AN INTERVIEW WITH BRANDON KAMRAVA
According to the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS®), of those who applied to medical school, about 40 percent were accepted. Medical school is highly competitive and a stressful process to undertake. Here is one medical student’s journey.
Why did you decide to apply to medical school?
As an undergraduate, I wasn’t sure about what I wanted to do after college. I had interests in entrepreneurship, consulting, engineering, and medicine. I was able to finally decide on medicine only after exploring my other options. I worked at a venture capital firm, attended consulting conferences, became involved with the engineering department at my school, and shadowed at a surgical center. I learned that working with people is extremely important to me. I also realized I wanted my work day to be dynamic, where most of my day wouldn’t be spent behind a computer (even with electronic medical records, this is still not the case). Plus, to put it plainly, surgery is awesome.
What advice do you have for students thinking about applying to medical school?
Applying to medical school is no easy endeavor. Early planning is essential to success. Unfortunately, this means that strong grades and academic performance, especially in freshman and sophomore year, are critical. Students are asked to list both their overall GPA and their science GPA. The science GPA usually consists only of prerequisite courses, which are typically the classes taken early on in undergrad. Post- baccalaureate programs are the perfect opportunity for an applicant to improve the scholarly portion of his or her application.
In addition to focusing on school work and classes, medical schools expect applicants to have numerous extracurricular activities. The classic applicant will choose extracurricular activities that include research, shadowing, and volunteer work, along with one or two other activities (work/interest groups/athletics).
Also, don’t be afraid to apply for scholarships and awards, these are very important and often have a monetary component.
When and how did you start preparing for the MCAT? Any tips you would recommend?
Remember, the MCAT is only one aspect of the application. However, DO NOT slack on the MCAT. A low score will keep even a 4.0 applicant from being considered at many programs. But at the same time, remember it is just a hurdle for entry, after that it’s the rest of your application that will get you an interview.
I ended up performing very well on the MCAT, but I had started out not in great shape. I jumped from being in approximately the 50th percentile to above the 95th percentile after the course of my studying. During the summer between my second and third year of college, I signed up for a prep course. I very closely followed the prescribed study schedule, making sure to use all practice questions and tests. I had exhausted the practice tests and purchased additional practice tests and prep books. Staying disciplined can be incredibly tough, so following a curriculum really helped keep me focused and improve my scores.
I think what can be most helpful for successfully prepping for the MCAT is to talk to graduates from your own school and major. Everyone is happy to offer advice and going through the entire process on their own and seeing their friends do the same thing really makes alumni an incredible resource. Alumni also understand the dynamics of your school and major. They will best guide you on when to take and study for the MCAT.
What was the application process like for you and what helpful tips do you have for others?
Preparation is going to be the most helpful thing for facilitating the application process. There are many little things that need to be put together for a final application. Grades and official transcripts, letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and short essays on your activities need to be ready for the submitted application. Starting early and being organized will help you keep track and make sure all documentation will be ready. Going on amazon and buying an application book for $10 can really help guide you through the nitty gritty on what is needed, and it is something I would highly recommend. Make sure to have your application and secondaries in as soon as possible. Your application submission is not something to delay.
How did you handle selecting who and then asking for letters of recommendations?
Typically letters of recommendation should come from faculty or mentors who you have worked closely with for some time. It should be someone who has knowledge of your character and will speak strongly of it. Your letter writers should be able to convince the admissions committee to consider you. Usual choices for letters of recommendation will be a principal investigator whom you researched for, a professor who can attest to your work ethic in the classroom, physician whom you’ve shadowed with, or a boss at your job. Make sure to ask the letter writer if they will write a strong letter of recommendation for you. He or she should be honest and hopefully be able to advocate for you or otherwise turn down the offer.
How many schools did you apply to and how did you decide where to apply?
I think a reasonable number is about 20 to 30 max. Picking where you want to apply to will be based on your numbers and also where you will be happy. Some people think very geographically, which makes narrowing down where to apply to easy. If you care more about just getting into a medical school no matter the location, then it can be much tougher. You really must be honest with yourself. There are databases available which list all of the medical schools in the country and the range of acceptance numbers for each school. Try to find a mix of reaches, targets, and safeties. Also look into where schools accept most applicants from. If a program is highly selective to in-state applicants, then take that into consideration.
What advice do you wish someone had given you before you started applying?
Do not compare yourself to everyone around you. Students who apply to medical school are typically extremely bright with extensively long CV/resumes. It is easy to compare one’s own application to someone else and then lose confidence. Remember that while yes, there are students out there who’s application is flawless, there are also many students who aren’t so confident. A medical career is a humbling path and it is important to remember that you can bring something special to a program.
How did you prepare for the interviews? Any tips?
Interviews can be tough. Applicants are now expected to understand medical ethics, which is something you will be taught in medical school. Preparation is important. You should know answers to basic questions: what is your greatest strength, what is your greatest weakness, how do you work in teams, tell me about a time you had conflict in your life and how you dealt with it, etc. Make sure you do not recite a memorized answer though. Try to come up with personal examples for these questions, your past actions will speak very strongly. Also make sure you prep with mentors. Mentors are happy to provide criticism, so you don’t make the same mistakes during the interview. If you have a question regarding medical ethics, remember the most important thing is that a patient receives proper care and is involved in choosing their care.
About Brandon Kamrava
Brandon Kamrava is a Fourth Year Medical Student at Temple University School of Medicine.