Switching from pre-PhD to pre-MD/PhD as a Junior. How best to prepare?

Discussion in 'Physician Scientists' started by reallywittyname, 09.20.14.

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  1. reallywittyname


    Hey everyone,

    I'm currently a Junior at a large public R1 university. Since arriving at college, I have been planning to pursue a PhD. However, over the last several months, I think I have decided that I would also like to apply to MD/PhD programs. I can elaborate on my reasons for this decision if anyone wants, but I have thought/read about it a lot and I think those reasons are solid. Instead, I am hoping you can help me by providing specific advice on how I can use this last pre-app year to become the most competitive MD/PhD applicant I can be. I'm not necessarily wedded to the idea of going to a top-tier place (though I'd like it...), but I would like to be able to have as many acceptances as possible so that I have a lot of choices on where to go, for geographic/family reasons. Finally, I would very much like to avoid having to take a gap year.

    First, a bit about me/my application:

    • Major in Neuroscience, Minors in Chem and Bio
    • GPA = 4.0
    • Very diverse courseload in humanities/STEM, and membership in a highly involved honors program
    • Have taken or exceeded all MD pre-reqs/MCAT-relevant courses, or plan to take them next semester
    • Have been continuously involved in research since arriving as a Freshman
    • 1 year (Fall/Spring) in a lab that resulted in a published paper (1st author) and a recently submitted paper (middle author), as well as 2 conference (poster) presentations (same poster on both occasions). 10-12+ hours per week.
    • Currently in my second year (including a summer of ~30 hours per week) in another lab, also at ~12+ hours per week. 1 imminent conference (poster) presentation, which should become another 1st author paper in the spring. Also should be a middle author on another paper in the spring. Plan to stay in this lab until graduation, and should have at least 2 more conference presentations in the future in addition to those papers.
    • Will complete a senior research thesis for my major
    • Currently in my second year of working on my school's official undergraduate research journal. Am now co-Editor-in-Chief, and will be Editor-in-Chief next year. This involves a lot of leadership (staff of ~15), writing, and editing. I am also giving a conference presentation soon on the journal and how it works, as a model for other undergrad publications.
    • Involved in leadership for my honors program (specifically, 2 years in charge of planning multi-day educational trips around the region for students in the program)
    • Some very scattered volunteering experience (a handful of hours in hospice care, a handful in cleanup of a park, probably a few dozen teaching in a program at a local middle school). I am currently working on getting more volunteering going: I will be teaching in a neuroscience-based drug education program for local teens, and I will be helping to organize a fundraiser for blindness research (my research is in vision, and visual disorders are one of my main clinical interests). Unfortunately, not much experience in this area.
    • No shadowing yet either. But if it means anything for the whole "knowing what it's like to be a doctor" component, I come from a very medical family (physician/nurse parents, vet sister, pre-med sister, genetic counselor sister, physician/nurse grandparents...). I have arranged to begin shadowing a neurologist and an ophthalmologist in the next few weeks, and I am going to try to shadow in EM a bit later in the Fall.
    • Can count on great letters from my two PIs, the program director for my major, my honors program director, and an organic chem. professor.
    • Plan to take in the spring (May or April?) and begin studying in mid-December. I am generally a very strong standardized test taker. If it means anything, I have already taken the GRE and scored 170 V/167 Q/5 AW, and I plan to submit those scores to MD/PhD programs in addition to the MCAT.

    So, here are some specific questions I hope you can help me with:

    1.) What kind of volunteering should I focus on (e.g., hospital/clinical? Whatever I can best portray as tying in with my interests?) And how many hours should I (realistically) hope to get in that? How important is it to have a focused "theme" of service?

    2.) How many shadowing hours should I shoot for? Is there an ideal in terms of breadth/depth of experience (e.g., shadow one person/dept. for a long time, or several for less time each?)

    3.) Will it hurt me to look like someone who made the decision to apply MD/PhD at the last minute and, if so, how do I minimize that damage?

    Finally, is there anything else I have forgotten to mention/ask about that I should be focusing on? Any and all advice and opinions are welcome!

    Thanks so much!
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  3. StIGMA

    StIGMA Doctor Professor 7+ Year Member

    Resident [Any Field]
    Looks good. MCAT and your research LoRs are critical. Apply to at least 15 programs. Apply by mid-July.

    1) Volunteer if you actually care about helping people. Don't do it just to have it on your app. Try to volunteer in an organization you care about. Church, HIV/STD-prevention, homeless, battered women, tutoring/mentoring children with single parents, spending time with the elderly, save-the-whales, mentoring high schoolers into STEM fields, anything else you care about? Volunteering in a hospital usually isn't really helpful except as a line on your app- it is generally a really crappy shadowing experience and you arent helping anyone.

    2) You should try to have at least ~40 hours of shadowing. Try to shadow several different physicians in different capacities (hospital inpatient, outpatient clinic, emergency department would be good). Try to spend 1-2 days each (start to finish) with a few different physicians. Shadowing is less important for MD/PhD programs- if you were applying MD-only you should aim for more than this. You need enough experience to convincingly demonstrate (to yourself and to the adcoms) that you want to be a physician.

    3) No.
    Last edited: 09.20.14
  4. SynBio

    SynBio Arrowsmith in training 2+ Year Member

    MD/PhD Student
    I will agree with @StIGMA that volunteering just to write it on your apps is not the best reason. I will say in my case, my volunteer experience (a free cancer clinic) really helped consolidate convictions about pursuing a clinical career (even if a partial clinical career). In fact, if you are light on clinical experience (which I was when I decided to pursue MD-PhD, besides being a pharmacy technician), I think the right type of medical volunteering can give insight to the question why pursue an MD-PhD path.

    I would also agree to do what you are interested in. Perhaps try to find a free neurology/ophthalmology clinic. Also, smaller volunteering environments (in my experience) allow more opportunities to the volunteers and are more flexible to learning/involvement from volunteers. I would seek those out over larger volunteer establishments/institutions if possible.

    I think 3-4 hours a week for 6-12 months would be a good amount.

    I took a different approach. I shadowed a single physician for a longer duration (4 months, 1 full clinic/hospital day a week). I think @StIGMA 's advice is really beneficial if you know you would like to be a physician/physician-scientist, but maybe not sure what kind. I had a general idea that I wanted to work with cancer clinically and although this could be done in hem/onc, rad onc, pathology, or surgical onc, I leaned towards hem/onc which is what I shadowed. I think either approach can work, depending on what your story is.

    I will say that I had more than 40 at around 100 hours. This may have been more than enough for MD-PhD, however I felt it gave me more time to appreciate clinical work and definitely helped me write my personal statement/MD-PhD essays.

    I would agree again, as long as your essays show that you are serious about pursuing this long path. You seem to have the research throughout undergraduate, so that would not be a problem. As with the first two points, you need to show that you are serious for clinical work now, which is doable in a year's time.
  5. reallywittyname


    Thanks for the feedback guys. I really appreciate it.

    Bump for any other opinions?

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