If you’re curious about the D.O. degree (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine) and the application process, keep reading to see how Tram-Anh of @medlifemotive applied and got in.
I’ve also got a post about MD programs: Applying to MD Medical Schools
Name & Age: Tram-Anh Huynh, 22
College: Nova Southeastern University
Major & minor: Biology major
Medical School: Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine – Auburn campus
When did you decide on the pre-med path?
I set myself on the pre-med path around 10th grade. From a younger age, I knew I was going to enter a science-related career when I realized biology and chemistry were the classes I really excelled in. High school was also a time I matured enough to understand the severity of the Vietnam War and its effects on my parents’ lives. Both of my parents immigrated to the US during the time North Vietnam was imposing communism onto the South. My mother is included in the term “boat people,” which is a term given to the groups of people who left the country by boat to be stranded on an island in the Pacific. While there, American doctors, nurses, and other health care workers were shipped to the island to help the Vietnamese refugees. She told me many stories of how the only reason they survived was because of the Americans and those doctors/nurses. Her stories left an imprint on the way I saw altruistic healthcare providers and it began my interest in the field.
Did you consider other healthcare professions? (PA, RN, etc)
I wanted to become a pharmacist before I decided becoming a physician was a better fit and more on par with what I wanted to achieve later on in life. My passion was to provide for underserved communities locally and abroad, and I didn’t believe I could do that with the pharmacist’s role in the health care system. I wanted the autonomy, control, and the hands on skills to care for the underserved and unspoken for. Choosing a profession is difficult but it has to cater to your personality as well as your passions. I chose to become a physician rather than a PA, nurse, pharmacist, etc. for reasons that are explained only by my own personality traits, future aspirations, and interests.
Can you talk a little bit about the DO degree?
DO stands for Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine. There are two fully licensed physicians in the United States, MDs and DOs. When a student applies for med school, they can apply to allopathic schools to pursue an MD and/or osteopathic schools to pursue a DO. Osteopathic medicine was created by an allopathic physician, Dr. Andrew Taylor Still in the late 1800s. He created the osteopathic philosophy to emphasize treating the whole patient, practicing preventive care, and utilizing manipulative techniques to allow the body to heal itself. Actually, osteopathic physicians have been trained in all subjects as allopathic physicians but have additional training in osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM). A few key points in the osteopathic philosophy are that “structure influences function” and the body is self-healing. Differences also arise in how an MD and DO will treat a patient. DOs are trained to approach a patient’s health holistically and will communicate with the patient to grasp their mental, physical, and spiritual health to effectively recommend the right course of treatment, which may include OMM techniques.
I was always biased toward DO schools because I have two DO physicians in my family, plus being a dual admit to a DO school. Meaning, I was a BS/DO student at a university that guaranteed me a spot at their DO school after four years of undergrad. However, I graduated early and was ineligible for my spot. When I started applying for med school I realistically knew my MCAT score and extracurricular activities were a better fit for a DO school. The focus of MD and DO schools are different, and what they look for in students reflects that. I spent my time on getting a great GPA, volunteering, shadowing, and doing what I believed was right for me. For the sake of expanding my options, however, I did choose to apply to in-state MD schools and a few schools across the country to try my luck.
Brief breakdown of the MCAT
The MCAT was revised in 2015 to consist of four sections, with a score ranging from 472-528. They did this so that the median score is designated as 500. The exam is designed to be 7.5 hours, including the tutorials and breaks. The sections in the order of the real MCAT exam is:
- Exam Agreement – 5 minutes
- Tutorial – 10 min (optional)
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems – 95 minutes
- Break – 10 minutes (optional)
- Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) – 90 minutes
- Break – 30 minutes (optional)
- Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems – 95 minutes
- Break – 10 minutes (optional)
- Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior – 95 minutes
- Option to Void and Survey – 5 minutes each (optional)
My personal tips:
- I’ve already mentioned this, but utilize your 10-minute tutorial to write some things on your scratch paper. If you’ve practiced the exams at home you will be a pro at how to take the exam, so instead of skipping the whole 10 minutes you can take that time to breathe, pray, give yourself a pep talk, anything. For me, I was a mad woman writing down everything from my “cheat sheet.”
- Take all of your breaks! You may not feel tired after the first section or not hungry during the lunch break, but it is key to keeping the stamina. Two, 95 minute sections in a row is taxing and you should at least get up to walk or stretch.
- Even though your breaks are only 10 minutes or 30 minutes, when the timer runs out, the screen will ask you to continue to the following section. Technically, it won’t start unless you press next/continue. I wouldn’t play with fire and take too long, but you do have a good minute to get yourself situated and mentally prepared.
- You can skip through questions/passages within the section you are taking, but you cannot skip through sections. What worked best for me was to read the first few sentences of the passage and immediately decide whether I could continue with the reading and questions. If I couldn’t, I marked it on the computer as well as on my scratch paper, then made sure to come back to it if I had time.
- Before the CARS section began, I numbered a whole page 1 through 53. Before I read the passage, I go through the questions and jot down what each question asked for, whether it be the main idea, author’s perspective, line numbers, etc. This helped me gauge what I should focus on when I read the passage. It takes less than 2 minutes for each passage but saved me a tremendous amount of time over the 90 minutes.
When did you take the MCAT? How did you prepare for it?
- I retook the MCAT, my last being in July 2015. (Be cautionary when you retake it, they say retaking the MCAT is not a good thing unless there is a big jump in between scores. I don’t know how valid that is because I was still able to get into med school with a small difference in my scores.)
- All of my summers were free so I decided to prep for MCAT using The Princeton Review online prep program. TPR provided all of the review books, live online instruction 3 or 4 times a week, and online practice material. I’ll be honest, if I could change a few of the ways I studied back then, I would, but I will highlight what worked best for me.
- I would study 6 days out of the week, with 1 day free to do anything I’d like. I believe that one day break is important to not go insane and feel like MCAT is your whole life.
- I worked offsite (online with a team to develop JAVA-related projects) and shadowed during the summers. I scheduled work and shadowing into my study schedule to make sure I studied at least a few hours during busy days.
- I would say over the course of the 3 summer months, I studied on average 6 hours a day including the live lecture course in the evening.
- How I studied:
- I made a comprehensive calendar for myself. Use iCalendar, Google calendars, or buy one. It’s really important to schedule and allot specific amount of times for reading, practice problems, and practice exams.
- The online lectures were in the evening, so during the day I would read whichever section of the review books the upcoming lecture was on, then review that topic (review reading or do practice problems) after the lecture.
- On days without lecture, I would review specific topics I wasn’t comfortable in.
- I got practice exams and old AAMC exams from TPR and online. I was able to find real exams and test banks from random sites so you have to look carefully.
- I took 5 or more practice exams before I took the real exam.
- This is one of the biggest advices I encourage anyone to listen to: you need to take practice exams in a quiet, still setting — no one walking around, bothering you, etc., and do it all the way through mimicking the real exam! That means no coffee shops, no library common areas, and not in your house (unless you live alone).
- Try to find a private study room at the library and take all of your snacks/drinks like you would in the testing center.
- Adjusting your body to the actual exam conditions is important for focus and muscle memory. I practiced when to eat, when and how much to drink a 5 hour energy, using the restroom, etc.
- Prep for test day:
- I created a “cheat sheet” and memorized it for the exam. I practiced writing all of the physics equations, amino acids, and key facts I could just regurgitate on a piece of paper once I sat for the exam. When you begin your MCAT, they give you scratch paper, your locker key, you sit in front of the computer, and begin immediately. You get 5 minutes to agree to the exam and 10 minutes for the tutorial. During those 15 minutes, I literally just wrote everything from the “cheat sheet” I memorized onto the piece of paper. It gives you peace of mind that when you come across a question, you can look at your scratch paper for an equation or amino acid instead of thinking about it for too long wasting valuable time.
- I took my last practice exam 3-4 days before my test date. This gave me one day to review the exam, 1-2 days to brush up on weak topics, and one day of rest.
Who did you get letters of recommendation from? Any tips for asking?
I received my letters of recommendation from my professors in General Chemistry, Cellular & Microbiology, and Anatomy & Physiology/Medical Terminology. I also asked for letters of recommendations from two physicians (Internal Medicine and Family Medicine) I shadowed and a former boss of mine. I chose courses that I did well in, visited them in their office and talked with frequently. I also made sure to ask LORs from an MD and a DO. Some DO schools required a letter specifically from a DO physician.
My tips for asking would be to:
- First, find courses that you spent a lot of time getting to know the professor.
- Second, send them an e-mail asking to meet them in person to talk about potentially asking for a letter of recommendation. My advice is to write an e-mail along the lines of “Dear …, my name is … from your … course. I will be applying to medical schools this year and would like to ask if you would consider writing me a letter of recommendation. I’d be happy to meet in person to discuss it further. For your convenience, I have attached my resume and my academic record. Please let me know if you need anything else from me (i.e. coursework, personal statement). Sincerely, …”
- If they prefer not to meet, it is a good idea to send them anything about yourself and your goals, to help guide their letter, as well as any instructions on how to submit them with a reasonable deadline. Once they submitted the letters, send them thank you e-mails or personally written cards.
- This may not be for you, but I recommend having the letters sent to Interfolio then sent to AMCAS or AACOMAS. It is a letter service that will store your letters for up to 5 years even without a membership. This is a great option should you need your letters in the future for reapplication or even job applications.
How did you frame your personal statement?
I started my personal statement with a story, then gave subsequent related stories that have shaped the person I am today, and finally a concluding paragraph stating the mature and well-thought out reason why I decided to pursue medicine. The first few sentences are critical for enticing the reader. For my personal statement, I described the setting, trying as much as I can to let the reader feel as if they are in the room with me. The first paragraph was dedicated to setting the scene, emotions, and impact. The following paragraphs were dedicated to explaining a chain of events as a result of the situation mentioned in the first paragraph and how it has impacted me and made me who I am today. I explained in detail how these stories have culminated into a realization that I am in constant debt to others who have facilitated my and my family’s prosperity. Essentially, I have realized I wanted to provide a sense of care and security for the many individuals who deserve a chance at living a healthy life and to those whom I owe my privileged life to.
What extracurriculars did you do in college?
– Neurosurgery Department at the University of Florida Health of Jacksonville. 2-3 days a week for 4 months
– ENT Department at the White Memorial Medical Center in Los Angeles, CA. 2 days a week for 2 months
– Internal Medicine at Harry S. Truman Veterans Affairs Hospital in Columbia, MO
– Public clinics in Ho Chi Minh City, VN. 3 separate visits to Vietnam
– Various Rotations at NSU Health Professions Division in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Once a week for 3 months
– Family Medicine Private Practice in Sandusky, OH
– Feeding Northeast Florida: an organization that collects non-perishable foods and household items to donate across the city
– Public clinics in Ho Chi Minh City, VN: volunteered my time at any clinic that would let me clean, file paperwork, and comfort waiting patients
– Project PILS: my personal organization that I began to donate non-prescription medication and nutritional supplements to free clinics and orphanages overseas. I’ve been able to donate to communities in Vietnam, Philippines, and Thailand
– Community Service events on college campus: volunteered at various health fairs and community events held on campus
– WeCare Clinic: clinic providing free care and medications to the individuals in the community with no health insurance
– ESL Tutoring
– 1 year working as a Pharmacy Technician
– 4 summers working as a Junior Java Developer
– 3 months working as a receptionist at a dentist’s office
– Scientific Literature Society
– Pre-Med Society
– Beta Beta Beta National Biological Honor Society
– Alpha Chi National College Honor Society
– Delta Epsilon Iota Academic Honor Society
Study advice for undergraduates:
- Don’t procrastinate.
- Develop good habits while you’re in college. It’s easy to wait until the last minute to study for an exam or write a paper, but doing little by little over time will make life a lot easier.
- Find what works for you early on
- Your first year of college will probably be the easiest, so it’s the perfect time to find out what works best for your study habits. Find out whether you need to write out or type notes, read before class or after class, solo study or group study, etc.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help
- Your professors are there to help you, no matter how intimidating they might seem. Go to their office hours, ask questions in class/lab, or e-mail them. If you need it, seek tutoring. Some schools have free peer tutoring on campus for a wide variety of subjects. I had trouble with Organic Chemistry the first few weeks so I scheduled free tutoring from school and WyzAnt – I ended up with an A in course.
- Work hard now so you can enjoy later
- This goes for classes and college in general. If you like to take the weekends off, work your butt off during the week so you can enjoy yourself. If you work hard in college, your academic record will reflect that and applying for jobs/grad school will be that much easier.
- Make time for fun
- This goes along with the previous tip. Schedule yourself efficiently so that you have time to yourself, to work out, hang out with friends, visit home, etc. It’s good for your mental health and it will help you study when you look forward to treating yourself.
How many schools did you apply to? How many interviews did you attend?
I applied to 15-20 schools, MD and DO. I was offered two interviews, one of which was my top choice. Don’t be hesitant to apply to 10 or more schools. I know it is expensive but not every school is going to offer an interview, or even accept you after an interview. Just somehow get the money to apply because it will be worth it in the end. I was only offered 2 interviews out of the 15+ schools, but some people were more lucky than I was. It only takes one awesome interview to get accepted but to decrease the probability of having to take a gap year, you have to put out the money for applications.
What is your biggest piece of advice for students who will be applying this cycle?
My biggest piece of advice is to be prepared! One of the things I struggled with was not realizing how many secondary essays I would have to do. During the summer you apply to med school, have everything such as your resume, personal statement, letter of recommendations, and drafted secondaries. If you apply to 15 schools in the Summer, that means you have 15 schools sending you a secondary application in the Fall that will most likely ask for another application fee and anywhere from 2-5 supplementary essays. You want to get those secondary applications completed as soon as you can because a majority schools review on a rolling basis. If you wait until the deadline, the school has most likely filled a majority of their class already.
- Make a good first impression
- Arrive early, smile, stand upright, give a firm handshake, and be polite. They’re simple and obvious, but make the biggest difference in the interviewer’s minds.
- Dress the part
- This is the first impression the school and your interviewers will have of you, so dress appropriately. Think business professional. Do not show excessive skin and wear comfortable shoes. Interviews are usually half a day up to a full day, and may take you on a walking tour of the campus. I also think it’s important to wear clothes that fit you… Sounds silly but borrowing clothes that are not your size may give off the wrong impression.
- Bring your resume, application, secondaries
- You may not want to come empty handed during the interview. I brought a padfolio containing my resume, primary and secondary application, notepad, and pen.
- Review your application and secondaries
- Before your interview, you should go over your application at least once to refresh your mind on what the interviewer might know about you already. You don’t want to repeat word for word from your application, but explain in detail or expand on certain aspects.
- Research the school
- Go onto the school’s website to read more about the school’s mission and special features they offer (curriculum, research, global mission trips, etc). Bringing up specifics on the school during the interview will show your interest. Find things you like about the school and some things that resonate with your application. When they ask you questions, you can highlight certain ideas and passions that will let the interviewer know you are a right fit for the school.
- Research for previously asked interview questions
- Student Doctor Network is a little bit controversial, but it is a great resource for students to find previously asked interview experiences and questions.
- Practice, practice, practice
- Make a word document of possible interview questions and write out what you will say in response if they asked you. This helped me a lot because I get frazzled when I’m nervous and tend to forget things on the spot. Being able to think back to that word document I made and go over key points I need to talk about helped me tremendously. It’s not the best method for everyone but it worked for me.
- Practice talking to professors or your peers. Have mock interviews and practice pace and conversations
- Have questions for the interviewer
- More than likely, at the conclusion of the interview, they will ask if you have any questions. Do not say no. Have some questions ready to ask about the school, curriculum, the interviewer’s background, etc.
- Send thank you letters/e-mails
- Ask for their business card or contact info so that you can handwrite a personal letter or e-mail thanking them for their time and a wonderful interview. Take the time to highlight exciting points in the conversation, but do not bring up negative points to redeem yourself for a bad interview.
Do you plan on blogging throughout med school?
Yes, I just started my own blog – you can go to medlifemotive.blogspot.com to check it out! I’ll post everything from school related content to my favorite makeup/skincare. Basically, they are long, written out versions of my Instagram posts haha.
Any plans for the summer before MS1 🙂
School starts in less than 2 months! I plan on taking one last exciting trip in June. Somewhere in the US or Canada unfortunately because overseas summer travel is way too expensive for me. I also really want to put work into my Instagram and blog before school gets crazy!