After nearly three months, seven round-trip flights, two experiences on Amtrak, and an exhausting number of hours in airports and security lines, my interview cycle is over. I can triumphantly report that, regardless of where or to how few schools I gain admission, I have no idea where I want to be, what I want to study, or how I want to learn.
Oh, if you stop by my desk at work, I’ve arrayed my little collection of name tags (yes, I saved every one, because that’s what narcissists with OCD do) into groupings that ostensibly represent my preferences and rankings, but I change it every day. So I really do have no idea.
It’s been an illuminating season.
Also, if you don’t think I have a narcissistic personality type: I have a blog. It’s written in the first person. And I publicize it on Facebook. Enough said.
There are a few key takeaways (oh God I’m talking in consulting-speak PLEASE KILL ME) that I have formed:
1. Running in to the same people at multiple different interviews is a beautifully awkward experiment in relationship psychology. Who remembers whose name? Did you like this person before? Because if you didn’t – you better pretend you did. It’s a bizarre mix of fraternity (we’re all in this horrible box of evil pretend-niceness together) and competition (if you get in both of these places and I don’t… well, let’s just say I have a very particular set of skills). Some people handle the surprise of seeing a familiar face gracefully; others pretend they’ve never seen you before.
2. Research physicians do not like me. Verbatim exchange between myself and a research-doctor at an interview:
Dr: “So, do you have any bench research background?”
Dr: “Well, that’s not good.”
Me: <awkward grin>
3. Wearing a suit in August is a hazing experience. Wearing a suit on a plane is a hazing experience. Wearing a suit while trying to consume a box lunch of chicken salad and potato chips before your interview is a hazing experience. In case you can’t tell, I hate wearing the damn costume.
4. I don’t know when all the other kids that went to state schools go on their interviews, but it wasn’t with me. More often than not, I was the only person in the room who went to a public university. It freaked me out.
5. I met The Asshole. His favorite school was Duke. Direct quote: “I felt completely at home.” No editorial comment necessary, right?
6. I am a terrible thank-you note writer. Three times, I had letters returned to my home address because I had forgotten to add stamps.
7. Coworkers are plotting to kill me if I mention medical school again. They are happier than I am that the cycle is over. They also agree that I am a narcissist.
8. If a school gives me a nice pen/folder/name tag/chap stick (really)/refrigerator magnet, I am immediately impressed. I LOVE bright lights and shiny objects; you’re reading the ramblings of a person who has a lifelong obsession with fireworks and majored in military studies.
9. If a school doesn’t have a Chipotle nearby… strike one.
10. Now for a serious point (time to click the red x on your browser):
You learn as you go through the motions that there is a fundamental similarity among all med schools: to use some jargon, there’s a set bolus of information that the schools has to deliver, and only so many ways to “inject” that knowledge. The old way – still utilized by a majority of medical education models – is to teach two years didactically (in lecture), followed by a year of clinical rotations and a year of electives.
Newer methods, adopted by an increasing number of schools, shorten the preclinical 24 months to 18 (or, in some cases, 12) and teach in comprehensive systems blocks instead of organ by organ. Regardless, the standardized board tests are the same, so the basic knowledge is identical across schools. Some schools place a larger emphasis on small-group learning relative to lecture; others put everything online and let you skip class if you want.
So in determining a top choice or choices, what it comes down to really is where you are most comfortable. Where you think you fit in. Where, geographically and climatically, you want to be. Where the personalities of the students you met match your own.
To that end, if accepted many schools offer a “Second Look” where they bring you back, sans interview costume (thank God) to hang out with students in a no-pressure, fun environment. Second Look is where you truly get a sense of the student body, with the artificial veneer of the interview day stripped away.
That is, assuming, you get in somewhere….
Thus begins the Great Waiting Period.