Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Why should pre-med students read medical blogs? Because they'll help you get into medical school.

One of my biggest mistakes as a pre-med student was not taking advantage of the online medical blogging community.

My excuses not to were stupid. I didn't read medical blogs for the same reasons that I didn't watch medical shows - it wasn't long into a show that I started getting reminded how much I wanted to be in those medical situations, and then I would inevitably end up feeling guilty for watching TV instead of studying.

In retrospect, though, by avoiding blogs I made things a lot more difficult than they needed to be. That's because reading medical blogs can dramatically improve your chances of getting in to medical school.

You'll do better in your interview, improve your essay, learn more about the life of a doctor and whether medicine is right for you, and you could even improve your MCAT score.

You'll do better in your interview

All great speakers use stories to make their speeches memorable and engaging - the same goes for good interview subjects. You'll find this if you critique your friends' interviewing skills, which is one of the most helpful things you can do to prepare for the interview (something that should not be overlooked)...unless they tell you a story that captivates you, you'll tune out within seconds.

A lot of medical blog posts are stories...some of which are extremely well-told. Try as I might to be a fantastic narrator, the sad truth is the further you get from this blog, the better the stories get. Check out the story Memorable Patients, Part 4 at Surgeonsblog for a stunning example.

By reading medical blogs, you'll get in the habit of reading medical stories... and if you tell the really good stories to your friends, you'll also get lots of practice, so when you tell stories from your own medical experiences, your listeners will be captivated. And that is exactly what you want your interviewers to be!

You'll write a better essay

Unlike medical admissions committees with admissions essays, people don't read blogs because they have to. So, even though many bloggers say they may mostly blog for themselves, they usually try to make their posts engaging enough that people will read them...and return for more. If you start to figure out what makes a reader interested in a blog, and can apply it to your essay, you'll be well on your way towards making your essay stand out from a pile of 2,000 admissions essays. Check out some of the most popular medical blogs, as ranked by edrugsearch, which have readers always clamoring for more stories, such as the ones by emergency room nurses, paramedics, and surgeons.

Wait...there's more! Beyond the technical side of being a better interviewee and essay writer, reading blogs will also help you with the content. This comes from a number of things, such as knowing for sure what medicine is all about and if medicine is right for you, and being able to explain to the admissions committee why you are sure of this. Just think about how well-researched you'll sound if an interviewer asks you if you're sure medicine is right for you... and you are able to give them succinct reasons with clinical examples to answer their question. Reading medical blogs can help you do that.

You'll know for sure if vitum medicinus (a life of medicine) is right for you

Not every medical student can live beside a doctor for every moment of every day for a month, waking up for every midnight page, to learn if being a doctor is something they would be interested in doing. Reading blogs, however, can be a great substitute for that.

You will better understand what being a doctor involves - the good and the bad. You'll learn about the incredible privilege it is to be a physician and the most exciting moments in the OR.

You'll also learn about the patients that some doctors want to strangle, such as drug seekers, the patients whose treatment suffers because of drug seekers, and about the other side of those annoying patients from some enlightened physicians and residents who go beyond their frustrations to see these patients for the sick people they are.

You'll learn from the mistakes of medical students and read what residents wish they had done differently.

You'll read about the anguish that physicians go through when their patients sue them for seemingly nonsensical reasons (some with happy endings).

And then you'll be able to think about whether or not you're cut out for those types of things.

You'll know for sure if medical school is right for you

You'll learn the horrible parts about medical school... and be able to make a more informed decision as to whether or not you think you'll survive. Medical blogs provide amazing insight into what medical school is like, an idea of what medical school exams are like, and how it feels when it's all over. You'll learn what being pimped means and how med students react to it and the subtle, unspoken rules involved. Of course, there's nothing like actually going through it, but you can save yourself years of stress from applying and trying to succeed in medical school if you decide it is not right for you - medical blogs can even help you figure out if maybe you shouldn't be a doctor.

You'll learn about how doctors interact with other professions

What does a nurse practitioner do, and how do their domains differ from what a doctor does? Before I was in medical school I didn't know anything about interprofessional politics, turf wars, and the potential for amazing things to happen when there is collaboration between doctors and other professions. That's why if you're pre-med, reading medical blogs goes beyond reading just physician blogs. You can read blogs by doctors of every specialty (ER doctors, urologists, surgeons, GPs, oncologists...), medical students and doctors in training from all around the world, nurses of every specialty (ER Nurse, nurse anaesthetist...), other health professionals such as respiratory therapists, and other health care professionals such as medical research blogs, healthcare law, policy, and ethics blogs... and the list goes on.

Medblogs can give you a perspective on how these different professions work together in the same problem - see, for example, the story Perspectives, written in three parts: part I by a cop, II by a paramedic, and III by a nurse.

As well, by learning about other professions, you'll have a better idea of whether or not their scope of patient care is more along the lines of what your career interests are.

You'll learn more about the perspective of a patient

Whether or not this helps you get into medical school, this is crucial to becoming a good doctor. There are some fantastic patient blogs that will provide you with fantastic insight into what it is like to live with an illness from many perspectives. Some blogs contain lists of ways to deal with certain patients...a great way to improve bedside manner. Some blogs even have the rare, heart-wrenching glimpse of reading the entire journey of what it is like to be diagnosed with, fight, and even lose a battle with an illness (one of the most memorable blogs I have ever read). Reading stories like those when I was pre-med would have done nothing but amp up my motivation to work hard, so that I could make it to the point where I could meet unbelievably inspiring patients like that in real life.

You'll get a chance to have conversations with medical professionals

...which can be a hard thing for pre-meds to arrange face-to-face. Through med blogs, though, you can get involved with the profession in a unique way - by engaging in discussion, leaving comments and e-mailing blogging doctors, I have benifited from get 'face time' and advice from physicians that I could never get elsewhere or in such a short amount of time.

You'll get a better idea about medical controversies

Did you know some medical professionals don't think fibromyalgia isn't a real disease? or that there are many schools of thought on lyme disease and whether it is over- or undertreated? Reading blog posts on topics like this, and the often inflammatory comments that follow them, will help you learn about such controversies.

Better yet, you'll learn how to answer those dang ethical questions

Bloggers write about ethical situations all the time. Even if one comes up in your interview that you never heard of before, by reading about many other real-life situations, and reading the comments that other readers provide, you'll become a star at answering those intimidating ethical questions. Check out the Wall Street Journal's Health Ethics Blog posts, or, believe it or not, a Bioethics Blog exists. If, like me, you prefer stories to the more theoretical ethics discussions, though, check out posts by clinicians on ethical dilemmas.

Your MCAT mark will triple.

Okay, maybe only double. And no, that's not a guarantee. But it might go up a little bit if you find some advice on the MCAT that relates to you, like whether or not you should take an MCAT class.

So you're sold now, right? How does someone start reading medical blogs?

If you've stumbled upon this post and want to give medical blogs a try, but you aren't sure where to start, check out Vitum's Guide to Medical Blogs for Beginners!

Do you have any other advice for pre-med students?

You bet. Send a cheque or money order to... just kidding, it's all here.

This post was a year in the making... hope you liked it! Use the comments section to let me know if there are any other ways you think reading medical blogs helps pre-medical students!


Anonymous said...

There, now I have lots of good reasons why reading blogs is NOT simply avoiding school work... I'm actually being very productive. :-P As always, a very well thought out and insightful post.

Anonymous said...

After reading and commenting,the next step for students is to start their own blog. One can use a blog for learning by collecting links and references to articles, images, audio files and embedded videos. Also students can collaborate on a project in a shared blog. Blogging is fun and it can be educational.

Anonymous said...

When I was in medical school (Sweden 1974-79), before there was an Internet, I missed out on a lot of partying by staying home, reading the British "Doctor in the House" books, which described med school and residency. Now, with decades of experience, I find it interesting to see what new doctors are writing, and old duffers like me may have something to share with you; blogging brings generations of physicians to one shared forum. This is great!

Anonymous said...

Reading blogs in general is also highly addictive. It's almost like peering into someone's mind. And once in a while, you stumble on those truly insightful posts

Unknown said...

Great post... wish I had thought of this when I was in undergrad. I think the next post should be 'X reasons to start your own med blog'

Denise Punger MD IBCLC said...

As a physician in private practice maintaining and reading blogs helps me understand my patients and they understand me!