Summary of Experience:
This was my first interview and needless to say I was a bit (sweating profusely) nervous. However, my interviewers did a great job of alleviating my stress by emphasizing that all of the interviews were meant to be conversational and informal. I was also surprised at how functional/awake I was since I interviewed a couple of hours after a red-eye flight from California. Anyways, here were my general impressions of WCMC:
The facilities are unreal. I don’t think I’ve ever been inside of a more sumptuous hospital than NYP/Weill Cornell Medical Center and I think doing clerkships here would be a blast. The really cool thing about WCMC, however, is all of the diverse affiliated hospitals where students are allowed to do rotations. For instance, the Lincoln Hospital in South Bronx serves a predominately Latino population and has the busiest ER in the country, the Hospital for Special Surgery has the US’s top rated Orthopaedic Surgery department, the New York Downtown Hospital serves a large Asian community and the elderly, and the Houston-based Methodist Hospital allows students to do rotations far from NYC. I think that, given WCMC’s facilities and connections, a WCMC medical student should have no difficulties working with a patient population he or she is interested in. Student housing is guaranteed and (more importantly) subsidized - $600/month for a Spartan single for MS1s and $800/month for more luxurious accommodations for MS2s. Did I mention this is for housing on the Upper East Side? That’s like 10 times below market value. Awesome.
Classes on most days run from 8am – 1pm, with PBL sessions in the morning followed by lectures and then labs. WCMC emphasizes small group problem-based learning (~10 students/PBL group) and I think this approach to learning should help make digesting the material more engaging. One complaint I heard from MS1s and MS2s was that the curriculum did not really teach to the boards. Some students said they used Step 1 preparation books to study for exams since this allowed them to both learn the material and prepare for the boards. However, WCMC gives approximately 7 weeks off (either for vacation time or studying) before the Step 1, which should definitely be enough time to prepare. Grading is P/F for the pre-clinical years with 65% serving as the passing threshold. Quizzes are held on Mondays and some MS1s complained about the frequency of testing and the degree to which Monday exams killed their weekends. They also mentioned that quizzes were less frequent as the block progressed. Clerkships are graded with written evaluations. All students are given iPads and WCMC has a strong emphasis on technology-driven learning.
The faculty was very warm and welcoming and it seems like there truly is a horizontal relationship between doctors, residents, researchers, medical students, and everyone else in the system. The MS1s and MS2s were also helpful, answered all of our questions thoughtfully, and seemed to genuinely like the culture of WCMC. They seemed like they were a pretty tight-knit group, which could possibly be due to the fact that most MS1s and MS2s live close to one another in a college-y/dorm-like setting.
WCMC also has shown dedication to expanding both the quantity and quality of its scientific research. The new dean, Laurie Glimcher, wants to double NIH funding and recruit 30 new researchers to work in the Belfer Building, which is scheduled to open in 2014. Furthermore, WCMC also recently won this contest: http://cornellsun.com/section/news/content/2011/12/19/after-yearlong-competition-cornell-wins-nyc-tech-campus. Medical students typically do research in the afternoons (after classes), the summer between MS1 and MS2, and during MS4.
Finally, WCMC has a huge emphasis on global medicine and one of my interviewers repeatedly told me that I would be able to get full funding for doing research/rotations abroad. If accepted, I think I will definitely take her up on that offer.
A few cons – Financial aid is need-only (no merit), and the students seemed a bit more stressed out than I thought they would be.
However, despite some minor negatives, I was very impressed with WCMC and I could see myself spending the next 4 years here. Now all that’s left is waiting until decisions come out in March…
Summary of Experience:
This was my second interview and, needless to say, I felt a lot more comfortable/confident going in. The thing that immediately stood out to me about CUMC was the atmosphere. Not once during the day did I detect even a small amount of stress radiating from the medical students. Students said this was largely due to Columbia’s “true” P/F system (no internal class rank) during the pre-clinical part of the curriculum, which, according to them, fosters a collaborative, non-competitive environment. The most interesting thing was that medical school did not seem to be the overwhelming or completely dominant part of their lives – they talked about their interests outside of medicine (many were involved in music, dance, theater, and other creative endeavors) and how CUMC encouraged and gave them ample time to continue pursuing these activities. They also emphasized that Columbia seeks students who have diverse interests outside of medicine. The new curriculum at Columbia was introduced with the class of 2013 and, in my opinion, is highly innovative. The pre-clinical portion is known as “Fundamentals” and involves the usual lecture/lab/journal-club teaching paradigm. However, Fundamentals only lasts for 16 months (instead of the traditional two years) and students begin clerkships, known as the “Major Clinical Year,” in January of their second year. I thought this emphasis on early clinical exposure was awesome. One concern I had was that students take the Step I exam after the Major Clinical Year (during the second half of the third year) instead of after the second year. I asked my interviewer how well students did on the Boards and she said that ever since the new curriculum had been implemented, average scores have increased. She reasoned that this was likely due to the fact that the Step I has a heavy clinical problem-solving emphasis and that doing a full year of clerkships before taking the exam helps prepare for these types of questions. The last portion of the curriculum, “Differentiation and Integration,” starts at the end of the Boards and lasts until graduation. Students take 8 months of electives and spend 4 months working on a “Scholarly Project” (https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B61HhJ28cjgZNTFkMDVmN2ItZjRmNC00NThhLTg2NjUtYTk2YmNlODNkMTBj/edit?hl=en_US). An almost universally mentioned draw of CUMC was the P&S Club, the “the most comprehensive student activities organization in American medical education.” Currently, the Club sponsors about 70 student organizations and caters to the aforementioned extracurricular interests of CUMC students. In terms of housing, about 80% of MS1s live in the dormitory-style Bard Hall. Although the rooms are a bit grungy, Bard Hall has an awesome deck on one of the upper floors with views of the Hudson River and Jersey City and rent is below market value for the area. The real benefit of living in Bard, however, is getting to enter the lottery to live in the Towers as an MS2. CUMC’s neighborhood, Washington Heights, is also incredibly diverse/interesting. It has a massive Dominican population, and when I went for a walk after my interview I got a chance to see some of the eclectic local restaurants and businesses. During our pre-lunch meeting, Dean Nicholas emphasized the importance of learning Spanish in order to be an effective physician in the Heights. As with all schools, I did see a few drawbacks – Washington Heights is pretty far from downtown and financial aid was not really elaborated on. However, I left Columbia glowing: the people, the curriculum, and the research opportunities all struck a chord with me. I was originally a bit hesitant about flying out for this interview because Columbia only has about a 25% post-interview acceptance rate but after touring the school I am glad I did. I cannot wait for decisions to come out.
Summary of Experience:
Blerg, accepted in late June after I had already enrolled at Yale and started their summer research program. Will almost certainly withdraw although I wish they had sent this offer a couple of months earlier.