A Book that Will Break your Heart and Renew your Commitment to Medicine

This is a stressful time for medical school applicants and residency candidates alike. I recently wrote a piece for Student Doctor Network with five suggested books for training doctors, reads that might relax you a bit while you learn something about your future career. I want to add another recommendation: Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air. Get ready to cry your eyes out, while appreciating beautiful prose and insightful content. Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer when he was a senior neurosurgery resident at Stanford. He chronicles his short life in a book that’s hard to put down.

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Insider Medical Admissions Searchable Blogs

Have a specific medical school or residency admissions question? Don’t want to rifle through blog entries individually?

I’ve been writing my blog since 2008 and have a wealth of answers to your questions – all free. But many folks do not know what I have two platforms on which my blog is published.

The first is on my website here. The entries are all tagged, so you can pick a topic and search using that tag.

The second is on Blogger here. This one allows you to search any phrase in the right margin (about a third of the way down the page).

Either way, feel free to use the blogs to get your questions answered easily and quickly.

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Ten AMCAS Mistakes You Absolutely Want to Avoid

Here’s a quick and dirty list of AMCAS Work and Activities section errors to avoid at all costs:

1. Don’t write to write, and don’t fill to the maximum character count unless necessary. While you want to include many strong achievements, you do not want your AMCAS to be so wordy that your reader is tempted to skim.

2. While you need to be brief, don’t write in phrases; use full sentences. It’s a formal application, and you want to make your written materials as readable as possible.

3. Don’t assume your reader will carefully study the “header” section (including the title of the activity, hours, etc.). Make sure your descriptor could stand alone: Instead of “As an assistant, I conducted experiments…” use “As a research assistant at a Stanford Medical School neuroscience lab, I conducted experiments…”

4. Don’t be vague or trite. Make sure you spell out your accomplishments clearly and substantively. If your reader doesn’t understand an activity, you will not get “full credit” for what you’ve done. Make no assumptions.

5. Avoid abbreviations. Again, you want to be formal, and abbreviations you think are common might not be familiar to the reader.

6. Write about yourself and your role – not an organization. For example, don’t use the space to discuss Doctors without Borders. Use it to discuss the specifics of your role at Doctors without Borders.

7. Avoid generalities and consider using numbers to be persuasive. Saying that the conference you organized had 300 participants says it all.

8. Don’t merge the descriptors with the most meaningful paragraphs because they are separate sections: You can complete descriptors for up to 15 activities with up to 700 characters each plus up to three most meaningful paragraphs of up to 1325 characters each.

9. Unless your PI won the Nobel, avoid using supervisors’ and/or doctors’ names in your descriptors as they will be meaningless to the majority of your readers.

10. Get help. Do not submit your medical school application without having it reviewed. You do not want to showcase suboptimal materials for a process that is this important and competitive.

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Be A Dirtbag Millionaire

For many of us, medical training means taking on significant debt and learning to manage complex personal finances. Many financial advisors “specialize” in physicians (like wolves who specialize in sheep?), and young doctors have a reputation as easy targets.

How can you defend yourself against financial predators, kill your debt early, and learn to manage your own portfolio? (And where can you even learn what a portfolio is?) David Presser, MD, MPH at Crispy Doc offers a blog dedicated to financial literacy for the newly minted physician with an emphasis on early financial independence for doctors.

Check out his blog, and learn from Dr. Presser’s recent Student Doctor Network article. Disclosure: I found his advice so compelling, I married him. 😉

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I’ve started editing a lot of medical school essays of late, and I want to give a shout out to the importance of brevity. I focus on a work count of 700 or fewer for my advisees for a few reasons: First, I’ve found that that number is just the right balance of content and streamlining. Under 700 words for an admissions essay leads to a lack of substance, and more lends itself to meandering writing.
Second, your reader is likely stuck reviewing tens or even scores of applications in a short period of time. S/he is looking to spend as little time as possible on your written materials, while still getting a good flavor for your candidacy. Don’t burden your reader with verbiage.
Here’s a helpful trick: Imagine AMCAS or ERAS is charging you $10 per word. How would you keep costs down?

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About Dr. Michelle Finkel

Dr. Michelle Finkel

Dr. Finkel is a graduate of Stanford University and Harvard Medical School. On completing her residency at Harvard, she was asked to stay on as faculty at Harvard Medical School and spent five years teaching at the world-renowned Massachusetts General Hospital. She was appointed to the Assistant Residency Director position for the Harvard Affiliated Emergency Medicine Residency where she reviewed countless applications, personal statements and resumes. Read more

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