Sam Teles, MS1

USC Keck School of Medicine
UCSB B.S. Biological Sciences
From Ranchos Palos Verdes
Age 24

What does your typical day of medical school look like?

I’ll wake up around 6:30-7:00, and start studying until around noon. Our classes are recorded and put online, so I usually will study Zanki flash cards for a couple of hours then watch the recorded lectures. I’ll go to the gym for about an hour early in the afternoon when I get tired of studying, then study again until dinner around 7. After that, I’ll hang out with friends or my girlfriend for the rest of the night and usually go to bed a little after 11:00.

How do your classes and lectures compare to those at your undergraduate institution? 

Classes are much more dense but are less bogged down in biochemical details. You’ll have to learn about a lot of diseases and know what the risk factors are, how it progresses, and how it manifests. However, you don’t necessarily need to know the nitty-gritty details at a molecular level to the same degree we learned in undergrad classes like O-Chem. We generally have no more than 4 hours of lecture a day, and they are webcasted, so you can watch them at home at 2x speed if you want. The vast majority of students do not attend live lecture and choose to only webcast. There are also PDF notes written by the lecturer for each lecture, and they can be anywhere from 3-12 pages of dense notes you need to know for the test. They are very detailed and if you just study the notes very diligently you’ll be well prepared for the test.

How has your approach to learning and/or studying changed since you were an undergrad?

I never physically write anything down, which is new for me since I took hand notes in undergrad. Now, Zanki flashcards, webcasting lecture, and various school resources are the staple of my study habits. There is easily 10-20x as much material than undergrad, and much of it is straight up memorization. In undergrad, I got by with studying way less by really trying to understand the core concepts and apply them to new problems. In medical school, you have to work much, much harder to do that because the amount of material is so much heavier.

Looking back on when you were applying to medical schools and deciding which school was the best fit, what do you think are the most important things to learn about a medical school when you are deciding which school is right for you?

Deciding where to apply is one of the most important parts of the process. Personally, I applied to a few UCs and USC in state, then broke each school down each out-of-state school by looking at how many out-of-state students apply, how many out-of-state students get interviews, and how many of those students matriculate. That gives you a good picture for which out of state schools actually give out of state applicants a fighting chance. Then, you of course have to play the GPA and MCAT game and look at each schools mission statement. For example, I’m Jewish, and parts of my app were anchored to that, so I didn’t apply to schools that had a strong Catholic/Christian mission statement. At the end of the day you should apply to mostly schools within your range, with a few reaches and a few “safeties.” However, there are no “safety” schools, because if your stats are way above a school’s average, they probably won’t accept you because they assume you will be accepted to a more competitive school and go there, and schools don’t like to accept students that won’t matriculate because it makes their acceptance rate look bad.

Can you give us a brief description of the area surrounding your school? What are some things you like and dislike about the city/town you are located in as a student?

The surrounding area of East L.A. has a lot of poverty. It’s home to an at-risk population of mostly Latinos, but our campus essentially has 3 hospitals: Keck Hospital (Private), Norris Cancer Center (huge private cancer hospital), and LA County hospital. It’s important to be able to see how all three operate and the populations they serve. Being able to see patients at County is special because these are people who are grateful for your help and for someone that will listen to them. You don’t get that as much at private hospitals with patients from a higher socio-economic class. Sometimes, they only want to talk to the doctor or surgeon and as a medical student who can’t offer much to them, you’re kind of left out. So being able to make a difference with people at County simply by paying attention to them is special and probably the best part about where our campus is located. There are neighborhoods within 15-20 minutes of campus that are nice and trendy to live in as well, like Silverlake, Los Feliz, Echo Park, as well as places like Alhambra and Monterey Park which have huge Asian populations and delicious restaurants.

What organizations or activities are you involved in outside of your regular classwork? Additionally, are there any organizations (even if you aren’t a part of them) that you think are unique to your school?

I’m in the Health, Technology, and Engineering program at USC, which is pretty unique. It pairs medical students with PhD engineer candidates with the goal of innovating in the healthcare space. Each week, an engineer or physician entrepreneur will come in to speak to us about a product he or she designed and talk about the process of needs finding and patents and such. Sometimes we’ll have lectures on how hospital billing works, or quality improvement, or how to bring a product to market. It’s a good opportunity to explore the medical world beyond being a clinician and see how other people have used their medical knowledge and training to advance the medical field through tools or software.

In retrospect, which classes in undergrad do you think were the most useful coming into medical school?

Immunology was the most helpful because a lot of med students didn’t take it in undergrad and struggled with it a little bit.

What is a unique aspect of education at your medical school that has been valuable to you thus far as a medical student?

The faculty really pay attention to the students here and make real changes based on student feedback.

What is one way your outlook on medicine or understanding of medicine has changed in your time at medical school?

Everyone needs to have a high baseline medical knowledge to practice competently. However, you’ll really go above and beyond if you go the extra mile for your colleagues and patients, and if you can keep a positive personality while doing it.

If a young undergraduate interested in applying to medical school came to you seeking advice about ‘which major is best,’ what would you tell them?

Anything you choose, you just need to do the pre-reqs for medical school. The majority of people in my class were science majors in undergrad, but there are also people who have degrees in theatre, english, etc. Do whatever major you’re passionate about and do well with the science pre-reqs and that’s all it takes.

What do you wish you had known as an undergraduate and/or as a student in the medical application process?

Make sure you talk to people who actually practice medicine. The most important thing is to know what you’re getting into, and to know what a typical day-to-day life looks like for a doctor. All of the application stuff will take care of itself, just make sure to do everything you can to put yourself in the best position by choosing the right schools to apply to and spending a lot of time struggling with your personal statement. Have a mentor read it, have friends read it, and make sure your personal statement strongly represents your voice.

What is one thing you would do differently if you could go back to your undergraduate years or the time between undergrad and medical school?

Make sure you enjoy your time as an undergrad, that’s the only time in your life where you’re gonna be living with your best friends and have that amount of free time. Always prioritize putting yourself in the best position to succeed but also make sure you have a life worth living and making lifelong memories with your friends.

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