This interview, originally published at Accepted.com, delves into what going to a Caribbean medical school is really like.
Accepted: First, can you tell us a little about yourself?
Marc: I grew up in East Brunswick, New Jersey and I went to Binghamton University for undergrad where I studied biology. I’m currently a fourth year medical school at Ross University School of Medicine. I’m finishing up my clinical clerkships in Brooklyn, New York and I’m in the process of applying for a residency in internal medicine. In my downtime I like to play basketball and soccer and the last book I read, Ready Player One, is the focus of Steven Spielberg’s next film.
Accepted: Looking back, what was the most challenging aspect of the med school admissions process? How did you approach that challenge and overcome it?
Marc: Unfortunately I didn’t realize that I wanted to go to medical school until the end of my sophomore year at Binghamton University. I got my act together by the time I had to apply to medical school but the damage to my GPA was already done. I applied to 28 schools and Ross University was the only one that gave me the opportunity to become a doctor. However, looking back at it, I wouldn’t have accepted me to a US medical school either. But I knew what I wanted to do and didn’t want to wait to start my career. So without taking any time off after graduating I took the opportunity I was given at Ross and started medical school in the fall on the tropical island of Dominica.
As for the application process itself the secondary applications were the worst part. I didn’t expect to get a secondary application from almost every medical school that I applied to. That was another application fee, another essay for each school, and another application form to fill out. It was exhausting. If I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t have applied to so many schools.
Accepted: What is your favorite part of attending Ross University?
Marc: I loved my time on the island. At Ross we spend our first two years of medical school on the island learning the foundations of medicine. After that we come to the US to complete our clinical clerkships.
My favorite experiences were the afternoons we spent at the beach after our exams. You also have a few opportunities every once in a while to go on some exciting day trips. I went on a seven hour hike to the Boiling Lake which is the second largest hot lake in the world. I climbed through a forest, like literally army crawled underneath fallen trees, and through almost knee deep mud to the top of Morne Diablotins, the tallest mountain on the island. There also always seemed to be a mild mist in the air that let me see the most number of rainbows I’ve ever seen in my life. And the sunset runs on the beach. It was a great experience.
You also make some really close friends during medical school. I wouldn’t have made it to my fourth year without my island friends who became my island family.
Accepted: Can you tell us about your clinical experience?
Marc: Ross offers track programs all over the country. A track program lets you stay at one hospital for the entirety of your third year instead of moving around for every rotation. I was accepted at a Brooklyn track program and I’ve had a great experience. Every day I feel slightly less useless and there is always something more to learn. It’s part of what excites me about starting my internal medicine residency. At the end of the day, no two medical students have the same experience during their clinical clerkships and it truly is what you make of it.
Accepted: Can you share some advice to incoming first year students, to help make their adjustment to med school easier?
Marc: If you’ve been accepted to med school it means that you possess the intelligence and work ethic necessary to succeed in med school. I’ve written a blog post, How To Study In Med School, which goes into what I tell every incoming medical student. That you basically have to figure out what works for you and make consciences decisions to enhance your study process. But before medical school starts go enjoy yourself.
Go get a beer with your friends, go to that concert, go on a road trip, and finish your summer bucket list because you will never have as much free time in your life as you do right now. It only gets harder. Med school is tough and residency is rougher. Enjoy your time before starting medical school while you still can. Med school isn’t going anywhere but your free time is about to evaporate into thin air.
Accepted: Can you tell us about your blog? When did you start blogging? What have you gained from the experience? Can you direct us to 3 of your favorite blog posts?
Marc: I wrote my first blog post the night before I left for Dominica. It was originally published at KevinMD.com. I started my own blog after my first semester when writing became a cathartic process for me. Writing let me process what I learned in med school and reflect on the experiences I’ve had. Then I started writing pieces of advice – things I wish I knew when I was in someone else’s shoes. It’s become of the primary driving forces for my writing. There is a lot of unknown in medical school and it can be terrifying, frustrating, and infuriating. I wanted to be able to provide a positive perspective for students who are going through what I went through.
My first blog post, Pre-meds: Do what it takes to get into medical school, is a favorite of mine because it shows me how my writing has evolved and matured. I’ve also gotten some great feedback from my post The Medical Student’s Guide to Clinical Rotations, which is a post about what I wish I knew before I started my third year. I’ve also gotten some great feedback on How To Study In Med School from Ross students and US and foreign medical students alike. It’s been fun to hear from medical students, residents, and attending physicians from around the world and learn that the medical school experience is similarly daunting no matter what school you are enrolled in.
Accepted: Do you have any other advice for pre-med applicant readers?
Marc: I know the MCAT structure has changed and that pre-med requirements are always fluctuating but I would highly advise any pre-med student to take molecular genetics, biochemistry, and a human anatomy and physiology course even if you aren’t required to do so. I took biochemistry in undergrad but it truly paid its dividends. It makes those pesky biochem lectures during the first two years of med school that much easier.
I would also advise pre-med students in undergrad to become a teaching assistant or a tutor to really cement your knowledge. You don’t truly know how well, or conversely how poorly, you understand a concept until the moment you try to teach it. See one, do one, teach one.
I would also tell pre-med students to learn for long-term retention instead of going through the cram, memorize, regurgitate, purge cycle. You might be more mature than I was in undergrad but I only realized the importance of truly understanding a subject instead of just memorizing it quite late in my undergrad experience. It took me a while to realize that when you understand something you don’t have to memorize it. Sure, some facts you just need to memorize but for the most part you should try to understand it. At the end of the day, whether it is on the MCAT or in medical school, you are going to see this information again— so rather learn it properly the first time around.