How I Studied for the MCAT Without a Prep Class

I took my MCAT on Saturday 05/11/19, almost 5 years to the day since I graduated from Arizona State University with my undergraduate degrees. Since I work full-time and support myself financially, an MCAT prep course was not a feasible option for me. I did all of my prep with a $300 set of Kaplan MCAT prep books, a free NextStep MCAT prep bundle, and 2 official MCAT practice tests from AMCAS. My score report came in the morning exactly a month from test day: 509!

Figure Out How to Study

Before you start doing anything, I recommend you take the VARK Assessment to figure out how you learn. You need to study the best way for you. I have a pre-med friend who tried studying by taking notes, but she’s an auditory learner so the information wasn’t sticking. She had to stop wasting her time on the “traditional” study methods and develop a method that was best for her.

Familiarize Yourself with the Test

The MCAT is a long test. You need to understand the format, the timing, and the way the test is designed before you tackle studying the content. Strategy is important too!

Develop a Study Schedule

I used NextStep MCAT prep’s free bundle to develop a daily schedule. They also had a half-length diagnostic test to better design my schedule to focus on weak areas. I didn’t stick to it as well as I should have, but it was an important tool.

STUDY, STUDY, STUDY

This is not your average standardized test. There is a ton of material to learn. You need to study smarter and harder. In addition to a serious amount of content, you’ll need to develop strategy and build stamina.

My exact study plan took several days to work through any one chapter of my prep book. I would read a chapter, highlighting as I went. The next day I would take detailed notes and go through the practice questions within the chapter. The day after that I watched and notated Khan Academy videos. On any one day I would usually be working on a portion of any two chapters under different subjects. Spreading out each chapter and switching between subjects helped keep the information in my memory.

Another important tip I learned was to track my “demon list.” A demon list should contain concepts with which you regularly struggle. For instance, I tended to confuse microtubules and microfilaments. Keep track of these concepts and review frequently.

Take Practice Tests

The best way to get a feel for the real test is to take practice exams, mimicking conditions on Test Day. Dr. Ryan Gray’s MCAT podcast suggested around 6 tests. I took a diagnostic half-test with an initial score of 489. I then took 1 full-length Next Step MCAT test (provided for free). The Kaplan books come with 3 full-length tests. I finished the final two weeks of prep with 2 official MCAT practice exams.

The MCAT is a massive test. Pre-meds tend to place a lot of emphasis on obtaining the highest score possible. Keep in mind that a bad MCAT score isn’t the rest of the world. Before you consider skipping the prep classes, take a realistic look at your schedule and your study habits. If a class is what you really need, I don’t recommend skipping it, but know that you can get a good score with the right tools and hard work. Good luck!

Presenting Research Posters

A few months ago I presented my second poster at a medical conference. The first was at American Heart Association (AHA) 2018 Scientific Sessions in Chicago. This past one was the American College of Cardiology (ACC) 2019 Scientific Sessions. As a pre-med, standing among residents, fellows, and attendings can be nerve-wracking and intimidating. Presenting two poster does not make me an expert by any means, but I’d like to share some tips!

#1 Review, Review, Review

To present a topic, you should know the ins and outs of what you’re presenting. Know the trends of data, the specifics of procedures, and other important general ideas should be easy to recite off the top of your head.

#2 Know Imaging on Your Poster

As pre-meds, we don’t have as much experience with specific procedures. If you’re using imaging like X-rays, CTs, or ultrasounds, review the images. Many physicians at the conference will zero in on those images.

#3 Discuss Common Questions with Your Attending

Anticipate questions that are likely asked about your research. The most common one I’ve heard is “Can you tell me about your poster?” Prepare a little elevator speech summarizing your research.

#4 Be Confident!

My mentor likes to say “no one knows more about a poster than the person who wrote it.” You are the expert on your poster. Remember that when people call you into question.

I hope these tips help. Presenting posters always makes me nervous. I hope my experiences improve with time. Please feel free to share your tips. Happy presenting!

Happy Holidays, You Might Have Cancer

It was the day before Thanksgiving. The menu was planned, the shopping done. I planned on baking pies and chopping vegetables once I got home. Only a few patients to see that day, one a new patient. Usually my NP doesn’t see new patients, as initial evaluation is left to the physician.

She was flustered about seeing this patient she’s never met. Rushing into clinic to see the NP usually means something is urgent. This particular patient was highly symptomatic following a procedure by another provider. Unable to provide an explanation for her sudden shortness of breath, that provider referred her to our clinic.

The sudden onset and change in her symptoms frightened the patient and her husband. A young woman who enjoyed exercising was panting after walking less than 10 feet. Looking over the results from labwork, procedures, and imaging didn’t reveal a clear picture. She looked at us, pleading for answers with big, round eyes. She held her hand tight as her husband helped answer questions so she could catch her breath.

Imaging showed an abnormality, not explained by the most common diagnosis. The suspicion arose for cancer, though more testing would be needed. By the way her face fell, she had obviously not considered such a disastrous possibility. Her procedure was supposed to be simple and easy. From a cardiac perspective, it had been successful. Now she and her healthcare providers were forced to contemplate more malignant causes.

Despite working in a medical clinic, I’m not accustomed to seeing my patients die. We primarily see patients with atrial fibrillation, a treatable and manageable disease not likely to be the sole cause of death. The interventional team has to worry about death from heart attacks, while the heart failure team deals with high risk transplant candidates or LVAD patients. Cancer is usually handled by outside physicians specializing in other bodily systems and/or oncologists.

Right before the holidays, even the most remote possibility of cancer seemed devastating. It was difficult to hold myself together for the patient’s sake.

One of the research physicians suggested that I begin hospice volunteering. Despite all my research and reading book after book about death, I have little experience with confronting the ultimate partner to medicine. Perhaps it’s best I heed his advice.

AHA 2018 Poster Presentation

I have finally returned from my adventures in Chicago! This past Sunday I presented my very first research poster at the 2018 American Heart Association Scientific Sessions. Despite some hiccups in obtaining data, I stood in front of my poster during my designated presentation time – one of the only pre-meds presenting. Though the AHA is primarily focused on interventional cardiology (rather than the specialty I work in), I had some interesting questions and feel like I held my own.

The three day session has a huge variety of events. Admission includes large lectures and sessions by the world’s leading cardiologists, discussions of new and future research, presentations on current research, small session tips on networking and career choices, demonstrations of new technology and medications, as well as outside events.

After waiting for about an hour to get my badge, I headed to a “Main Event” lecture entitled “Hey Doc, My Watch Says I Have AF, What Now?”. I was surprised that I was able to understand the information being presented. I was disappointed that only one lecture pertained to EKG monitoring with the Apple Watch and similar devices. I stayed for the majority of the 2 hour lectures. Using the AHA Conference App, I participated in polls and asked questions. I appreciated how smooth it was, though many presenters did not have time to answer more than one question.

I explored the Science and Technology Hall, where reps from pharmaceutical and medical device companies showed off their new toys. I watched an automatic device deliver chest compressions, played an iPhone game where I could stent patients, and scanned over research and textbooks for sale. There’s an EKG learning program that I’m very interested in purchasing, but didn’t want to buy anything until I talked to my attending.

I didn’t spend all day at the conference, especially because Boyfriend came with me. I didn’t want to bore him any longer. We came back the next morning for my presentation. Thousands of posters are presented each day. I stood next to residents, fellows, and foreign doctors. We asked each other questions more than anything else and chatted about the conference. Many doctors I spoke to were not familiar with catheter ablation of A fib, so I felt more like an “expert.”

Here are some tips if you’re going to your first research conference for a poster presentation!

1) Buy your ticket early.

It’s quite expensive for non-members to attend events like these. However, students are usually offered a lower price. In addition, buying tickets earlier can mean cheaper prices.

2) Use your hospital and/or school’s printing services.

I paid $115 to have AHA print and deliver my poster to the conference. I was unaware that my hospital had a library with a printing service. I could have easily had them print it for free, then hand-carry it to the conference. Next year I’ll know to save me some money.

3) Consider where you’ll stay.

Conferences like these usually make deals with local hotels. Don’t be fooled, the hotels are still horrendously expensive! Fortunately, my hotel was paid for by my very generous attending physician. Others may not be so lucky. The main convenience with staying at an AHA hotel is that the buses at the hotel can take you directly to the conference. You are not required to stay at one of those hotels.

Let me know if you have any questions about my experience or my research!

American Heart Association Scientific Sessions

I’ll be in Chicago this weekend for the AHA Scientific Sessions. You can contact me on Instagram at futuredoctorfoodie. If you’ll be in attendance, I’ll be presenting my research on a poster on Sunday around 10:30 AM!

For those of you who are unable to attend, I’ll be posting about it once I get back!

The Dreaded MCAT

The MCAT is the standardized test required for entrance to medical school. After major revisions a few years back, the test is now an anxiety-inducing 8 hour trial, testing the major sciences, psychology/sociology, and reading comprehension. Pre-meds dread this test. If your score is “too low” you might start to worry about your “stats”.

I’ve never struggled with standardized tests, but after a recent experience I’m starting to understand their concern. The other day I signed up for the free Next Step MCAT bundle, which provides diagnostic testing. (Prior to diagnostic testing, I recommend you do your research about the test, your learning style, and the resources available). Without doing much studying, I scored a 493.

I should definitely mention that I haven’t actually started studying for the MCAT. I took the diagnostic exam without a proper review. This is definitely not going to be close to my score once I actually start studying. I wanted to know which subjects to focus on. My CARS is quite strong. My psych/sociology needs a bit of review, but I’m comfortable with that area as well. Unfortunately, my biological and chemical systems section scores were dismal.

My concern is that I need to spend more time preparing for the exam than I expected. I was going to start my study plan in January 2019 for my May 2019 test date. Considering I got an email from the Next Step team warning me about my score… it looks like I’ll need to move up the time table. Right now I’m starting with the backlog of MCAT practice questions in my email. Hopefully I’ll be able to find more specific areas within the sciences to focus on. Then I’ll start the Khan Academy videos and prep books. Ultimately I intend on a Next Step prep class. What I need is a schedule. Does anyone have any study schedule recommendations?

Confronting Our Able-ist Prejudice Toward Doctors with Disabilities

The subject of doctors with disabilities has been increasingly present in my news feed, social media, and podcast discussions. Whether this is due to the movement of disabled doctors or some media bias, I’m not sure. My purpose in writing this is not to argue whether people with disabilities should be able to become doctors. That’s a silly question. There are already disabled doctors who have completed medical training and work as physicians (see Dr. BJ Miller or doconwheels).

My primary concern in this post is exploring my own underlying able-ist misunderstandings and stereotypes. It is, of course, not my intention to be able-ist, but as an able person I am bound to have some misconceptions stemming from lack of education. For example, many people (including myself) have supported the straw ban to promote environmentalism. However, the straw-ban is strongly opposed by the disabled and their advocates. It is my own responsibility to acknowledge able-ism and educate myself. This will make me a better doctor when dealing with disabled patients and a better coworker when collaborating with disabled providers and other staff.

Myth #1: Disabled People Can’t Be Doctors

Disabled people can be, and are, doctors. I was thinking about how able people view “disabled” and quickly realized that we often depend on disabilities that we can see. No one questions physicians with “invisible diseases” such as learning disabilities, chronic pain diseases, autoimmune diseases, or mental health disorders. We only question

Myth #2: Disabled Doctors Can Only Choose Certain Specialties

This is one that definitely showed my abelist bias. It may be “acceptable” for a doctor in a wheelchair to choose a specialty such as radiology. But what if the physician wanted to be an ER doctor or a surgeon? There’s a viral photo of a surgeon who was paralyzed, but uses a machine to allow him to stand.

Myth #3: Disabled People Don’t Make Good Doctors

This is just flat out untrue. Each disability affects people differently. Some people, disabled or abled, are not good doctors. Basing a person’s capacity as a provider based on some physical disability is equivalent to basing that capacity off of a physical feature. Genetics play no role in this case.

What’s more is that disabled people often understand the world of medicine more deeply and personally. They may have experienced the same difficulties and struggles with their health. Doctors are human beings, subject to the same illnesses and troubles as their patients. By ignoring the existence of disability in healthcare professionals, we refuse to acknowledge that they have needs as well. Physicians, nurses, and others in the healthcare field are not robots. We are people who experience pain, sickness, exhaustion, and depression. By acknowledging disability and illness in the community, we allow ourselves to be treated and healed.

If anywhere in this article I have perpetuated ableism or offended anyone, please comment and address this with me. I intend to continue educating myself and I welcome discourse. If you’re interested in more on the subject, I recommend this article.