Tuesday, June 7, 2011

AMCAS Application, Experiences and the Personal Statement

I spent this morning poring over texts on reserve in Hope's library. I was researching all the little nooks and crannies of what is expected and sought after by medical school application review boards. Before I continue, you need to understand a little about the application for med school. For those of you who know the drill, you can skip the next two paragraphs.

When applying to allopathic (MD degree) medical schools, students complete the AMCAS (American Medical College Application Service) application. It's one application that used to be on paper but is now filled out completely online. After completing the application, you get to put check boxes beside all of the institutions to which you would like to apply. The AMCAS application carries a base fee of $180, plus $30 (I believe) for each additional school to which you apply. Keep in mind, this is just the primary application. Many schools automatically request a secondary application, which includes an additional, variable amount fee that depends on the institution, but which I heard usually varies between $50 and $120. This secondary application also entails additional essays, which I won't go into right now.

The bulk of the AMCAS is not too bad, just tedious. You have to fill in every class you've ever taken on an undergraduate or graduate level with each class' title, subject, course number, number of credits, transcript grade, semester taken and parent institution. That took me about 3-4 hours, I think, so not bad. You are also given fifteen slots to fill with all the various experiences that you want the review board to know about. This includes everything - work experience, research, clinical and non-clinical volunteer experiences, awards, community service, teaching opportunities, you name it. For each of the experiences you choose to give one of the fifteen slots, you include the start and end dates, classification (clinical volunteer, award, research, teaching, paid position, etc.), average hours per week, contact name, title and information, and a 700-word descriptive blurb. You are also able to select no more than three that you consider the most significant.

Hmmm... Most significant. Most significant. That's hard.

You see, many of my experiences have been so incredibly significant, I had a hard enough time just cutting the number down to fifteen. To then choose just three of those as more significant than the others was a deep exercise in very thoughtful soul-searching. I mean it; I thought about it a lot. My heart felt like one of those old-fashioned balancing scales that an ancient moneychanger might use to determine the equivalency by weight between British and French golden crowns. Only this time, it was my mind playing the part of the impartial arbiter, laying warm golden experiences in the tipsy parallel bowls, waiting for them to settle and show which was made of denser stuff. Which contained more lasting significance, compassion both shown and received, wisdom gained, truths revealed, lives touched and changed? While good preparation for the next portion of the application, this balancing was very difficult. I'm still not set on what I've pegged as my most "significant" experiences, and have no doubts - there will be endless tweaking of my experience descriptions.

Back to my original train of thought. I was studying in the library this morning to learn how to write an effective personal statement. The main difficulties experienced by most med school applicants when writing their personal statement is not scrounging up enough worthwhile and interesting topics, but rather fitting the vast plethora of what you'd like to say into the character limit set by the application. You get 5300 characters, including spaces, to effectively describe yourself to the application review board, hopefully convincing them along the way that you are someone they'd like to have a chat with about becoming a doctor. If 5300 characters sound like a lot, then please loan me your sense of approximation, as I'm pretty sure the prospect of cutting things down would feel much more pleasant with a lighter and airier outlook.

After typing out four pages of notes on multiple books, I felt I had a pretty good grasp of what medical schools would be looking for. As difficult as it will be to work through and paraphrase who I am and why I want to become a doctor, I am honestly anticipating the challenge. I get true pleasure from transcribing my thoughts into words that engage others and convey exactly that which I wish. There is a twisted, raw, root-like power and strength that can be brought to bear by using just the right combination of words. When you pause in a breathless way, or select words that jump and buzz to describe the excitement of a specific event or experience or interaction... Describing descriptions demands a dexterity I display decidedly dismally...

Regardless, I look forward to doing my best on my personal statement because of that Final Moment. What moment is that, you ask? The Final Moment is that moment of pride after finishing the final revision and read-through, and it is an awesome thing. To be proud of a work is a delicious experience, like savoring the calm exhaustion after a run, or feeling your mouth surge with juices at the prospect of a particularly plump piece of pumpkin (I actually like apple best, but for the sake of alliteration I'll stick with pumpkin) pie. I look forward to looking back on my finished personal statement with pride, declaring it to be worthy of submission to the knowledgeable group charged with deciding if I am of sufficient mettle to someday become one of their colleagues. Their unspoken question lingers in my mind, asking if I am capable of rising to the challenges and rigors of medical school and, beyond that, a career as ein Arzt. My hope is to answer that question with a resounding, convincing and somewhat colloquial, "And how!"

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