Nick Bacher, MS3

New York Medical College
University of North Carolina (Transfer)
Age 27
From Rural Upstate New York

What does your typical day of medical school look like?

It’s hard to say! First year was very much more regimented with labs and lectures in the day and studying and free time at night. Second year was more self-study: get up, study, lunch, study, dinner, relax, sleep. Lab sessions and group exercises were probably 2-3 days per week on average. During dedicated it was just get up, study, sleep, repeat. Now that I am starting third year next week, I don’t know what’s to come!

I’m also involved in several extracurriculars and student organizations, and I’ve always made time for those and time to just relax. Time management is a skill that you learn whether you want to or not, and it’s possible to have a life outside of schoolwork. It sounds dull to be studying all the time, but for me I am very happy to finally be learning the things I’m really interested and not having to take classes in things I am not (looking at you, English Literature II).

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

In medical school your entire class will be hardworking brilliant students; this isn’t a surprise considering it’s the best of the best who make it this far. Rather than having half a class fail or drop by the end of the semester, everyone gets through and does so by working together. It’s really a much more involved, personal connection to the class and curriculum than in undergrad.

I remember starting first year and having this idea that medical school was going to be so hard, impossible maybe, because I hadn’t been the best student early on in college. The week leading up to the first exam was probably the most stressful week for me. When I sat down at the test and started doing it, I realized: it’s just a test, this is just class, and it’s not that different from any science class I’ve taken before. The pace is fast, the material can be complicated, but your undergraduate experiences will prepare you well.

What have you liked about the teaching practices at your institution? Alternatively, how satisfied are you with the class structure at your institution? Are there aspects that you would like changed?

I wish people applying to the school would recognize that just because we don’t have pass/fail preclinical grading doesn’t mean we are competitive. This is a pervasive stereotype about non pass/fail schools, and while it may be true somewhere else it has never been the case here.

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?

If you can choose, first recognize that it is a great privilege to be picking your medical school from multiple acceptances. Most people only get one, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The application process is very competitive and intense, and making it to medical school is a monumental achievement in itself.

When deciding which school, I was choosing between cost and location/community. I chose the school that had the community feel and camaraderie and I can’t overstate how important it is to be in a place where you feel at home and a part of the community. Your class will become your second family, you’ll weather every storm together, and you’ll make amazing friends and connections.

Other things to learn about include (in order of importance): are the lectures mandatory, and if not are they recorded? Where will students be doing clinical rotations? How is the food on campus? Where do students live and study?

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?

It’s a suburban area in Westchester County, NY. Not walkable, but a close drive to several towns and just over half an hour by train to Manhattan. For me it’s perfect, for others it’s not. I love being able to pack up after an exam and head to the city for the world’s best everything at my fingertips.

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 involved in student government, I’ve served as a student representative for several of our classes as a liaison between course director and the student body.  Last year I also helped lead a hands-free CPR event as part of a national initiative in NYC, and I hope to continue with that this year as well.

How much/well have you been able to develop clinical skills alongside your classroom work first and second year? What does your institution do to help you develop clinical skills before the clinical years?

I had a lot of clinical experience before coming to medical school, but I would say the number one help in improving my ability has been our exceptionally good Standardized Patients. We interview them all throughout first and second year and it’s really helpful to get real feedback and see how I am interacting as the medical student with the patient.

We also have preceptorships in first and second year, which I have quite enjoyed. My second year site was in an emergency department, and I loved getting involved and seeing so much in a single four hour shift.

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

I have started to realize that there is so much more to medicine than I thought before and that the opportunities in front of me are tremendous. I came in sure I wanted to do one thing, and now I am here open-minded searching for exactly what I want out of my career.

Are there any resources that stand out to you as most useful to you in self-learning medical school material or for expanding on material taught in class?

Boards and Beyond for during the year, Pathoma and UWorld for dedicated, First Aid for both. I also think Wikipedia will technically own some fraction of my M.D. when I graduate based on how much I use it every day.

Studying can get monotonous, but I found that group studying was the best way for me to stay engaged and really learn.

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?

They’ve probably heard that it doesn’t matter what you major in, but they may have someone telling them “you have to do Biology, it’s the best one” or something to that effect. I would just reiterate: as long as you take the prerequisite classes, major in anything you want to. If you want to be strategic, try to find something that fulfills the following:

Interesting: your major should be interesting to you. It’s a lot easier to be engaged and excel at material that you like learning about. There will always be classes you’re less interested in and general education credits that are rarely fan favorites. Having your schedule balanced with classes that are enjoyable makes things much more fun.

Useful: if you change your mind or medical school doesn’t end up being the path you take for whatever reason, having a major that could open other doors for you will be a big help.

Grading: there’s no easy way to say this: grades matter, and not all majors grade their students equally. The smartest most hardworking person I know majored in Chemical Engineering at a very challenging school known for grade deflation. Her GPA was far lower than she deserved because of this, despite her exceptional performance. It was never an issue for her, but for those considering other paths like Engineering as backups to medicine, it is worth noting that the GPA from a Biology major and the GPA from an Engineering major are considered essentially the same. There’s no extra points for picking something hard.

In other words, choose a major that’s interesting, potentially useful, and not as hard to do well in. Getting two out of three of these criteria isn’t bad either.

What is your favorite event of the year put on by your medical school? Tell us a little bit about it.

We have a Friendsgiving event launched this year by some particularly enterprising first years and now expanded to include all four class years. Our student government and other organizations put together 10-15 small group potluck dinners including students from all four years. The day also included a student appreciation ceremony and gave us all the opportunity to share our successes and challenges. It’s a really tight knit community here, and this type of thing is exactly what NYMC is about.

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

I wish I had known many things: That my community college credits and bad experience would be a huge hurdle for me to overcome, that I needed to get very good grades, that medical school applications are challenging and the process is confusing. I wish I knew to be my own advocate earlier, rather than rely on academic advisors. I wish I had someone who understood what it took to get to medical school so that I didn’t have to learn by doing it wrong and making things harder for myself.

Start early, work hard in your classes, go to a four year school, and seek advising from more than just your school’s pre-health advisors. Do your own research and figure out what you need to do, what classes to take, and how to set yourself up with the right extracurricular activities to explore medicine and see if it’s right for you.

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