Co-author of a clinical study, attended two national conferences and submitted for publication
Senior thesis: original experiment in a non-science department
| Community Service |
Clinical intern for several months in an underdeveloped area
200 hours volunteering in an inpatient unit at an urban hospital in US
200 hours volunteering at an outpatient unit (office assistant)
TA in elementary school for a semester while studying abroad
| Shadowing |
<100 hours of shadowing, but mostly in one department. If any part of my app is lacking, it is likely this one.
| Paid employment |
Began working as a tutor since submitting my primary, discussed this in secondaries
2 years in the hospitality industry
| Honors and miscellaneous ECs |
Awards: standard GPA accolades, PBK, foreign language award
2 years of a humanities club
I've been singing and playing an instrument since high school, several recent public performances
I wasn't born in America, and my family's immigration has played an important role in my path to medicine.
I also took a risk with the topic and style of my PS, so we'll see how that turns out!
// Applications //
Application Cycle One: 06/11/2014
Undergraduate college: Top 50
Undergraduate Area of study: Psychology/Social Sciences
Total MCAT SCORE: 522
MCAT Section Scores:
Overall GPA: 3.90
Science GPA: 3.90
Summary of Application Experience
Timeline 01/23/14 Took MCAT. Check out my study methods in the 30+ thread here. 06/12/14 Submitted primary. What a beast! 06/28/14 First secondary received. Started a full-time job and did not have time to prewrite anything, will bite me later. 07/16/14 Committee letter finally uploaded! Took them forever. 07/18/14 First secondary submitted. Will try to crank out one a day. 07/29/14 First rejection! From Mayo, pre-LOR. So it begins. 08/08/14 Last secondary submitted! Turnaround time ranged from 2 days to 4 weeks. Hopefully, this will be okay. 08/15/14 FIRST INTERVIEW INVITE!!!!!! Holy moly. Words cannot describe my relief and excitement. From Pitt, too! 09/17/14 Attended first interview! Incredible experience. Will post summaries shortly.
Mayo Medical School
Combined PhD/MSTP: No
Secondary Completed: No
Interview Invite: No
Interview Attended: No
Summary of Experience:
Rejected pre-LOR request. To be honest, I'm not too upset. They're looking for a very specific student for such a small class, and if they could tell I didn't fit at this point, so be it!
Summary of Experience:
Secondary received: 7/1/14, complete: 7/23/14; II: 8/21/14
Short version: Penn was a dream. It was the best first interview experience I could've imagined, and set the bar extremely high for the rest of my interviews. The atmosphere of the entire day was not "you'd be privileged to attend here so let's see if we can find something wrong with you", but "you're all incredible applicants who will undoubtedly get into medical school; here's why we want you to choose Perelman". You can tell they put a lot of thought and care into planning out the interview day so the applicants see a wide range of activities and opportunities offered here. I would be extremely honored and humbled to receive an offer of acceptance.
PRO: 1.5 years pre-clinical curriculum (first semester P/F, then H/P/F without rank or curve), time-tested; step 1 after clinicals; lots of opportunities and encouragement to travel, come up with unique research projects, certificate/masters program, and take classes (covered by tuition) at any of Penn's other professional or undergraduate schools; good financial aid; relaxed yet studious student body; big emphasis on groups and teams; great new facilities that will be finished before fall 2015; Philly has both a small town and urban feel.
CON: the H/P/F/ in the last year of preclinicals (which is not even that bad, as evidenced by my MS2 host); late hospital exposure during pre-clinicals (they start learning H&P during their second year). I honestly can't think of many cons; even this is reaching.
Long version: my experience began with the pre-interview happy hour. It is very informal in terms of outfit, and no one who has any say in admissions was attending. I met the 3-4 MS2's inside the medical school; there were five other interviewees attending happy hour, and some more people joined us at the New Deck Tavern, so altogether there were about 10 of us. On the walk over, the students answered some questions about the school and pointed out buildings as we walked by, but the conversation was mostly casual. We pulled a few tables together, ordered a few pitchers, and talked about everything from classes to life in Philly to what kind of doctor we wanted to be. Overall, it was a great look into student life at Penn, and I highly recommend it if possible.
My student host was an MS2 with an amazing condo not far from the medical school. We walked over there after happy hour (about a 20-25 minute walk), though she usually bikes in 10. Once at home, we relaxed and talked all evening. Her best friend, who lives in the same complex, joined us at some point. I got pretty much all my questions about the school answered. The thing I wanted to know most was how manageable is the honors/pass/fail situation if I wanted to have a good balance of personal life and school? They assured me that it is very possible if you have efficient study habits and don't fall behind. Most people watch lectures online the same day they occur, and go to the small group sessions around noon. On an easy day, they are off by 3; if there is an extra class or project, they finish by 6. After this, neither my host nor her friend do any extra studying unless it is the week before an exam, and they manage honors (90+) in all blocks. Since the class is not ranked and exams not curved, it is possible for everyone to score above a 90, so the only competition is with yourself. My student host was extremely nice and hospitable, and I would also highly recommend this option over a hotel.
Penn also starts their interview day a little later in the morning (breakfast is 9:15-10), and it was nice to sleep in a bit. We walked over to the interview building and a nice lady (who complimented me on my dress!) handed me the schedule along with the names of my faculty and student interviewers, and took my photo. They walked us over to a large room where we enjoyed bagels, muffins, and fresh fruit, along with the much-coveted coffee and tea. The interviewees (there were 15 of us) pushed tables together and introduced ourselves, everyone was really nice and pleasant to talk to. The dean gave us a powerpoint overview of the school, which was very informative and answered the rest of my questions about the curriculum.
Here is the gist: the pre-clinical curriculum is 1.5 years, which all the students say they appreciate and do not feel underprepares them for rotations. The first semester is pass/fail, followed by a year of H/P/F. Next comes the clinical year. They take step 1 after this, which apparently is a huge help since the format of the exam is case-based and is much easier after you've actually dealt with those cases firsthand. This curriculum was implemented 15 years ago, so there has been time to work out most of the kinks. They then have from Jan-Feb until the end of summer to decide their specialty and prepare their residency applications (as opposed to 2-3 months with a 2-year preclinical curriculum). The fourth year is whatever you want it to be. There is a required scholarly paper, and many people work on it over their medical school career. In addition to electives, Perelman has a certificate program (which is several extra classes + specialty shadowing + research + possible travel) and a masters program (additional classes + research) in various fields, from public health to health law to bioengineering, that you can complete during the four years. There is more than enough funding for research or volunteering internationally, if that is something that interests you.
After the welcome by the dean, we had a chance to sit in on one of their small group sessions. Penn puts you in a group of 5-6 during your first week of medical school, and you stay with this group for the next four years (which I think is great for getting used to working in a team with people you may or may not like, something you do often as a physician). During the pre-clinical years, you meet 4 times a week to go over lecture material in several different styles (depending on the topic); sometimes you are given a case and have to decide if the patient satisfies the criteria for a certain disease, and how to treat them; other times it's more of a Q&A, and sometimes the professor lectures a bit. In any case, it was interesting to see a real med school class unlike what we're used to seeing in undergrad.
After this, we received a talk on financial aid, which not only included info on Perelman's (apparently) generous scholarships but also tips on how to pay for med school, which I really appreciated. We then visited the simulation lab and had a chance to resuscitate a dummy (I got to use the defibrillator!). After lunch with the medical students, we got a tour of the school, which included several buildings along with the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), which has consistently been named the #1 children's hospital in the US. Just standing in the lobby and taking in everything around you is an experience. They are also building a new state-of-the-art building that will be finished by the time our year matriculates, so something else to be excited about.
Finally, it was time for the interviews. Without going into detail, both of them were extremely casual and conversational. I told the faculty interviewer that I might be nervous since it was my first interview, and she told me not to worry at all since she was so impressed with my application and just wanted to meet me. Both interviewers went out of their way to make me feel welcome, which really put me at ease and allowed for fun, interesting conversations where I still said everything I wanted to mention about my candidacy. The only "by the book" question asked by the faculty interviewer was Why medicine, and the student asked me some specifics about my travels and how I like working in teams. I think my interviews went very well, and at the end they both told me they feel I'd be a good fit for the school. Not sure if they say that to many people, but it felt encouraging nonetheless.
I think life in Philly is a more attractive than negative feature for me. Having gone to undergrad in a big city, I am used to living in a bustling urban environment with a dirty subway and big skyscrapers. At the same time, I never got that community feeling in college, and it would be nice to live in an area where that is palpable. It seems like although Philadelphia is a city, the city-ness of it is centered in one area, and everyone goes out or hangs out in pretty much the same neighborhood - best of both worlds. The rent is not super low, but cheaper than my studios in college and thus also manageable.
Overall, very positive experience. The student body is friendly yet passionate about their careers, and there is lots of support and encouragement to have a life outside of medical school. Above everything, it is clear that the opportunities I would have as a medical student and future doctor are unparalleled. Since this was my first interview, I don't really have anything to compare it to, but I'm sure it will be difficult to have a better experience on an interview day. If I get accepted here by some stroke of luck, I will be very excited to attend.
Short version: Vanderbilt really is all it's cracked up to be. They are a pioneer medical school with their newly implemented 1-year curriculum, whose direction, from everything I heard and read about, seems to be the future of medical education. The grading philosophy places a great emphasis on soft skills like communication, professionalism, and teamwork, and they're big fans of constructive feedback. The environment is entirely student-centric, and they trust their students with being independent and having an internal motivation to pursue the top of their chosen specialty. Finally, Nashville is a hoot. In a nutshell, there is something for everyone, whether you're into classical opera, outdoor hiking, or having a raunchy night out every now and then. Also, I can't stress this enough: live. music. everywhere. And not just country - they take requests in nearly any genre! The atmosphere is so much fun that you can't leave without a smile on your face.
PRO: innovative curriculum: 1 year pre-clinical with P/F grading followed by 1 year clinical, and two years of immersion blocks (also P/F) that you design from scratch to deepen your knowledge in a chosen field (much more on this in the long version); step 1 after clinical year; lots of encouragement for unique research in any field; access to Vandy undergrad and all that it entails (including classes, sports, concerts, special guests, etc); early hospital exposure; student wellness program and extensive mentoring to encourage a balanced lifestyle; people in Nashville are some of the friendliest and most hospitable I have ever met; Nashville itself is a blast.
CON: curriculum is new - our class would be its second year in practice, so the kinks are still being worked out (but at least we wouldn't be the first guinea pigs); I didn't get a chance to meet many students, just the ones who ate lunch with us and gave us the tour, so I don't have nearly as good of an idea about student life as I did in schools where I stayed with a host. This isn't really a con of Vanderbilt but just of my experience; if I am fortunate enough to be accepted, I would definitely go to second look to see how I fit in with the students.
Long version: Oh man… Where to begin. I stayed in Nashville for the entire weekend, so I had quite the Tennessee adventure. To accommodate readers, I will split my description into two parts - one about the school and one about the city, so you can quickly find the information you're looking for (or read them both!)
Vanderbilt I was not able to stay with a student host, but easily booked the Holiday Inn on the Vanderbilt campus for around $110 a night (interviewee discount) a few days before my flight, which I consider incredibly lucky. All the Vanderbilt schools and hospitals are concentrated in one area that is quite easy to navigate, so I had no trouble finding the admissions office. The day began at 8, with the interviewees briefly introducing ourselves (there were about 12 of us) before we were escorted to the "Welcome to Vanderbilt" presentation. It was brief, funny, and informative - gave a good overview of the school without delving into too many details, and I really appreciated hearing about all the opportunities Vandy offers before my interviews. Everyone I encountered was helpful, and some went out of their way to be accommodating (like when the guys at the front desk found me a water bottle to take to interviews because I told them my mouth gets dry sometimes, even though I didn't ask for one, or when both my interviewers dropped me off at my next location).
There is a 30-minute closed-file interview, followed by an hour-ish open file interview. I thought the closed file would be easier, but it was the other way around. My first interviewer was polite and engaging, but had a list of situational questions prepared and simply read the next one when I finished responding, so it was hard to establish a conversation (though he did acknowledge my answers here and there, with things like "Yeah, I would have done the same in that situation" or "Oh, you like piano music? There's a concert by a famous Russian pianist downtown tonight!"). The questions were along these lines: When was the last time you were curious about something? When was the last time you went out of your comfort zone? Tell me about a time you had to work with a difficult person. When was a time you didn't agree with someone, but had to adopt their point of view? etc. Some were expected, some seemed to come out of nowhere, but I don't feel I had any major fumbles. From my understanding, this interview is to gauge if you have the soft skills they are looking for, so it's not as necessary to throw in everything from your application (though I did hit a few important points). By the end, my mouth was dry as a cotton ball. That water bottle came in handy!
My second interview was much, much more casual. The interviewer specializes in biostatistics research so I was expecting to be grilled on my own research, but he just seemed to want to meet me. We talked about politics and healthcare during the first half hour, him bringing up articles in the New Yorker he'd read and asking my opinion - not in a confrontational, interview-y way, but simply to have a discussion on the variety of perspectives. He never asked me about any figures or numbers or facts about healthcare. In fact, he had a paper with him and we read some headlines together, discussing their implications. I felt in control of the conversation, so I was able to shed light on the main points of my candidacy. Also, since I didn't major in natural science, I usually have to convince my interviewers of the decisions behind my transition from [my major] to medicine; not only did this one not ask to explain, but said he completely understands and applauds my choice of major, and that he hopes Vandy invites more students like me. By the end of the hour, we were swapping movie and youtube recommendations. So, do not worry about your long interview - they try to make you feel relaxed and welcome.
After the interviews, we were given an overview of the new curriculum. Here is the gist: the first year consists of case-based learning, labs, and lectures. These alternate throughout the week, but they generally run every day from 8-12. Then, from 1-5 you either have Foundations of Health Care Delivery (clinical exposure) once a week, Learning Communities (the Hogwarts-esque "houses" you are sorted into at the beginning of MS1) once a week, and the other three days are protected study time. As mentioned, the grading is pass/fail. The idea behind condensing the preclinical experience into one year was to limit the amount of rote memorization that medical students never recall beyond that chapter's test (so there is more of cutting things out rather than cramming two years in one), and to allow extra time after clinicals for deeper immersion into your subject of interest. The second year is rotations; contrary to some belief, students do not have to go to class after a shift at the hospital, but they still meet weekly for FHD and LC with their groups. Now here comes the fun part!
First, there is protected study time after the clinical year to take Step 1. After this, once the student has decided on a specialty of interest, they begin their super-personalized medical education (you work with an advisor to design this schedule). You essentially choose activities that you feel will further your expertise in a field. So, for example, if you want to work with cancer, you may take a class on obesity if you think that's a possible risk factor, or on public health if you're inquiring about preventative measures. You can volunteer abroad, do research, learn medical spanish, a sub-internship, etc etc etc - essentially, anything that you feel will prepare you well to become a resident in that field. There are flex periods during which you can add more activities, or take a vacation. You continue to meet with your FHD and LC groups during these years, and the grading is pass/fail. There is a website to monitor your personal goals throughout the four years, with constant feedback from pretty much everyone you encounter that doesn't count for an official grade but helps you target your efforts.
Vandy is big on research - there is a required 3-month minimum research clerkship during the immersion years - but they encourage unique research projects based around your interests. Also, the faculty to student ratio is something ridiculous like 2000:90, so you will be able to find advising in pretty much anything your mind can fancy.
After the curriculum talk, we had lunch and a tour with the medical students. They were very friendly and answered our questions, but at least in my case, they were the only students I really got to talk to, and it would have been nicer to have a wider variety of opinions. Also, there is not much that these MS1's could say about how they're liking the new curriculum since they're the first ones going through it. No one had anything negative to say, but I just wish I had more perspective from the student body. Everyone talks about how genuinely happy the students at Vandy are, and I didn't really have a chance to see that.
Our last activity of the day was a tour of a simulation lab. I first encountered the "live" mannequins at the Penn interview so I had an idea of what to expect, and Vandy lived up to all those expectations. They have a variety of simulations: mannequins, standardized patients, anatomy lab, and this other computer-based simulation that we unfortunately did not get to see as it was being used by the students while we were there. From my understanding, if you're, say, interested in surgery, you can practice suturing and other laparoscopic techniques as often as you want to attain proficiency. Students utilize these resources both during the preclinical year and during the immersion years. There is no grading, simply the feedback you receive and how you are rated in reaching your goals.
Overall, I really loved Vanderbilt. Their philosophy is wonderful, and if this curriculum had been in place for a decade or so, I would pack all my bags upon acceptance and never look back. There are many points of consideration, however. As for fitting in with the environment, read on for an inside look on how Tess takes on Nashville!
Nashville First night: classy and sophisticated I arrived the night before my interview, and was able to snag cheap tickets to a show at a recently opened City Winery. I was traveling alone, but I wasn't sure when I would have a chance to visit Nashville like this again, so I wanted to make the most of it. The show started at 8 PM, and doors opened at 6 for dinner/wine tasting. Coming from my hotel, I actually hopped into the airport shuttle instead of the downtown one by mistake, but the driver was so nice to go out of his way to drop me off at the Winery's doors and not charge a single dime; on top of that, he was apparently in a band for 20 years and gave a little performance with his harmonica on the way there. Southern hospitality, y'all.
If you ever find yourself in Nashville and have a chance to visit the City Winery, whether just for a meal or for a show, I highly recommend it. The food was delicious, the wine was out of this world (I had one glass of a buttery Chardonnay early on), and the music - well, I suppose it depends on who's playing, but the atmosphere is fantastic. I had the pleasure of hearing Glen Philips, the lead singer of a band called Toad the Wet Sprocket (yes, that's the actual band name), whom I researched on Spotify prior to arriving and became a fan. Country music can be the traditional banjo sound, but it can also be folky and acoustic like Jack Johnson, or more pop like Carrie Underwood. Glen Philips fell on the soft acoustic side of the spectrum, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself listening to great music sippin' on some good wine. I got to talking with the older couple sitting across from me, and at the end they gave me their phone number "in case you do move to Nashville and just want to have a point of contact", and even gave me a ride back to my hotel. Again, Southern hospitality… It's the real deal. I was back in my hotel room by 11 in time for a good night's sleep before my interview. Nashville was off to a very good start.
Second night: family friendly (with a hint of irreverence) After the interview day was over, I headed back to my hotel to prepare for an evening of exploring. Essentially, the life of the party of Nashville happens within a four-block radius downtown on a street called Broadway - this includes the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Nashville Symphony at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, sports at the Bridgestone arena, and all their live music bars. With all my flights, I hadn't gotten a lot of sleep over the past week and opted for another mild night. I first got dinner at Tootsie's, a famous bar in Nashville situated behind the Ryman Auditorium. The Auditorium, which is currently a huge concert venue, used to be a place of worship once upon a time, where alcohol and other sins of that nature were forbidden; it is said that after worship, people snuck around the back and enjoyed themselves to their hearts' content at Tootsie's, which today has several floors of live music and great booze. I had a couple of Nashville's original beers along with a GIANT plate of nachos. Another thing of wonder: queso. It isn't quite cheese, but they put it on just about everything dubbed "Mexican" food. You just gotta try it, but it's good. I think I know why people on the street tend to be rather large.
After filling my belly with food and ale, I popped over to the Bridgestone Arena to check out Frozen on Ice. Yes, I know it's a lot of little girls in Elsa costumes (too bad I didn't bring mine), but I'm a big fan of ice skating, and I thought it would be fun to sing along. The songs were great as usual, but the skating was sub par, and they kept falling a lot. With great seats and a slightly tipsy state of mind, though, it ended up being a lot of fun. Like the little girls, I felt my eyes droop by 9. After the show I got some ice cream and hot chocolate and headed back to my hotel. I wanted to get enough sleep to sustain me throughout the next day's planned activities.
Third night: honky tonk crawl extravaganza Oh, Nashville. There really isn't a place quite like it anywhere else in the States, and if there is, buy me a ticket. The exact meaning of "honky tonk", a phrase used widely by pretty much everyone who lives there, can be debated. A bartender at Tootsie's put it simply - "couuuntry redneck". They know a good time and are not bashful about it. If a bar on Broadway has three rooms on two floors, each room has a different live band playing in it at all hours of the day, they are all extremely good musicians, and there is no cover. You don't even need to go inside one to enjoy the live music, since most bars are fully open to the outside and blast their speakers to be heard around the block. You'd think this creates an awful conglomeration of sounds, but strangely, you only ever hear one band at a time. Also, until around 6-7 PM, the bars welcome families with children to enjoy the music and a good meal. It's just… something else.
On my last night, I decided to walk into as many bars on honky tonk row as I could, sample the different beers, and listen to the bands. I did not get a drink at every place (I would probably die, or at least not make it past the first block), but everywhere I went, I met someone new and friendly, all looking for a fun time. Some highlights: a girl was having a bachelorette party at one of the bars, and the lead singer of the band asked her where she's from. She said, "Alabama!" He said, "Oh man, Alabama? Well, there's only one song we can play for you!" You can probably guess what that song was, and the crowd erupted in dancing. At another bar, I ended up playing six games of pool with someone who owned the restaurant next door, so all the games were on the house. I stumbled across a candy factory and sampled one of their house-made pralines, which are just as delicious as you'd imagine. The souvenirs that play on redneck stereotypes are hilarious, and I bought enough for all my friends back home and then some. Near the end of the night, I dared to venture into a karaoke bar - according to a woman from Vandy admissions, you just "don't sing karaoke" in Nashville unless you're really good. I don't think I'm nearly at the level of the live bands who were playing, but I'm a huge karaoke fan and felt it would be a sin to leave Nashville without trying it out. And it was awesome!! I had a blast, everyone cheered me on, and I have a fun video of Nashville rocking out to my "Rolling in the Deep" to show for it.
I could go on and on about my time here, but this has been sufficiently wordy. Suffice it to say I entered Nashville unsure of how I'd handle the culture, and on my plane ride back was searching my iPhone music's 'country' genre. If that's not your thing, that's okay too - I didn't have time to check them out, but there are several large parks where you can apparently hike for 4 miles without repeating a trail, and lots more outdoorsy stuff just outside the city. There is also jazz, bluegrass, rock, pop, rap, comedy of all types, pretty much anything for any fan. I can't speak about how it would be to live here for four years, but to visit for a weekend? Absolutely worth your time. I am hoping for some good news from Vandy come December.