Reflecting on 2019…Looking Ahead to 2020

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I just wanted to wish all my readers a happy holiday season and an exciting year as we enter a new decade!

For some of you 2019 may have been a tough year (I know it was for me!). I think it’s important to reflect on both the successes and failures. A review of the successes allows us to see what we did right, how much we have grown and reinforces where our strengths lie. A review of the failures (as painful as this can be) allows us to see where things may have gone wrong and what can be improved.

img_9398I love this simple lesson that I learned from one of my young daughter’s story books entitled “I’m Not Afraid to Fail”. The main character is a little girl who has experienced multiple failures. Her grandfather encourages her by saying, “but failure is fantastic….because each failure takes you one step closer to success!”

Success and failure means different things to different people but if there’s one thing that this year has taught me is that in those moments where I felt I had failed…those moments always taught me something important to hold on to for the future. There is always room for improvement. And the better we become at our craft, be it in medicine, business, education, art, music, parenting, homemaking or other pursuits, the more we provide better service to those we serve. And to me, that’s a success!

Whatever 2019 may have meant for you, whether good or bad, a new year is upon us with plenty of new opportunities! Seize them! Dust yourself off if you fall down…and keep going! Be the best you can be!

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Wishing you a happy and fulfilled 2020…from my family to yours!

Ten Tips to Excelling on Your Interview

The interview does not have to be a daunting step in your journey to getting into medical school or to getting that desired job. With the appropriate preparation, you can face it with confidence and boldness, knowing that you have worked hard and have the ability to succeed!

The medical school interview has evolved in recent years from the more traditional one person interview to an amalgamated set of interviews known as the multiple-mini-interview (MMI). This involves a series of about 10 interview stations, 10 minutes each in length with different interviewers. The format of each interview can consist of traditional interview questions, role-play (acting), logic/calculation questions, writing, team-work (collaboration) and more. You can read more about the history and format of the MMI.

The main purpose of this post is to give you some tips to prepare for the MMI and how to handle yourself on the big interview day. Many of these tips apply to other interview formats:

  1. Practice, practice, practice: This is the most important way to prepare and you can start months in advance before you even receive an interview invite. I started with just one question a day (there are plenty of sample questions online). Once I received an interview invitation, I ramped up my practice to about 2-3 questions per day.  I also recorded myself to evaluate my body language, tone of voice and to obtain feedback from others. Practicing in front of the mirror, on Skype, or in person with people from different backgrounds will also get you used to formulating your thoughts quickly even when faced with unfamiliar material. Constructive criticism from those you practice with is vital for improving your line of thinking and delivery. Practice under timed conditions so that you get used to speaking under pressure and learn how to stick within the time limits. A solid foundation of interview preparation will give you more confidence on the big day.

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    Image courtesy of grafhamwalbancke.com

  2. Be yourself: I realized the importance of this particularly with role-play questions. Although there is some level of acting required, it is important to react to the situation the way you normally would, in keeping with your personality, and not pretend to be something you are not. It will be very obvious if you are not being authentic.
  3. Be confident: I went into my interview knowing I had prepared and worked hard. I was in a positive frame of mind, confident that there was no room to doubt my abilities. Enter the room with a smile and give a firm handshake. Recognize how hard you have worked and how far you have come in obtaining an interview. Keep that momentum going!
  4. Be clear and concise: In my view, less-is-more when it comes to an interview. Meandering and rambling speech will make it difficult to bring your points across. Try to keep your response relatively short and to the point (about 2-3 minutes in total and then allow time for follow-up questions).
  5. Check your body language and attire: This may seem like a no-brainer but you would be surprised by the things we do with our hands, face and body when we are talking. During one of my practice sessions, I realized that I tap my feet repeatedly, sometimes roll my eyes and clench my hands. Evaluate your body language and make adjustments if anything seems inappropriate or distracting. Remember to maintain eye-contact with your interviewer or role-play partner and maintain good posture. Ensure that you are dressed appropriately.
  6. Answer the question: You will have about 2 minutes to read and absorb each question on the MMI. Make sure you have noted the salient points of the question, that you answer what is being asked and do not go off on a tangent. Only interject personal experiences if it is relevant to the question.

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    Image courtesy of careerealism.com

  7. Listen attentively: It can be tempting to want to talk non-stop during the interview particularly on the MMI where you only have a few minutes to make an impression on each interviewer. However, being a good listener is also an important skill. You can demonstrate this during role-play scenarios by pausing at appropriate moments to allow the other person to speak and by asking questions to stimulate conversation.
  8. Explain your thought process: For logic questions, explain your line of thinking as you go along rather than waiting to find the solution in your mind before presenting it. Even if you run out of time or do not arrive at the correct answer, you will have at least demonstrated how you think and tackle problems.
  9. Be engaged: Even if you are unsure of how to answer a question, be enthusiastic and engaged with your interviewer. Your passion will come across in your tone of voice and body language. In role-play scenarios, imagine that this is a real situation and throw yourself into the role.
  10. Have fun and don’t dwell: At the end of each interview station, don’t dwell on how you could have done it better but forget about it and move on to the next station with a clear, fresh mind. One station has no bearing on the next station. (Personally, I felt that I fumbled two stations but felt fairly confident about the rest). I have to say that the MMI was the most fun and challenging interview I have ever done. It really stretched me! Try to remember that although the interview is an important part of getting into medical school, you can also relax and enjoy the day through the different scenarios and the people you will meet. I made some great friends and was very inspired by the people I met on interview day.

Whether it is for school or a desired job, many of the above tips will be applicable in different contexts. I hope these tips help you feel more prepared and confident for your interview day. You can do it! If you have further questions, feel free to contact me. I would be happy to help.

Rising from a Stumbling Block

I am not concerned that you have fallen — I am concerned that you arise” Abraham Lincoln

When working towards a goal, there will be moments when you may hit a stumbling block. I had a moment like this last Friday when I learned that one of the medical schools I had applied to sent out their interview invites…but I did not receive an invitation. There were only 5 spots available at this medical school for an out-of-province applicant like me. Still, I was really hoping to get a positive response from this school.

I haven’t officially received a rejection and there is still hope that an invitation could come if someone else declines their interview. But somehow the news hit me harder than I expected. In fact, it felt like I hit a brick wall and my confidence in my abilities plummeted.  I decided that I had to tackle my state of mind and not let myself get into a downward spiral of negativity. Obstacles will come our way to test us and when they do, we have to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and keep going.

My brother encouraged me with these words, “Tomorrow is a new day and you are blessed…Let’s keep going until we find out where we’re sending you to become a doctor!” and my husband said, “This is not the end…you will get where you are meant to be.” 

I will now have to wait until January for news from the other medical schools I applied to. The wait feels painstakingly slow sometimes but I know that I just have to be patient. My prayer has always been that we will end up at the right place for my family and I to flourish.

It’s not always easy to talk about our obstacles and challenges, but it can really help to tap into our support network to give us encouragement when we feel that we are running out of steam. Rejection or failure can be such a discouraging feeling, but it is not the end. It is only the beginning of another chance to find the path to success.

So don’t give up, don’t give in to the voices in your head telling you that you cannot do it. You can! Don’t be afraid to talk about your struggles. We need others to help us get back on track and get our eyes fixed on the prize. Whatever your goals may be, don’t let the amount of time it is taking discourage you from continuing. You will get there eventually and it will be worth every effort you put in!

We may encounter many defeats but we must not be defeated” Maya Angelou

Image courtesy of powerlisting.wikia.com

Image courtesy of powerlisting.wikia.com

How to Achieve Success on the MCAT…Lessons Learned from Two Retakes

A few weeks ago, a reader asked me for some tips to prepare for the MCAT. I would be happy to share the techniques I used and in particular what I learned from having sat it 3 times over a period of 10 years! I didn’t feel my scores on the first two attempts were competitive enough for medical school and hence my decision to take it a third time. The retakes are so far apart in time because of some unexpected life circumstances and our decision to start a family before medical school. I was very happy with my final scores from my 3rd attempt which are a definite improvement compared to the first two attempts.

Take 1, 2005: Score 27P

  • Study duration: Approximately 3 months during the summer (while working full time) after I graduated from university.
  • Resources: Examkrackers (EK) and Princeton Review (PR)
  • Strategy: Content review and practice questions from EK and PR.
  • Lessons learned: I focused too much on content review, memorization and not enough on understanding the concepts and practicing questions. I did not have very good test-taking skills and ended up running out of time on the exam, leaving several questions unanswered. I also had not practiced the writing section much.

Take 2, 2008: Score 28S

  • Study duration: Approximately 3 months while working full-time.
  • Resources: Examkrackers (EK) and Princeton Review (PR)
  • Strategy: Content review and practice questions from EK and PR, 2 full-length AAMC exams. I also did a writing sample question every lunch-time at work.
  • Lessons learned: My strategy had not really changed much from the first time around aside from the full-length exams and working on the writing sample. Although the writing section is now obsolete, my point in mentioning this is that regular practice improved my writing score from a P to an S (the highest you could get is a T).

Take 3, 2015: Score 512 (roughly translates to a 34-35 on the old MCAT grading system)

  • Study duration: Approximately 4 months of informal reading (it was something to do while breastfeeding and changing diapers around the clock!) and then 4 months of serious preparation while on maternity leave with baby number 2 (at least 15-20 hours per week during those last 4 months)
  • Resources: Khan Academy, Examkrackers (EK), 101 passages in MCAT Verbal reasoning, Examkrackers 1001 questions in MCAT series (Chemistry, Physics, Biology), AAMC online official guide (120 questions), AAMC question pack (720 questions), 2 AAMC full-length exams (old MCAT version), 1 AAMC full-length exam (new MCAT version),
  • Strategy: Since my score had not improved significantly the second time around, I knew I needed to revamp my entire approach to the MCAT. I first combed the internet for various tips on preparing for the MCAT and the general principle I found was understanding the fundamental concepts rather than rote memorization, and then…PRACTICE!PRACTICE! PRACTICE !

Take Home Lessons:

During my 4 months of concrete MCAT preparation, this was my approach:

  • I drafted a study schedule for the entire 4 months leading up to the exam. I think this step is key because although it can be difficult to know how long each chapter will take, you need some idea of what you are going to study when so that you do not run out of time at the end, especially since the latter months are crucial for practicing questions.
  • I spent the first two months studying. I would read a chapter for leisure as if I was reading a book and then re-read the same chapter and answer the questions at the end of the chapter to make sure I understood the principles. This was also the period when I prepared flash cards, formula sheets and other short notes. The material to study for the MCAT is voluminous so I wanted to narrow the concepts down to something I could leaf through fairly quickly during my final review.
  • During the first two months, I would also listen to Khan Academy videos while performing other tasks. It can be an efficient way to study if you have to commute, do house chores, breastfeed etc.
  • During the last two months, I mostly practiced questions and noted down any problem areas to be reviewed later. I also wrote down some of the questions I had gotten wrong so that I could attempt them again later. I also reviewed flashcards periodically to refresh my memory.
  • Key point when practicing questions: I would time myself strictly. Whatever set of questions I was doing, I had the goal of completing it in 1-2 minutes. If you calculate the number of questions on each section of the actual MCAT (53-59 questions) and the time you have to do it (90-95 minutes), you really only have 1-2 minutes to answer each question (some will take longer, some less).
  • The AAMC practice resources were critical to building my confidence because I became so familiar with the MCAT testing environment that I did not feel intimidated on exam day.

I hope this post has been helpful to any aspiring doctors planning to take the MCAT. There are many approaches to prepare for the MCAT. This is just what worked for me (the third time around, that is!). In a subsequent post, I will provide strategies for you to be at your best on exam day. Happy studying and good luck!

Additional reading: MCAT 2015: Is 508 the new 30?

Image courtesy of anankkml at freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of anankkml at freedigitalphotos.net

Exam Results Are In…The MCAT Has Been Conquered!

The MCAT is an exam that many aspiring doctors have to take in in order to apply to medical school. It is a brutal, almost 7-hour long exam that requires months of preparation and studying. I sat the exam on August 5th and after weeks of waiting for my MCAT results, my scores finally came out today. I am thrilled, excited, relieved and grateful to announce that it went well!

It was a very special moment when I logged into my account to check my scores. My husband was standing beside me at the computer, my children were scrambling around on my lap trying to get a good view of the screen, with my son Caleb shouting enthusiastically, “I want to see mummy’s exam! I want to see mummy’s exam!”

Family members and friends had been praying for this moment. My brother Jonathan had been texting me over the course of the day with funny messages like “drama…suspense…on tenterhooks” as we all eagerly awaited the results. I had decided in my mind before viewing the results that whatever the scores were, I had done my best, I had studied hard and I had given it to God.

This was not the first time I had done this exam. It was actually the third time. The previous two times (in 2005 and 2008), I had a very difficult time with the verbal reasoning section. At the time, I didn’t think my MCAT results were competitive enough to apply to medical school so I decided not to apply. There were moments I felt like giving up on this exam, felt like giving up on medical school altogether.

I am so fortunate to have family and friends who believe in me and who did not give up on me. In fact, they did not allow me to give up on my dream. I remember my husband cornering me in the kitchen one day and asking me if I was sure I didn’t want to do medicine anymore. He didn’t want me to have any regrets. My brother Jonathan also kept encouraging me not to give up and motivated me to keep going. So I revamped my study methods, focused on doing many more practice questions and developed better test-taking strategies than on my previous attempts of the MCAT.

My support networks have been so instrumental in allowing me to focus on my med school dream. I remember countless nights of my husband washing the dishes and helping out around the house while I studied for the MCAT (although he confessed he was happy when the MCAT was over and I was back to cooking more interesting meals than chicken, potatoes and peas almost every night!).

It’s hard to believe that 10 years after my first attempt at the MCAT (back when it was still the paper version), it has finally been conquered! I am ecstatic! I owe it all to my wonderful support networks and to the strength God has given me to keep going and to be confident in my ability. The MCAT used to intimidate me. This time around, when I walked into the exam room, I knew I was going to beat it. I am excited to keep going with the medical school application process. It’s a long process but I’m motivated!!

Whatever dream you may be following, keep at it! You may stumble a few times, you may want to give up, you may wonder if you can really succeed. I believe you can succeed. In fact, I know you can. Be confident, don’t be afraid to fail a few times before that final success comes your way. It will be worth the effort and it will prepare you for even bigger challenges ahead!

Here is the break down of my MCAT results:

  • Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems: Score 129; Percentile rank of score: 93%
  • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills: Score 128; Percentile rank of score: 90%
  • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems: Score 128; Percentile rank of score: 87%
  • Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior: Score 127; Percentile rank of score: 78%
  • Total MCAT Score: 512; Percentile rank of score: 88%

For tips on how to excel on the MCAT, particularly if you are retaking the exam, read my post How to Achieve Success on the MCAT…Lessons Learned from Two Retakes.

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MCAT conquered!!! So happy with my results!

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