On the night before my MCAT, I was so desperate to get a score good enough to get into any medical school, even if it was a DO (Doctor of Osteopathy) school. That meant a 25+ MCAT score. Looking back, my motivations that night were pure and true---after all, the whole point of doing this crazy admissions game was so, in the end, I could practice medicine as a doctor.
When I got a 38, I was shocked. I was so scared during the first physics passage that I nearly had a panic attack and left the testing center. Suddenly, with my numbers, my options had opened up significantly.
In many ways I think these possibilities kindled ambition, and ambition mutated into greed. I became obsessed with US News and World Report rankings the same way a fashionista goes window shopping by brand at a high-end clothing mall. My self worth became tied to my success at these schools, and every success and failure became a boost or blow to my ego.
This experience, in many ways, represents a weakness in my character, but I think it is a weakness shared by many applicants. It is an understandable shortcoming. If you are in this situation, I encourage you to take a step back and remember why you decided to become a doctor in the first place. Every school will prepare you to become an excellent doctor. Every school will allow you to pursue the career you envision. The differences among schools exist, but, in the grand scheme of things, they are relatively minuscule. If you obsess over these differences, then they will warp, magnify, and consume you.
The thing about greed is that it is insatiable. If you are beholden to it, then you will never be satisfied with the magnitude of your accomplishments---for there will always be another, greater accomplishment out of your reach, and you will fixate on that failure rather than revel in the successes behind you. The trick to happiness is recognizing that fact and being happy with what you have and have done.
// Applications //
Application Cycle One: 06/10/2013
Undergraduate college: The Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
Undergraduate Area of study: Foreign Language/International Studies
Summary of Experience:
Harvard was easily the most surreal and bizarre of interview days.
Or maybe I should say "blizzare"? Okay, bad joke, but it was oh-so-cold for this California boy. I've never seen snow in a city before, and it was 4F when I landed at Boston-Logan airport the night before my interview. Harvard offers a pizza party the night before at the student dorm, Vanderbilt Hall, located on the Longwood (medical) campus. I arrived too late to attend so I can't comment on what the pizza night was like. I ended up spending the night at the Hotel Veritas near the undergrad campus, across the Charles River from Longwood, in Cambridge. A $90/night hotel with $200/night feel. I highly recommend it. There's also a shuttle that goes back and forth between the main campus in Cambridge and the HMS campus (Longwood) and takes maybe 20 minutes. I was so nervous and excited that I only got about 80 minutes of sleep the night before my interview.
The next day I arrived at the Longwood campus on a cold winter's morning. Everything was dusted with snow. The Longwood campus consists of world famous hospitals and the HMS buildings. The main building, Gordon Hall, is the most impressive med school facade you'll see in America. And what's around you... just wow... Beth-Israel Deaconess, Brigham and Women's, Dana Farber... and MGH not too far away. Wow. Who made the mistake of inviting me here? Haha.
Us interviewees trickled in and we waited for the day to begin. Eventually an admissions director wandered in and gave us a disjointed, stream-of-consciousness orientation to the school. An assistant handed out our itineraries and collected our worksheets that we were expected to complete before the interview day. I was unaware of any such worksheet and felt like a "bad kid," and initially panicked! This felt just like those nightmares where you're still in high school and realize you forgot to study for the final exam you're about to take. The worksheet just makes you list your pre-med requisite courses. Luckily I had my transcript with me so I filled it out quickly.
The fellow interviewees were a very unusual bunch from what I'd encountered before. Vastly white. Unusual. All quiet and serious. Unusual. All gunner. Somewhat unusual. Oh, and all were all-stars with great pedigrees. I even met some bonafide WASP aristocrat kids---so the stereotype is true. Alma maters: USC, Berkeley, WashU, Harvard, Harvard, Harvard, MIT, Stanford, and Brown.
The night before my interview I was watching mindless TV---specifically, WWE wrestling, and the infamous wrestler "nWo Sting" was on. His brother is the super-famous Harvard MD/PhD professor Paul Farmer. The next morning at my interview I met a girl who said she was an assistant to Dr Farmer. I asked her what he was like but brushed me off. :(
Most of the day is self-guided. The itinerary folder lists everything offered and where and when to get it. There is absolutely no hand-holding or structure here. As one med student put it, "My worst HMS experience was the interview day." About half the interviewees had to go off-site for at least one of their two interviews, which can be with 2 faculty or 1 faculty and 1 student.
The tour was neat. Lots of pretension, with endless marble, Roman-style busts of physicians clad in aristocratic togas. Lots of dead WASP men painted along the walls. The actual skull of Phineas Gage and the pike that impaled it! The clinical skills building was brand-new and nice. Some of the facilities were old but classic. The med student class is split into houses, each with its own wing in the student education building, with each wing feeding into a common lounge. Some of the houses had funny student-made murals with nerdy potty humor. Castle Society had a funny depiction of the immune system against STDs using a metaphor of the society as white blood cells manning a castle against invading STD's whose various species represented enemy HMS houses.
As mentioned by the faculty, what makes Harvard unique is the unparalleled caliber of its students. They were all very nice, motivated, and eclectic individuals. Many Rhodes, Fullbright, Marshall scholars. They stressed the school was about assembling people who excelled at various talents and had unique experiences, so that the student body would be diverse and would allow students to grow from their experiences with their peers. Nonetheless I felt many of these achievements felt manufactured, like stamp-collecting. The interviewees were formulaic: MCAT+GPA+TFA or MCAT+GPA+Haiti or Phillips Academy+Harvard UG. This reminded me of Hopkins.
My faculty interview was very weird. He enjoyed to talk at length. He especially disliked the Harvard administration and complained that many applicants only apply to Harvard for the name. He spoke very negatively of the school. But we had common interests... so maybe it went OK. I don't know. My student interview was solid and she was quite friendly (also a Marshall scholar)... but seemed perhaps highly critical beneath her smile.
After the interview I spent time visiting the beautiful main campus, but Harvard gave off that elitist, exclusive impression yet again by restricting access to most of the buildings to visitors (even those who have an interviewee ID badge).
I went into the day and left the day thinking I would not get in no matter what. Because it's Harvard. This really helped my mental health because it takes the pressure off. I don't expect to get in but it was fun visiting the "best medical school in the world." The hardest part is knowing how badly you want to get in, so there is tremendous pressure to perform well... but that means you risk being fake. In the end I am happy I presented myself honestly and unpretentiously, and I know the outcome will reflect a judgment on who I really am rather than the image I chose to present.
Summary of Experience: I came into Boston the day before my interview in the early afternoon. It was my first time in the city and I loved finally meeting people who had that classic Bostonian accent I had only heard in movies like "The Departed" and "Good Will Hunting." As a lover of American history, I decided to make good use of my time in what is arguably America's most historic city and heart of its revolution against Great Britain. I attended the Freedom Walk, which includes a guided tour with a guide dressed in 17th century attire.
The day started off with Dean Wurtzberg (spelling?), who is the most eloquent and charismatic interview day presenter I've seen in my 13 interviews thus far. What a one man show! He really sold the school well, but I was so tired I could barely contain my yawning. I could have sworn I was awoken in the middle of the night before in my hotel, when I heard the POLICE bang on my neighbor's door shouting "POLICE. OPEN UP!" WTF? Maybe I was dreaming and my dream and reality had blurred together to produce an auditory hallucination. Anyway, I downed 3 cups of coffee after a paltry interview day breakfast. The campus was pretty nice, with old red brick buildings. But it's not attached to the undergrad campus. Disappointing. After the long orientation we got to sit with a faculty member for an informal Q&A. It was relaxed. Then we did our ONE AND ONLY interview of the day with a member of the faculty who is also a voting admissions committee member. Of course with 1 interviewer, if you don't click then you're royally... you know. I got a pediatrician from the Dominican Republic who is interested in primary care. Not too much of a connection there, and his responses seemed to politely imply that he thought my record was incoherent and lacked a demonstration of humanism and service. So I might get rejected from BU, but I think I made a good case for myself despite everything. We'll see how it goes.
After our hour-long interviews was a redundant 30 minute "curriculum overview workshop" to which nobody paid any mind. Then we all ate a bland lunch of deli sandwiches. A few M2-4 students came to eat lunch with us. I was very surprised that the one I sat next to had very negative things to say about BU, like: the curriculum is too hard or too easy and never teaches to STEP I (meaning you must self-study for STEP I in addition to learning meaningless information to pass the courses), the administration is unreasonable and unresponsive to reform (e.g., they recently banned student- run social outings involving the consumption of alcohol, despite protests), and the first year is too hard. There was sort of a funny moment when I felt bad the med student was being too inundated with interviewee questions to have time to get food for herself, so I asked her, "So do you want to get lunch?" Everyone sort of laughed and the med student got a little flushed before saying, "... oh yeah, I better do that!" An interviewee said, "Whoa I thought you had just asked her out. That would have been ballsy." It would have been, with 10 of us watching and focused on my question. I hadn't realized my question had a double meaning!
After the lunch, the students split our group of 25 into two groups of 12-ish and we went on a tour. The problem was literally HALF of our time was devoted to waiting around for an elevator. The elevators were all small and crowded and we could never find one with enough room to convey our group. What a bad way to sell the school's facilities. We got to see the cadavers being worked on in the anatomy lab, which was pretty cool.
After the tour was a financial aid talk with a guy that looked like Conan O'Brien's long-lost brother. He was actually really cool, besides looking like Coco. Then we had a wrap up section with Dean Charisma, in which he told us the convoluted 2-stage process by which interviewees are further processed. Basically there are 2 batches of interviewees, and only 33% of earlier batch 1 are given outright acceptance, with the others being deferred and considered with later batch 2. The waitlist is small so if you make it onto it you should advocate hard for yourself because you have a good shot of making it off the list. Most accepted students were first deferred before being ultimately accepted. Ultimately, the city of Boston seemed nice, but not terribly nice. It is indeed clean, historic, and wealthy in parts, It has some sense of New England charm. But it is also crowded, haphazardly built, home to a dirty subway system, and feels somehow like a backwater town despite being somewhat metropolitan at its center. Granted, I did not have a chance to see the whole city, so take my judgment with a mole of grains of salt. The BU School of Medicine claims to be all about "exceptional care without exception," which means great patient care to everyone. It loves diverse patients and "social awareness" and has a liberal-minded mission in terms of diversity in admissions (it had the first black female and Native American medical students and was the first medical school for women). If you're into that and don't mind the extraordinary expense, curricular problems, and administrative problems, then BU might be a good match for you. For me, I don't think it's a good fit and I don't think I will be coming here, even if accepted and given the Dean's Scholarship (with a realistic maximum of $20k/year). But it was fun to go to Boston for the first time! Hopefully not the last.
Summary of Experience:
My first interview. Apparently I was part of the first or second batch of students to be interviewed for the year for JHU. There was an informal get-together the night before the interview. The next day, the tour was amazing. The caliber of the students and facilities made the experience feel like being in a movie in which everything feels cooler than real life. On that note, all the students seemed really physically attractive. I hope this is not a selection criterion! And all the students and interviewees had something crazy about themselves: A Harvard Law grad and ex-prosecutor, an Afghanistan war veteran, a genius URM who speaks 5 languages, et cetera. Another was the university medalist for her undergrad class of over 6,000 students (i.e., valedictorian). It was hard not to feel a little unworthy when placed among a group of extremely bright, talented individuals upon whom every superlative can be bestowed. It seemed to me that a school like JHU has access to a surfeit of students who are intelligent (high MCAT), motivated (high GPA), and well-rounded (amazing EC's), so they have the awesome luxury of choosing from that limited pool an even smaller subsection of applicants who are extremely sociable, agreeable, and kind. Extreme beauty, brains, and kindness. JHU seems to select on all three, and the latter two to an extreme degree. It was an honor just to be around some of the most extraordinary people my age that I have ever met. I imagine this is not only true of JHU but of many other schools too. Reflecting on my fellow interviewees, it was tempting to wonder what the adcomms saw in me to extend me an interview. How could they think that I belonged to such a group of estimable applicants? Especially if the first group to be interviewed by JHU represents the students they likely want the most (this was speculated by some of the interviewees that day... I don't endorse it, at least not when it comes to ME, haha.)
One thing I noticed a lot during the interview day was how often the med students praised the administration for how well they "built the class," which refers to selecting the right students to form a cohesive and comprehensive student body. There was a lot of emphasis that day on "assembling" the right elements (i.e., people) to build the class. And we were repeatedly encouraged to "just be yourself" during the interview... presumably to aid in identifying fit for assembling the incoming freshman class of students. My guess is that once you've made it to the interview, the committee believes you've sufficient intellectual and motivational resources to excel academically. And they've invited you because they believe your experiential or inherent qualities add to the diversity they want for their class (e.g., the "ex-attorney doc," the "war vet," and the "polyglot genius"). The purpose of the interview is just to make sure that you're going to add to the cohesiveness of the class through the right personality assets (e.g., kindness, affability), and that you're genuine (i.e., not lying about who you are).
Going back to the curriculum, the patient interaction in pre-clinical seems good. Half the curriculum is team-based with mixed reviews. Universal praise of the third year rotations. It was a downer to hear that there are no merit scholarships at JHU. And the city of Baltimore feels dirty and unsafe, especially at night. The medical campus is in a bad part of town. The faculty interviewer was tough and focused on research. It did not help that they voiced their dislike of the discipline in which I did my research. But I think I rebounded pretty well against the odds and he liked my responses toward the end. The student interviewer looked bored at times and I don't think we clicked perfectly. Later on, they did seem to like one aspect of my application, and we talked about that at length. My gut tells me that the faculty interviewer is a tough cookie by default. This style of interaction (i.e., intensely critical and demanding but also polite and kind) is common for me now from my experiences at some top labs, and it was common here at JHU, and I imagine it is the manner in which most elite institutions operate, by and large. It is a sensible way to conduct business, I think, in that it produces excellent work results while maintaining the social cohesion necessary to maintain strong relationships. My intuition says the faculty interview went well, and the student interview was neutral. We'll see what happens. Would love to come here, all things considered.
Summary of Experience:
"Pinch me; I think I'm dreaming," I told her.
We were walking through old campus after the interview when I told a fellow interviewee that. But let's talk about the interview day.
First, you have to think about the airport. New Haven is actually a small town between New York and Boston (70-80 minutes' drive away) and has a tiny airport that only takes arrivals from Philadelphia (and it's expensive). Us mortals must drive 70 minutes to Hartford, CT to the airport there.
After driving through the beautiful crimson forests of Connecticut, I arrived in New Haven. The interview day was fairly unstructured. For instance, I missed the orientation meeting because I had to drive 15 minutes to the VA hospital for my first interview. The second interview was a treasure hunt in which I had to abort my guided tour to hunt down where in the labyrinthine Yale-New Haven Hospital complex was my second interview, which I barely got to in time. Perhaps this lack of structure mirrors the Yale System, which is rather unstructured and gives the student more freedom to pursue the interests he or she has. This system includes a mandatory research thesis (since the 1830's!), with 70% of students now taking a free fifth year to do projects. As part of this system, students are encouraged to take classes outside the med school. Any class offered at Yale is available to students. There are no grades, not even for M3-4 (no SHELF!) which is pretty crazy. One student said "this is the easiest med school in the country." But that's only if your lazy. Most students use the free time (did I mention attendance is not mandatory) to do amazing things. One student spends so much time learning Mandarin, another is doing research, while another is taking classes at the law school. Many of the dual degrees are free, like the MHS, and it's easy to get funding and stipends.
The campus is beautiful (duh), but to the point that I felt like I was dreaming. I'd never been to New England before. This felt more European than Europe, at times. The wealth and beauty is just astounding. And the campus is so compact and (relatively) small that you feel the med school is part of the larger campus (especially since you can take any class as a med student).
Money does seem to be an issue, as it did feel like I might not get any scholarships or aid. The med school facilities also seemed shabby compared to the brand-new campuses I've seen at other schools. Surprisingly dilapidated! But whatever. The dorms also looked pretty gross---and no air conditioning. The city of New Haven is really poor and run-down, but I think it is a great asset in that it gives you a good patient population. The African and Hispanic communities here also keep things diverse. It's good to be grounded when the campus itself is so rich and privileged.
The interviews felt... I don't know? My first one went alright, but I think I may have answered one question poorly. We'll see if it kills my chances. The other interview went really well and he even said, "I hope you choose Yale," when we said our farewells. Director Silverman was really funny and laid back, but it was kind of awkward when I noticed a spreadsheet on his desk with my name (and other names on it) with numbers (adcomm scores?) scribbled on it. I think he noticed I was eyeing it when he took the sheet away, haha.
What really sold me on the school was that after the interview I was pulled aside by two med students who were super enthusiastic about the school and took me out to ice cream and showed me around. So much of this process is a gut feeling and impression you form, and this experience is ineffable. It was a great time here, and this is my first choice right now. The level of autonomy, the atmosphere, and the spirit of the school really fit with my background, personality, and needs. PLEASE LET ME IN! (Decisions in mid-March)
Summary of Experience:
Facilities are a little run-down, not in the best part of Manhattan. Students here are genius superstars, like the Harvard/Julliard classically trained pianist who played on Broadway in 5 musicals before becoming a med student. Great tour of facilities, got to sit in on a lecture featuring a hilarious lecturer. Only 1 interview.
Summary of Experience:
The faculty interviewer was the nicest yet; perhaps that means something with respect to the faculty in general. The areas of concentration (AoC) offer a bevy of electives throughout the curriculum that grant a certificate at the end. It was suggested that the AoC certificate was a boon during the matching process during residency. UPitt offers a PSTP program (physician-scientist training program) that sports a 5th year to do research with a stipend. Seats are limited and selection occurs after admission to the MD program (double check on this if you're accepted). The Western Psychiatric Hospital is claimed to be the most research-funded psychiatric hospital in the USA, and its neurology and psychiatry programs are ranked top-10. It also one of those schools that has both excellently ranked clinical and research programs (#10 in NIH funding and #10 in clinical care through its campus hospital according to USNWR). Pitt also promises great global health opportunities. There is an offering of international rotations all over the world and seem to be funded. Humanitarian work seems to be self-funded and outside the SoM.
Students generally like their rotations here. The simulation lab seemed very nice. Perhaps nearly as nice as Johns Hopkins. I got to intubate a dummy that had simulated breathing. The rooms do have a control center. Lecture halls and many parts of the campus building (Scaife Hall) seemed old and dilapidated. The Oakland community around Pittsburgh isn't bad for a ghetto. The surrounding area is nice, forested, green, and cleaner than I expected. Pittsburgh feels like a big city but is very compact. The outlying neighborhoods of Squirrel Hill and Sunnyside seem slightly shabby but generally clean and safe, even late at night. I hear the rent can be quite cheap ($500 for own room; $900 for great studio). Dr. XXXX, the very friendly physician who specializes in XXXX at the VA and interviewed me, said the neighborhoods outside of Oakland next to bus lines are ideal (buses free for students) and egalitarian ("professors living next to students"). Lots of cool old buildings everywhere. The Cathedral of Learning is really cool, although I did not have the chance to go inside. The gym seemed nice and they have an indoor pool.
PBR seemed to be "about a third" of the learning at Pitt SOM. We even had a PBR sample with a New Zealander faculty member. It was a group discussion on ethics surrounding how we as an ICU team would solve the problem of an old woman with little hope of recovery who was in a coma and the family was fighting over pulling the plug on her since she had no DNR or "advanced directive". The professor would call on us to answer questions (many of them were hard questions about medical law... how can we know this?). Seemed fun overall. I showed up 10 minutes late since my interview went over time. It sucked to have to catch up, especially since our performance may have been evaluated. I think I did well when he called on me right after I scrambled to read the printed synopsis we were all given. I also volunteered a great answer toward the end about how putting all Americans on a universal health records card system to include DNR so as to avoid more cases of debate on pulling the plug. Mixed student reviews on PBR. Can be hit or miss in year 1 according to two M2 students.
The student interview seemed to go well. Lost 10 minutes trying to find an open room in which to interview. She was not usually an interviewer and was filling in. Seemed generally impressed by my responses (especially since hers was closed file; faculty interview is blind only to numbers). But who knows. There are hired stunt patients in M1-2 and some work in clinics I think. The anatomy lab was impressive and had lots of large TVs next to each dissection table. Had over 30 cadavers and 100 students toiling away amid the miasma of formaldehyde. Was exciting. The simulation lab also included dummies with blood and skin that you could cut open to practice tubing. Facilities were generally open late (but unclear if open 24/7). Unsure on the quality of the match list. That's something to check out later. There does seem to be some merit-based scholarship. About 55% of students who apply for need-based scholarships receive some amount of money. We were encouraged to apply. All decisions are released January 15(?). Double-check the "15". Students were encouraged to submit updates.
Update: Wait-listed, "first tier"
Update 2: Although most people on tier 1 get off (Pitt waitlists a lot out of fear of overacceptance), I know I would not attend even if offered a position. Withdrew
Summary of Experience:
When people think "WashU" they either think "Gunner" or "What's that?" After interviewing here, I think the best descriptor is "friendly."
I flew into WashU still pretty fatigued from my Harvard interview the week before. I was so excited to see the Gateway Arch from the window of my airplane, even though I knew it was about 15F outside. I am sure it seemed even colder to the applicant who had flown all the way from Lebanon the night before to interview the same day as I. One can't help but immediately notice the socioeconomic and racial divide in St. Louis. At the airport, everyone was white and rich or middle class. The moment I boarded the (convenient) light rail from the airport to WashU, I noticed how everyone was black and poor.
WashU gives its applicants one of the cheapest and most convenient interview days. The rail conveys you straight from the STL airport to a station that is a 1-minute walk from the medical school. In fact, the station is right inside the medical campus! Then you get to stay in the nearby med student dorm, Olin Hall, for free. It was alright, but the walls were really thin and I got only an hour of sleep.
The night before the interview, the school hosts a pizza dinner with interviewees and med students. The pizza was delicious and they give you TONS. The M1 students come to talk to you, and they seemed really fratty and seemed to embrace a drinking culture. They said P/F M1 helps. Then an M2 wandered in, shell-shocked, talking about how "life changes in M2." In part, that must be because the second year is H/P/F and ranked. Gunner alert! To be fair, the school says clinical years are weighted much more heavier, so M2 grades are not terribly important.
Whenever you ask about the school's gunner culture, nobody will ever answer it does not exist. Diplomatically, they assert that it exists but one needn't partake in it to succeed. People here are "naturally motivated" and, as the dean said in the morning orientation, "aggressive---but in the best kind of way. Aggressive toward helping others." Okay.
WashU is famous for having the highest MCAT scores of any medical school (38 for accepted students). Part of my concern is that this means the school attracts brainy, gunner kids. I imagine M3-4 is pretty rough competition for grades, especially when rounding with other med students who are competing for the attending physician's favor.
We had an awesome lunch on the 17th floor of a building, where they have a cloth-napkin restaurant with glass walls and panoramic views of St Louis's larger version of New York's Central Park, which borders the medical campus, with the undergrad campus on the other side of the park.
I had my interview next. WashU is unique in that it informs you of your interviewer's name and gives a bio days before you come in to interview. It also only has ONE interviewer (though 20-30% get a second interviewer). Mine was a retired physician who grilled me on my research. Then he said he liked me a lot but I interviewed late and not to be mad if I got waitlisted. :(
One could tell WashU has a bit of a chip on its shoulder. It tries very hard to woo top kids and knows it is competing against top-10 schools in better cities with stronger name brands. But WashU has the academics and achievements that make it deserve its top-10 status. Part of how it woos students is through ostentatious display. We each got our photos taken and printed on laminated, fancy guest cards we wore on our jackets. We got WashU ribbon-wrapped gourmet cookies at the end of the day.
What I did enjoy about the campus was how it had that charming, midwestern friendliness, especially among the people who work for the school. It'd be great to come here (though I'll probably get a W/L or rejection)
Update: Wait-listed. Feelings are mutual! Withdrew. :P
Summary of Experience:
The 9th interview of the season. Burned out.
The trip was part of the second leg of my trip to the east, with my first interview at Yale two days before. The reality of traveling---especially when making connecting flights or commuting to a faraway airport---is that you need to wake up exceptionally early to get to your destination exceedingly late in the day (if you're aiming for same-day travel). In practice, that means I was waiting for my shuttle to Hartford (one hour from New Haven-Yale) at 3 a.m. to catch my 6 a.m. flight. I got into Nashville after a connection. While on the journey, it was cool to learn that the Nobel Prize in Medicine winners had been released that day, and a Yale faculty member had won (and a co-winner from my alma mater!).
I got to Nashville ridiculously tired, and luckily the hotel was the best yet, and only $100 a night (Home 2 Suites). I got in fairly early, and spent the remainder of the day ironing my dress clothes and watching Sunday football. I decided to crawl out from my repurposed man cave and explore the area to find some nourishment. I ended up going to a Tex-Mex/Cajun restaurant that was actually more of a sports bar, and honestly I felt really out of place among the very Southern, NASCAR atmosphere of the packed bar. (Not that anyone there was remotely unkind, nor that there is anything wrong with that kind of atmosphere. It's just something I'm really not used to.) After finally having a night's rest of more than 3 hours, I felt great for the interview day. The city itself seems very nice, though, with tons of old buildings, lush trees, and lots of gentrified developments newly built or in the process of being built. You can see why multiple top-publications have labeled the Nashville as the next "It" city, or as a very livable one.
When I got there, I was greeted by a familiar face but I couldn't put my name on where I'd seen it. When I asked her, I just murmured the first college that came to mind---Hopkins---and she remembered me from there. During the course of the day, us applicants had moments of free time when we could all converse communally, and that time was constantly focused on medicine, applications, and achievements, which set a gunner tone for the whole day. I did not appreciate how boastful most of the applicants were of their great success during the cycle. I felt like it was mean in that it likely made the less competitive applicants more nervous. Some students took extra opportunities to unnecessarily posture and name drop the names of the schools where they interviewed. I have been fortunate enough to have the same level of success, but I don't go about name dropping at every turn, or moving the conversation to a place where I can name drop.
That being said, I was amazed---and jealous and intimidated, to be honest---by how elite the other applicants were. It seemed like everyone there had interviewed at all the top schools already, especially Mayo. I even met one of the most successful applicants of SDN, whom I had already known due to his or her fame on the forums. He or she was very cool in person.
The campus itself was really nice. It's a compact cluster of new brick-and-glass skyscrapers, with the school and hospitals forming one tight and comprehensive center. Vanderbilt is a regional health hub and has a fleet of helicopters serving it (since it flies in so many people from elsewhere who otherwise would have nowhere else to receive specialized and/or urgent care.) The facilities weren't the nicest I've seen, but they were certainly better than many I've seen. We got to see the lecture halls, sim lab, the rec room, and were introduced to their 4-college (Hogwarts) system, in which the class is quadrifurcated, with students belonging to a house with a set of faculty mentors. Students compete as well in various tournaments. The students are mostly white, much less diverse than I would have expected. They seemed pretty nice and wished us good luck whenever we passed by.
The students seem a little stressed, especially the M1's, who are guinea pigs for the new curriculum ("Curriculum 2.0"), which crunches the pre-clinical into 1.0 year and clinical rotations are in year 2 rather than 3. This seems pretty brutal, and it does concern me quite a bit. The selling point is that in M3-4 you're free to specialize and explore particular disciplines of medicine. Vandy seems pretty all over the place when it comes to curriculum reform, as they seem to offer every imaginable "innovation" that all the other top schools have recently enacted.
The school seems very jock, with wellness programs and nearly every student I talked to being an active athlete of some kind. Of course, Nashville is a music town, and there are plenty of musician-med students here. Overall it seems like a great facility, but I do find the curriculum a little too inventive and a little too untested. Tennessee seems nice, but I wonder if it's for me.
Update: Waitlisted. First bad news of my entire cycle. Can't say I am not disappointed and shocked. I thought my interviews went very well. I guess they did not.
Update 2: Withdrew from waiting list due to acceptances at schools I'd rather attend.
Summary of Experience:
Freezing my ass off---and loving it. It was the first cold week in Chicago. On the morning of my interview day, at 8 a.m., it was about 25 degrees outside, much colder than what this desert-born-and-raised boy is used to. My cousin, who lives in Chicago, loaned me his overcoat---and thank God for that. But despite my first experience with cold weather, I fell in love with how clean, spacious, and spectacular the city and the University are. With the sights, sounds, and wow-factor of the campus, the stingingly-cold weather felt crisp and refreshing. But it didn't seem like I was wearing rose-colored glasses. It was more like everything *was* rose-colored and I was seeing without any lens.
Let's start with the city. From the moment I landed in beautiful Midway, Chicago immediately felt world-class. The subway station was pristine, the schedule signs were completely digitized and brand-new, and the carriages were chrome, polished, sleek, boxy, and masculine in that classically American way. The subway conveyed me through the red-brick heart of Chicago, a city that is somehow excitingly dense and metropolitan while also seeming spacious and clean. Rent and food is gloriously cheap. My cousin, who lives in the Sheridan area north of the metro area pays only $900 for a 1-bedroom apartment in a nice part of town. Wow.
I took the subway and bus to the interview day, and it was surprising to see that everyone I met on the streets and subway was white. But as I went south and got off near the White Sox stadium, everyone---and I mean everyone---was black except for me. As I rode the bus, I was the only non-black person. That changed, of course, as I got to the UChicago stop, which is situated in Hyde Park, which is an affluent island of academic whites in a sea of impoverished blacks. The police are stationed at every corner of the campus and have a heavy presence in the white parts of town. I realized Chicago felt safe, open, and clean because it came at the cost of extraordinary classism, de facto segregation, and preferential police coverage.
But while this surprised me, I did like, actually, that the campus is located in a "bad area." UChicago operates several student-run clinics that allow M1 and M2 students to get great patient interaction experiences with underserved communities in the area. More than that, each clinic is offered in different ethnic communities: Laotian, Polish, Hispanic, black, and more.
Despite being founded in 1927, UChicago feels like a much older campus with Gothic, ivy-covered buildings everywhere. Grand, opulent, and timeless architecture give UChicago a very Ivy League, wonderland feeling that matched what I felt at Yale when I interviewed there. UChicago's infatuation with the Ivy League seems to be reflected in the students whom they select to interview. At my interview day, nearly *half* of the interviewees were from Yale. Two from Harvard. One from Columbia. Half of the med students at the interview day were from HYPSM. Of course, it is a matter of inferential statistics if my observations are just a non-representative quirk of random selection from a larger sample pool. As with all my interviews, I saw some interviewees whom I met before at other schools' interviews. The interview day itself started with a breakfast hosted by the office for diversity. It was funny that nobody at the interview was URM except one of us 16. They had muffins. It was good. Then we signed in with mini iPads each of us were supplied. We could use a tablet-compatible stylus attached to the tail-end of UChicago pens we were given to keep. A needless and ostentatious way to woo us, but I liked it. Then we were given a short orientation by Dr. Todd, a well- groomed, young PhD and administrator. The medical school is imbedded within the UChicago campus, and the building even houses lecture halls and study rooms frequented by fresh meat---I mean, undergrads. Everything is sleek, glass-and-steel, new, and impressive. Less so than Mayo or Hopkins, but still very much near the top of what I've seen thus far.
The short morning orientation is quickly proceeded by the first two of three interviews for the day. The first and second are with one administrator, and the other with one faculty member. My faculty interview was a little disorienting because he was involved in surgery and was very busy in the OR. I was struggling to present myself effectively as his pager beeped incessantly while we interviewed in the OR break room (with 5 other people resting and eavesdropping), The scrub-clad physician seemed nice enough but didn't really give me many open-ended questions nor any challenging ones. It seemed he had already made his mind up about me before I even met him, but I was unsure what his judgment was. He seems like a very impassive person. My next interview was with an administrator. He was very outgoing and our conversation seemed much more conversational. He focused much more on assessing my personality and only brought up the "highlights" of my application that differentiated me from other applicants. I liked how open-ended my questioning was, and it allowed me to present myself more freely and authentically. I thought this interview went extremely well, and he seemed to mean it when he said he enjoyed our conversation. That being said, he is very charismatic and could easily pretend to enjoy our conversation.
We had an amazing lunch of deep-dish pizza (6 different flavor options) with salad and delicious soft cookies. They even had custom UChicago bottled water. We had M1 students talk to us during lunch (WARNING: Some of them were interviewing applicants later in the day). They seemed happy. The curriculum is unranked M1-2 P/F with a formulaic, control-heavy longitudinal research thesis program that is highly customizable to complement global health, epidemiology, science research, and more. You can sign up for classes in other schools or do a dual degree program. The classes are subject based, not organ based. Anatomy is the first course of M1. I enjoyed how nerdy some of the med students were at lunch, as we discussed Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, and Dr. Who. It's nice to see other nerds in medicine.
After lunch we were given a tour that somehow lasted an hour despite showing us relatively little. Nonetheless, we got to see the beautiful undergrad campus, the chic glass-domed underground library, and some of the nonmedical portions of the medical facilities. I got to peruse the brochures they gave us and was honestly a bit disappointed by the match list, which was good but certainly not as stellar as my impression of the school.
The student interview was super laid-back. The student interviewer tried to reassure me at the beginning, saying "this is a conversation and not an interview. You can't screw this up unless you punch me." While I didn't believe him one bit, I did embrace the idea of an informal interview. We had a great, organic, unscripted conversation that allowed me to open up and show my true self and interests. He was very intelligent and we seemed like very similar people. We clicked in such a great way that my opinion of the school increased dramatically.
After the interview day I got to stay in Chicago for two days. My cousin, a resident, showed me the city. It's so surprisingly livable and beautiful. I'd LOVE to live here.
Update: "Continued" - So I'm considered for acceptance all the way until March, when all the remaining continued applicants are tossed onto the waiting list.
Summary of Experience:
Almost literally an ivory tower above the clouds. Am I in love?
My schoolmate---who was also a good friend---had an interview here the same day I did! He gave me a ride, but we had a difficult time finding parking. UCSF does not validate parking, and it is notoriously hard to find parking in the heart of the city. We were barely on time for the orientation. When we arrived... well, WOW. We were at the topmost floor of the library tower, which is itself located on a large hill at the center of the city (so is the rest of the campus). This means that we were looming over the city from our eagle's nest.
We were literally above the clouds, out from which breached the red peaks of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. On the other side of our 360-degree view, we could see the skyline of the city, including the TransAmerica Pyramid building. We had a talk with one of the members of the admissions committee, a bespectacled, middle-aged Englishman who sounded like the Dyson-vacuum guy and loved ending every other sentence with the phrase, "...and such like." For a whole 60 minutes he gave a very eye-opening and frank talk on the admissions process. He said they receive 7500 applications, out of which "two- to three-thousand can be eliminated outright," with the remainder being much harder to process. Out of the 500 or so they interview, they said they honestly had no way of really choosing the best candidates and that it was a "roll of the dice," whether or not you'd be admitted. But then he said that anyone given an interview at UCSF is the kind of person who is desired at all top schools. So, he said that while there are too few seats at UCSF to accommodate all 500 kids, there are enough seats for the 500 when one adds up all the seats at all the top schools. He said this was fine because "you'll get a comparatively excellent education at any of the top-20 schools, so it doesn't really matter where you go." This put most of us at ease, and we enjoyed how the faculty here were honest, transparent, and cared about our emotions.
There was no financial aid talk, which was unusual, but they did allow us to sit in on a lecture for the first years! It was on embryology and composed their prologue series, which is the science crash-course before beginning organ systems blocks. It was intense. The whole M1 class was packed into the auditorium. The lecturer was good and funny! The students seemed engaged and sharp. The whole experience had a very undergrad feel, which I did like. It was much different than the feel at, say, Cleveland Clinic, which was much more serious and professional. The tour was nice but a little limited. They did show us the anatomy lab, which is new, and had the same spectacular view. The sim lab looked pretty new too. It is also where they do simulated patient interaction practice. Students here seemed just as laid back as at UCSD or UCI Med, but also had that superstar feel... but not as much as I felt when I was at Johns Hopkins. The med students were friendly and didn't seemed very stressed at all. Also they have really cool white coats! Love the U|C shield logo they have embroidered onto the arm of the coat. FYI: P/F M1-2, M3-4 graded (SHELF)
I looked up the person who was to interview me, and to my great shock the person was huge in that they had invented a surgical procedure or made a groundbreaking scientific discovery (keeping it vague so I cannot be as easily identified!). I thought he was going to be intense and mean, but I was surprised to learn how avuncular he was. He did grimace at times throughout the interview, which was really off-putting, but judging by how the grimace seemed so random, I realized it was likely due to pain rather than a reaction to my interview answers. I hope he feels better. He would interrupt me at times, but somehow didn't feel like it was a bad thing. I did feel I was able to express my main points, even though he always asked pointed questions. (FYI: Closed file interviews here) The next interview was with a student. This was my best interview yet, and we really clicked!
Plenty of people take an extra year to do research or whatever, and many get a dual degree, but it seems you have to pay yourself. Not too many scholarship opportunities ("this is a public school," remarked Mr. Englishman), but the average indebtedness was nonetheless lower than the national average. Overall my top choice among UC schools. I'd give it my #1 choice slot, but then I went to Yale... now it's a toss-up. BUT I'd drag my nuts through a mile of broken glass to get accepted here!
Update: I thought my interviews here were stellar. This process is absolutely arcane. Devastated.
Update 2: Accepted by Email May 16th at 9pm EST! MATRICULATING DREAM COME TRUE AHHHHHHH
Summary of Experience:
I was a little weary because I had done an interview at UC Irvine the night before and had little sleep. My dad drove me from Irvine to La Jolla (UCSD) after an awesome steak dinner at the sports grill across from the school campus. On the day of the interview, one could not help but start the day out pleasantly surprised by the pristine, brand-new glass-and-steel medical sciences complex, which houses the admissions office where we all first congregated in the early morning. There, we turned in some paperwork and sat down in a long conference room, which had a table that spanned the room along its length. All 35 of us crammed into the room, with some students sitting at the many seats that lined the sides of the amply-windowed room.
The dean of admissions came in, a young, bespectacled physician in a white lab coat. He was quite sharp and articulate, and he seemed quite brainy and soft-spoken. I thought he was just a random radiologist filling in, but I learned later that he was the dean. The orientation presentation was replaced with a Q&A session, and we were expected to have watched a narrated powerpoint orientation before the interview day. I felt like there were a few gunners in the group, and one of them really set everyone at unease through her line of incessant questioning of her peers before the Q&A began.
The vibe I got from the dean was that their school was so good that they needn't bother with propaganda or actively courting us. They encouraged us just to look around, ask strangers, and they will all tell the same story: The school is as much paradise as the weather in La Jolla (the coastal, affluent near-San Diego suburb that houses UCSD and its adjoining medical school).
We promptly began the MMI process. Due to a nondisclosure agreement, I am unfortunately bound by law to omit the details behind what went on that day. I will however say that going into the day, I had never done MMI before and thought it would be terrible. I am an introvert and assumed it would not reward someone like me. I left feeling like I had just done 8 short, fun, exciting mini-interviews. It was exciting and gave me a huge adrenaline rush. I prefer MMI now over the traditional interview format. Never thought I'd say that going into the application cycle.
The lunch was a little bland and prompted my stomach to rebel to such an extent that I had to make an urgent bathroom break (If you think "gross!" maybe you're in the wrong field!) The tour was a little long and tedious, and although the facilities were generally nice (a mix of ultra-modern and $$$ to modest, '70s-era facilities) we didn't get to see too much of the clinical side (hospital, sim lab, anatomy lab), which was disappointing. Kids kept asking questions that they should already know from reading the brochure or the website.
The students seemed very laid back, and it reflected the San Diego stereotype of sun, surf, and fun. It was actually a bit warm that day (Late September and 87F). We ended the day with a video about their student-run and student-made clinics. The lifestyle of the students here cannot be beat. Just that alone makes this school a very tempting option. Update: My second acceptance! Notified by email first and then later by a sumptuous letter packet in the mail. Reserving a seat is free.
Summary of Experience:
The school boasts that they treat their students like members of the faculty. From day one, you're an apprentice physician. Your student doctor white lab coat is as long as a physician's, unlike at other schools, where the coat for students is much shorter. This philosophy was reflected in the tone of the school. When I arrived for the interview day, it was clear that this was not a collegiate environment but rather an entirely professional one. Part of this impression may have come from the fact that the school admits so few students to its program. Only 32 slots exist for the matriculating class, and, not surprisingly, the interview cohort for the day was quite small---only 4 people, myself included. With a larger group, the school obviously exerts more organizational resources to facilitate the cohort. You receive little goodies, like, at UC Irvine, little syringe-shaped pens and a large catered breakfast and lunch. You dine among droves of other college-age applicants and talk about what you saw on TV last night while waiting for the next event for the interview day.
But at CCLCM, there was none of that. We were given a voucher for breakfast and then the same for lunch. One or two students wandered in to give us some advice, but they were not part of the program. No, the only people involved were the assistant dean herself, who personally gave us a tour of the Cleveland Clinic and did one of our two, 1-on-1 faculty interviews.
Before the interview, we were given a long Q&A with Assistant Dean Franco, a friendly but intense female psychiatrist. She seems like your sweet grandmother but also your boss at the same time. The financial aid session was unique in how different it was. Since every student at CCLCM gets a full-tuition scholarship for all five years of the program, the talk was just about learning how to keep your living expenses down. Cleveland is already cheap as it is. One student said a group of CCLCM students once rented a mansion with maids and split the cost so each student paid $700/mo. The average student indebtedness was something like $45k, whereas the private school average indebtedness was around $180k. Most kids said you need a car even at M1 since clinical duties are expected beginning on day 1. For more school details, just go to the CCLCM website. It's very complete.
The tour began with Dean Franco showing us around, then switched over to an M5 student. She seemed super gunner but generally pretty cordial to us. The facilities were absolutely stunning, maybe better than those at Johns Hopkins, which I viewed as the best I have seen thus far. Everything is new, futuristic, sleek, metallic, and clean. The main thoroughfare of the Cleveland Clinic, Carnegie Avenue, is like the Las Vegas strip of medicine, with massive new clinical and research buildings lining and towering over the avenue. The buildings are interlocked by sky-bridges, whose interiors contain 45-inch LCD TV's from the ceiling every 2 feet. The sheer redundancy of the TV's, which only display a screensaver of the school's administrative big-wigs' portraits and names, is a rather ostentatious display of the Clinic's prestige and wealth. The clinic buildings also have enormous and tasteful displays of modern art everywhere, including ceiling sculptures the size of Boeing-737's and digital projection art, making the facilities seem at times more like a metropolitan museum of modern art than a hospital. I got the same impression as I did at JHU, where everything feels so elite and wealthy that you feel like this is a Hollywood version of medicine. Am I in a movie, again? "Is this real life?"
After the tour, we had a mock-PBL session. The entire curriculum at CCLCM is PBL, and that did give me some misgivings at first. Especially when they said that the faculty leader of a PBL comes from a specialty UNrelated to the specialty of the PBL. But doing a mock PBL made me feel better, as it did seem to engage my attention and I was able to learn a great number of things. I do see how an effective team may be able to learn just as---or even more---effectively than learning using a podcasted lecture. Speaking of which: Attendance at everything is mandatory. Other cool miscellanea: The IBM supercomputer Watson is used by some students to compare human-made diagnoses to Watson-made diagnoses. The dream is that IBM Watson and his children can one day be used to learn large volumes of research and case histories to provide physicians with "enhanced Cliff Notes" and analysis. More miscellanea: All your events, portfolios, and evaluations are done on CCLCM-provided laptops hooked to a web portal. Your portfolio is a feedback essay that exists in lieu of any grades. There are no exams or grades M1-5. As one med student said, you need to do good research because without grades your residency applications are "tanked" if you've no grades and no research (without grades, research is the only major way to demonstrate you're an excellent candidate). But the CCLCM claims their STEP 1 scores are great and they do have an excellent match list. They use an organ-systems based curriculum with all the subjects threaded through each systems block. This method seems more intelligent to me in that it probably enhances long-term memorization.
The interviews were, honestly, a bit scary. There is one student interviewer and two faculty members who interview. They are all done in quick succession and in the same room. The student was an M4 and kept a fairly blank expression. She stuck to the list of questions she had, for the most part. Then I had Dean Franco, who, although quite kind and amazingly knowledgeable, is a very tough interviewer! It was all about research, and she wanted specifics and I don't think I conveyed myself as well as I hoped. She did seem disappointed too by my research. Perhaps she had grander ideas of the magnitude of my rather modest research. Despite how nice and cordial she is, I am expecting her to write a negative review of me, which, given her status, may be a nail in the coffin. My next interview went pretty well I think. The day ended with a promotional video. I thought about taking the bus back to the airport (which is about a 40 minute drive away) but was discouraged by the secretary who told me an interviewer was "attacked" on the bus once near downtown. She quickly backpedaled and said it was a female interviewer leaving the Greyhound station early in the morning. So I took a cab and was lucky to find two urology residents here for a conference who split the ride with me back to the airport. Too bad my flight was an hour late and I missed my Denver connection (and now I am stranded all night in Denver until a morning flight!)
Ultimately, I am not expecting too much from CCLCM. They only accept about 20% of the kids whom they interview, and given my middling interview with the dean, I doubt I'll make the rather drastic cut.
Update: ACCEPTED! Wow. Free tuition is a lot to think about, and it's the CLEVELAND CLINIC. I really thought I ruined my interview with Dean Franco... and then she calls me to accept me today, haha!
Update 2: Went to 2nd Look. They literally wine and dine you at the CC Foundation House, which is a 19th century Tudor-style mansion that the CC bought out. You are served drinks on platters and listen to students and faculty. It is nice, but a little stuffy and dry, especially with the litany of powerpoints we had to slough through. I am sure many students liked it, but I did not click that well with the students, nor did I really like the PBL that I saw. I am starting to realize I need a traditional curriculum and a more collegiate environment. Cleveland was depressing to tour through, even though it has some nice, gentrified pockets where you could live. It would be an unhappy 5 years if I decided to come here, unfortunately. The money is a tempting offer, since tuition is free, and the cost of living is low, but the fact is a 5th year of school means 1 fewer year of potential earnings as a high-earning doctor, so the tuition savings is negated.
Summary of Experience:
My favorite group of students, for sure. The Cornell kids are smart but so unpretentious. I may be biased in how I loved that they loved Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, and Battlestar Galactica. The facilities are gorgeous and in a great part of Manhattan. 1 student, 1 faculty interviewer. Faculty interviewer was an eccentric jerk who was quite mean and racist to me. Oh well.
Update: Accepted! What a shocker. I guess it was a stress interview.
Summary of Experience:
An hour of sheer panic and terror. Little did I know that my interview day would be so terrible. I came in the night before and checked in at the hotel. I used the Ayres Hotel. The rate was $90 a night and was subsidized by the school of medicine. The full price must have been much more, because the opulence of the hotel and its amenities seemed too fine for a $90 nightly rate. It had a double interior courtyard, one with a circular fountain that was tiered like a wedding cake, and another with a large pool and jacuzzi. Vivaldi and perfume permeated every hallway. The Ayres family is obsessed with 18th century grand warships, as every large room comes with at least one ornate model of such a vessel.
That night before the interview, the interviewees were invited en masse to attend a pizza dinner at a sports pub pizzeria hybrid restaurant. It was like California Pizza Kitchen. About 20 kids showed up. I came in 5 minutes late and a little frazzled because I had discovered just then that my phone was experiencing a literal catastrophic meltdown. I knew something was wrong when I could feel a fire burning through my pocket. My internal, integral battery was hot. Maybe 190 degrees hot, and the phone would not turn on.
Everyone was already seated outside on two long tables, and I felt awkward showing up in my shabby track pants and wrinkled T-shirt. One kid was wearing a full suit. But I was told it the venue was supposed to be casual, so whatever. Perhaps it was just where I sat, but there seemed to be a very skewed applicant-to-med student ratio. I was not seated next to any med student until later in the night when an MS1 showed up to nab some free pizza. Like most UC schools, UC Irvine invites a large number of applicants to any one of their interviewing days. From what I heard, that number is around 40. Most of the kids came from within the state, especially Berkeley and UCLA. Some were students from elite colleges who lived in California during high school and still had family living in the area. Four kids were from Harvard University, for example, and two of them were from Orange County originally.
I got to meet my friend from my post-bacc program, whom I hadn't learned was attending the interview until just then! I also met a nice candidate from Georgia and another friend whom I met on SDN and later at the interview for the University of Pittsburgh the week before. The Southern girl was nice enough to drive me back to the hotel, of which we were both patrons that night. The atmosphere that night was really positive and laid back, and it was nice that the fellow applicants were more apt to talk about movies and hobbies than EC's, schools, and gunning. My friend told me I might be in trouble because, with my phone dead, I wouldn't be able to set an alarm to wake me up the next day. Rest assured, I told him, I would be fine because I had scheduled a hotel wake up call, and, in case that somehow failed, I had set the hotel alarm clock on my nightstand...
The next morning, I awoke of my own volition 75 minutes after my scheduled wake up time. To my knowledge, a wake- up call was never made. The alarm clock failed. The interview was to begin in 32 minutes. Panicked, I called to schedule another shuttle to pick me up in 7 minutes. I began to pack and dress myself feverishly. I got to the lobby barely in time, breathless because I had sprinted across the lengthy hotel premises. When I got there, I checked out and waited outside for the shuttle. I waited until it was 5 minutes late. I complained, and they said the shuttle had already left 5 minutes ago without me! They did not even apologize for the wake up call or the shuttle. I was pissed but had to keep composed, and ordered a cab. I sat in the lobby and googled "What to do if late for an interview?" The first result said my chances were absolutely nil no matter the circumstance. I wanted to give up. I waited in the lobby for 10 minutes. When the cab came, I had 8 minutes 'til the interview day began at the school. I told the cab driver, "I'll tip you a lot if you rush me." He seemed to only follow this advice very modestly, and of course he had no GPS. We got there 4 minutes late, and I only knew to be "somewhere around the med school." I had my whole itinerary on my phone (dead, remember?) and I lost the slip of paper on which I had written the name and room number of the admissions office.
I wandered into a random building. It looked closed, and some morose janitor was mopping the floor of the dilapidated, empty hallways ahead of me. I was 6 minutes late. I remembered the Internet article. "Maybe I should just go back home now..." I thought to myself. "It's over."
I then figured they would only interview us in the nicest building on campus---Gotta make an impression, right?! So I looked around for the nicest building and went there. Sure thing, the lobby receptionist sees me wandering aimlessly with my luggage and suit and asks, "Here for the interview?" Then I see 2 other interviewees behind me, also checking in! I was 12 minutes late. To my great luck, there had been a snafu with the parking that day, so the car-bound applicants were late in large numbers. So I blended in! The lesson is: Don't give up---there may be hope ahead even when life feels hopeless at the moment. And use your head when all else fails (that's how I found out where to go when I was lost)! Oh, and don't use the Ayres Hotel. You suck, bro!
They had a pretty good continental breakfast spread with blueberry muffins! We got lanyards with our names on them rather than name pins. Honestly the presentations were boring and just re-hashed exactly what was already on the website. The tour was disappointing, because they didn't show us anything. No lecture halls, no sim lab (I heard other groups got to see the dummies), and no medical center (it's 30 minutes from the med school)! The students did seem really friendly and laid back, just like at the dinner. For an icebreaker we had to introduce ourselves in front of 39 other people. For an introvert like me, that sucked!
The coolest part of the day was that they had us try on their student doctor white coats! They wanted our sizes. I was like... I NEED DIS. http://i.imgur.com/5Fjfx.jpg
The details: The school is pass/fail but with a hidden ranking system. Your scores are recorded for all four years. These scores are then used to rank students into four quartile ranks, which are then used when the school writes about you when you apply for your residencies. But the students insist the P/F ensures that the student body is not competitive and is cohesive. The curriculum is a hybrid of a systems-based approach and a subject-based approach. Mostly lecture based. They give free loaded iPads to all their students and their curriculum is all on the tablet. The students say they use their iPads a lot and that the devices are useful.
It was rather bizarre at first to discover the extreme emphasis UC Irvine placed on a rather quirky aspect of their curriculum. The quirk is that they stress ultrasound apparatus training to all their M1 students so that they quickly become experts at using the device. The ultrasound is a core component of the curriculum. It does seem neat that their expertise by M2 allows the students at an early age to be in a position to teach (rather than only learn). This allows them to, say, go to a developing nation and teach nurses how to use ultrasound. The apparatus is a cheap, cost-effective diagnostic tool, so you can see how it would have exceptional utility in a poor nation. On that note, the school seemed proud of how common it is for students to obtain grants to fund M1 travel to developing nations during the M1-M2 summer, be it for research, humanitarian care, or, as I described earlier, teaching.
Research was not stressed, and it is of note that research is not required of students. To some extent, UCI seems to focus on a few research topics, and they tout their UCI MIND (neuro). Their gym is shared with the undergrads and is open late. It can get too crowded. I did not get a chance to see their match list. Some students complained that their rotations are structured such that there is not enough time to explore elective rotations, so it can be challenging to figure out which residencies to apply toward. So they stress shadowing as a way to figure that out. I interviewed in mid September. Decisions are said to be released around the third week of October, at least for us. UCI does not have a rejection pile. One is either accepted outright or is placed on the "alternate list." The school said they only like being contacted about the waiting list around May, which is incidentally when students must rescind all their acceptance offers except one. They don't like updates. "You have better things to do with your life," the assistant dean of admissions said to us. UCI won the award for the nicest reception staff. The lady at the front was one of the nicest, warmest acquaintances I've ever met. She was like the sweetest grandma you could ever have!
Overall, I enjoyed the atmosphere of the school, even if the opportunities of the school have been relatively limited compared to the extraordinary offerings other schools seem to have presented thus far to me. UCI really set the ideal standard to me of how a school should *feel*.
Update: Accepted! Third acceptance. Notified by phone call by Dean Peterson! No cost to reserve a seat.
Summary of Experience:
Mayo has a worldwide reputation for excellent care. I can see why. From the moment you enter the atrium of the main building, Gonda, you see how the clinic's countless millionaire benefactors have donated to Rochester its city-center heart of gold. The interior of the buildings seem nearly paved with that precious metal, but instead with marble lining the floors, walls, and ceilings, making everything feel like a Nordstrom, but nicer. The sky-high ceilings hover loftily over you, and a live piano performance echoes through the voluminous ground floor, while suited doctors glide down the marble floor in their well-polished shoes. Titanic sculptures hang from the walls and ceilings, and there is a "wow" factor that comes from such a gigantic and ostentatious display of wealth, power, and prestige concentrated into one center. If medicine were a country, this would be its capital.
The candyland environment has been long in the making, with over a century of development. Mayo is the world's first integrated group medical practice, and it sees over a million patients every year. Along the marbled walls are museum- like, behind-the-glass displays of benefactors' myriad gifts, like Ronald Reagan's Air Force One dinner plate. An impressive "history of Mayo" museum airs a clip of President Franklin D. Roosevelt praising Mayo. Over 50 honorary degrees clutter the walls and laud the founder of Mayo, an Anglo-American physician whose two sons, also physicians, founded what is now the Mayo Clinic. The pediatric floor is so richly and imaginatively designed, that it looks better than Disneyland, and all the interviewees' mouths literally dropped when we first stepped foot inside. We all knew that to be here was something very, very special, and that we were at one of the pinnacles of healthcare in the entire world.
The medical school is a newer development than the Clinic, but it is housed in one of the oldest buildings in Rochester, giving the school more of an Ivy League feel. Its beautiful but modestly-sized medical building is neo-Gothic and richly designed, much like the old Plummer building, with its tall, 19th century Arabesque architecture (and the nicest, most elegant Art Deco elevator I've ever seen in my life. Each elevator must honestly cost millions of dollars). The interview day was cozy, and the medical school building was small, reflecting just how tiny the student body really is. Mayo is the most selective school in the country, receiving about 5,000 applications for only 44 MD positions. I still feel incredibly honored to be one of the 300 or so applicants to receive an interview invitation. The staff is very friendly, and one did not get the sense they were surreptitiously attempting to evaluate us outside of the allotted interview time. There are two interviews, and one may be with a student, but not necessarily. Interviewers here tend to interview 3-4 interviewees in a day, and there were about 10 fellow interviewees with me that day. All interviewers are on the admissions committee, and even the dean will interview students. One interviewee interviewed with the former President of the Mayo Clinic. Surprisingly, many of the interviewees them were not from the Ivy League, which was different from many of the other big schools at which I'd interviewed. But they all had interviewed at many other top-10 schools, I'd learned. One or two were really gunner, which was also a low percentage compared to other schools. Only at UCSF did I have a low-gunner experience at a top school. Many came from interesting backgrounds, but none were URM. One kid was born and raised in Greece and spoke Greek fluently, another raised in Germany and was fluent in German. Most seemed to be from very wealthy families, with sailing, fencing, and horse riding as popular professed hobbies.
The day began with Dr. Vitali-Rasanen orienting us via teleconference, which was pretty neat. She was calling from Jacksonville, FL, one of the two satellite clinics of the Mayo Clinic (the other in Phoenix/Scottsdale, AZ). Mayo is more than just the central clinic in Rochester, MN. She was really nice and explained how we'd be ranked, and that we would not find out acceptances until February 2014. We also learned that scholarships are going to be given out less liberally for the next incoming class. What a real bummer.
I enjoyed the curriculum here, with selectives being the best selling point. These are two week periods that occasionally intervene on your schedule. During these periods, you get to relax and unwind while doing fun, medically-related electives for 20 hours a week. You can design your own electives or select pre-made ones to complement your particular interests. Many students shadow, do research, or volunteer overseas with some financial support from the school. One student went to NASA to learn about physician-astronauts, while another practiced surgical techniques on an anesthetized pig. Others went camping for fun while learning about wilderness survival first aid. Wow, right? Each day is centered around learning a subject in class in the morning, then going to an arranged clinical experience related to what you learned in the morning. What a great way to reinforce what you've learned and render it meaningful and clinically-relevant.
There really is such a thing as Minnesota-nice (i.e., that people there are really friendly). People here are courteous and genuinely kind, even to strangers. They are talkative and do not seem too stressed. They are sociable and like to talk. They are not racist and like to learn about other cultures. Rochester does have that podunk feel outside the immediate vicinity of the Mayo complex that towers in the center of the city and is its lifeblood. One 20-something year-old girl at the diner I ate at told me she hated Rochester (born and raised) and couldn't wait to leave. "There is no scene or culture here," she said, "And I've lived in DC and New York."
The students here seem very unstressed, happy, and energetic, and many of them are from Minnesota. The general opinion of Rochester among the students ranges from, "It's not so bad, come on!" to "Hey, it's only four years of sacrifice." It's a 90 minute drive from the cosmopolitan Minneapolis, so there's always that on which to fall back. One other very minor point is that nobody here wears white coats, not even the students. Physicians and students wear a full business suit and tie. Meh. One neat fact is that, to escape the cold, all the Mayo buildings are connected by a lattice- work of skyways and underground pedestrian walkways (called "subways" but are more like incredibly fancy hallways lined with museum exhibits), which are heated and allow you to go from building to building without being outside in the cold. Many of these walkways connect to hotels and other non-medical buildings in the center of Rochester. This network is very extensive.
I am a little concerned about spending four years in the frigid rural Minnesota landscape. I am unmarried and in my 20's, and I do want a larger pool of people my age with whom I can pursue relationships. I fear Rochester may be a very bad place to cater to this need of mine. Nonetheless, I do feel like it's a small sacrifice to be part of the amazing atmosphere at Mayo, where there is depth and breadth to opportunities, the facilities are world-class, and so are the faculty, With a stacked faculty-to-student ratio (13:1), the whole world is your oyster here in candyland. Most importantly is that ineffable gut feeling, which tells me this is a great place to be. Surely one of my top-3 choices, but with such a small acceptance rate (~25%), I'm crossing my fingers, expecting the worst, and hoping for the best.
Update: Hold status post-interview, 18 November 2013
Update 2: ACCEPTED!! Phone call from faculty interviewer
Summary of Experience:
I forgot how warm it is in LA. The rows of posh palm trees should have been a clue.
Like palm trees, the traffic is also a clue you're in LA. Even at that late hour, it took 20 minutes to push through the thick traffic at the long and winding loading zones that span the many terminals of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). I rode with perhaps the meanest and rudest driver I've ever met, while on my SuperShuttle to my hotel. He called a passenger illiterate when she signed my form instead of hers, called her husband an idiot for sitting in the wrong seat, and complained incessantly about how much he hates his job. Even though my hotel was only a block off course, he skipped my closer stop to take this married couple to a much farther hotel, while I had to wait to be dropped off second after he U-turned back to my hotel. It was outrageous, and I knew it was because they were being dropped off at the Beverly Hills Hilton (The Diamond Triangle--Bel Air, Holmby Hills, and Beverly Hills---are the wealthy jewels of Los Angeles and border Westwood, home to UCLA and its medical school and center). I really wanted to insult him and not tip him, but he seemed to have some health problems and I took pity on him... I tipped him anyway. I am unsure if I was being nice or if I let myself be walked upon.
I finally got to my hotel 30 minutes later than I ought to have, thanks to the greedy driver. He probably thought I was quite poor---which perhaps I am---as I elected to stay at the Claremont Hotel, an ultra-affordable hotel only a 5 minute walk from the medical school. It was $70. It felt like second-world amenities, with an old, '20s Spanish feel that made me feel like I was more in Havana than America. The showerhead was at the height of my chest, there was no TV, A/C, or heater, and the room was so stuffy and balmy.
I ironed my clothes and went to bed around 2 a.m. to wake up at 6 a.m. to get ready for my interview. The interview day began with a treasure hunt to find the admissions office. The whole building that houses the admissions office was going major renovation, and it was easy to miss the office because it looked like it should have been shut down, given how the walls, ceiling, and floor had been stripped bare by remodeling. It looked nearly derelict. The office of admissions was nice. A friendly older lady helped us get settled and there was a pretty good continental breakfast spread. One is either in the 8 a.m. morning group or an afternoon one, each with 8 applicants. I was in the morning session.
The interesting thing was everyone was from UC Berkeley, except for a girl from UCLA and another from UCSD. Both were really cute! We were given a 5 minute financial aid talk that was essentially just, "We have some merit-based full- ride scholarships. Good luck." Anyway, we were then taken by bus to the "fake patient" practice building, where medical students improve their clinical skills. They repurposed the exam rooms for the MMI. It was pretty fun and I felt like the interviewers were friendlier than at UCSD. One of the interviewers was obviously way too tired to be there that day, so it sucked to see him close his blood-shot eyes and nearly doze off. One of the stations was particularly challenging, but everyone thought so, so perhaps it wasn't so hard if one considers relative performances.
Then we had more work to do. There was then a short 1-on-1 interview after the MMI and then we had to fill out a very long computer-based personality test. It was very boring and they claimed it had no bearing on admissions. The MMI staff were very nice and attentive. The lady in charge was normally hired at UCLA as a prepared patient (a "fake patient" actress). It's funny that UCLA has the best pick of prepared patients, since LA is home to so many aspiring actors and actresses. The MMI lady looked a lot like Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary from Downton Abbey... love that show). Okay, now let me get back on track.
We then had a tour of the campus from a girl from Cornell who was from LA originally. Apparently she turned down UCSF, Duke, and Columbia to come to UCLA. Wow. She was really into UCLA and did a great job of showing UCLA as an amazing school. Some of its student rooms and classes are in a warm, stuffy, basement of an old building, which sucks, but the medical campus was very spacious, sprawling, and lined with impressive brick-and-glass buildings towering over us every which way. It felt very elite and breathtaking. They call the hospital the "best of the West." Perhaps those who rank are correct, if appearances are to judge, at least. Lunch was excellent---you get a $10 voucher and eat at Synapse, which has upscale artisanal food fare... and then you're done with the day. During lunch you meet up with the afternoon group. They start the day with a tour, lunch, and then the MMI. It was funny that the afternoon group was 100% male. I spotted a gentleman I met at Yale and another guy from UCSF when passing that bachelor pride of suit-and-tie lions down a corridor.
The girl from UCSD was nice enough to give me a lift back to LAX. She was raised in Paris and moved to America during high school. Wow! The interviewee group was incredibly humble, down to earth, and did not brag even once. They all had great personalities without any gunnerism at all. I loved that so much. The students seem the same way. I'd love to come to UCLA, which I didn't expect, going in, due to my (perhaps unfounded) biases against LA.
Update: ACCEPTED! 2 for 2 on MMI's. I think I am better at them. I had a good feeling I did well on my MMI when I finished my interview day here. I guess I was right. Awesome school. $10k merit money
Update 2: Went to 2nd Look, which I highly recommend. And stay with a host if you can. Weyburn is the bomb. They give you lots of free, expensive swag, great events, lots of unstructured time with med students in beautiful warm sunny weather. Westwood is amazing. At night they take you out to party. Had an amazing time getting shitfaced with med students. Could definitely see myself coming here. Update 3: Was my school of choice over Duke until UCSF emailed me with an offer. Withdrew.
Summary of Experience:
Duke was my final interview of the season in late February and came at the tail end of a trip that included interviews at the Manhattan schools of Cornell and Columbia. I was tremendously burnt out. The airport was quite nice and said "Welcome to the Research Triangle" at the arrivals gate. I was born in the South but do not remember much of it. My only experience with it was going to Nashville for my failed Vanderbilt interview.
After an expensive cab fare, I ended up at what I realized was a poor choice of hotel---the Red Roof Inn about 4 miles from Durham's Duke University. It was pretty sketchy and dismal, and it seemed like the kind of hotel people used for drugs, prostitution, and day-to-day living. I arrived a day early so I decided to go eat some chicken and waffles, a Southern delight, with some sweet tea to wash it down. It was glorious. And Southern hospitality does exist! When I told them it was my first time in North Carolina, and that I am from California, they got excited and gave me free food!
Duke. The next day, I got to the campus. WoW. The medical campus is right next to the undergraduate one, and both are stunning in their own ways. The undergraduate campus is phenomenal in its ornate and uniformly Gothic architecture, and the medical campus is spectacular in its sleek postmodern towers.
We started the day off with a high-tech sign-in, where we logged into our secondary application on a computer (thank God I remembered my log-in and password. They require that). Then we used the iMac's camera to snap a photo of ourselves, which is uploaded into the secondary and also prints out your ID for the day. Then we had a continental breakfast and met in the conference room with 15 or so other applicants. Usually half the interviewees are from Duke, a quarter from the Ivies, and the other quarter from other good schools like NYU or UCLA. Everyone was a little nervous. Some M1's filtered in and talked to us. Most seemed a little jock and bro-y, but they were nice and informative.
Dean Armstrong then came in to give us a long, 90 minute talk about the school, its history, its curriculum, why we were chosen, and what the school looks for. She is a sweet, small old lady with a grandmotherly aura. The curriculum here seems a little intimidating, with pre-clinical education condensed into 1 year--something Duke has been doing since its inception, while other schools are finding it trendy to adopt in the past few years (e.g., Vanderbilt is 1 year; Cornell and Yale are going to 1.5 years). The students say the preclinical year is beastly but manageable because they cut out a lot of unnecessary material, it is true Pass/Fail, and it frees up a year to do research and bolster your application for residency. And Duke has excellent Step I scores (something like a 236 average; I believe that is competitive for ROAD specialties). And Duke has a match list about on par with Harvard and Hopkins, and better than UCLA or UCSF, in my opinion.
The interviewee group is split into 2 groups for MMI, with a morning and afternoon group filtering through the MMI maze. I was in the afternoon session. The morning people left (like lambs to the slaughter! Muahaha. Just kidding.) We then had an excellent tour, even though it began to snow during it. (There was a terrible blizzard the day after I left.)
We had a lunch with some med students. Like most top med schools you usually get some med student who still wears his Ivy League dormitory house jacket while he eats with you. Also, best lunch of the trail, even though they were just sandwiches, chips, and cookies. The facilities are really nice, by the way.
The MMI itself was nearly identical to UCLA's. That's all I can really say. It is conducted very fairly and was pretty fun. No real jerk interviewers except for 1, but I think it is designed that way.
The real treat was the debriefing at the end of the day. Director Richard Wallace gave us a very emotional talk that definitely made many of us get teary-eyed and inspired about being doctors. It was an amazing oratory experience.
Update: I was accepted to Duke on March 8th! I believe the news is released alphabetically by surname. My decision has become infinitely more difficult. How can I turn down one of the most well-respected medical training institutions in the world?
Update 2: I was pretty disappointed by 2nd Look at Duke. They said you should come to Duke if you like the people, but I didn't quite click with them. By the evening, most everyone had withdrawn to go to sleep rather than partake in festivities. The students seemed clustered into cliques, and even the prospective students were quick to self-segregate. Also I do not seem to fit the die-hard Blue Devil, sporty profile of nearly every Duke prospective student and medical student. The first year curriculum seemed pretty intense despite every effort to present it as manageable. I did like the faculty, staff, and facilities, however.