Posted in COMLEX 2 PE, Education, Health, medical school, news

COMLEX 2 PE Failures: Your Questions Answered

This is Part II in a series in which we put your mind at ease after you learn you failed one of the most important tests in your training.  We know it’s not easy and lots of emotions are stirring, but since you will need to retake the exam, let’s dissect the most common questions so we can get you ready for the next one.

Why did I fail?

It’s the first question you’ll ask yourself and understandably so because you will want to improve on what you missed.  However, for many students they clearly can’t understand why…..they performed the correct OMT modality, they completed their SOAP notes on time, they made the SP smile….so what happened? We may never know exactly why one fails their PE but it could include some of the following:

HUMANISM

  • Failure to greet the patient and thank them for waiting
  • Failure to make them feel more comfortable if they are in distress
  • Failure to respect their privacy when it comes to gowning and draping
  • Failure to maintain good eye contact and reflectively listen
  • Failure to allow the patient adequate speaking time to answer your questions, (i.e. interrupting or rapid fire questioning)
  • Not “intervening” when they admitted to having a daily habit that could contribute to a health condition (i.e. smoking, alcohol use, poor diet)
  • Not ensuring the patient understood the assessment or reasons for questioning
  • Not appearing confident when one explains the assessment and plan
  • Not suggesting to address the pain or distress in the plan
  • Rattling on and not closing the encounter strongly.
  • Failure to suggest modifications that can help them at work or home

humanism book cover final

Humanism Prep Guide For the Boards

 

DATA GATHERING

  • Failure to address other body systems by only concentrating on the chief complaint (i.e. a left shoulder pain complaint may also need questioning regarding chest pain in addition to musculoskeletal symptoms)
  • Failure to ask associated symptoms or pertinent positives/negatives (i.e. in a patient presenting with back pain, inquiring about lower extremity numbness and tingling, incontinence, hematuria, etc.)
  • Failure to address medical symptoms that may stem from a habit they have (i.e. urethral discharge if they partake in unprotected sex)
  • Failure to address medical symptoms from a medication they may excessively take (i.e. abdominal pain or blood in the stool of a patient who takes NSAIDS often)
  • Failure to examine the appropriate body parts that could be contributing to the illness, (i.e. thyroid and carotids in a patient presenting with dizziness)
  • Asking “why” when they take excessive medication – they may be self treating another medical condition
  • Asking “why” they came in for a physical (family member may have been worried about their memory)

Data Gathering Prep Guide For The Boards

Data Gathering Prep Guide For The Boards

SOAP note

  • Failure to complete all four sections (S O A P) consistently in each case
  • Failure to address the chief complaint in all four sections (i.e. if one presents with back pain, did the note address the subjective complaints, an exam of the back, differentials of what the back pain could be, and testing/OMM in the plan that addressed the back pain?)
  • Failure to include associated symptoms (i.e. in a patient presenting with a headache, were they negative or photophobia and neck stiffness)
  • Failure to document appropriate history and physical
  • Failure to list the differentials that the presenting complaint could be (i.e. a patient presenting with fatigue may have depression, anemia, sleep apnea, hypothyroidism, antihistamine overuse)
  • Failure to include OMM, testing, medications, work modifications, follow up in the plan.

OMM

  • Failure to ask permission prior to performing the OMM
  • Failure to explain what OMM is and why one is choosing to perform it
  • Appearing “rough” in technique
  • After performing the OMM, failure to ask how the patient felt and its effect on symptomatology

 

How soon can I retake the PE?

Although most students can go online and register for their retake, most academic institutions will have guidelines on when one should sign up for the retake and prove eligibility to remediating professors.  We suggest you follow your school’s recommendations as retaking the test too soon could lead to an additional failure.

 

Failed Your COMLEX 2 PE/Step 2 CS? Here Are Your Next Steps…..

 

How many times can I take the PE?

According the NBOME website, students are allowed 4 attempts in a single year and 6 total.  However, many academic institutions may have different guidelines, so review your school’s handbook to determine how many attempts they will allow before dismissal.

Is it better to take my retake in a different city than the first one?

We have not seen any data on switching test sites and its effect on passing one’s retake.  For some students the familiarity of the testing city and neighborhood makes the retake easier.  For others a fresh city with fresh SP’s offer the placebo needed to pass. Since the average SP doesn’t remember one student specifically or their score, the effect of seeing a repeating SP is negligible.

Will I not match into residency due to my PE fail?

Most students who retake their PE and pass, go on to match into a residency.  Of course this could be more challenging if one picks a specialty that is highly competitive such as surgery.  However, overcoming a test fail is often times looked upon positively by program directors.  If the question comes up during the interview be honest and humble without blaming anyone or anything for the failure.

Will a PE failure prevent me for applying to residency this year?

Most schools have a timeline on what needs to be completed before entering the match and better yet, some have a fail-safe built into the curriculum to allow some time off for board remediation if needed.  Most schools however, want all board scores passed before entering the match, and since test scores may take 6-8 weeks to comeback after taking the exam, discuss with your school on your time needed to remediate and when to schedule your retake.

Should I take a leave of absence (LOA) to study for the PE?

If you feel you need to concentrate your efforts on passing the exam, an LOA may be of huge benefit. However, other students use their clinical rotations to help them hone in on their PE skills and prefer to keep learning while preparing for their retake.  This decision will be based on your school’s recommendations and the degree of your PE failure (i.e. one section vs multiple sections.)

Will I still be able to get letters of recommendation (LOR) from faculty if I failed my PE?

Yes….but make wise choices in choosing the faculty. Those with whom you closely worked during clinical rotations, research, or community service are good choices, especially if they liked you and you performed well around them.

 

Again, hang in there. We know you just received devastating news with your first failure,  but remember most students who study, retake their PE and pass, go on to residency.  It’s a bump in your long academic road but a small one and one that can be easily overcome.  You got this!!

 

ultimate book cover final

Great Gift!!!

The Ultimate Medical Student HandBook

 

Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a nationally syndicated radio personality on GCN Network, KDWN, and iHeart Radio.

 

 

 

 

Posted in COMLEX 2 PE, Education, Health, medical school, news

Failed Your COMLEX 2 PE/Step 2 CS? Here Are Your Next Steps…..

Image above from Riverside Community College District

 

Failing an exam is not easy, especially if it’s one of your boards.  However, these tests have been failed many times before by multiple students who go on and become very successful in their field.  So what do you do when you get the crushing news?  We take it step by step…..

COMLEX 2 PE Failures: Your Questions Answered

 

Know You’re Not Alone

Considering the countless exams you’ve taken throughout your schooling, you’re sure to wind up stumbling on a few.  And none of the boards have a 100% pass rate. So there are numerous students right now in your same shoes.  The majority of them succeed on their next attempt so odds are in your favor.  Failing a set of boards should never stop your path of becoming a physician, because odds are you will succeed next time around.

 

Data Gathering Prep Guide For The Boards

Data Gathering Prep Guide For The Boards

 

Expect to Go Through the Five Stages of Grief

As soon as you receive the failing grade you will immediately be in a state of denial.  As described above you will also feel isolated, but remember, you’re not alone.  Then you’ll become angry that a testing service or grader thought you were not worthy to become a doctor.  You’ll learn that’s not the case but it will still ruin your day, week, or month nonetheless.

Next you may go through a period of bargaining, thinking you could reach out to the testing center to appeal the grade, or pray the grade away, and when the score doesn’t change, you may fall into a depression. Finally you realize the grade is here to stay and you reach acceptance, which is a good sign and necessary to recover and eventually succeed.  Once you’ve accepted what has happened you can start planning how to rectify the situation.

Many students feel they shouldn’t go through the above stages, but how else will you begin to heal from a such a traumatizing incident?  Which brings us to….

 

Take a Moment for Yourself

Being told you fail a test hurts, and you’ll want to scream or cry. That’s normal, being you busted your butt in school for years and an exam is trying to get in your way of you reaching your goal.  But when we fall we need to get back up and brush ourselves off.   The most satisfying thing you can do at this stage is prove the testing centers wrong by passing it the next time around.  Remember you are in your final years of medical school and you overcame much bigger obstacles than this.   You got this. So now what do you do next…..

 

Notify Your School Immediately

Some programs are made aware of a time frame in which test scores come out but may not know what exact day scores are released.  So if you failed and are expecting to hear from them checking in on you, don’t. Reach out to them first but realize that not hearing from your medical school is not a sign of indifference.  Once they know you failed they can start setting up a remediation program if they have one or get you in touch with valuable resources.

 

humanism book cover final

Humanism Prep Guide For the Boards

 

Be Open To Criticism and New Instruction

Medical students are told their whole life how “smart” they are so we sometimes persist in the disbelief that we failed a test. However, if you failed, chances are you did something wrong.  So take instruction and learn from it.  Even if other doctors in your clinical rotations have taught you differently, those professors in your institution who understand the boards will have insight to help you pass the boards, which is your primary goal.

If you failed humanism/communications – practice bedside manner, confidence building, questions patient’s commonly ask their doctor, as well as making sure the patient understands what you’re thinking and about to order for them.

If you failed SOAP notes – practice typing speed, write out notes for multiple cases, have others grade your work to see what you’re missing.

If you failed data gathering, practice coming up with differentials or body systems and common questions to ask, and review cases of all chief complaints offered in study guides.

Passing a test is a game..it always has been. We learned how to play the game early on in our grade, middle and high school years but now we’re playing pro and the stakes are higher when it comes to medical boards.  Realize you need help and be open to it.

Phone a Friend

You will need support from those you love and have your back.  Don’t be embarrassed discussing this one stumble in a long line of schooling successes.  No one makes it through medical school alone, so leaning on someone is par for the course.  Plus you feel better opening up.  I’ve heard from countless students who failed their PE and CS and am here as well.

Medical students and professionals aren’t perfect and shouldn’t be expected to be.  But we are strong, resilient, and hard working.  So approach your board failure as you’d do anything in medicine.  Evaluate, assess and treat…….You got this!

 

Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a nationally syndicated radio personality on GCN Network, KDWN, and iHeart Radio.

 

 

Posted in Education, Health, medical school, students

Creating your MSPE Characteristics for Residency Applications

For those medical students applying for residency, the student needs to provide a short list of “noteworthy characteristics” that are not listed elsewhere in their application.

The Association of American Colleges (AAMC) explains what the “noteworthy characteristics” are:

This section includes information intended to help a residency program selection committee review applicants holistically to achieve a residency class that brings a diverse set of background experiences, characteristics and perspectives.
• Provide a maximum of three characteristics highlighting the most salient noteworthy
characteristics of the student.
• This section should be presented as a bulleted list. Each characteristic should be described in 2 sentences or less. Information about any significant challenges or hardships encountered by the student during medical school may be included.
• Lengthy biographical descriptions are not recommended due to the time required for review and because these details can be found in other sections of the applicant’s portfolio (e.g., ERAS application, personal statement, letters of recommendation, interviews).
• The identification of the noteworthy characteristics can be done by each student in consultation with a designated mentor or advisor, or by the MSPE author.

So in essence, they are no more than 3 short entries highlighting a unique quality and why you possess that quality.  Even though they say a “maximum of 3” do not just write one.  I would suggest writing three.  By the time the program director reads these three short sentences, they have a better picture of you as an individual.

Topics that you can draw your characteristics from include:

  • Missions done
  • Places traveled
  • Raising a family while going to school
  • Creating a charitable/community event
  • Passion, hobby, talent
  • Personal or family challenge
  • Why you chose your research project
  • Life experiences
  • Honors and Awards
  • Leadership positions that you held and what you impressive task you completed

These are usually written in third person.

Examples of these may be:

  1. As an avid traveler (or having completed a mission), Mary is fluent in Spanish, which has helped her communicate with many of her patients during training who were Spanish-speaking only.
  2. Having come to the United States as a small boy, Ti learned English and the American culture at a young age, making new friends and excelling in his school work.
  3. John served as Events Coordinator for the ACOFP and organized a water and sunscreen passout to homeless people at risk of dehydration, heat illness and skin cancer last summer.
  4. Ryan is an avid pianist and has performed at multiple venues including local adult day care centers and charity galas.
  5. Having seen her grandmother battle lung cancer, Jaime worked with other students to put up tobacco hotline numbers on university campuses.
  6. After Breana had a scare with an abnormal skin lesion, that fortunately was not skin cancer, she devoted additional patient education on how to screen for skin cancer with many of her patient interactions as a student.
  7. Lisa participated in multiple marathons, including the Boston Marathon, completing all of them.
  8. Mark lost over 50 lbs when he discovered a plant-based diet, and now educates patients on how inclusion of vegetables is paramount to a healthy diet.
  9. Scott’s academic strength was exemplified by making the Dean’s List during both years of Basic Science, and choosing to tutor other younger students when he moved on to his clinical years.
  10. Maya actively practices yoga and many times has held yoga and meditation workshops for students after school.

So as you see you can be as creative as you wish, and don’t be afraid to “brag.” This is your time to toot your horn and make yourself stand out!  You are applying for the job of your life….prove to them you are exactly what they need for their residency program.

 

ultimate book cover final

Great Gift!!!

The Ultimate Medical Student HandBook

 

Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a nationally syndicated radio personality on GCN Network, KDWN, and iHeart Radio.

 

Posted in Education, Health, Millennials, news, sex

Today is College Student Health Awareness Day

Millions of students are working overtime to become the next generation of wage earners.  But in the process, unfortunately, all too many let their health slip down the priority list.  And when they do, a vicious cycle ensues where grades start going down, forcing a student to further turn to less healthy behaviors such as getting less sleep, eating the wrong foods for energy, or engage in risky behavior.

 

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College Student Health Awareness Day hopes to highlight the multiple health issues incurred by many our students.  These include:

  • Depression, stress and anxiety
  • Frequent colds, illness
  • Poor flu vaccination rates
  • Risky sexual behavior
  • Sexual Assault
  • Poor eating, sleeping and exercise habits
  • Poor study habits
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Drug use

and more.

Burnout_lady

 

College Student Health Awareness Day will happen this Fall. In Nevada it falls on September 16, 2019 and is sponsored by UNLV’s American Medical Student Association and Silver State Health Centers.

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This year’s theme is STI Prevention.

Free condoms will be dispensed as well as information on various sexually transmitted illnesses at UNLV from 10:30 am – 3 pm.

 

ultimate book cover final

Great Gift!!!

The Ultimate Medical Student HandBook

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Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a nationally syndicated radio personality on GCN Network, KDWN, iHeart Radio and Board Certified Family Physician

 

Posted in Education, Health, news

Falling Behind in School? Here’s Some Tips

As we dive into the first semester of the school year we begin to face challenges.  For many of us the material seems insurmountable….maybe we perceive it as such, or maybe teachers realize they are falling short and rush to get all the information in before the semester ends.

Either way, students feel stressed, overwhelmed and many times unable to catch up. So what do you do when you find the material to be TMTH (too much to handle)?

You don’t have to learn EVERYTHING

Firstly, realize that you don’t have to learn everything.  Remember, the professor can’t test on EVERYTHING.  So don’t go at a packet, slide deck or book with the attitude that you have to know everything.  Find the Titles, the main point in the paragraph that follows, and any supporting info that seems to buttress the main point.  Careful with your use of highlighting if you’re tired and burning out because you’ll start to highlight everything.  Which brings us to….

Have a study buddy

Two heads are better than one. Sometimes three…but more than that may be distracting.  What you thought was important in class or on a sheet of information can be confirmed or denied by another student.  Moreover everyone has strengths and weaknesses so find one who can complement you and help you discern what’s important to know.

 

humanism book cover final

Humanism Prep Guide For the Boards

 

Be direct…ask the teacher

Rather than guessing, take 15 minutes to meet with the teacher to get an idea of what they find imperative to learn/know for the test.  But don’t go into their office asking “will this be on the test?” I would be direct, honest, but humble by asking:

  • “All the information you gave us is very important. What do you suggest we concentrate on?”
  • “I find myself wanting to memorize all the information you gave us due to its importance, but is there a better strategy?”
  • “I want to do well on the exam and not over-concentrate on the part of the material that will not be tested as it could take time away from my learning the other material that you want us to know.”
  • “I would really appreciate any advice you can give on how to approach the material being tested.  I enjoy your class and want to accurately demonstrate the effort I’m putting in to succeed in your course.”

Now many times the professor will oblige.  But if not, you need to indirectly determine what he/she is going to test.  This brings us to…..

Watch for the “Brush Over”

How was the material given?

If your professor brushed over it quickly in class, it could mean they don’t find it crucial enough to test or ….they don’t completely understand the material themselves.  Most likely this will not be tested.  However, if he/she brushed over it because it was given in a previous lecture, then its open game.

Demonstrations of the brush over include:

  • Skipping over to the next slide
  • Skipping over to the next sentence
  • Speaking quickly and less slow with regards to a certain subject matter
  • Speaking vaguely over the subject matter
  • Looking down and away when discussing the subject matter when he/she usually gives direct eye contact during lectures
  • Moving the laser pointer to an earlier point as he/she reinforces it.

 

ultimate book cover final

The Ultimate Medical Student Handbook

 

Know your professor

Are they big on testing if you paid attention in class or knowing the information that’s necessary to succeed? Are they a jerk and will pick the most esoteric piece of content from a 1000 word slide or will they focus on main points? Get an idea on what makes them tick.

A test is a game

For some institutions the exam is to test competency. These are the most clear-cut, fair tests and to me, make the most sense.  If, for example, in medical school one is studying poor lung function and what a spirometer discerns, the inventor and history of the tool will most likely not be tested.  Keep in mind, your professor has bosses and they have bosses, so your competency reflects on them.

For other institutions it may be at the professor’s discretion.  So you need to feel out each teacher and see what they’re all about.  If they are big on class attendance and will weight the test towards those who showed up, expect questions on content that was highlighted in class.  And if they are big on seeing if you paid attention, you will be tested on something they impressed upon you sometime during lecture. So during the lecture watch for the following:

  • Long pause after finishing a point on a slide
  • Eye contact when delivering the content
  • Reiterating a point twice
  • The key word the professor stresses with his laser pointer

So after you’ve done your “homework,” how do you tackle your studies?

Failed Your COMLEX 2 PE/Step 2 CS? Here Are Your Next Steps…..

Map out your strategy

Your time is divisible so grab a calculator and aliquot into equal periods.  Make sure you have extra sessions included for breaks and catch up sessions.  Or you can use a calendar that is already compartmentalized on which to create your timetable.

timetable.jpg

 

Clean your desk!

A nice clean, crisp desk with plenty of pens and highlighters helps energize one more than cluttered paper.  Moreover have a second work space you can go to when you get sick of working at your desk.

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Prioritize

Now this is easier said than done. Some will put their hardest classes on their study calendar first, some the easiest.  There are pros and cons to both. What I suggest is alternating difficult and easy subjects.  You need the start of your day and initial power hours knocking out the difficult material, but then the easier classes will boost your confidence and sometimes energy.  So one option could be:

  • Study block 1:  Tough subject
  • Study block 2:  Easy subject
  • Study block 3:  Medium subject
  • Hour 4:  Review
  • With breaks, of course, in between.

 

Take real breaks!

You should design two types of breaks: Short and Long.

Your short break should be no shorter than 10 minutes.  During the break you must do the following:

  • Get up and stretch
  • Drink water
  • Eat a small snack
  • Go to the bathroom
  • Listen to some music, dance, phone a friend

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Your long break should be no shorter than 45 minutes.  During these breaks you can:

  • Eat a regular meal, if due, and drink plenty of fluids
  • Take a small nap
  • Take a shower – helps refresh and energize
  • Check social media – stick to your time limit though!
  • Watch a 30 minute episode of your favorite sitcom
  • Exercise such as going for a run

 

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Identify signs of burnout

If you’re “going through the motions” of studying and feel “burnt” you won’t be absorbing the material and subsequently you’ll be wasting precious hours.  You must identify burnout by looking for the following:

  • Apathy
  • Exhaustion
  • Poor sleep when you get done in the evening
  • Negative attitude towards school and others
  • Procrastinating your next study block
  • Being irritated
  • Feeling empty
  • Low energy
  • Thinking about quitting

 

Burnout_lady.jpg

 

How to avoid burnout

When studying you’re classwork it’s difficult to avoid the boredom and stress, but the following may help:

  • Study with friends
  • Mix up your study sessions with videos and flash cards if reading gets overwhelming
  • Watch a short funny video to get you laughing
  • Take regular breaks
  • Make sure you’re eating and sleeping well

 

Remember, we’ve all been there and school is supposed to be challenging.  Stay on course and get help if you need such as a tutor.   We all make it to the finish line….even if we’re a little bruised up when we get there.

 

spanish book

Learning Medical Spanish is Easy!!!

 

Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a nationally syndicated radio personality on GCN Network, KDWN, and iHeart Radio.

Posted in Education, Health, medical school

Data Gathering During a Patient Encounter Made Easy

A Peek into How Doctors Think – An Introduction to “Columns”

Anyone who is on their path to becoming a successful physician needs to be able to take a good history and perform a thorough physical.  However in this day and age, patient care is performed in a very speedily process and thus the boards test a medical student on how succinctly they can perform a patient history.

 

Thus students and licensed medical providers need to be adept at “data gathering” no matter what the patient presents with.  Our job is to figure out what’s going on, no matter how difficult the task, and do so quickly.  So how do we accomplish this?

We start by looking at the cause and then breaking down what could be occurring resulting in that cause, or in other words, forming a differential diagnosis.  So if someone has chest pain, one may form a differential consisting of heart attack, pericarditis and costochondritis. But other issues may be at play such as a pneumonia or an esophagitis.

So when we look at a person with chest pain, we consider all the body parts or causes that could be causing the symptoms.

Hence with a patient presenting with chest pain, one would consider a cardiovascular cause, pulmonary cause, gastrointestinal cause, musculoskeletal cause, and even psychiatric cause.

This is the basis of forming one’s columns. For every chief complaint we form columns either mentally or on paper and then ask associated symptoms (or pertinent positives or negatives) to determine which column we’re in.  Usually a few “power questions” will help discriminate which column you are in. Once you hit the correct column you will ask further questions along that line.

Data Gathering Prep Guide For The Boards

Data Gathering Prep Guide For the Boards

True there are many more questions we could ask than just the “power questions,” but during a time crunch we need to ask very specific ones to determine if we are on the right track.  If we receive multiple “no”s along a column, we know to move onto the next column.

Hence if a patient with chest pain denies dizziness and diaphoresis or sternal pain upon palpation but admits to cough, shortness of breath and sputum production, we have just narrowed down the chest pain patient to a pulmonary cause as opposed to assuming it was cardiac in nature. Then we would continue down the pulmonary column, thinking our differential may be a pneumonia/bronchitis/pulmonary embolism, and ask about hemoptysis, fever, chills, etc.

humanism book cover final

Humanism Prep Guide For the Boards

So for each patient one must create columns depending on the chief complaint and then ask power questions to help focus down your differential.

Now these columns can also assist with the physical exam component of data gathering.  If the above patient presenting with chest pain could have a cardiac/pulmonary/GI/musculoskeletal condition, one would examine his heart, lungs, upper abdomen and palpate the sternum and ribs.

For an added bonus, the columns can additionally assist one in forming their differential for the SOAP note. 

Chest pain r/o

  • Pneumonia
  • Bronchitis           
  • PE
  • MI
  • GERD
  • Costochondritis

If a case involves a not so clear-cut symptom, columns could be used as well.

For example a patient presenting with hair loss.  If one complains of hair loss, a variety of differentials could be at play.  One column could be an endocrinology source (such as hypothyroidism or diabetes), another could be psychological (such as stress or trichotillomania), a third could be medications (such as chemotherapy agents), and a fourth could include genetics.  Narrowing these down with power questions could exclude non-contributing columns.

So whether it’s a direct body system or cause, columns help one focus down the differential and allow an easy visual that enables one during a timed test to think quickly and know which questions to ask.

Again these columns are instituted after the History of Present Illness in which a student obtains onset/chronology, palliative/provocative factors, quality of symptoms, radiation, severity and timing (OPQRST).

They will be written down in the SOAP note after the HPI.  

Example:  Mary is a 25-year-old female presenting with acute onset right foot pain.  It began 6 hours ago after she went for a job. Ice provides some relief but walking on it worsens the pain.  The pain is sharp, constant with a severity of 7/10. She denies fever, chills, open wounds, swelling, redness, temperature changes, numbness or tingling.

Since during this step in the history most medical students find it challenging to know “which questions to ask.”  The columns and power questions simplify this.

To learn this method to improve one’s data gathering skills click here.

 

Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a nationally syndicated radio personality on GCN Network, KDWN, and iHeart Radio.

Posted in Education, Employment, Health, Millennials, news

Personal Statement For Residency: Tips on Making a Great Impression

The trials and tribulations incurred during medical school culminate during one’s 4th year when they need to go on their biggest interview of their life: their residency interview.  But as with most interviews, one needs an excellent resume (CV) and cover letter to walk in the door.

Hence a student’s “Personal Statement” is what completes the package that is presented to residency directors who choose your fate.

An advantage to this is that it provides an opportunity to personalize your application, which unfortunately can look very itemized during the application process.

In communication we are successful when we use the “Three E’s.”  These stand for Engage, Educate and Enlist.  You engage a person by garnering their attention, then once you have their attention you educate them, and once they are educated you can enlist them (such as rank me for your residency).

So what makes a good personal statement?

Length

The length of your personal statement should be approximately one page.  This gives you 5-8 paragraphs to tell your story without boring one to death.  You don’t want to be too short and sweet but rather to the point and hammer your message home without getting into trouble saying too much later.

Open with a grab, but don’t choke them…

The average person puts down an article, book, essay within the first sentence if it doesn’t catch them.  So avoid opening your personal statement with “I’ve always wanted to be a doctor…”  Putting your future residency director to sleep seven words in prevents him from remembering your application and choosing you for his program.

So instead you should focus on a personal story that led to your resolve to dedicate your life to others.  Examples of this include:

My decision to pursue medicine began when I came to the United States with my family to start a new life……

The art of medicine compels one to study the canvas before haphazardly wielding a paintbrush.  I learned this when……

But don’t be too flowery. Get to the point early on in your first paragraph on how life experiences affected your decision to pursue medicine and the specific specialty for which you’re applying.

Which brings us to….

Know your specialty

If you are planning to pursue a career in Family Medicine, don’t discuss how you want to become a “Jack of all Trades.”  This isn’t what family medicine is about.  Just as the specialty of surgery isn’t all about “cutting.”  Let them know in your statement that you get it by saying something like…..

Understanding the wide range of pathologies that may affect a patient of any age is paramount to becoming an excellent family physician.

Being an advocate for my female patients and enabling them to bring life into this world attracted me to the field of obstetrics and gynecology.

Show you’re a team player

The residency director, who’s interviewing you, needs to know you play well with others.  The team with which you will work includes senior residents, attendings, nurses, ancillary staff and administrators to name a few.  So incorporate in your letter how you are cognizant of how a patient’s success is dependent on a hospital’s “team approach.”

Avoid negativity

Avoid insulting other specialties or specialists…which may occur inadvertently when describing why you chose your specialty.  For example, in one personal statement I edited, the student wrote, “I didn’t want to be a doctor who just cuts, so I chose primary care instead.”  

A better approach would be, “I found being a front-line provider, making the initial decisions in a patient’s care, to be exciting.”

Do your research

Most students begin their personal statement at the end of their third year, when actually it’s during your third year when you can gain much insight into how to write it. So questions you may want to ask your preceptor are:

How do you define family medicine (or the specific specialty)?

How did you come to decide to pursue medicine?

What do you look for in a personal statement?

If you could give me any advice on what to include in my personal statement what would that be?

Additionally, ask your clinical education department for resources or examples of good personal statements.  Prior graduates who secured their top five choices may have offered their personal statements to the medical school for others to use as a guide.

Have a format

Even though personal statements vary in length, creativity, subject matter and prose,  there is a general format most appear to follow.

Part 1 – your eye-catching opener that gives the program director a glimpse into your passion, personality, and plan (entering the field of ……).

Part 2 – a patient case or moment in your past that led you to forming this educated decision to pursue a specific specialty.  Don’t go into too many specifics regarding the patient due to HIPPA, and make sure your decision to pursue a particular field was not done on a whim or at the last minute before fourth year.

Part 3 – explain why you would be a good candidate for their residency program.  What makes you a good student, doctor, leader, team player, educator (you will be teaching medical students) and person.  Don’t itemize every accomplishment on your CV, but highlight some of your finest accomplishments and strengths.

Part 4 – after you’ve engaged and educated the reader, you are ready to enlist them.  The final portion of your personal statement reinforces why you are an excellent candidate for their program and how your goals are aligned with theirs in terms of providing good patient care, educating others, and giving back to your community.  This is also where you can suggest what you are looking for in a residency program, such as one that offers research opportunities.

Remember to end the personal statement with a note of gratitude, such as, “Thank you for considering my application to your residency program.”  A piece of humble pie goes along way.

Have it edited

When you have completed your personal statement, make sure you have someone else read it and find any grammatical and spelling errors.  Although most residency directors do not expect you to be a professional linguist, errors in one’s statement may suggest that you are haphazard, inattentive, have a lack of care for details, or lazy.

So in summary, being given the opportunity to market yourself is a gift.  So don’t put it off until the last minute and pray one draft does the trick.  Write this as it’s the most important 500 – 800 words of your life….

 

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Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a nationally syndicated radio personality on GCN Network, KDWN, and iHeart Radio.