Any time you have a large group of people working tirelessly toward a goal, you’re bound to get some interesting suggestions on how to achieve said goal. In weight loss, there are silly cleanses, radical diets, and vibrating corsets. With investing and wealth building, there are too many get-rich-quick schemes to count. And in becoming a doctor, we have these 4 terrible pieces of premed advice.
Because medical school admissions is highly competitive, there are some number of gunners out there who purposely sabotage their peers in hopes that by bringing down others, it will elevate themselves. This behavior is pathetic, you’ll have trouble sleeping at night, and you’ll forever become a scumbag steve, so don’t do it.
But gunners aren’t the cause of these premed myths and misplaced advice. Instead, this is a phenomenon of the blind leading the blind. In premed forums, it’s primarily other premeds who are reading, posting, and sometimes even impersonating those with more experience. As a result, it becomes an echo chamber of premeds repeating advice they’ve heard from other premeds. These are 4 pieces of misplaced advice or overlooked factors amongst premeds.
1 | Undervaluing the Data
The first mistake premeds and their advisors make is overlooking the cold, hard facts and data. In choosing what to believe, many people resort to confirmation bias – first choosing their belief, and then seeking out data and anecdotes to support said belief.
The problem here is that the data is generally very straightforward in medical school admissions, but those with strong confirmation bias will downplay the facts and focus on rare anecdotes to prove their point.
One fact that doesn’t get enough recognition is that if you’re of South or East Asian descent, on average you’ll need substantially higher MCAT and GPA than any other population, including Caucasians, to gain admission to medical school. That’s not my opinion – those are the facts based on multiple years of official data released by the AAMC.
Another dataset that’s skewed is the conversation about attending osteopathic versus allopathic medical school. A premed advisor told me that in helping premeds decide whether to pursue MD or DO routes, they would ask the student what type of physician they wanted to be. “Oh, you want to be a plastic surgeon? Great! Let’s go to this DO finder website and see if there are any DO plastic surgeons.” Upon finding a handful of DO plastic surgeons, they would use that as supposed proof that the DO route is a viable path to pursue plastic surgery.
This is a textbook example of survivorship bias. The year I matched into plastic surgery, there was only 1 DO student in the entire country who matched into the field. It was so noteworthy that everyone heard about it. That means less than a fraction of a percent of medical students who successfully matched into plastics were osteopathic, and over 99% were allopathic.
To suggest to an aspiring plastic surgeon premed that MD and DO are equal would be incredibly damaging to the odds of them being able to successfully pursue the field. It’s fantastic that your sister’s cousin’s dog’s therapist went DO and matched into rocket surgery, but the fact remains it’s far more challenging to successfully match into the most competitive specialties if you go the DO route.
2 | Choosing Political Correctness Over Truth
The MD vs DO discussion brings us to the second point, which is choosing political correctness over truth. In the modern era, being offended is a form of virtue signaling, where you can flex on unwoke heathens and claim victory with your moral superiority.
When you share the cold hard fact about MD versus DO medical school admissions or residency matching, some number of people will choose to be offended. It’s not because the facts are actually offensive, but because people have their own stories or insecurities that are triggered by such facts.
If I told you that on average, men are taller than women, no one would bat an eye. Actually, wait, it’s 2021 so surely someone super woke will be offended by that. But if I told you the average MD matriculant has a higher MCAT and GPA than the average DO matriculant, some number of people will be offended, even if you followed up to emphasize that both MD’s and DO’s can make for equally great doctors. To deny facts and dumb down the conversation moves us further from the truth. And that’s not a good thing.
We all have value hierarchies, and what we value at the top will displace lower-level values. When you value political correctness and inclusion over truth, you end up with dangerous situations, like scope of practice creep. We can all hold hands and sing kumbaya and say we’re all equally qualified as healthcare providers in the name of inclusion, or we can seek the truth. The truth is that physicians, meaning MD’s and DO’s, receive more extensive training and clinical experience than any midlevel provider. While midlevels are highly valued members of the healthcare team, it’s dangerous when they claim they are just as qualified as physicians and should be able to practice independently. You can both acknowledge differences in training level and still value and respect the various professions. This is a matter of patient safety, and if you or anyone you care about ever goes to the clinic or hospital for medical care, this is something you should care deeply about.
Don’t fall for ego self-preservation traps either. Facts are facts, and they aren’t inherently good or bad. It’s our personal interpretation of facts that assign them meaning. If you find yourself angry or upset by a fact, examine what meaning you’re assigning to it. Some NP’s commented on So You Want to Be a Nurse Practitioner and voiced frustration that their experience as an RN makes up for the smaller fraction of time spent in NP clinical training. I don’t agree. First, many NP programs don’t require any prior RN experience. But second, and more importantly, the job of an RN is fundamentally different from that of a physician. A flight attendant flying hundreds of flights doesn’t necessarily make them more qualified as a pilot, but they can still be incredibly valuable and amazing as flight attendants.
The only way for midlevels to be equally qualified as physicians in clinical ability, despite receiving a small fraction in clinical training hours, is if medical school is far less efficient and medical students far less intelligent or capable, or if these alternative training paths are far more efficient and their students far more intelligent or capable. As I put on my millenial cap of wokeness, I find myself deeply offended by such assumptions.
3 | Not Appreciating Nuance
The third fatal mistake is not appreciating nuance. Simplification and approximations of reality are necessary tools for humans to comprehend the world. A map, by definition, is a simplified representation of reality. If it weren’t, it would have to be full scale, and it wouldn’t be a map – it would be an exact indistinguishable mirror of reality. To more readily understand complex systems, we as humans must create simplified mental models.
While this is great for introducing oneself to a new topic or understanding complex systems, it lacks the granularity in distinguishing the subtleties that matter.
For example, because the MCAT and GPA are the two most important and easily comparable objective measurements used in medical school admissions, many overemphasize their relative importance.
Don’t get me wrong, the MCAT and GPA are incredibly important, as they are useful indicators to medical school admissions committees on whether or not you can handle the medical school curriculum rigor, but they’re not the end all be all.
I’ve seen several students that, despite scoring in the 99th percentile on the MCAT and having a near-perfect GPA, came to me for help as reapplicants. That’s right – despite having near-perfect numbers, they still didn’t get into medical school. I’ve also helped several students with seemingly prohibitively poor MCAT and GPAs gain admission to top-tier programs. While the numbers help, they aren’t everything.
Data is useful, but data does not account for all the nuances or factors that are not easily quantifiable. In medical school admissions, there are several factors beyond objective scores that you must consider, namely the soft components of your application, meaning your personal statement, work and activities section, secondaries, and interview. Overall, you want the various elements of your application to tell a cohesive story and narrative as to why you want to attend medical school and become a physician. This is why I constantly emphasize the importance of a cohesive narrative-based application.
4 | Suboptimal Resources & Mentors
The fourth and final mistake is not being selective with your inputs. We often hear about how important the company we keep is, or how we’re the average of the 5 people we associate with most. The same can be said about your inputs, meaning the media and information you consume. Just think about how your life view and perspectives change depending on which news sites or channels you frequent.
If you get all of your premed tips and advice from other premeds, you’ll have a different level of understanding compared to if you seek out experts who have gone through the process and served on medical school admissions committees.
But there are so many supposed experts out there who sometimes give conflicting advice. How do you know who you can trust?
First, look at their credentials. For starters, they need to at least have attended medical school and served on medical school admissions committees. And when someone calls themself a “doctor”, don’t just assume they attended medical school. There are companies out there headed by PhD’s or other non-physician doctors, who never went to medical school and never served on admissions committees. They proclaim they’re doctor-led, however, because they want to mislead you in thinking they attended medical school and know the ins and outs of the process.
Second, look at their track record, both in the students they’ve worked with and their personal success. Simply getting into medical school does not make you a medical school admissions expert. Ensure they have a proven track record of repeatable success across hundreds of clients. Also, look at their own level of success. If they tried getting into orthopedic surgery but couldn’t match and had to settle on something less competitive instead, they probably aren’t the best person to give you advice on how to excel in medical school, crush your boards, or secure dozens of publications to match into the most desirable residencies.
At Med School Insiders, you’ll work with the best in the industry. We specialize in helping students craft effective narrative-based applications and secure acceptances to top medical school and residency programs. That’s because not only did we gain admission to top medical schools with full-tuition scholarships and match into the most competitive residencies, but we’ve also mentored thousands of other students in doing the same.