25 Best Pieces of Advice from SDN - SDN (2024)

In honor of the Student Doctor Network’s 25th anniversary this year, we’ve reviewed the community forums, articles, and tools that SDN provides to find the best pieces of advice. Check out our collection of gems that can help you with your journey to become a healthcare professional.

1. Maximize your time with your prehealth advisor

Most prehealth advisors are BUSY, responsible for students applying to medical, dental, pharmacy, and other health professional careers. Make the best use of the time you get on their calendar by preparing in advance for your meetings, as detailed in the SDN article “How Your Pre-Health Advising Office Can Help You.”

2. Don’t participate in activities only to “check the box”

It’s true that certain activities are expected of medical and other health professional school applicants, such as clinical experiences and service to the less fortunate. According to adcom LizzyM, pre-med students should have at minimum 150 hours each of clinical experience and non-clinical volunteering, plus 40 hours of shadowing.

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However, admissions committee members have seen many thousands of applicants and are adept at seeing which students are going through the motions for admissions purposes and which have a true passion for healthcare service. If you find yourself in the former category, consider looking for other opportunities that may suit you better or even reconsidering your career plans – it’s better to learn now that healthcare is not for you than to spend your youth and hundreds of thousands of dollars training in a profession you can’t stand.

3. Apply early to Fee Assistance Programs

Most healthcare programs have some form of fee assistance for students who cannot afford the expenses associated with applying. If the high cost of applying is an issue for you, make sure you research and apply to fee assistance programs early. Some open at the beginning of the year and then close when funds are depleted, so later applicants may be turned away regardless of need. Additionally, some programs such as the AAMC FAP provide benefits not only for applications but also for professional school exams like the MCAT, so plan your application cycle to maximize use of the benefits provided.

4. Plan your MCAT studying to avoid retakes

The MCAT is a beast of an exam – seven and half hours. You want to avoid having to repeat this experience, so make sure you have a strong study plan such as the SDN 100-Day MCAT Study Schedule. Also, don’t be afraid to reschedule your exam for later if your full-length sample test results are not where you want them to be. Finally, spend a few minutes on review2.com before your exam to make sure you know if you need a sweater, where to park, etc. to minimize stressors on the big day.

5. Read ALL provided materials, including applicant guides

This may sound incredibly basic, but make sure you read the applicant guides provided by the centralized application services IN DETAIL before you apply. These guides are designed to keep you from making unforced errors on your application. Set aside some time to make sure you understand the application process fully and keep the guide available for reference as you work on your application.

6. Develop a reinvention plan if your GPA is low

Everyone’s journey is different, and some people struggle with GPA issues. If you are one of them, you will need to develop a plan for how you will address a low GPA. Special Masters Programs and structured or DIY post-baccalaureate programs are options, but make sure you understand the requirements before you spend time and money taking additional coursework.

Goro’s Guide to Reinvention is a great place to start your plan. Understand how withdrawals and drops work by reading “GPA Repair and Management for Pre-Health Applicants.”

7. Have multiple people review your personal statement

Typos happen. As do forgotten words and awkward phrasing. Make sure to limit these types of errors in your personal statement by having multiple people read through it. Reading it out loud can also identify issues.

If you aren’t sure where to start on your personal statement, SDN’s Essay Workshop 101 can help you come up with ideas.

8. Format your What Are My Chances post for optimal results

The SDN forums are a great place to get feedback on how to optimize your application. To help the forums experts review your application information, check out this post from WedgeDawg to structure your post for maximum readability. If you want to keep your information private, use the Confidential Experts forum.

9. Use the Wedgedawg applicant rating system to determine the schools where you may have the best chances

One element that will increase your likelihood of success in your applications is to ensure that you are applying to schools that are a good fit for your profile. To identify those that will work best for you, use the Wedgedawg applicant rating system.

10. Determine if you can claim the Lone Star (or Buckeye or Green Mountain) State as home

Many state schools favor locals who are likely to stay after graduation but may be less hospitable for out-of-state applicants. If you are looking to apply to Texas, this post from Wysdoc breaks down if you will be considered as a resident. For other states, understanding how to frame strong ties to a state or region can mean the difference between acceptance and rejection.

11. Learn how to read match lists

When you are focused on getting accepted to medical school, looking at where their M4 students matched might not be top of mind. However, this post details how you should use a school’s match list to figure out if they should be on your application list.

12. Don’t submit on the day AMCAS opens

Every year, pre-med students rush to submit their application on the first day AMCAS opens. And every year, there are posts on the SDN forums about mistakes that students made in their application because they were rushing to hit the Submit button as soon as they could.

Looking at AMCAS Tracker data, you can see that even if you submit on Day 1, your transcript will not get verified for about a month. So take your time to double and triple-check your application and calmly submit it any time in June – and you’ll still be an early applicant.

13. Do not underestimate the time required to complete 25-30 secondary applications

This is another gem from the wise Goro. Premeds, if you’ve followed the advice in the previous items, about a month after you submit your application you’ll start getting secondary applications. Multiple. All at once. With either expected or firm requirements to be completed in two weeks.

Make sure you block out enough time in your schedule to get these secondary applications completed and reviewed within the deadlines. Ideally, you’ve pre-written answers to secondary questions that appear year after year, so you only need to make minor adjustments to send out a polished package within the time limits.

14. The LizzyM holiday schedule should guide your application timing

The medical school application process includes frantic activity followed by long stretches of waiting. If you start to get anxious about if your application is on track, consider the LizzyM holiday schedule.

  • Independence Day (July 4): Enjoy the fireworks as long as you’ve submitted your primary AMCAS application.
  • Labor Day (first Monday in September): Your letters of recommendation (including committee letters) should be submitted by now, along with all secondaries.
  • Thanksgiving (fourth Thursday in November): If you haven’t received an interview invitation by this date, start thinking about what you’ll need to do if you have to re-apply after you finish your pumpkin pie.
  • Mardi Gras (a Tuesday in February): If your waitlist spot has not turned into an offer of admission, start making contingency plans once your hangover wears off.

Curious about what is happening behind the scenes of the admissions office during this time? Check out “While You Are Waiting” to learn about the hard work the admissions team is doing during the quiet periods (for you) in the application process.

15. Practice how to answer “tell me something interesting about yourself”

Admissions committee members see lots of premeds. Your goal is to stand out – in a good way. Make sure you have a polished answer when asked to share what your “x factor” is.

16. Treat student interviewers with the same respect as faculty interviewers

As Goro says, your interview lasts the whole day. In fact, if you are interviewing in a small town, assume anything you do the entire time you are there could get back to the interviewers. So treat everyone you interact with with the same level of respect. Don’t think that because your interviewer is a student you can be unprofessional.

17. Write good thank you notes

While most interviewers no longer expect handwritten thank-you notes, showing your appreciation for the time spent in the interview is important. Learn how to make a good final impression with a concise, polite email note.

18. Seek inspiration when you are feeling down about the process

Applying to medical or other health professional school is a grind. When you get disheartened or anxious about the process, check out the forums threads that share success stories about other applicants for inspiration, such as “LOW GPA/MCAT Success Stories.”

19. Understand how waitlists for medical school work

While some applicants receive multiple acceptances, others are placed on waitlists. To understand how these processes work, check out our deep dive article on how admissions committees manage waitlists, “From Waitlist to Offer: Inside an Admissions Committee”. SDN also has a waitlist support thread to commiserate with others in the same situation and a waitlist manifest thread so you can put positive vibes out into the universe.

20. Maximize your veterans benefits

For applicants who have served in the armed forces, understanding how you can best use your service benefits can mean thousands of dollars. Our veterans benefits forum breaks down what your benefits are and how you can use them.

21. Study (for med school) in the way that works best for you

The first two years of medical school have been described as “drinking from a fire hose”. You’ll need to figure out how to manage the vast amount of material you need to learn. Every person learns differently, so as you dig into all the data you need to learn, take some time to figure out what study methods work best for you, as detailed in Goro’s guide to medical school.

22. Learn how to write prescriptions clearly to avoid medication errors

Prescription errors are one the most common medical mistakes, frequently leading to serious consequences and death (link to article). Use our tips for writing prescriptions clearly as you transition to the wards and practice.

23. Be prompt, polite, professional, and prepared on clinical rotations

Don’t neglect the basics on your clinical rotations, including showing up on time and professionally dressed. Vascular surgeon mimelim broke down what differentiates a bad student from a good student from a rock star student.

24. Learn how doctors are paid

One thing you may not learn in medical school is how you will be paid once you move into practice. This post breaks down the way that the US healthcare system reimburses physicians. Like some relationships, it’s complicated.

25. It’s worth it

With all the challenges and hurdles that come with pursuing a career in healthcare, you may be daunted. However, orthoMD discusses why you are putting in all this work – and why this profession is worth pursuing.

Let us know in the comments if we missed your favorite piece of advice!

Laura Turner

Laura Turner, MS, is the Executive Director of the Health Professional Student Association (HPSA), which publishes the Student Doctor Network (SDN). Prior to working with HPSA, she served for eight years as the Executive Director of SDN. At HPSA and SDN, Laura has been instrumental in providing students with tools and resources to pursue their aspirations in healthcare. Her previous roles include business analyst positions at The Capital Group and product management and marketing roles at software companies Paciolan, Adexa, and MSC Software.

In her current role at HPSA, Laura continues to drive innovation and forge partnerships to better support aspiring healthcare professionals. She is grateful for the opportunity to help countless individuals to achieve their dreams.

25 Best Pieces of Advice from SDN - SDN (2024)
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