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Postbac Orientation

August 20th, 2013  |  Published in Pre-Med Tips  |  1 Comment


Even the milk in the fridge points to the expiration date on my lackadaisical freedom; my first day of the postbac is August 22. I’ve been wrestling the past few weeks with lack of confidence. This postbac has seemed daunting and even reading my physiology book has been an insurmountable task that I have left mostly unfinished, seeing as I am just halfway through the second chapter. I shadowed in the NICU last week which was a very refreshing reminder of why I love medicine (although waking up for morning rounds was exhausting because I spent all week preparing for our guests’ weekend arrival–meaning I was basically a zombie.) I slept until 3 pm the day that they left because I was so sleep deprived! Of course, science shows that this was probably not a good plan and explains why I was so exhausted when I woke up for orientation today

Late in the night, when all of my much delayed epiphanies generally occur, I realized I probably should have planned ahead of this orientation. I found out that to get into the student parking lot which was supposed to be free during the orientation days, I would need my student ID. I had an ID from the horrific days I worked at VCU but threw it in the garbage after quitting for cathartic release. That ID had no ability to open doors so I doubt I would have had access to the parking lot anyways. I half-frantically called VCU parking this morning but after being on hold for 6 minutes, I was dressed, ready to go, and decided to just park in the visitor’s parking lot and pretend I wasn’t a student. This is pretty easy to do if you can shrug off the guilt of snatching a parking spot for $2 by going to the hospital to get validated. (Although you can feel less guilty because apparently the student daily parking rate equates to $4/day and we pay tuition on top of this!)

All of this caused me to arrive about 3 minutes late for orientation which I felt bad about, but oh well. The first half of orientation was almost the most boring thing ever because they told us things we already knew either through e-mail or from having to register for classes already. These things included “we have campus shuttles!” “you can register for classes online!” and the usual “we have counselors!” After this were campus tours but I really didn’t want to go because there are so many hills around campus and I think this kid is like squishing my lungs or something because after walking from the parking lot I felt like I had COPD. I did not want to get all winded just from a silly walk around campus! I ditched our tour and instead went to get my student ID made. I thought I was making a smart move since everyone was distracted by the tour, but this group of premeds were all in line at the badge office. 30 minutes later I got my badge and went to grab lunch.

I always hate being in the new kid at school role, especially during lunch time. Chicken salad sandwich in hand, I plopped down in the first available seat. I didn’t even ask if it was taken, which everyone else who came to our table ended up asking…oops. Anyways I was surprised to see that I was sitting next to my postbac classmates. I also had the chance to meet some PhD students as well; they were more outgoing than the postbac students.

The more useful part of the orientation was the second session which was specific to the CERT program. This what I learned:

  • about 10% of the VCU medical school class is composed of CERT students every year

VCU CERT class composition and stats:

  • 84 students; 36 women and 48 men
  • 53 from Virginia and 31 from out-of-state, representing 37 universities
  • 66 premeds, 18 predentals
  • average GPA 3.23
  • average MCAT 28
  • average DAT 18.5
  • average GRE (155Q, 157V, 4.1W)

I was really excited to hear about the clinical rotation program they are starting this year but of course the program hasn’t been finalized yet so there was no information to be had except that the course will be pass/fail and we will get 32 hours of “rotations” in during the semester (or doing 2 semesters? not totally clear yet.) But the worst part is that they had so many people request to do clinical rotations and not enough space, so people who already have clinical experience (like me) will probably not get any… This is really frustrating because I know that a longitudinal clinical experience is very important to medical schools to which I want to apply. Fortunately, I have a doctor half-lined up, I just need to ask him again for permission to shadow him and arrange it in my own time. Shadowing at VCU would be more convenient and flexible with my schedule, but I probably won’t have that opportunity. A lot of people I spoke with are on the fence about doing clinical rotations because they are scared of not being able to focus on school…I’m hoping that a lot of people who expressed initial interest can change their mind because I am so excited about this potential opportunity. I still want to shadow that non-VCU DO though… I have too much I want to do!

There are also quite a few exciting things planned for the program, like a medical school interview workshop (which I seriously need because I sound lame in mock interviews) and a medical school application workshop. As well, there are going to be movie nights to bring everyone together for social activities, which is really nice for me since I can’t go bar-hopping like I normally would love to do but can’t because of the baby. As well, we were told which professor basically loves to write recommendation letters for students; he is going to be my physiology professor and is supposed to be really intense, so I hope to make a good impression throughout the semester.

Here are tips from previous CERT students on how to succeed in the VCU postbac. I think these are applicable generally to many postbac programs:

  • don’t get a job; the postbac is your full-time job.
  • fall is more intense than spring
  • if you take classes during your gap year or glide year you ruin your chance at in-state residency
  • use days off like Labor Day to study
  • don’t get behind
  • read the syllabus like crazy for physiology
  • biochemistry is unorganized
  • refresh what you learned after the test is over
  • understand the material don’t memorize it
  • get practice tests, but be careful because the answers may be wrong and the questions outdated
  • get formula sheets
  • adapt to each professor rapidly during biochemistry
  • hope for a curve in biochemistry
  • study in groups
  • get Bigbee’s Digital Histology book; it’s the histology “bible”
  • take advantage of classes that are recorded (physiology) and don’t miss those that are not (histology)
  • don’t be afraid to approach your professors for help

Here are some tips for studying if you have a family life at home:

  • go hard for 6 days and take 1 day off
  • set a time to stop; treat this like a job and study non-stop from 8-6 for example
  • don’t get online
  • don’t complain, it wastes time!
  • make a daily routine/weekly routine for life activities (exercise, laundry, etc.)
  • don’t sacrifice sleep (no all-nighters!)
  • study in between classes by watching lectures, reading, etc.

All of this really got met thinking about how I want to approach this course and I am feeling more motivated. I think I have the capacity to do well in this program. I also feel that this is a chance to prove to myself that I can handle medical school coursework. I don’t want to enter medical school uneasy. I just hope that I can make it!

Besides that my plan is to organize a small study group. I’m going to look at the upcoming exam schedule and figure out appropriate days to meet, then recruit students to do the study group. I’m hoping to find people who are interested in active learning and teaching each other concepts. I hope to find a small group of 4-6 people. We were given this nice little planner during orientation which will be helpful! But I also printed off a monthly calendar I found online because I like looking at the entire month.

Free planner I got at orientation

Tonight’s social event was awkward at first because I quickly realized most everyone came with their roommate. I asked for cranberry juice at the bar and they gave me this massive glass unlike the low-boy I’m used to. I found a group of girls but eventually lost them and then met some other cool people. There are a lot of laid back people in the program, a few paranoid people, and a lot of people with some interesting life experiences! I hope to make a small friend circle although I don’t anticipate having much time for them after this baby comes. Time for me to get my plan together for the semester!



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    […] writing this, I decided to attend a premedical post-baccalaureate program at VCU. This was based on feedback I received from the medical schools that rejected me. You can read that […]

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