, I enjoyed seeing how active and involved so many of the students were in the Olympics.
After witnessing how collaborative and friendly all the students were, I got somewhat misty-eyed about Hopkins. Obviously, they were all very academically talented, but I was surprised by how well-rounded and down-to-earth everyone was. My undergrad experience was socially isolating and dreadfully lonely, since I was working full-time and was going to a commuter school. As such, I really would like to find myself at a med school with a community like Hopkins. I'm afraid I don't have much athletic prowess to offer in the way of the Olympics, but I really felt like I could make myself at home amongst the students.
Unfortunately, my faculty interview likely burst my dream of becoming a Hopkins student. Interviews are conducted with a faculty member and fourth year student for about 30 minutes apiece. The interview format is different in that interviewees sit in a holding area with a number of fourth-year students, who will randomly pull you away from the waiting room for the formal interview. During that time the admissions staff warned that our interactions would be judged â€“ likely to see that interviewees were mixing well with others and being social (aka: this is not the time to sit on your phone). I'm not sure how well I fared during this section, since I was tuckered out from the tour and mostly listened to questions some of the more energetic interviewees were asking the forth years. Nevertheless, it didn't feel overtly stressful. My fourth year interviewer and I had (what I'm assuming was) an excellent conversation. We had a lot in common, so we shared stories about our hobbies and reminisced about our native country, with a smattering of standard interview-y questions in the mix. My interviewer was so exuberant and passionate about what Hopkins had to offer; I wish I had more than a mere half-hour to talk with them!
The faculty interview was probably the greatest outlier I have experienced in all of my interviews thus far. My interviewer was refined and polite (and extremely accomplished... oh goodness, I shouldn't have Googled them after the interview). However, the first question they issued following our initial introduction was "What awards have you received?" They then pulled out a pad of paper and had me list all (two) of my awards. "Any more?" They asked, visibly disappointed. Afterwards, they made me list off all my clinical and shadowing experiences. I could tell, as the interview went on, how they were let down by my responses â€“ especially when they prompted me for publications, followed by the question "first or second author?" I don't know if my single, middle-author pub in an obscure journal was up to snuff. :( During the interview I got unusually anxious and jittery, allowing my nerves to get the better of me. The interview was supposed to be open file, so I was utterly confused as to why they were making me list the dates/hours/names of all my experiences... especially when my primary and JHU secondary listed the same things. I ended up getting very flustered and forgot half of the dates. -___-
I ought to have remained cool and collected, but I failed myself. After the interview I just wanted to sink into the couch cushions and assume the fetal position... or possibly seek out a time-machine for an interview do-over. Honestly, I was so frustrated because there was nobody to blame but myself. Not all interviews will be conversational, though all my interviewees reported very low-key, casual conversations with their faculty members. Such things are luck of the draw. Ah well, life goes on.
On that sobering note, I'll end with this: Hopkins is an amazing school. I wasn't charmed by Charm City (har har), but Hopkins has my heart. I'm doubtful that December will bring good news, but I am incredibly humbled and honoured just to have had the chance to interview.
Pros: Genes to Society curriculum (1.5 preclinical), P/F preclinicals, access to world-class hospitals and researchers, fully supported research project the summer after first year (for all!), plenty of options for a supported fifth year, Learning Community college systems, low cost of living, beautiful facilities, access to Bloomberg school of public health, excellent financial aid plan (20K unit loan!)... god, I had a really good panini here.
Cons: obviously the fact that East Balitmore ain't the safest ("Crab cakes and crack cocaine!" my coworkers chorused), I would have to bring a car, Baltimore isn't well equipped to handle snow, Baltimore is a food desert, I don't really like crab... aside from that, everything else was flawless.