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Updates from alumni

Colette Piasecki-Masters '18

SUNY Upstate Medical School Student

What did you do to prepare for med school?

There are the obvious tasks that every pre-medical student needs to check off their list (pre-medical classes, MCAT, letters of recommendation, etc). At Ithaca, you are very lucky to have an incredibly supportive and helpful Pre-Health team and Career Services Department. Take advantage of them! They can help you make an action-plan to build your application starting from day 1! (side note: Make sure you schedule your MCAT months early (seats and locations fill up fast) and give yourself the time to implement your well thought-out study plan. I took mine the winter break of senior year and studied the summer prior, knowing I had planned in a gap year to receive my scores and complete my application). Here's a general rule: Your GPA/MCAT score gets you the interview, your authentic and enthusiastic descriptions of your extracurriculars during the interview get you the spot.

Aside from these critical application features, below are three features I believe prepared me best for the rigors of medical school and the profession:

1. My third summer of undergrad I became a nursing assistant on an elective orthopedics floor. This was my first clinical experience and I loved every moment of it. Many of my friends were EMTs. Find an opportunity that will allow direct patient contact and interaction with the healthcare team. It's vital to know the other healthcare professionals scope of practice (and this will also enable you to justify to yourself and others why an MD is your goal).

2. I can not stress the importance of seeking out and maintaining relationships with people you admire. Whether you meet them in person or you found them online and reached out to them, keep in contact. They will provide encouragement and opportunities that would not be available to you otherwise.

3. I prioritize self-care. For me, this means sleeping ~8 hours per night and exercising for an hour a day. You may think you do not have time for these things, but you do. This is completely necessary to staying sane and keeping your brain functioning. Many get to school and think they can work 12 hours per day and end up burning out. Start prioritizing self-care now so you can practice your time-management skills in a lower-stress setting!

Describe your day-to-day life in and outside med school?

Classes are generally 8 am-4 pm (with a half day Wednesday at SUNY Upstate). I always attend group sessions and lab time, though I have started watching lectures online. Sometime in the day I go to the gym/a park to run. At the end of the day, I return home, eat, spend time with my fiance or friends, then complete a few more hours of work before bed (~2-3 hours). About once or twice per week I schedule myself a clinical or volunteer experience (to remind myself why I'm studying so much in the first place...). Soon, I will be starting in a research lab, which will probably be a couple of hours per week. After classes, I take Friday completely off and, depending on the week, sometimes Saturday too! Occasionally I go home to visit my parents or visit other friends, but usually I'm a vegetable and sit at home reading/watching TV or spending time with friends.

 

Is there anything that you wish you would have known before entering med school? Is there anything that you’d go back and do differently?

1. You may have imposter syndrome and it's completely normal. In fact, everyone has imposter syndrome. Just know that everyone in your class has multiple strengths and weaknesses. This diversity is a wonderful thing, since it means you will be able to learn so much from each other. What about that one woman who seems like she already knows everything? She was already a Physicians Assistant. Or a lawyer. Or has a PhD. True story, these are all people in my class. Don't be too hard on yourself.

2. It was a surprise to me how much time is spent in class, after having it so good in undergrad. Just be mentally prepared for that.

3. I loved my gap year and I'd highly recommend everyone take one (or two or more!). This will really be the last chance you have to do something random and unrelated to your degree for a long time. Also, this will allow you to get everything prepared prior to you starting, since you need to be ready to hit the ground running. Good luck!

Andrew Rodenhouse '16

Pennsylvania State University

What did you do to prepare for med school?

 At Ithaca:

During my last semester at IC, I spent a significant amount of time studying for the MCAT. Taking multiple practice exams was most helpful for me. Classes at IC gave me a strong foundation for both the MCAT and many of the basic science courses the first year of med school itself. During the application process, I was lucky to have multiple IC faculty and members of the pre-health committee help critique my personal statement, give me advice on applying, and prepare me for interviews. In addition, the research experiences that I gained while at IC also prepared me well for the research responsibilities and opportunities that awaited me in med school.   

After Ithaca:

            After graduating from IC, I was lucky to get some hands-on experience working in a clinical setting. I worked at my local hospital as a tech doing things like taking vital signs, removing casts / sutures, and more. It gave me an opportunity to work with patients and see first-hand what a career in medicine actually looked like. Taking time to work in this role was really important because it solidified my desire to pursue medical school and I gained confidence working with patients.

Describe your day-to-day life in med school?

First and second year:

            During the preclinical years we studied the basic sciences (cell bio, biochem, immunology, pharmacology, microbiology), anatomy, and organ systems. My typical day during these years would be: work out in the morning, go to school for a few hours of lecture / lab, and then study on my own during the afternoons / work on research. The preclinical years are more similar to undergrad in that you have a certain degree of flexibility in studying when you want. With the exception of mandatory lectures, my schedule was pretty open to study on my own time, and most lectures were posted online. I would try to front load my studying so that I could relax on weekends. Depending on the organ block, I would have more or less free time to do other things.

Third year

            Now on clinical rotations, my schedule is much busier. It really depends on whatever clinical service / rotation that I am on. For example, I might be at the hospital from 4am to 8pm on a surgery service, but only 9am-1pm on a medical subspecialty service.  The general flow of most services is the same though. Med students typically arrive early and help the interns with “pre-rounding”. Basically, this involves seeing a few patients in the morning, gathering data from the past 24 hours (vitals, acute events, etc), and preparing for rounds. Then the senior residents and attendings will arrive and the team will “round” together and see patients for the day. On a surgery service, this might take a few minutes to an hour before the ORs start, but on a medicine service this might take most of the morning. After rounds on a medical service, students typically write notes and help the residents with other things (consults, obtaining outside records, following up on labs, etc). On a surgery service, students generally just observe in the OR, but depending on the surgery you may get some practice suturing and “closing” at the end of the case. At the end of the day, the residents will release us and I’ll study that night for the next day in addition to studying for that particular rotation’s exam which will happen at the end of the block.

Describe your day-to-day life outside of med school? 

            Outside of med school studies, I enjoy the same hobbies as during undergrad: running, biking, working out, throwing the lacrosse ball, tennis, hiking, fishing, hanging out with friends / family, traveling. Med school has definitely been time consuming, requiring many sacrifices. That being said, if you are efficient and keep up with studying, there are plenty of opportunities to maintain a good work-life balance and to continue pursuing interests outside of medicine. 

Is there anything that you wish you would have known before entering med school?

            I think I wish I would have known all of the different study materials available earlier in my med school career. There are some great review books, videos, and a flashcard app (Anki) that I did not come across until after first year had ended. They became my main study source second year and I wish I had known about them earlier. 

Is there anything that you’d go back and do differently?

            If I could go back and do something different, I wish I would have had more time to travel before starting med school. I was accepted into school off the wait list (just about a month before classes started). When I found I got accepted, I went on a trip to Europe with my older brother for a week or so. This had been my first experience traveling abroad, and if given the chance I wish I could have spent more time traveling. I would definitely recommend taking time to do things for yourself such as traveling when you might have more flexibility before going back to school if given the opportunity. 

 

Melissa Beinlich, '18

1.     What did you do to prepare for med school?

I went into my freshman year at IC, knowing that I wanted to go to medical school. With that in mind, I looked for experiences that I could do over school breaks and the summer that would expose me to the medical field as much as possible. As an undergrad, I had the opportunity to work as a Hospital Aide in an emergency room where I could speak with physicians to learn more about their day to day responsibilities. I also made sure to shadow as much as possible. With the help of my advisor, I shadowed emergency room doctors as well as pediatricians (two areas of interest for me). Through these experiences, I gained even more exposure to what a physician does every day. During my gap year between my time at Ithaca College, and when I began medical school, I worked as a medical scribe, which was probably the most valuable experience to date. I was able to make connections with physicians, some of whom wrote my letters of recommendation, and learned a lot clinically as well. With that said, another essential thing to keep in mind is making sure you are doing well in your coursework, especially those pre-requisite classes for medical school. Your grades will come up during medical school interviews, they hold a lot of weight, and schools do look closely at them!

2.     Describe your day-to-day life in med school? 

If I had to sum up my day to day like in school in just one word, it would be busy! Typically, my week consists of 3 days, where we have classes from 8 am-5:30 pm (with an hour and a half break for lunch) and two days where we only have 4 hours of class. On those half days, we are encouraged to meet with professors, reach out to local doctors to see if we can do preceptorships (essentially shadowing), or have things like simulation labs or time with standardized patients scheduled for us. 

Right off the bat, it does seem like a considerable amount of time is spent in classes, and it is. For some of my classmates, they chose to study during the day and then watch our recorded lectures at night from home since we have optional attendance. For me, I like to be in class so I can discuss things with my classmates and ask the professor questions as they come up. I also feel like there are a lot fewer distractions in class than at home, but it’s nice to have the option based on your learning style!

3.     Describe your day-to-day life outside of med school?

A lot of my time outside of school during the week involves studying. One thing I try and do every day is set aside an hour and a half once I get out of class to watch TV and make dinner. On weekends, I also block out time to hang out with friends and go to the gym. Believe it or not, finding time for self-care was the most challenging part about the transition to medical school. You see your friends studying and doing work all the time and feel guilty for taking that time to do fun/non-school related things, but with planning, you can find time for yourself and the things you enjoy.

4.     Is there anything that you wish you would have known before entering med school?

I can’t say there was anything I wish I knew before entering medical school. One of the great things about shadowing physicians and volunteering in hospitals is that I had a good understanding of what physicians do. Also, as a medical scribe, I frequently interacted with medical students and residents, so I had the opportunity to hear their experiences and ask them questions I had about the process.

5.     Is there anything that you’d go back and do differently?

If I could go back and do something differently, it would be to take classes like genetics, cell bio, or microbiology. While they were technically not pre-requisites for medical school, a bunch of my classmates had exposure to that material before coming here, which made the first few months a little bit easier for them. As we transition into the more challenging content now, it seems that most of us are currently on an equal playing field in terms of not having seen the material in undergrad or master's programs. Still, I wish I would have taken a few more of the higher-level sciences while at Ithaca. 

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Maggie Pollard (’15), MD: Family Medicine Resident

What did you do to prepare for med school (or your current job)? 

There are many roads to medical school and residency, but the place to start is a 4-year college degree (in anything) with the required pre-recs. This includes classes in biology, chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, etc. Some people go back and do a post-bacc if they did not meet the pre-rec requirements in undergrad, while others major in something unrelated and add the pre-recs on later. I know several colleagues who did both of these. The more common option is to major in something pre-med such as biology, biochemistry, chemistry, etc. I majored in biochemistry. It also is nice to minor in something fun and interesting that your passionate about to keep you well-rounded and relatable.  

From there, you fill your extra curricular time with research and clinical activities that require direct patient care. I did lab-bench research and volunteered at nursing homes while in undergrad. 

Then, you take your MCAT, and apply to medical school! The best thing you can do to package yourself for medical school applications is to be able to explain why all of your choices were purposeful (in some way) to getting you to this point.

Describe your day-to-day life in your program or job? 

I am a first year family medicine resident, also known as a PGY-1 or intern. This means that I did 4 years of undergrad, 4 years of medical school (I happened to choose an MD program, rather than DO) and then "matched" into a 3 year family medicine residency where my focus is on primary care and hospital medicine. In this first year I do several month long rotations in many specialties to learn a little bit about each one, which helps me to better refer my patients as a family medicine physician. Rotations I have to do this year include rotations in clinic (outpatient) and in the hospital (inpatient). I have rotated through the ER, ICU, OB-GYN, hospital medicine, and will rotate through surgery and pediatrics coming up. 

Describe your day-to-day life outside of med school (or your current job)?.

I am fortunate to be in a program where I rarely work more than 80 hours a week. Most weeks I get one weekend day off, and once a month I get two days or more. I also have 4 vacations (one week each) during the year. I feel very balanced, although this might not seem like a lot of time. Surgical specialties and other medicine specialties can spend much more time than this working each week. I make the most of my free time by spending time with my friends, family and significant other. I hike, run, and play board games. I play Dungeons and Dragons with medical school friends, and go to Renaissance fairs. I play piano and sing when I can, sometimes for medical school events. I swing dance with my boyfriend. When you don't have a lot of time to spare, you make EVERY minute count! And if you're a good planner, you can make time for many things. 

Is there anything that you wish you would have known before entering med school (or your current job)? 

I wish I had known more options for choosing medical schools, namely MD (Medical Doctor) vs. DO (Doctor of Osteopathy) school. The difference between MD and DO programs is that they are essentially equal, except DO's have additional training in OMT (Osteopathic Manipulation Therapy). This is a form of manipulation of the body that has therapeutic benefits. One DO described it to me as being a combination between Physical Therapy and Chiropractic, but this is one person's opinion. Regardless, DO's can bill for OMT services given to patients who struggle with chronic pain, which is the majority of all patients everywhere. I wish I had this skill set to offer my patients. DO's and MD's otherwise have equivalent skill sets for any field, where it is surgery or primary care. 

Is there anything that you’d go back and do differently? 

I would have developed better study skills in college. When you are learning high volumes of information, the most well-studied method to do this is interval-based learning, or "spaced repetition." This is an algorithmic form of learning where the key principle is that better learning is positively correlated to the number of times knowledge is reviewed, not the thoroughness of the review. I found that in college I would study for exams by doing a deep dive of one or two passes through the material. In medical school, this is impossible because the acumen of knowledge is so large, that you need to be reviewing it quickly and often. The best way to do this is via flashcards through an application that builds the spaced repetition in the software, so that you do not have to worry about making sure you review the right information enough times. A good application is Anki, a web-based application on which you can make your own flashcards.