How to Choose a Medical Program

What to consider

When Choosing a Medical Program

6 Criteria I used to Determine

Where to attend medical school

01.

Location

You will be spending the next 4 years of your life at this specific location. The majority of your days will be filled with studying. However, when you take a break and want to step outside, do you want to see skyscrapers or forests? What activities do you like to do on your free time? Hiking? Then, look for hiking trails not too far from school. Like to go to cafes to study? Explore the area and see if you can find your potential study space. Need your support system (friends and family) near you? Choose a program not too far from home so you can go home as you please or whenever your schedule will allow it. Need space and want to start anew? Choose a place where you feel you can grow and be faced with challenges. Growth is uncomfortable but I promise you that you will make it through and be a better person for it, hopefully. It's all about your mindset!

Why I chose New York?

I’m a California girl, born and raised. I had never experienced seasons – winter snow, colorful fall trees, etc. It’s usually just sunny California weather most of the time. So, why leave? When I attended my interview in New York in November, I saw yellow, red and orange trees for the FIRST TIME in my life. I was in AWE, completely mesmerized by its beauty! I absolutely LOVE the outdoors. It grounds me. It brings me peace and I yearn to be in Mother Nature to breathe in the fresh air found nowhere else but here.

Another thing I considered was the surrounding environment. I know myself and I didn’t want to be distracted or tempted to go out too much. It takes a lot of discipline to avoid going out for boba runs or Starbucks everyday, if that’s what you’re used to. I knew I wanted to choose a place where I could stay focused and be able to go outside where I can regroup and clear my mind in nature, if needed. But again, it’s all about your mindset. Wherever you choose to go, it’ll be up to you to remain disciplined.   

02.

Curriculum: Traditional or Flip-Class?

Are you a traditional learner where you like to have a professor stand in front of you and explain the material? Or are you someone who prefers learning the material beforehand and discussing medical applications of the knowledge you've gained? I think most medical programs offer a more traditional curriculum. And most do not require class attendance, which I have mixed feeling about. So, most people end up doing self-directed learning anyway and only attend the required laboratory sessions (i.e. Anatomy, OMM, Physical Diagonsis).

What’s a flip class?

I interviewed at 5 schools and TouroCOM – NY was the only program that had a flipped class structure. A flipped class curriculum is one where medical students must learn the material beforehand, using the resources provided by the program (i.e. lecture videos, powerpoints, and practice quizzes). Students must come prepared for class ahead of time, already having looked at the material at least once. Class attendance is mandatory and there are clicker questions.

What are clicker questions?

They are questions created by the professors, which range from first-order to third-order questions that test the depth in which you understand the material. In some programs, the answers are recorded and contribute to your overall grade for the class; some do not do this. So yes, this can cause you to have anxiety or stress about getting 100% on all of the questions. We all want to do well in our classes, but by having this added requirement keeps you accountable for studying the material as time progresses rather than cramming it all in your brain the weekend before an exam.

Ultimately, the goal of this structure is to encourage student engagement and interactive ways of learning. By having students do the WORK and learn the material beforehand, students are able to discuss the medical applications and further expand their knowledge on the material. Better yet, you’ll have the opportunity to teach your fellow colleagues or learn from them as well. Hearing the concepts explained from a fellow student may make more sense to you than what was presented in a lecture video. And in doing this, you may have a deeper understanding of the material, than you would have if you were just asked to regurgitate all the facts from the lecture. So this flipped class curriculum requires WORK and A LOT of it. You are required to do your homework ahead of time. But my rationale about this is that you have to self-learn and self-discipline for your licensing exams anyway! So, I personally think this is good practice for preparation of COMLEX and USMLE. For those of you who do not know, these exams are required to be taken by all student doctors in order to get their D.O. or M.D. license.  

03.

Student Resources

I personally don't think many schools stress the importance of student mental health and wellness. Being in medical school is extremely stressful. Some people are out of school for over a decade and have to learn how to be a full-time student all over again. So when you are researching your medical programs, I recommend finding out what student resources are available. Is there a wellness committee? Are there learning specialists? Are therapy dogs on campus after exams? Do they have free yoga classes or gym memberships? A way for you to alleviate stress at no cost to you. Is there a counselor onsite who you can go to talk to if you are struggling to make friends or performing poorly in class. Are the faculty members approachable? Can you go to them with questions and not feel intimidated or nervous? If you want to participate in research, are there research opportunities? Does the school have any connections to hospitals and local Principal Investigators?

Being in medical school is stressful enough. So researching these things were very important to me. TouroCOM – NY has all of the resources that I was looking for. My interview took place on a Monday when first years were taking their exams. There was a therapy dog waiting outside in the lounge area to greet students after they’ve walked out of the exam room. Many programs have this. Whether or not you performed well on an exam, it’s always nice to be greeted by a fury friend! They can make you feel at ease and bring joy to an otherwise sad moment. I’m a big dog person so this was really nice to see. I have my own husky at home with me; so most of the time I have to go and cater to my fur baby, but it’s nice to know that if I didn’t have him, I could pet cute dogs after an exam. A learning specialist is also available – a person you can go to for study tips and advice on how to improve your study skills. There’s a wellness club that focuses on student mental health/wellness and a counselor onsite if you ever need someone to talk to. Research opportunities are also available.   

04. Traditional or P/NP Grade Scale?

For some people, undergraduate school was VERY stressful. Naturally, pre-med students are competitive and I've heard horror stories about students that go as far as sabotaging each other by stealing notes and hiding them so that the other person couldn't use them for next day's exam. THAT'S CRAZY and HORRIBLE! So if you are one of these people who would prefer less stress on grades and more emphasis on extracurricular activities and building connections with doctors outside of school, Pass/No Pass grading scale might be for you. This is not to say that you couldn't make connections and get involved in extracurricular activities if you decided to go with a program that has a grading scale of A, B, and C. In both cases, students will be RANKED.

What is RANKING?

Your class rank shows your performance in comparison to your colleagues. This will be shown in your residency application from your program. They will list your performance in their curriculum in comparison to other students in your class. So no matter which type of grading scale (P/NP or traditional) you decide to go with, you will be compared with your colleagues. Program Directors will be able to tell how well you performed in medical school. Something that I want to say about this “class rank”: It’s difficult not to compare yourself with your classmates. However, please remember that YOUR COMPETITION IS YOURSELF. Your goal should be to try your best! If you are able to step out of an exam room and say “I studied the best that I could have. There was absolutely nothing I could have done differently,” then that’s all that matters! Let’s say you fail your first exam. Like BOMBED IT! Your goal should not be to do better than your classmates next time. Your goal should be to do better on the next exam. As Jay Shetty says, THE ONLY HEALTHY & WORTHWHILE COMPARISON IS YOU YESTERDAY VS. YOU TODAY.” Please do not compare yourself. It’s not a competition. You reap what you sow. So if you work hard enough and focus on your own knowledge, you’ll do great! Maybe not the 1st time or the 2nd or 3rd, but hopefully by the 4th or 5th time, you can say YOU DID IT! You PASSED! And you did everything that you could have so you have ZERO regrets! Remember a grade letter does not define you as a person. It says NOTHING about what kind of physician you will be. You are more than your grades. 

Why choose a traditional grading scale?

Some people prefer a traditional grade scale because for them, this keeps them accountable. If you are a goal-orientated person and want to be able to strive for a reward, then this might be for you. In this case, the reward would be an A on an exam. And if you didn’t get an A, that’s okay. If you failed, got a C or B, you could strive to obtain an A next time! You have to choose what works best for you. Ask yourself, “do I want the stress of trying to get an A in all my classes? Or will I try my absolute best anyway with or without a letter grade?” ONLY YOU can answer that question! 

05.

Cost

Student loans and debt is REAL. Some people are fortunate enough to get a full-ride scholarship and walk out with no debt. Some people have family members who can help bear the financial burden of attending medical school. But most people are not blessed with this kind of privilege. All of us are dealt with different cards in life and that's okay. So if you are someone who has to think about the amount of debt you'll have to pay off, compare the costs of all the programs you have been accepted to. Keep in mind that federal loans and private bank loans have different interest rates. DO YOUR RESEARCH. Plan for long-term resolutions. I only hope that the government will have some kind of loan forgiving program in the future, but we don't know if that will ever happen! Although that would be AMAZING! We can only hope for the best. So remember, yes, you are going to medical school to gain the knowledge necessary to help others through healthcare. But you're going to have a huge mountain of debt to pay off. Plan accordingly. Adult life requires home loans, property tax, health insurance, car insurance, food, cost of living. The list go on and on and on. So think about this. It is something you should certainly consider.

I won’t be sharing the cost of attending TouroCOM – NY because this amount can change with time. So, I will leave a link to their website here for you to do your own research. 

06.

Community Vibes

Is there a sense of community on campus? Ask the current medical students during your interview what it's like being at that specific medical program. That's what I did at every single interview. We had the opportunity to speak with current medical students. If your interview doesn't include this, reach out to current students via email or on social media, wherever you can find this information. You want to make sure you know what kind of environment you'll be spending the next 4 years in. What are the vibes like on campus? Is everyone friendly? Is it competitive? Does the faculty get involved with the students at social events? If you like sports, is there a basketball team? Is there a wilderness club? Etc. Etc. Again, DO YOUR RESEARCH.

I think a huge contribution to your medical school experience is the people in your class/cohort. Hopefully, everyone is friendly and open but no one can really predict that. You just have to wait and see on your first day of class and start talking to people. Everyone feels scared. Some people will have imposter syndrome. Just be you! You are the company you keep. So if you give off good vibes, hopefully that’ll attract other people with good vibes. 

I personally wanted a close-knit family vibe because I attended a large university where I was just a number. It was easy to get lost in a lecture hall with 300+ students. So, getting to know my classmates and faculty on a personal level was very important to me. Think about what exactly you want from a program and the kind of community you want to be surrounded with. Is there a big sense of community outside campus? Do the restaurant and other business owners appreciate the business of medical students? Just something to consider. 

Final thoughts.

Whatever medical program you decide to go to, you will most likely try your best to excel in classes, make new friends and find outlets to relieve stress. So, honestly, medical school is what you make of it. You get out what you put in. It’s all about your MINDSET. Whatever you think will come to fruition. If you think that this medical program sucks, it probably will, but only in your mind. It’s cliche to say, but life is what you make it. It’s really up to you to make the best of the experience. If you believe in yourself and are a good person all throughout, only good things will come. Support your classmates. Share resources. Share your diagrams and notes if you think anyone else will find it helpful. If not, then don’t. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to. All I’m trying to say is that you don’t lose anything by helping others and being happy for other people. If anything, karma will get you back, but in a positive way. I hope this was helpful. Wherever you decide to go, I’m sure you will prosper! In other words, a flower does not think of competing to the flower next to it. It just blooms. So, BLOOM BABY!  

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