[Interview] Now we wait


I had my interview last weekend, and I had my celebratory dinner last night where I bought everyone beer and dessert. Needless to say, I was well in my happy state to pay that bill this happily. : )

I thought the interview went well, but then so did everything else in the past three weeks since Valentine’s day. (I almost wrote 2 weeks instead of 3… the happy times do go by really fast.)

I can spend lots of effort to attempt explaining this phenomenon, or I can sum it up with this video by The Carpenters, Top of the World:

But among all of the ecstatic feelings, I couldn’t help but feel a nagging sense of aloofness. Some kind of unreality, instability, or insecurity. Some kind of lostness, as if I can’t find my direction. Everything about med school is done for the time being, and now all I can do is wait. And this mentality seems to infiltrate my everyday activities; school work doesn’t seem as important, gloomy days seem glorious and bright, everything seems happy and fine.

And that can be dangerous.

On the most obvious level, slacking off school this early is unwise and short-sighted. I don’t know if I’ll get into med school, and if I don’t, bombing my 4th year grade is not going to help my chances when I apply again next year. Besides, I don’t want to let go of the enjoyment in learning, even though I may feel that I can afford the immediate, short term rewards of parties, movies, etc. I have to remind myself what is more rewarding in the long run; in other words, when the pressure to apply to med school is lifted (perhaps temporarily), I need more self-discipline to keep myself on track.

On another level, my sense of well-being and over-confidence can leave to a dramatic bubble burst when the letter of rejection comes in May. The bigger I blow up that bubble, the louder the bang is going to be. The more people to whom I reveal my confidence, the more people I will have to answer to when I don’t get in. That doesn’t feel like a big issue to me now, but I can see how it may be a bigger issue than I can imagine.

I foresaw this possibility when I announced my interview invitation. Back then, I asked myself: “Oh, aren’t I worried that I might not get past this interview and I have to come here and admit defeat?”

And I answered: “No, I would just blog about my defeat then, which would also make interesting reading material I’m sure.” 

Talk about a blog helping the blogger objectify everything : )

On yet another level, and this one I should really be more careful about, is becoming too much of a show-off and let my confidence become arrogance. This is the last thing I intend to do by talking about MCAT, interview, my activities and all that. I know I’m not exactly the most humble person, but I’d like to think that I am much less showy than I used to be 8, 10 years ago. 

I talk about these things for a few reasons. 1. is to document my life as an undergrad, 2. is to reflect and distill my learning, and 3. to share my thoughts with friends and everyone who may be interested in learning about these things. 

But an over-abundent sense of accomplishment is not going to help me achieve these goals. It can only project me as a content, arraogant, self-gratifying jerk. If I appear to be heading down that way, I hope my true friends will point this out for me =)

With that, I’d like to close the [Interview] series for now. Stay tuned for an emotional (for better or worse) update in May : )


[Interview] 5 days till the Big Day

I went to the Wine and Cheese social event organized by the Med Undergrad Society last weekend, and it was really a wonderful night (for various reasons :P). Social-wise, I got to know more med students and reconfirmed my finding that these people are the coolest kids in town. They are so dynamic, so unique, and all so enthusiastic about what they do… I want to be a part of this family.

A few interviewee friends of mine were there too, and one of them were quite nervous about her upcoming interview. She has it at the same timeslot as me. 

I, on the other hand, was totally chilled. I could think of a few reasons for this too:

1. I’ve approached this application as a test run — just to test the water and see how things work. My real med school application effort will come next year.

2. I’m never the type that gets nervous about exams and interviews; I was talking to another friend the other day, and I figured that my mentality is “do all I can do and see what happens”. 

3. My mind is just too damn occupied right now to worry about med interview. Is there anything more important than an imminent interview? *Surprised* Yes, yes there is. 

Anyway, what have I done in the last little while and what will I do in the next 5 days, in terms of med school interview?

Last week, a friend of mine and I each organized a mock interview, hers at her apartment, and mine at some classrooms on campus. Counting the other practices, I’ve had 4 runs in total, and really, I think that’s enough. If you haven’t tried reading the question prompts and answering under time pressure, I strongly recommend you do so. Don’t do it by yourself; best to find current med students or friends who are interviewing, but if that’s not available, find other friends and family. Just ask them to sit there, keep time, and listen to you talk for 7 minutes.

I’m also reading some books on medical ethics, and I will probably read up on the rural medical issues. The book I am reading is called “Doing Right”, by Philip C. Hebert. 

Here I’d like to stress how previliged and thankful I feel about having an awesome supporting team of around 10 interviewing students. There is very little sense of competition among our group; we genuinely want each other to do well, giving the best feedback and suggestions we can give to each other. Also, I couldn’t find that Doing Right book in bookstores and ordering it would take a month, so I sent out an email to this group for help. Within 24 hours, 3 people replied offering to lend me the book. 

Anyway, in the next little while I’m just going to take it slow. Read the stuff I plan to read, do the school work I need to do, and on that fateful Sunday morning sleep in until 10am if I can, get a nice big brunch, take a walk around UBC, shower, change, and drop the bomb.

[Interview] Mock MMI: tips I learned, and why I LOVE UBC MED STUDENTS

Tonight, I met some 1st and 2nd year UBC med students at 6:45, who organized a mock interview with 10 stations for 14 of us. It’s now 11:30, and I just got back, being dropped off by a super awesome interviewer who stayed and talked to the very last anxious interviewee.

I’m so thrilled by this process and how much I learned, that I’m now typing this up fast — still in my suit because I don’t have time to take it off.

So, firstly, these are what I learned:

1. Avoid the law. Some situations are complicated with legal consequences, such as when your patient died, but the reviewing committee wants to see your empathetic response. How you feel for the patients, how you express your sincerity, how you approach the situation with warmth and honesty. Screw the hospital protocols; be the genuine, caring person that you are.

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[Interview] Practice MMI: Placebo Effects

Placebo (Ethical Decision Making)

Dr Cheung recommends homeopathic medicines to his patients. There is no scientific evidence or widely accepted theory to suggest that homeopathic medicines work, and Dr Cheung doesn’t believe them to. He recommends homeopathic medicine to people with mild and non-specific symptoms such as fatigue, headaches and muscle aches, because he believes that it will do no harm, but will give them reassurance.

Consider the ethical problems that Dr Cheung’s behaviour might pose. Discuss these issues with the interviewer.

* * * 


– ethics in informing the patient

– placebo effect as reassurance is trickery and undermines physician-patient trust

– using useless drugs may make the patients feel treated, and they do not have to follow other measures to improve their non-specific symptoms

* * *


Although the goal of doctors is to improve the well-being of the patients, physically, mentally, and emotionally, I believe that using placebo effects to trick patients into a false sense of safety and reassurance is unethical. It may be true that placebo effects sometimes are real; the mechanism of psychology affecting physiology is poorly understood, but not unheard of. And sometimes the patients may even demand the drugs that they believe are useful.

Despite that, I will explain two reasons why using placebo effect may be unethical, and propose a better approach to dealing with these patients.

First, using the psychological effect of placebo to sooth the patients is at best a well-intended lie. It puts the patient’s trust for this doctor and even the entire medical system at jeopardy, since the patient may find out that the drug he or she was prescribed has no effect to improve his or her conditions. 

Second, even if the patient does not find out the ineffectiveness of the prescribed drug, providing him or her with this false sense of security may undermine other efforts to improve his or her health. For example, if the patient is reassured by the placebo for fatigue, he or she might ignore the suggestion to quit smoking, which may actually be the root cause of his or her fatigue.

In the situation when the cause of the patients’ symptoms are ambiguous, the physician should be honest and open about the ineffectiveness of placebo, and suggest treatments that are actually beneficial for the health of the patients. These may not even need to be pharmaceutical; for non-specific symptoms that do not have medical treatments for, suggestions for a healthy life style such as regular exercise, a balanced diet, and adequate rest would be more beneficial for the patients.

[Interview] Invitations rolling out: what do they want?!

Med school applications are about the most stressful thing that a university student can subject him or herself to. A big part of this stress is caused by the utter unpredictability of the system.

A good friend of mine has some 95%+ GPA, scored some rediculous 38 points on the MCAT, and did not get an interview invitation to UBC. My GPA comes in at a humble vacinity of 85% (honestly, I don’t know how they calculate GPA), got a MCAT score of 34. What set us apart was probably the supplementary material, about things that I did outside classes. 

Some med schools look much heavily at GPA and MCAT, such as (from what I understand) Queen’s and U of Toronto, and I’m sure my friend will beat me to the ground for these schools. 

He was also rejected by U of Ottawa, which, according to him, takes post-undergrad experiences very heavily, resulting in an average admission age of 25. So no surprise for him there. The bottom line is, every school has a different judging criteria. By word of mouth, some schools are famous for what they look for.

And UBC looks for a serious dose of well-roundedness. Remember when I whined about the application that UBC requires? That should give you an idea.

“Well-roundedness” is such a vague word, and if I stop there, this blog of mine does not deserve your attention. So here are some things that I think are important on the application:

Variety: how many types of things have you tried?

It should be obvious from all the categories that they ask for in the application form that they want candidates who have a crazy aptitude of new experiences. If you can put something significant in all of the fields that ask for (Cultural/Community Service Experiences, Leadership/Working with Others Experiences, Travel/Sports/Arts Experiences, Outdoors Experiences, Experiences Showing Self-Reliance, Other Experiences, Experiences in Rural/Remote/Northern/Aboriginal Communities, and that’s just the non-academic; they also like to see work expeprience, published research, and of course a high GPA), then I would be surprised if you don’t get interviewed. I would definitely want to meet anyone who can do all these.

Realistically though, it’s fairly crucial to point to a specific instance where you exercised leadership, creativity, curiosity, communication skills, conscientiousness, and maturity. You most likely can not do these things by studying in your room. Get involved on campus, go volunteering, join the executive team of a club, enter student government, get into your community. 

Persistance: how long did you stick with it?

It’s all dandy and well if you tried a hundred things, but if none of them last for a significant amount of time, it might reflect badly on you. If you can’t be persistent with things that you are supposedly interested in, then they will probably hesitate to trust you with the med training. Year-long commitments are ok; if you can show that you are actively involved with something for years and years, then whatever you say you learned from these will sound much more credible.

Progress: how has your contribution evolved?

Related to the previous point, it is best if you can show that your continuous involvement has changed with time. Perhaps you started as an entry-level volunteer, then you became a mentor or a manager, and finally a director or a president. Perhaps you got to know the program well enough to introduce significant improvements to it. Perhaps you took on a project and launched it to the world. 

Reflection: what did you learn?

All of the above would mean very little if you don’t learn something from them. Reflecting on what you saw, what you did, what you thought about was perhaps the most important part of your extracurricular activities. This is where you get materials to for applications and interviews, and this is where you actually learn and grow. 

Since I started blogging 6 years ago, I’ve became accustomed to picking up things around me that I could write about later. And if I were to write about it, I would need to think it through a bit more carefully. So over time, I became a lot more reflective and can get something out of everything. Like last week, I talked to a practitioner of Chinese medicine, who was in two ways very untraditional: 1, she was female, and 2. she was white. I introduced myself as a student of pharmacology, and we quickly went into a constructive discussion on the merits of alternative medicine. At that moment, the conversation has crystalized in my head into some important lessons, and although I did not find time to write an entry, the learning was already achieved.

[Interview] Rules of the Game: Multiple Mini Interviews

The interview process at many medical schools is very different from what it used to be just a few years ago. Instead of a panel of interviewers asking your questions for a long time (around 50 minutes I think), the interviewees are put through a series of “multiple mini interviews.”

UBC has a very helpful description, even with picture demonstration. UBC describes its version of MMI:

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[Interview] Reader discretion is advised

Tomorrow is February 1st, the official start date of the one-month countdown to my med school interview. Following the popularity of my [MCAT] essay series (which attracted most of the traffic to my blog in the past two months) (which leads to my unfounded belief that a new cycle of pre-med prepping must have started), I will start an [Interview] series. 

This series will contain lots of reflections on what I did, what I learned, and what I think. It will include how I prepare, how I stay calm (or become insane), and how I stay alive (but don’t call the police if I stop updating this blog… I probably just got lazy). It will also contain some interview-specific information such as its format and scariness. 

For those of you who are here only for my casual random jokes, misleading views on relationships, nonsense fictions, or love-sick outcries mostly written in Chinese not because I’m discriminating but because that’s my language for love-sick outcries, use discretion for upcoming entries marked with [Interview]. 

For the rest of you, fasten your seatbelts for this blog is about to take on a new journey (yet again).