Saturday, September 28, 2013

Over Joy

As I sat in the Library reviewing my Physics notes, I heard that distinctive note from my phone informing me that a new email had arrived to my inbox.  I quickly flipped over to take a look and felt my blood run cold when I saw who it was from.


The dreaded moment had finally arrived.  I was about to find out if my dream would finally come true, or if I would be forced to spend yet another year of my life trying to prove that I am worthy of the medical vocation.

I called my wife over to share the moment with me.  Initially she looked at me with a confused look.  Why was I interrupting her study?  Finally she acceded to my wishes and walked over.  I pointed to the screen, and then clicked to open the email.

On behalf of the Executive Dean, I am very pleased to offer you an acceptance...

I literally felt my body start to shake.  I was in disbelief, so I started to read the email again to make sure.

On behalf of the Executive Dean, I am very pleased to offer you an acceptance...

The words had not changed, yet my mind still could not comprehend.  My body continued to shake uncontrollably, and my wife embraced me from behind.  She was already crying, which caused me to cry too.  These were tears of joy, tears of disbelief, tears of pent up emotion that craved release!  I can't imagine what the other people, who beheld such an odd spectacle, were thinking at that moment.

My wife rushed off to call everyone and relate the good news.  I sat there in a daze, still trembling as emotion and adrenaline coursed through my body.  I realized at that moment that over the past seven years I had convinced myself that it would probably never happen, yet I was stubborn enough to keep trying in the face of the impossible.  Now I was confronted with reality, that it was possible, and the door to my dream had finally opened.

In retrospect, as I think about this now, I have never been so excited, happy, and relieved to have been given permission to start something.  Something that will take more effort, time, and dedication than anything I have ever tried in my life.  It is ironic, because many people would think it is over, but no...that was just the beginning, the first step on a road of training that will last at least 8 years.

This moment will forever be engraved in my mind.  I payed a high price to reach this starting point, but looking back on my credentials they are only average at best.  I can't help but believe that a miracle was enacted on my behalf.  I would love to take credit for this, but the truth is I must defer to the athlete who has just scored a touchdown and raises his hands to point heavenward.  I personally know several applicants with way better stats than me that were rejected.  Somehow God saw fit to turn the hearts of the Admissions Committee in my favor.  In turn I would also like to raise my hands heavenward and point to Him, because I can really see no reason why I am better than anyone else.

The blessing of God, have given me reason to be overjoyed and grateful at the same time.  At least once a day a surreal moment overwhelms me, sending me back to that email once again just to make sure;

On behalf of the Executive Dean, I am very pleased to offer you an acceptance...

Friday, September 6, 2013

Step by Step

All Rights to Mcraw-Hill and junk

The first two years of Medical School exist to prepare you for one seminal moment in your medical career.  That moment is when you take your first Board exam called "USMLE Step 1".  The last four years I have been so focused on sitting for the MCAT and getting into Medical School that nothing else has occupied my mind.  Although I have not been accepted into Medical School, I  recently started focusing on it and making plans for how I will approach it.

Although there may be some debate about this, I believe that the one key component which will allow you to apply to any residency unimpeded will be your Step 1 score.  I always thought that as long as you score a 99 on the Step 1 you could write your ticket, but this is not the whole story.  There are actually two scores and even if you are in the "99" range the second score can vary anywhere from 240-270+.  From my research I have been able to determine that scoring a 250 is very good, the top people are in the 260 range, and the godly freaks are in the 270 range.

Getting into Medical School will make me supremely happy, however that isn't my ultimate goal.  I will probably be accused of "gunnerism" for my approach to medical school, but I prefer to think that I am going into my future studies fully informed about the process.  As a non-traditional student, I am lucky to have already lived and done many of the things I wanted.  I have traveled the world extensively, lived abroad, married a wonderful woman, and enjoyed many reunions with friends.  As an undergrad I only wanted "to get my degree".

This time around, I want to see what I am really capable of, to fully embrace the process, and actually push myself to excel.  Most importantly, when it comes time to choose my residency I don't want my academic performance to have closed any doors.  I want the freedom to choose from any residency.  Even if I ultimately choose Family Medicine, which does not require a super high Step 1 score, I still want to have had the option to choose Neurosurgery or Dermatology.

Traditionally most Medical Students will use their 6 week break after the second year of Medical School to study for and take the Step 1 exam.  I plan on starting much much earlier.  From my first day I am going in with one thing in mind, to crush that test.  I will use every resource available to me to ensure that I am more than prepared on test day.

I have been formulating a plan to achieve just that, but it is still not complete.  What I have learned from the MCAT, is that I am not a super-freak that will be able to collate 2 years of study in just 6 weeks.  Taking the long term approach and making sure I continually maintain and refine my medical knowledge as I learn it, is really the only way I can expect to come out with a top score on that test.

Of course all this planning is still dependent on getting accepted into Medical School, so here is to hoping my interviews go well.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Why Can't I Get Off the Couch?

I always wondered why, when I wanted to get something done, I couldn't find the strength to get off the couch to do it.  Today I discovered the culprit and you will be surprised as to who is responsible.  The answer is gravity my friends.  The equation for gravity is as follows

It is important to understand that gravity can be exerted between any two objects, and using that equation we can find what the force is between two distinct object.  So bear with me as I quickly describe what each variable stands for, so that we will all be on the same page. 

F is the total Force of Gravity, m1 is the mass of one object, and m2 is the mass of a second object.  For our discussion I am m1, and the couch is m2;  r corresponds to the radius between both objects, which we can basically say that it is the distance they are away from each other.  Finally G is the universal constant of Gravity.

What I want you to pay attention to are two things.  First the radius variable.  As the radius decreases the Force of gravity becomes much greater.  As radius approaches zero the Force approaches a value close to infinity which means, my ass is going to be glued to that couch and there is nothing I can do to escape.  It is just too strong!  

Oh, but gravity hasn't finished with me yet, because that brings me to our second observation.  Pay attention to the m1 and m2 variables.  Well, if I increase the mass of one or both of the objects in this system, yes you guessed it, the Force of gravity once again INCREASES!  This is where I really have a problem with gravity because the amount by which my own mass increases is directly proportional to the amount of time my ass is glued to the couch, which by now we have determined to be nearly all the time since the radius is close to zero and the Force is near infinity.

It is a vicious cycle my friends, and Gravity has me in her cold hard grip.  She is a fickle lover, jealous of all distractions.  Will I escape?  My mathematical calculations lead me to believe that there may be little hope, but that is not why I am writing this.  I want this message to reach you, dear reader, so that when you see a couch you will know that you should run and run far.  Save yourself, it is already too late for me!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Vagaries of Change

A Beatiful Sign Close to My New Home

Things have changed since I last posted.  I quit my job and moved 850 miles away from my home.  The day I took the MCAT my wife shared a surprise with me when I got home.  She told me that she had been accepted into a Graduate program at Tulane University.  I was absolutely shocked by this, because it was something I never expected.  Somehow, in less than two months I was able to find a new place to live, a new job, and relocate to an entirely new city.

I am now settled in and we have established our new rythm of life, however things are different.  For one, living arrangements are vastly different from before.  I went from a three bedroom house with a nice yard, to a tiny 1 bedroom apartment.  When my neighbors have friends over, I can hear it.  They often wake me up in the middle of the night, which is something that never used to happen before.  The hallway often carries suspicious odors that whisper to me their nighttime activities.  I never realized that living in an apartment would mean being more intimate with your literally share everything with them, whether  you want to or not.

The smallness of our apartment and the need to walk everywhere has also drawn my wife and I closer together as well.  We have been spending much more time together, and I am now thinking that bigger is not necessarily better.  Most people dream of having a big house, but I am not so sure I want one now.  I don't like that family members can hide from each other by going to other rooms in the house.  I especially don't like the maintenance duties of a large house.  Cleaning, upkeep, and yardwork take up so much time.  Now these are things I don't have to worry about, and I love it!

A View From my Morning Commute
My work routine has changed as well.  After moving here, I decided that I would bike to work everyday instead of driving the car.  Many things contributed to making this decision, such as traffic, expensive parking rates, and my lack of knowledge of the city, however, the main reason is because I was really craving a way to lose weight.  As an aspiring Physician I think that it would be hypocritical to meet patients as an overweight person.  If I am going to preach the high principles of healthy living, then I must also follow those principles as well.  My problem is that I hate going to the gym, especially when I have to do it by myself.  Forcing myself to bike to work accomplishes several things at once.  It allows me to learn the city, it provides me with a means of transportation, and it ensures that I get a healthy dose of exercise every single day.  With a 22 mile round trip I have already managed to lose 10 pounds in two weeks.

All of this upheaval has been difficult, yet instructive as well.  I have learned that sometimes we need a drastic change that will take us out of our comfort zone.  In the short month I have been here I have totally revolutionized my lifestyle.  I look back on who I was before and I am amazed at the change that has happened in only one month.  Most people battle to keep things from changing, because that way they never have to face a scary or uncertain situation.  It is those situations, that makes us grow the most.  The more of them I experience, the more I look forward to it.

All of this has caused me to evaluate my personal goals as well.  Last year I was so sure I would get accepted into Medical School that I was rocked when the rejection came.  This year, I decided I have to prepare for it.  I must have a contingency plan in place so that I can smoothly transition into plan-B instead of being caught unprepared.  I was scared to quit my current profession before, because the stability that an Engineering income provides is very comforting, however I have realized I am reaching a point where I need to go the extra mile if I am really serious about Medicine.  If I am not accepted this cycle I will be going to Graduate school starting in January to study Neuroscience.  I have finished all the pre-med courses that I can take at a community college.  The only thing left ot me now is some GPA redemption by going through a Graduate program.  GPA redemption isn't my only goal, because I also want to study something that I find interesting while also continuing to prepare me for Medical School.

Change can be scary, but change is necessary.  The saddest thing to me is to see someone who has done the same thing, in the same place, for thirty years or more.  I know there are probably many reasons for this, but to me it looks like they were scared to go further, so they decided that where they were at was "good enough".  The possible risk to go further was too much for them so they settled.  I hope that I never settle in my life.  I hope that when I reach my goal of becoming a Physician that I will go even further from there.  I never want to be satisfied with where I am at, because the alternative is scarier than any nightmare I could ever dream up.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Being Successful

Sort of cliche, but sports are an appropriate metaphor for success

I often think about success, and say to myself "Wouldn't it be great?"  I don't think I have the traditional definition of success where the end result is tons of money, a hot car, trophy wife, and a white picket fence with a two story house.  No I am always impressed by true success.  Success that people reach where they look back after a long journey and say to themselves "I made it!"

One thing I have noticed about success is that I hear other people speak of those who have achieved it in hushed tones of envy.  "Oh if I was only as LUCKY as them."  or "I could never do that, he's a GENIUS." or "It's just not FAIR" or "I just don't have the TALENT they have".  These people always look at a fully realized successful person and assume that they have always been that way.  They totally ignore the journey  that person had to take in order to become successful.  They completely ignore the hard work, the agonizing moments, the long tear-filled nights, the times of self-doubt, the times when they believed they couldn't go on...yet they did.

I find my favorite success stories by reading through blogs.  I love reading about the journeys people take to become better athletes, to learn a new hobby, or to reclaim their lives from obesity.  Every day "average" people decide that they are going to do something great.  They are going to go from a sedentary life to running the Ironman in Hawaii.  Maybe it is someone who is going to get on a bike and ride from Alaska all the way down to the tip of Argentina.  How about a person who decides that their life has been ruined by complacency and that they are going to lose a tremendous amount of weight one day at a time?

For me, I always have to start at the first post when I read those blogs.  I want to know about the days when it was impossible.  I want to read about the times when they felt weak, unable, and inadequate.  It is because I feel like this all too often, and I hope that one day someone is going to read my blog and realize that they can do it too.  I want to say now, that I FEEL like I will never become a doctor.  The cards are stacked against me.  I have an average MCAT, and substandard GPA, and I have been out of college for more than 8 years.

It is impossible for me, but I have something that all the lazy apathetic people don't have.  I just can't find it within myself to give up.  For some reason, after I was laid out flat by rejection after five years of preparation I got back up and said, "Lets try again."  Even after everyone online said, "No, it is impossible for you, you just don't have the right stats."  I closed my ears and decided to keep going.

When I start my residency, I want to look back at this post and remember what it was like when it was impossible.  Because I know what will happen when I get into medical school.  People will start saying those things about me.  "Oh it is because he is so SMART." or "I wish I was as LUCKY as him."  But it isn't true.

None of them who say that noticed the tears streaming down my face.  None of them were with me when I was defeated.  None of them sat with me during the long study sessions I had to do AFTER I had already worked a full day at the office.  None of them were there when I had to turn my wife down for date night so that I could do well on a test.  None of them used their vacation time to study those final two weeks for the MCAT instead of going to Peru for some fun.  The only thing they see is the end result, the fruits of my labor, what happens AFTER all the sacrifices.  So they simply dismiss it with a casual statement, because it makes them feel better for giving up on their own dreams.  That is the real truth, and that is why when I am successful I want to look back and remember how high the price was.

I also hope I can inspire someone, somehow.  I want them to read about my journey and realize that Doctors, Lawyers, Engineers, Businessmen, or whatever you choose to be has no bearing on your intellect.  It has to do with how much time you spend practicing, improving, sacrificing and moving towards your goal.  An elite athlete practices for years so that one day he can stand on the big stage and compete in front of thousands.  It is no different for the highest levels of success in any arena.

I did not improve on my MCAT score this year.  Conventional wisdom says, that after 2 tries you should quit.  That a 29 is "good enough".  You know what?  It isn't good enough for me.  After three tries, guess what?  I am going to start studying again.  Because it is all stuff I NEED to know.  Because I know I can do better, and because I want to do better....for me.

I think that the key component to success is the ability to maintain discipline.  By managing to put for a solid effort every single day over a long period of time someone inches ever closer to the success that they have in mind.  Writing a novel does not happen in a one week flurry if intense activity.  It consists of research, writing, revising, and often times throwing away large portions of script that have to be redone.  Losing weight does not happen in a week, even if commercials tell you it does.  It happens over a long period of time after someone has changed their lifestyle and committed themselves to a new discipline of diet and exercise.  My own success, hinges on daily efforts of reviewing material I have learned in the past, keeping up with current advances in medicine, and constantly striving to involve myself in the opportunities that exist to participate in volunteering or research.

Today my goals seem impossible, but I can see that every day I am inching ever closer to what I truly want.  Once I reach the starting line of Medical School I am looking forward to raising the bar even higher and making a new set of goals that will further define my new success story.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Coming Clean

I have been avoiding this post for some time, because I honestly just didn't want to come clean.  I didn't want to own up to the disappointing results of my MCAT.  I studied hard for that test, like I have never studied before in my life (and if you are familiar with this blog, this is now the third time I have taken the MCAT.)

So how did I do?  Exactly the same.  Yes, that is correct, I got the same exact score as last year.  To me it was a disaster, because the whole point was to improve, not to stay static.  The numbers tell me I haven't learned a thing, and yet I am positive I know VOLUMES more than I ever did last year.  Last year after the test I felt horrible, I was in a fog, I couldn't even remember the content of the test.  This year was different.   I remembered almost every single aspect of the test, I spent weeks beating myself up over the questions I missed, constantly going over things I was unsure of in my mind.  It was significantly more traumatizing this time around, all because I knew what I did and didn't miss.

Upon receiving my score, the feeling was horrible.  It was almost as bad as realizing I wasn't going to be able to start Medical School this year.  That every single school I had applied to did not find me worthy.  That somehow intellectually I do not measure up to anybodies standards.  I just turned 34 this year, and the thought of spending another year in exile from the path that I am convinced I should be walking, sounds like a death sentence.  I am reminded of Moses and the nation of Israel who wandered in the wilderness for 40 years  How many years will I wander before I reach my promised land?  I have already wandered these last 5 years gathering pre-requisites one class at a time.  One of those years of exile was a year of rejection.

So now we come upon this year, and a new application cycle.  I decided to apply early decision this year.  It represents a huge risk to me, because early decision means I am selecting only one University and declaring my intention to them to ONLY go to their school.  I cannot send applications to any other school until I receive a rejection letter from my early decision application.  This would happen by October 1, which means my applications would be going out late, putting me behind the curve for the rest of those schools.

Why did I take such a risk?  I did the math.  For some reason it comforts me.  There are some aspects of my life in Engineering that I will never get away from.  I only received an interview invite from one University last year, so that is the one I chose to investigate.  I discovered that if I apply early decision I have a 37% chance of getting accepted versus only a 4% chance of doing a regular application.  If I get an interview invitation my chances of getting accepted suddenly jump to 60% in early decision, versus 37% for a regular application.

So come August I will find out if I will have an interview or not.  Until then I continue to second guess myself.  Why did I work fulltime during my undergrad?  I could have had a better GPA if I didn't.  Why did I major in Engineering, instead of Theater?  I could have had a better GPA if I did.  Why didn't I sign up for a Master's program as a contingency plan?  If I get rejected, yet again, it will be another wasted year.  I find that I learn all too many things in retrospect, after it is too late.  I wish I wasn't like this.

In other news I will be uprooting my entire life to move halfway across the country.  My wife has been accepted to a Master's program for Clinical Research, and I decided it would be better to give up my career to keep our family unified than try to maintain a "long distance" marriage.  Some of this hasn't been easy, but the process of relocating, of having to solve a myriad of life problems on a tight deadline has drawn my wife and I closer together than before.  Sometimes I feel like things need to be shook up, that we need to be broken out of our routine so that we have an opportunity to rely on each other more, and build our trust in each other even more.

Some days I find it exhausting to be the one who has to carry the load, both financially and emotionally.  Often I want to quit and say I have had enough, but how can I when this empty gnawing feeling of unfulfillment will just remain and grow even greater?  I cannot allow my current misery spill over and ruin the hope I have for the future, for that is really the only thing that pushes me to move forward.  Then there are the expectations of my family.  How could I fail them, when I have already put forth so much effort?  I don't think I could bear to look my wife in the face, to see the pain in her eyes.

I am very grateful for my wife, I don't deserve her.  Even though from the outside it looks like I am the one "bringing home the bacon", the great Software Engineer making big money, while she merely studies; the truth is I see the effort she puts forth, I see the tears of frustration she cries, the resolve she has, the passion she fights with, the organizational skills she possesses, the brilliant mind she puts to use, her patience to see things through, the strong character that allows her to stand up after several crushing defeats, and secretly think to myself that I am way out of my league.  Nobody is as lucky as I am.

I feel like we have been successful because she puts forth effort every day so she can please me, and I get stuck every day doing my best to please her.  I think that as long as we both keep putting each other ahead of our own personal desires we are always going to have a wonderful marriage.  The worst times I can remember have been when I got stuck on myself, instead of following that intrinsic Universal paradigm, that law of nature more reliable than Gravity, where I should love others more than my self.  How much moreso should I love my wife then?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Coming Back to Society

Haile Gebrselassie - Probably my most favorite distance runner of all time

For the last two weeks I have been silent, but I have not been idle.  I decided to take a two week vacation from work so that I could spend my final run into the MCAT in total isolation.  Like the ancient Taoist masters who would retreat to a remote mountain cave to contemplate the Universe, I too felt compelled to divorce myself completely from society so that I might finish my preparations unimpeded.

During those two weeks I had a Biochemistry final that was soul crushing, but I did well.  I was pleased by that.  Somehow I also managed to do a practice MCAT and review it every day.  I did not do exhaustive review, but rather re-read each question and determined whether I "guessed", accidentally got it right, or if my thinking was correct.  This seemed to be an efficient method for me to find where I was deficient in my knowledge.

Much to my chagrin, I could not score over an 11 on the Verbal Reasoning sections, no matter how hard I tried.  There always seem to be several illogical choices that the test writer insists is the "most logical" answer.  Most of the time, after reading their explanation I could see why they chose the answer that they did, but in some instances I wasn't convinced.

On Saturday I took the test and I was extremely nervous.  All that effort for a mere three hours of my life.  Much to my surprise, I started to panic on the Biology section when my mind when blank for no reason.  Fortunately I was able to take a breath, regroup and get back on track.  That was a scary moment.  Even post test, I feel like I did not do as well as I could have on the Biological sciences section.  That really annoys me, since I was counting on it to help buoy my score.  On the flipside, I felt more comfortable in the Physical Sciences section than normal.

Objectively I know that I did better than the last MCAT, but how much better?  I will be devastated if it is only one or two points.  If it is three or more points, then I will consider it to have been a success.  Running into the test, I was averaging a 32 on the practice tests, and my highest was a 35 on one test.  I think that realistically I can reach 33 if I didn't make any stupid calculation errors in PS, and I managed to see through the logic traps on VR.  We shall see in thirty days.

For now I have decided to enact plan B of my journey into medical school.  The last 9 months have been very trying for me physically.  I would usually sit at work for 10 hours, after which I would go home to study for another 3 - 4 hours.  I have gained at least 30 pounds, and I do not feel like I am presentable to an interviewing committee.  To remedy this I am going to start my Triathlon training plan over again, while also doing a juice fast for the first week.  The triathlon training will serve to replenish my overall health, while establishing a strong energy reserve, while the juice fast will be to reset my metabolism.  I feel like endurance training will consume more fat than HIIT.  I just have to be able to manage the increased food cravings that are inevitable with that type of training.

Tomorrow I will input my initial body stats, and maybe a picture to help publicly shame me into following through, although I don't know how violently the general public will react to my hideous form >:]  I am excited to be able to exercise again, and to be honest...endurance training is sort of apropos to my path into Medical School.  The journey is far, but if you take a measured pace you can reach your goal!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

It is Springtime!

Two Week Comparison
I thought I would switch up from posting about my medical journey to talk about a little side-project I have been working on.  Every spring I usually get excited and want to plant a garden.  It always goes well until three or four weeks later when weeds have sprung up, or a long dry spell comes through and inevitably wipes out my feeble efforts.

To be fair, I don't generally have much time to focus on gardening so the elements will have their way, whether it be the rapacious squirrels who always eat everything I try to plant or last year's heavy drought which sucked my plants dry.  The only thing I have had real success with have been my grape vines.  Those hardy plants grow despite me, which is a good thing.

This year I was planning on avoiding the garden altogether until I read a blog about hydroponic gardening.  The author talked about how he preferred it, because he could control everything and more importantly he didn't have to deal with bugs or weeds.  As soon as I saw that I was already 95% interested in what he had to say.  I don't know whereas I could adequately summarize what I learned in that blog, so I recommend you head on over to Hydroponic Workshop and start reading from his first post.  He takes a very scientific approach to his hobby and has debunked a lot of the myths that have been circulating about growing vegetables hydroponically.

I think that hydroponics has been unfairly treated due to the many associations with illegal production of Marijuana. If you think about it, in order to maximize their profits, those engaged in such an activity are looking for the easiest and quickest way to get their product out.  If that is not an endorsement for hydroponics I don't know what is.

As for me, I bought a simple set up and planted a tomato plant two weeks ago.  I didn't know how it would go, because I don't plan to spend much time with it, however I have been very surprised by the results.  If you look at the picture above you will see a "before and after" comparison of when I started.  In only two weeks that tomato plant has outpaced the pepper plant next to it, and I have run out of grow space since it has already reached my grow light.  Luckily I can move it outside this week since we will finally have some temperatures in the 70s, with no chance of freezing.

I am having trouble deciding how I will proceed from here.  I am tempted to plant that tomato and put more plants into the hydroponic setup so that they have a quick growth boost before going into my garden where I can set up a trellis and let them fruit.  This is opposed to letting the plant sit for it's entire lifecycle in the hydroponic setup.  The negative part to this approach is that there are only four spots for planting.

I am also considering building an "ebb and flow" system, which would give me much more space to do pure hydroponic growing.  This is an attractive idea to me, and I have learned (from the blog I mentioned above) that this can be accomplished for a fairly cheap price.  Once I have taken the MCAT, I will have an abundance of free time that I plan to use to decompress initially, before going back to volunteering and hopefully doing some research.  Rounding out this years garden looks like it will be my top priority.

After three years of substandard results, I was ready to give up.  Now I am excited about gardening again.  I can't wait to see what I can do!

Monday, April 22, 2013

MCAT Update & Study Tips

I originally planned to take a follow up practice MCAT last week, but I was derailed by a Biochemistry test that was more pertinent to study for.  After finishing up with the Biochem test, I was able to return to my original plan, so I continued my regular weekly study schedule and then took my practice test on Saturday.

This time I decided to go with one of the AAMC  practice tests, since these tests are usually the most predictive of how you will do on an actual MCAT.  This time around the test did not seem nearly as difficult as the Kaplan diagnostic I just took.  When I finished I was pleased to see that I scored a 33.  To be honest I was still a little upset by this score, since I thought I would score a 35 - 37.

When I reviewed the content I found out that the majority of the questions I missed were not due to lack of knowledge.  Several of  the questions I missed were because of some really stupid calculation errors.  A few others were because I misread the question.  This is good to know, because these are things that I can resolve quickly within the amount of time I have left.  I believe that if I had not made those avoidable mistakes, I would have scored at least a 35.

My final analysis of that Kaplan diagnostic is that it is off-the-charts difficult.  There is no reason that there should be a 10 point disparity between an AAMC practice test and the Kaplan diagnostic.  The diagnostic did serve one good purpose, and that was to frighten me enough for me to reevaluate my study techniques and make a few changes. 

If you are planning on taking the MCAT, I would like to share with you some advice that has helped me prepare.  I have tried many different approaches, and after making quite a few mistakes I feel like I am on the right path to a high score.

Finish the Core Curriculum 

My recommendation is that if you plan to take the MCAT you should not even think about it until you have finished the following courses
  • General Chemistry 1 & 2
  • Organic Chemistry 1 & 2
  • Principles of Cellular and Molecular Biology 
  • Microbiology
  • Physics 1 & 2
There are also two other courses that AAMC says aren't necessary, which is a recommendation that I have recently come to disagree with.  After having taken Anatomy & Physiology and Biochemistry I suddenly find the Biology section of the MCAT, which has always been my weak point, coming into focus.  You would do yourself a huge favor if you added these to your pre-MCAT list of courses to take.

Prepare with Adequate Review

There is an essential component of preparation that everyone has to do when studying for the MCAT.  To prepare myself I chose to use the Berkely Review prep course materials.  There are several test prep companies such as Kaplan, Princeton Review, and Exam Krackers.  When I was doing my initial research, I discovered that a lot of the guys who scored high and wrote a "how to study for MCAT" used the Berkeley Review materials as their core, while supplementing their study with material from the other prep companies.

The first, and probably most important step, is to simply slowly and methodically work your way through every subject and make sure you really understand what is being presented.  I would also like to mention that these materials are a very condensed presentation of subject matter that you should have already covered in your undergraduate course load.  I made the mistake of taking the MCAT the first time without having finished 4 of the main core required courses.  This was an extremely stupid mistake, and led to my demise on the first test.

Identify Your Weaknesses

Once you have worked your way through all of the prep books, then the hard work begins.  You now switch from reviewing, assimilating and understanding information, to working on your instant recall, test taking skills, and identifying key weaknesses in your basic knowledge.  I believe that the way you approach this portion of your preparation will be the difference between a 30 and a 35+ on the MCAT.  

This has probably been the most difficult part of the process for me.  I like the studying, and I like understanding the material intimately because I feel like I have a more profound understanding of how the Universe works.  However, I become irrationally angry when I miss questions.  I don't know why, but I take it really personally when I miss something.  If you are like me, then you really have to approach each study session with humility, ready to miss every question, ready to set aside your ego to plow forward, otherwise you will find many excuses for why you just never get around to it.

Another mistake I have made during this phase of preparation was slamming through questions with the idea that "the more questions I see, the better prepared I will be."  That is only half-correct.  It is true that the more questions you do the more variety of questions you will have encountered so you will be less surprised by such a question on test day.  The true point of running through so many passages and answering thousands of questions is to reveal to you where your major weaknesses are.

The main point of doing so many questions is so you can show yourself just where you don't measure up.  This year I decided that in addition to doing thousands of questions I would also review every single one to see if I answered correctly because I knew the answer, or because "I got lucky".  I also decided to find out why I was missing certain questions.  If it were due to a lack of knowledge then I have been forcing myself to go back and re-read the sections I am weak in.  This has resulted in a remarkable increase in my knowledge and confidence.

Fill the Gaps

You cannot memorize every single tidbit of information, but hopefully by this point in your preparation you should have noticed that several tricky things seem to keep recurring, that cause you no end of trouble.  The things I have struggled with have been; quick calculations, hormones and their corresponding organs, light spectrum questions, and chemical reactions.  Here are a few things you can do to quickly plug some of those holes.
My Study Whiteboard
  1. Note Cards - I always cringe at note card use, because I have never needed it before.  I have had a change of heart, because they do serve a very specific purpose if they are used correctly.  I stupidly bought some "MCAT Prep Notecards" from some company, that I have never used.  Instead I have found that they are most effective when you find a formula or simple relationship that you totally bombed on, so you put that on a notecard so that you can review it in your down time.  This is my opinion, but notecards only work if you fill them out yourself.
  2. Mnemonics - I always thought these were childish, but now I see how awesome they are. All information is encoded in language and a mnemonic is an extremely efficient way to recall information you already know, but had trouble dredging up in the past.  The best mnemonics I have found so far deal with light, and hormones.  ROY G. BiV (Red, Orange, Green, Blue, Violet), etc.
  3. Estimation Techniques - Every single prep book offers techniques on how to round to an easier number to make math quicker and give you a reasonable estimate of the answer.  I have been trained as an Engineer so I was quite resistant to this idea.  We are taught that a lack of exactness will lead to disastrous results.  Breaking this habit was difficult but rewarding.  Questions that caused me to sweat before, don't really stress me too much, and I generally finish the Physical Sciences section with plenty of time remaining.  I also like to use a small dry-erase board/markers while I am studying so that I can quickly jot things down, or work through a math problem.  I think it is way better than using a notebook, saves time, and simulates test day (you won't have previous notes jotted down to refer to).

Practice the Test

The only thing left now is to practice taking the test.  Take as many timed practice tests as you can, so that on test day the 3 blocks of question will be just like another day of study.  If you are planning on taking the MCAT, I hope that the many mistakes I have made will help you prepare in a more rational manner so you can achieve a great score the first time. 

As for me, I will sit for this exam again on May 18.  I will let you know how it turns out so that you can see whether or not my advice is worth taking.  Until then, lets keep studying!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Shadowing a Surgeon - Part 1

This is almost an exact replica of the OR I shadowed In

NOTE: I am writing this to record my recollection of this event, so it will most likely be a long read.  I completely understand if you don't make it through.  I feel that it is necessary to write down this astounding experience before it begins to fade from my memory.

On Friday I showed up to the hospital bright and early to shadow a Neuro-Spinal specialist.  I honestly did not know what to expect, and I was a little bewildered by how relaxed they were.  When I arrived, I called the department office and they let me in.  A few seconds later I was standing there alone and unattended.  Knowing I only had about half an hour before I had to meet the doctor, I tracked down a nurse who got me set up with a locker for my belongings and some scrubs to change into.  Normally when I go into a new work place, I am used to being micromanaged, followed everywhere and lectured endlessly so as to ensure that if anything goes wrong, they can be assured that I can take the blame.  It was refreshing to be given an implicit level of professional trust from the outset.

Once I was all suited up I wandered around confused, but I found the OR the doctor was scheduled to work and decided I would wait for him there.  Fortunately there was a window for me to look in, and I took note of how everyone was dressed.  I am glad I did this, because it would have been embarrassing to immediately get kicked out of the OR upon walking in.  After looking around, I found a mask, rubber gloves, some shoe covers, and a cloth surgical cap that I promptly donned before walking into the room.

It didn't take them long to ask who I was and what I was doing there.  Of course I went through the litany, "I am a pre-med student, and I will be shadowing Dr. XXXX today."  Apparently that was good enough, and they quickly went back to their various tasks of prepping the OR for the upcoming surgery.  Soon the patient was wheeled in, a kindly looking elderly woman.

The nurses were very kind and attentive to her, letting her know exactly what was happening and instructing her as necessary.  For me it is always the small details that really stick out and make an impression.  I specifically remember one instance where, as the nurse was telling the patient to breath through the mask she set her hand on the patient's arm and lightly patted her in a comforting manner.  That told me that this nurse was someone who really cared about what she was doing, she was someone who wanted the best outcome for the patient, and she was still able to display compassion when it was necessary.  That is someone I could  work with every single day, if I could.  To me medicine represents a perfect outlet for my compassion, and to see someone else display this trait so openly made me realize that I am not wrong in making this drastic career change.  Maybe many people will think that this is too idealistic and naive of a viewpoint, but I will have to simply disagree.

After the patient was anesthetized the nurse proceeded to double up the patient's legs, which would immediately straighten out when she let go.  After a few attempts she quickly looked over at me and said, "Come over here and help me.  You hold her legs, while I put this Foley in."  Not knowing what a "Foley" was, I innocently walked over and held the patient's ankles, pushing her legs into a butterfly position.  The nurse quickly raised the patient's gown as I now realized what she was going to do.  I had a front row seat to see my first catheter insertion, which means I was spared nothing when it came to "presentation" of the patient's body.  My first instinct was to look away in embarrassment, but I quickly quenched this sentiment, because I wanted to know how it was done.  I calmly forced myself to look on, despite my discomfort, and saw the Nurse quickly and efficiently insert the Foley.  It was on the next step of this process, that I was in for a little surprise.  Grabbing a syringe filled with saline solution she inserted it into a side valve on the catheter and began to inject.  Unfortunately she did make the connection completely and I was greeted with a face full of spray.  I thought I would be horrified, but strangely I found the whole event amusing.  I have to admit I was extremely happy  I was wearing the mask.

With my participation complete, I resumed my vigil in the corner of the OR, trying to stay out of the way as much as possible.  The whole prep took about half an hour before the surgeon made his grand entrance (yes I deliberately made that sound overly dramatic).  He greeted his staff in a friendly manner and I was pleased to see that there was a playful banter that existed within the team.  I could see that they worked well with each other, and that they enjoyed working together as a team.

After working in corporations for the last 8 years, I am used to seeing discord, backbiting, false sincerity, and above all avoidance of any sort of responsibility.  Here I was confronted with a group of people who were about to take someone's life into their hands.  Each one had a very specific role to fulfill to ensure the success of today's surgery.  If anything went wrong, there would be no way to obfuscate the mistake with a self excusing email that would pass the blame to some other unsuspecting coworker.  They would have to face it, resolve it immediately, and deal with the consequences that would result from it.  It was heartening to realize that incompetence could not survive in this environment.

The surgeon soon greeted me and gave me an introduction to the procedure they would perform.  There was a 50 inch flat screen monitor on the wall with MRIs of the patient's spine.  He showed me where the vertebral foramen on the L3 and L4 vertebrae had closed in,  so it was compressing the spinal cord and causing loss of feeling in the lower extremities.  Since the spinal cord passes through the vertebral foramen, he was going to enlarge the foramen again, so that the spinal cord would not be constricted anymore. 

To my recollection, the surgery took about two to three hours total, not including the prep time.  Several things stand out vividly in my mind.  First, the technology that was put to use was incredible.  Within the room there were three hanging flat screen screens, that were on moveable arms so that they could be adjusted to give view to whoever needed to see.  These were in addition to the 50 inch wall screen I already mentioned.  There were two large OR lights, that were in the center of these screens that extended out on retractable looking arms.  Within those bright lights was a camera that would give a feed into those screens.  So by merely standing in the back, I was still given a front row view into exactly what the surgeon was doing.

As a preface to describing the actual procedure, I want to describe how I felt at this point.  I have never seen a surgery so I had no idea what to expect.  More importantly, I had no idea how I would react to this experience.  I have heard of people becoming nauseous, passing out, and all manner of other horrible reactions.  As the surgery began I have to admit I was extremely amped up on adrenaline.  It was all very unreasonable, because it was all self-induced based on my uncertainty about my own reaction.  It was like a self-induced recursive reaction (if that makes nay sense at all :P ).  To combat any possible adverse effects I made sure to bounce from leg to leg, and to keep my legs slightly bent.

The vast majority of the surgery seemed to be "digging" through the various tissues to actually reach the site that they wanted to fix.  The surgeon used a cauterization tool (a laser scalpel?) to burn through the layers of dermis, and underlying adipose and muscle tissue.  The smell of burnt flesh was initially uncomfortable until I forgot about it in my fascination with what was going on.

Diamond Coated Burr Bit
Once the bone of the spine had been reached a new phase of the surgery began.  The surgeon started using a diamond coated bur bit to drill start removing bone.  Up until this point my conception of surgery, was that it was very fine and meticulous, but the usage of this tool was savage and intrusive.  The rotation of drill, suction, drill, suction, became rhythmic for ten to fifteen minutes as he quickly worked his way through the lamina of the spine.  Once he approached the meninges, the membrane protecting the spinal cord, he switched tools from the mechanical device, to a manually operated tool that I am guessing was a Rongeur.  Basically it was a surgical wrench for grasping and tearing away bone.  He did this so that he would not drill through the membrane, which would have been a huge mistake, and quite the headache to fix.  Using this tool, he methodically pulled out bone, piece by piece and exposed more and more of the spinal meninges.  Once done with L3, he drilled over to L4 and repeated the process.

All of this I watched on the monitors, and he periodically spoke up to instruct me on what he was doing.  He pointed out specific parts of the anatomy, and thankfully indicated where the head and feet were.  It sounds obvious, but if he hadn't done that, I wouldn't have realized that the head and foot were interpolated on the screen (e.g. -- it was opposite on the viewing screen from how the patient was laying on the table.)  My only complaint about this procedure was that I was behind the surgery, and he had music going while operating which made hearing what he said very difficult.  I feel like I lost some key points of instruction, but seeing as I was just an extra observer the fact that I was able to intrude on their environment and still receive patient instruction is more than enough for me.  I am very grateful they allowed me to participate.

The surgery finished up with a quick and careful closing up of the spine.  At various points I noticed the nurses would take counts of the linens used for cleaning the blood, and the needles used for suturing the wound.   It was a very organized and practical step, that seems like common sense, but obviously has been ignored in the past seeing as some of those items have been left in patients before.

Having completed the surgery the surgeon helped re-situate the patient on a gurney to take her to recovery, while the anesthesiologist started to bring her out of sedation.  As she regained consciousness I noticed the surgeon had already left the room, and I had about half an hour until the next surgery.  I took advantage of the time to run to the lounge and grab a snack, because it didn't look like lunch would be coming any time soon.  From 7:30am until about 12:00 o clock I was in the operating room watching the pre-op and the surgery.  I didn't know how long the next surgery would be, but I didn't want to miss a moment.

In closing to this chapter of my shadowing experience I want to recount my final interaction with the surgeon.  As he closed up the patient he turned back and asked, "What did you think?"  Already experiencing a complete sensory overload my only answer was "That was awesome!"  I could see his cheeks raise up in a smile behind his mask and he began to teach, this time I could hear everything.

"My rule is that the surgery should be fun.  The more interesting and fun the case is, the more I want to do it.  If I get a referral I evaluate by two criteria.  Number one -- Is it fun?  Number two -- Is it imperative?  If it is yes to both, I'll take the case.  If I say no to both questions, I'll refer it to one of my partners...and if it is yes to one or the other I have to decide whether or not to take it."

Obviously the bit about passing it off to a partner was a joke, but I understood the lesson he wanted to convey.  He was promoting a love of your job, enjoying what you do, and taking pride in it.  I don't think he understood just how deeply that resonated with me.  I will always be grateful that he took the time to pass that one on to me.  I was never serious about surgery, because I thought you don't get to spend time with time with this Surgeon taught me just how wrong I really was.

Next time I will talk about the second part of my day, and reveal to you just how wrong I was regarding patient interaction.  Stay tuned!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Details and more Details

Often times getting accepted into medical school is distilled down into taking the MCAT and sending in your application.  It sounds pretty simple, but there are many details that you have to account for along the way, so that you can ensure your success.

The current detail that I am running after is finding shadowing opportunities.  Last year's cycle I was told that my six years of medical interpreting at the local clinic wasn't a truly representative experience for the American Medical system, so their recommendation was to find more shadowing opportunities.

I have already exhausted my personal contacts and have been forced to rely on recommendations of friends.  This has probably been one of the most difficult things I have had to do.  My schedule is very inflexible due to my full time job and the fact that most physicians (that I know) work a traditional schedule.  I also find it hard to ask other people favors.  I personally would rather be in the position to grant a favor, rather than accept one.

Fortunately I have been able to rework my weekly schedule into four days of 10 hour shifts, instead of five days of 8 hour shifts.  I am now able to pursue a more aggressive plan for securing a steady shadowing gig.  The final roadblock for me now, is to find a physician who is willing to let me follow them around.

Update: Not even an hour after I posted this, I heard back from one of the physicians I have contacted.  It looks like tomorrow I get to shadow in the OR at a Neuro Clinic.  I am very excited to take part in this.

Friday, April 5, 2013

If You Climb, You Might Fall

Last week I took a practice test to see how my preparations were coming and I was not pleased.  The final score was....wait for it....a 23.  That is one point higher than the first time I took it and six points lower than last year's test.  You can imagine, that with the MCAT only 1 and a half months away that caused me to panic greatly.

There are several ways I can interpret this outcome.  I can interpret it to say that I have taken a huge step back in my accumulated knowledge and have forgotten almost everything.  However, I don't think this is the correct interpretation.  I am positive I know much more than I did last year, so I have to examine the source of the test and where my deficiencies lie.

In my current preparations I have finished reviewing all but two chapters of the Berkeley Review test prep materials.  It is a very dense and difficult review, but I think it is more than adequate to help prepare for the MCAT.  The test I took, to show my progress, was a free diagnostic test from Kaplan.  I did remarkably poor in the Physics section, and ironically it had a lot of questions from the two chapters I had not finished reviewing.  What are the chances that the majority of questions would come from 2 of the 10 chapters that physics covers?  I thought that was a little skewed, but I also have to think that on test day, if the same thing happens I would still be screwed so maybe it is a moot point.

Being a free diagnostic test I did some research on it through Google and found several accounts where someone scored remarkably poor yet did very well on the actual test.  I began to suspect that the difficultly level on this diagnostic is much higher than the actual test in order to funnel more people into the Kaplan program.

With that being said, I still came out with some positives.  I plan to take a different diagnostic next week to see if my suspicion is correct.  Out of all the problems, there wasn't anything I didn't "know" per-se, but there were several problems that I knew how to do, yet couldn't remember the formula to do what I needed to do.  That is definitely something I can remedy, and it is certainly something that is not allowable on test day.

Because I am a theoretical thinker, I have never put much stock in memorizing huge amounts of information.  Since we have such a huge resource of data recall at our very fingertips that sort of exercise is unnecessary if you know how to find and apply theory to the necessary information.  In physics I would usually memorize one or two key equations which would allow me to derive any subsequent equations on test day.  It saves study time, and if you can derive the equations I believe you truly understand the fundamental concepts more intimately than someone who merely memorized formulae and variables by rote.

The theoretical approach is no good when approaching a test like the MCAT.  Yes, the test is designed to reveal how well you can think critically, how well you can apply information instead of regurgitate it, but when it comes to the calculation portions that is not true, because you do not have enough time to derive and then apply the solution.  Part of my past failures can be attributed to my desire to calculate the exact solution to "make sure" I was 100% correct, rather than estimating, answering, and moving on in a timely fashion.  The difference in time between both approaches is probably on the order of 1 - 2 minutes per question...which can add up quickly.

With this in mind, I have decided to use the brute force method.  I am simply going to slam as many physics formulas and chemistry reactions into my head as possible so that I will have a quick recall system ready on test day.  It is not my preferred method, but I have to admit that when pressed for time it will be an invaluable tool.  If I can immediately recall every physics equation, and quickly indicate what type of reaction is taking place I think my physical sciences score is going to shoot through the roof.

Another thing that accounts for my low score is that this is my first timed passage of my review.  I have been taking everything slow and measured up until this point to make sure I truly understand the concepts I am reviewing.  Now I am transitioning into the timed portion, and it is obvious that I am simply out of practice with regards to pacing and quickly moving through passages.  I did not run out of time during the practice test, but there were four or five calculation question I knew how to calculate, but "marked" for later because I felt pressed for time.  I know that practice will alleviate the panic I felt on those questions.

Next week I am going to post my score for the follow up practice test.  If it still sits around a 23, I may have to consider postponing my MCAT date.  Until then, stay tuned.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Difference Between a Dream and a Fantasy

Is This a Dream or Fantasy? Image by Karezoid Michal Karcz

 As I was speaking to my wife yesterday something very profound flew out of my mouth.  At the time I did not give it much thought, but as I mulled it over later I grew to appreciate how significant it was.  I think my subconscious was using my effort to comfort my wife to teach me something instead.

"The difference between a dream and a fantasy is that a dream is realizable."

The reason that statement is so profound to me, is that before I vocalized it, I had never made a distinction between dreams and fantasies.  I have a very active imagination and one of my favorite activities is to give it free reign to express itself.  I end up thinking along many different paths, oftentimes fanciful and impractical.  I suspect that allowing this type of thought is the root of creativity, so I have never wanted to inhibit this tendency.  This means that I have always been a "dreamer".

"Dreamers" get a bad rap sometimes.  They are often accused of chasing after something impossible to achieve, something impractical, or "silly".  I think that there is a certain level of hypocrisy injected into judgements like this, because children in the USA are often told,

"When you grow up you can be ANYTHING you want."

When the child reaches a certain age, and starts to manifest their interest in certain areas the litany changes.  Soon they are told they should go to college and study something "practical", or they are told that their chances of success in a certain field are too small because of the high amount of competition.  I think that such a drastic change in message has a crippling effect on someone who dreams.  Forced to settle for something less than their dream, they begin to fantasize.

I bought into those lies when I began my undergraduate studies.  I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and worse I had no idea what I was interested in studying so I took the practical approach.  I thought about the professions that payed well and were in high demand and decided on Computer Science.  That is a pretty safe call, right?

Fast forward to two years after I graduated and I was absolutely miserable.  The realization that a CS degree was essentially meaningless in my chosen profession was a huge blow to me.  Technology firms stand by the litany of "Experience over all", meaning if you have enough "experience" on your resume then you must be qualified.  I have noticed that this is extremely misleading, because many people have a tendency to lie on their resume.  I cannot count the number of "hotshot" resumes I have read, only to be met with incompetence when I performed the interview, or worse yet when I was overruled and was forced to work along someone who is merely an amateur at best.  I could never understand why there is such a professional disconnect in the IT industry.  Unqualified lawyers are not allowed to practice law, nor are unqualified physicians allowed to practice medicine, yet in IT as long as you put down you have "experience" you are good to go.

My discontent with my chosen field led me to fantasize.  I wanted to hop on a bike and ride across the United States, vicariously living from day to day (Crazy Guy on a Bike).  I wanted to buy some land and go live off grid, experiencing the freedom that only nature can give you (Wilderness Survival).  I began finding solace in long training runs, with the idea of possibly running a marathon (Daily Mile).  Inevitably the theme was always the same.  I wanted to escape, and I was seeking a way out through ethereal unrealizable fantasies.  The fact that they were unreachable only intensified my discontent, and I am pretty sure it ended up drastically affecting my attitude and performance at work.

I don't know if I can put my finger on it exactly, but a combination of things worked together to galvanize me into finally pursuing a dream.  My wife and her father are physicians so I had been learning more and more about the profession through my interactions with them.  I soon realized that working as a physician would give my life the purposeful meaning that it was missing, the professionally competent peers I was seeking, and an outlet for my fantasizing mind.  On that day, and I do remember the exact day, in 2007 a dream was born.

I knew that it would take work, persistence, and time, however, I also knew that it was something I could reach if I were willing to work hard enough, and long enough.  From 2007 - 2013, I have slowly chipped away at the pre-requisites I needed one night course at a time.  Now I sit here, nearly at the end of the road and look back at what I have done in disbelief.  I could have never come so far with a fantasy, but a dream...well that is something worth living for.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Real Life is My Favorite RGP

After my Bio-Chem class today, it sort of hit me.  I really enjoy this daily struggle to try and improve myself.  During my class we were going over the kinetics of enzyme catalyzed reactions and I was really digging what the professor was teaching.  Later, as I was driving to work, I realized that only three years ago I wouldn't have been able to even follow the lecture.  That was cool, really cool.

Every day my goal is to be better than the day before, and usually I feel disappointed that I did not meet that goal.  When you are stuck in the moment it is easy to lose sight of the progress you are making.  It isn't until you look back over a roadmap of months or years when you finally see that all that sacrifice and effort has really paid off.

Each day we have the opportunity to confront our weaknesses and try to overcome them, which will hopefully lead to a better life.  Maybe it is ironic that I consider my weaknesses to be apathy, laziness, and procrastination.  My only saving grace is that when I have a goal I really try to run after it, however I feel like those three weaknesses really derail me from reaching my goals as quickly as I'd like.  I also have extremely outlandish goals, so if you are on the outside looking in you would think I am an extremely hard worker.  I have never really seen it like that.  If I compare what I have done to other people, then I would probably look pretty good in that aspect, but personally I still feel like I don't try hard enough.  I tend to relax earlier than necessary, and I probably take too many walk breaks during my long study sessions.

I know that point of view seems obsessive, but it works for me.  I am positive that I would not have made it this far if I didn't think like this.  There was a time when I couldn't sit for more than ten minutes to study.  It was a constant point of frustration for me, because I really wanted to dominate the material.  My mind would flip between thoughts so quickly that I would find myself reading a textbook, but in actuality daydreaming about something entirely different.  Through daily effort, I have been able to extend this study time to roughly 1 hour blocks.  A huge improvement, but still nowhere near what I need it to be.

I have also noticed that this inattentiveness has also extended itself into my personal hobby, which I could describe as "collecting hobbies".  I bet you are wondering what that means.  It is a phenomenon that runs like clockwork.  I will discover something I find interesting and I will do nothing but that one thing until I have figured it out.  I am always amazed by people who gravitate towards one singular hobby and do it for years without getting bored.  For some reason once I have it figured out and have been able adequately reproduce whatever that hobby calls for, I am bored and no longer care for it anymore.  This has led me to try knitting, cross stitching, home brewing, gardening, woodworking, luthiery, playing various instruments,  engraving, calligraphy, creative writing, sports, etc. etc.  The list is massive and never-ending.  I still wonder why I am like this.

Another thing I tend to do is constantly examine other people and wonder how they lives their lives the way they do.  I have noticed that the vast majority of people reach a certain age and suddenly decide that their life is "good enough".  From my observations this generally occurs immediately after High School, upon graduation from college, or after marriage.  Lets say the average age is around 25 years old.  The average life expectancy for people in the United States is currently 78 years, so that leaves 53 years of a static repetitive non-progressive life.  Think about that for just a second.  Doesn't that scare you?  It blows my MIND when I think about it.  What could I accomplish in 53 years if I kept improving every single day?

This apathetic behavior also manifests when people have children.  It seems almost counter intuitive to me, that parents give up on improving themselves as soon as they have children so that they can "raise" their children.   It is so hypocritical to me when a parent admonishes their child to get an education and be successful, to set goals and improve themselves, yet they aren't willing to do it in their own lives.  Living for prime time TV and weekend sports is not my definition of success or happiness.  It is merely another form of drug addiction, where you get an endorphin rush by trying to associate with the success of someone who is actually making it happen.

Entertainment has become the center of our culture and most people are too stupid to even realized how chained they really are.  I watched my grandmother spend 30 years glued to a television and when she died she didn't even know who I was.  Her brain was turned to mush because she never used it, and her body crumbled alongside.  She was hypnotized by the fantasies unfolding before her and could never escape the temptation so that she could be fulfilled in her own life.  This mass hypnosis has manifest itself in our society with the various health issues we are currently having.  The overwhelming numbers of diabetics, and obese people (not to mention many other health issues) all stems from one singular problem, and that is a problem with lifestyle.  Overeating, couch surfing, and inactivity for years leads to this end result. However, when people reach this state, they want to operate under the misinformed idea that they can take a "magic pill" and continue to abuse their bodies.  I call this a slow measured suicide.

I have just realized how long this mind dump has gotten.  This will probably be TLDR; for most people, but it's my blog so nyah!  Maybe I'll follow up with a part 2, if anyone can stomach it.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A Different Approach

Now that I am in the midst of studying for the MCAT again, I have decided to reevaluate my approach and make some modifications.  Last year when I studied for this test I focused on assimilating as much information, and running through as many questions as possible.  This seemed to be an okay approach, but I still did not do as well as I wanted to.  This year I have decided to switch my approach.  Instead of trying to slam through tons of information as quickly as possible, I will do my review carefully with one thing in mind.  As I do the example questions, and practice tests I will extensively study why I have missed each problem and then categorize them into two different categories.

The first category will be for "silly" mistakes.  That label is sort of a misnomer, since any mistake technically isn't silly.  I expect to see a pattern emerge for the type of questions I miss in this category.  Most likely it will be due to a particular approach, missed conversion or not carefully reading what the question is asking. The second category will be for deficient knowledge.  These questions I will have to take, and review the particular subject matter that I am deficient on so that my knowledge base is complete going into test day.

The reason I decided to do this is because I feel like I subconsciously avoided subjects I didn't like or understand, and I rushed through many questions I missed with the simple explanation of "Oh that was dumb, I should have seen that stupid mistake.  I'll get it right next time lol."  In hindsight this is not a very good approach to studying for the MCAT, which is a test that purposely gives trick questions to test your knowledge.

I have already started this approach with my Chemistry review and after getting through 2/3 of the first chapter I am getting problems right, that used to challenge me.  This is all because I took the time to really look into why I missed the problem, and then carefully document it.  The going is slow right now, but I have a suspicion that these common "tricks" are going to keep popping up again and again.  Actually I know they will, since this will be the third time I will sit for the exam ><

I no longer believe that I am missing any of the fundamental knowledge necessary to take this exam.  Now I just need to refine my test-taking skills so that when I go into the test in May, I am ready to take the MCAT as they present it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Medical School

This year I worked hard to make it into Medical School, but alas it did not happen.  I scored one point below my average this time on the MCAT for a 29.  I was pretty happy with that, but I think it was a naive score to "settle" for.  Over the last year I have taken more courses, and I feel like I know so much more than before.

I decided to pick up this blog again more to document my struggle to get into medical school than anything.  I have been working towards this for almost five years now, and have been extremely serious for the last two and a half years.  I wish I was more serious from the outset, but that is water under the bridge now.

It is now mid-January and I need to start studying to take the MCAT a third time.  Most people have told me that 29 is good enough and that I shouldn't "risk" taking it again.  Honestly I am not satisfied with that number and I believe I can do much, much better.  Last year I had a pretty good study schedule, but I think I will be even more aggressive this time around.  It is going to require a sacrifice of nights and weekends, but I am okay with this.

The bitterness of getting rejected this year somehow galvanized my spirit into wanting to try even harder.  I want to prove to myself that I am able.  I want to prove to everyone who thinks I am full of crap, that I am not just "talk".   I have made solid steps, but I feel like it isn't enough.  The last 2.5 years I have maintained a 4.0 GPA, but somehow I feel like it is "too little too late".  Or course that is the self doubt seeping in. 

Last year I recorded a 7 point improvement from my first MCAT.  That is a huge difference when you think about it.  I know people who have taken the test several times and each time only had a variance of one or two points.  With the hard work I have put in over the last year, I feel confident that I can push it up another seven points.  That would put me at a 36, which is a score that a lot of the top tier schools would be impressed with.  I know my GPA would keep me out of those schools, but my goal isn't ivy league.  My goal is to be in Medical School, and I think that is very attainable with what I have already done.

When I called the admissions board after my rejection I also found out that I needed to Shadow more physicians.  Somehow I thought that being a medical interpreter in a clinic was just as good as shadowing, but I was wrong.  I am probably most bitter about this "weakness" than anything else in my application.  I still find it hard to believe that interpreting between doctors and patients in a clinical environment isn't as good as or even better than simple shadowing.  Deep down, I feel like I got shafted on this aspect and I will probably go to my grave believing that this assessment was extremely obtuse and short sighted.

With that being said, I also have to be practical about the whole thing, so guess what I will be focusing on this year?  You got it!  I will be shadowing as many physicians as possible.  In my next post I want to post a tentative study schedule that I will follow, that will allow me to maximize my time usage and help me attain the highest grade possible.

Folks!  For the next 5 months I am going to be LIVING the MCAT.