Why I Decided to Get My CSCS As a Medical Student

Good Morning Friends,

It’s been a while since my last post, mostly due to the fact that for the last two weeks or so, I’ve been preparing to sit for the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist Examination (CSCS). Some reading this may ask themselves, why? Why does someone going to medical school need/want to have a strength and conditioning certification? While there are many reasons for this, I will attempt to outline the most important in this post for those of you who may be interested in the certification (med student or not).

Reason 1- Passion.

Need I say more? If you don’t like it, don’t do it.

I started lifting weights when I was 12 years old. When I was stressed, I went to the gym. When I was sad, I went to the gym. When I wanted to improve as an athlete, I went to the gym. As I’ve gotten older and busier, my consistent commitment to maintaining my physical fitness levels has allowed me to optimize both my physical health and mental health. The opportunity to aid others in achieving similar results in their lives through working with them as a strength and conditioning specialist is a very exciting idea to me, even if it’s in a small capacity.

Reason 2- Practice What You Preach.

Yes, I will be starting medical school in just over two months (WOAH, that’s soon!). While I haven’t concretely chosen a specialty, I’m leaning towards family/sports medicine. In that setting, I will be presented with a wide variety of individuals from athletes to children to the elderly population. Currently, 1/3rd of the adult population is overweight/obese, 17% of children are obese, and close to 200 million Americans have prediabetes or diabetes. No, I’m not making these figures up.

So, as I embark on my career as a physician, I’d say that I will benefit tremendously from not only the ability to speak to patients about the benefits of exercise, but working with them directly to improve health outcomes and avoid disease. Sounds like a perfect day in the office to me!

Reason 3- Supplemental Income During Medical School.

Medical school is not cheap. At all.

My hope is that this certification allows me to do one of two things to gain some supplemental money while helping others. The first option is to teach a strength and conditioning class one day per week (maybe even just to my medical school peers so we can nerd out on the science). The second is to do some online consulting and programming for anyone interested in working with me remotely. I haven't worked this part out yet, but It’s not really a priority as of now.

Again, these are just a few of the benefits of the certification. The main message with this post is to pursue, combine and engage with your passions. Don’t settle for the “traditional” or “conventional” tracks because then, well, your life will be boring.

Positive Thinking, Attacking Challenges, and Overcoming Fear- Mahnoor Humayun

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This week, our second guest blog post comes via Mahnoor Humayun, a first generation college student who was able to navigate the pre-medical journey essentially on her own. My favorite aspect of Mahnoor’s story is that through overcoming her fear of failure, she has learned to approach medicine, challenges, and life in general with a positive outlook. You can find Mahnoor on Instagram (@positivepremeds) and I encourage those of you who relate to her story to reach out!


When it’s finally your turn, I hope you understand why the wait was necessary”
— @mindsetofgreatness

My Medical School Journey

Post by Mahnoor Humayun

I want to share a story with you, a story about my time as a pre-med student.

 I am a first generation immigrant, I moved to North America when I was 6 years old and even though I completed most of my education in the United States I never really had any guidance. My parents experienced a completely different education system back in Pakistan. In my family, I am the older sister, eldest cousin, I am essentially the guinea pig of the family. Everything was tested out on me.

 The start of college was a very stressful and confusing time for me. I was the first person in my family to experience undergraduate education in the United States and I didn't know anyone else that wanted to go to medical school. All of my friends from high school were interested in music and art, heading in a totally different direction. Meanwhile, I was trying to figure out what introductory pre-med classes I should take. I had so many questions and I felt like no one had answers for me.

 The first couple of years in college did not go as planned, I didn't end up being "the perfect pre-med student". A lot of it stemmed from my fear of failure and having a negative outlook. I was never able to improve because I couldn't see the positives in any situation. I thought I was a terrible student, that I didn't have what it takes to go to medical school, I wasn't very kind to myself in my head. My negative outlook attracted negative people, negative situations, and overall negative energy into my life which made me miserable.

 Thankfully, I am past that now. So how did I turn things around? I looked to the people that have always motivated me, my parents. My parents are the most hardworking people I know. After immigrating to Canada, they rented out a small basement to live in and they both worked odd jobs while taking care of two little kids. My dad struggled over the years to get his masters, now he's at his dream job and my parents are living in their dream home. My mom always told me that it wasn't an easy road, my parents encountered so many obstacles over the years but they never gave up. They kept a positive outlook and always remembered why they left Pakistan in the first place.

 I realized I had to do the same, I had to change my outlook and remember why I chose medicine. I chose medicine because I grew up observing individuals living in absolute poverty, individuals who had given up hope because society has only taken from them. I have always believed that medicine can restore that hope in people and as a physician, I can make a long-lasting impact.

 In order to get there, I had to stop thinking negatively and adopt a positive attitude. This made the biggest difference in my life. Junior year, I began to view myself, my classes, my scores, and my extracurriculars in a positive light. Over time, things turned around. My performance improved in my classes, supportive people entered my life, and I began to attract amazing opportunities. I stopped feeling sorry for myself and began to unlock my greatness.

 My biggest advice to pre-med and medical students is to view yourself and your work in a positive light. The day you begin to think positively about your situation is the day things will begin to improve for you. The road to becoming a physician is long and filled with challenges, there will always be days when you feel like you've failed. Don't stop, keep moving forward. Always remember why you chose medicine and hold on to that positive mentality.

FROM FAILURE TO 4.0- Zachery Dereniowski

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Today’s guest post (the first of this series) is from Zach Dereniowski (AKA WhiteCoatVision on Social Media). I chose to share Zach’s story today because I believe that many pre-med students out there, especially the unconventional ones, will benefit from hearing about his progression and journey into medicine. What I like most about his story is that despite struggling early in his academic career and being told that “University may not be for him,” Zach refused to give up on his dream of becoming a physician. This resonated with me because I believe that too often we let others dictate our place in this world. We let them tell us what we “should do” or “how we should do it,” but at the end of the day, we are the only ones who can decide how our lives play out on a day to day basis. For Zach, he decided that instead of giving up, he would use the doubt cast on him from his University's dean as motivation to become a 4.0 student and now well-known and respected MCAT tutor for pre-meds.

I can relate to Zach’s story, find it inspiring and hope some of you can learn and benefit from his experience. Lastly, if you’re reading this and struggling with MCAT prep, I encourage you to reach out to Zach directly @WhiteCoatVision on instagram.


FEATURE STORY- Zachery Dereniowski of @WhiteCoatVision

Learning to Embrace a Challenge Mindset Along Your Journey

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Today’s post is a bit different than those I’ve done in the past, but I think it may be the most insightful. As a premed, medical student, busy entrepreneur, athlete, or any other individual in a high-stress environment, you are guaranteed to encounter situations along your journey that challenge your motivation, commitment, and will to succeed. If I reflect on my journey as a student-athlete, premed, and now medical student, I realize that I didn’t always handle these situations perfectly. I often let small failures or setbacks ruin days, weeks, or even months of my journey. For example, I once left an Orgo I final so nervous that I didn’t get a high enough score that I returned home, locked myself in my room and avoided my family for hours, only to find that I scored even higher than expected. On a night where I should have been relaxing and celebrating the accomplishment of successfully completing a very difficult course, I let my own narcissistic thoughts blind me from seeing the big picture. Why am I sharing this?

THE POWER TO CHOOSE

The point I’m trying to make with this post is that often times as someone with a Type A personality, I (and many of you) forget to realize that the path to success is a series of small, incremental steps. Some of those steps will be upwards toward the ultimate goal, while others may be downwards and lead to subtle set backs. While we don’t always have control over the outcomes of every single situation, we do have the power to choose how we approach, interpret, react, and grow from such situations. In my experience, this is where learning to embrace a “challenge mindset” serves as a useful tool in maximizing your steps forwards and minimizing the time spent stagnant or worse, moving in reverse.

APPROACHING SITUATIONS AS A CHALLENGE

Let’s use my above example (the ORGO I test) to show the potential power of embracing a challenge mindset. As I mentioned, in that scenario, I approached the test with nerves, anxiety and fear of failure. I doubted my knowledge of the content, answers, and ability to achieve the score I desired. As a result, I left the test feeling defeated, disappointed, and incapable. Is that any way to live your life? I think not. As an alternative, if I prepared, viewed, and took that exam with the mindset that it was simply another challenge along my journey, regardless of the outcome, I would have left with a much more positive outlook.

Over the past year, I have slowly started to adopt this mindset both in approaching the challenges associated with medical school admission and daily obstacles as well. For example, rather than feel defeated by rejection letters, blown interviews, or a variety of other small moments of defeat, I have begun to take a step back, view the situation in light of the big picture (attending medical school) and learn from it. Further, I constantly challenge myself to learn from my mistakes rather than harp on them. To me, becoming a great doctor, husband, athlete, or anything else is much more about maintaining consistent growth and I feel adopting a challenge mindset proves very helpful in doing so.

Final thought- I realize that it’s very easy to doubt yourself, especially in a world such as medicine that is flooded with extremely bright individuals. However, since adopting this challenge mindset, I have found that I think more clearly, maintain positivity more consistently, and maintain an excitement for the future. What I hope you take from this is the message that the one thing under our control is our actions and how we respond to adversity. If you can learn to approach situations as a challenge, you will not only succeed more along your journey, but you will live a life less filled with stress, fear, and doubt.




How I'm Preparing for Medical School During my Gap Year

“Dad, I don’t want to study anymore!”

“Dad, I don’t want to study anymore!”

For those of you who have been reading my other posts thus far, I have tried to make it clear that what works for me (or others) very well may not work for you. However, I also think there is some value in hearing what individuals such as myself have done in preparation for medical school. This post is meant for those who are planning (or currently are) taking a gap year before matriculating to medical school. I will start the post by defining a gap year (in my opinion), stating a few thoughts on who I think may (or may not) benefit from a gap year, and then I will list some of the activities I participated in during my gap year to prepare for a career in medicine (again, only to serve as reference for those of you who may be interested).


WHAT IS A GAP YEAR?

While the formal definition of a gap year is a “year off between your secondary education (college) and higher education (medical school, law school, etc..)”, I think this definition fails to describe the true nature of what a gap year could and should be. In my own words, I would describe a a gap year as a year devoid of structured schooling that serves as an exploratory and/or preparatory period for higher education. It is a year for self-exploration, exploration into your field of interest, and identification of areas your most passionate about.

For me, I needed a gap year to explore areas that my schedule as a student-athlete simply didn't allow me to pursue (research, heavy volunteer involvement, personal interests such as nutrition and mental health). I’ll talk more about this below, but I learned as much (or more) in my gap year about medicine, life, and myself as I did in four years of undergrad. I needed the year to learn more about medical school and the field of medicine and I did just that. However, for someone who’s wanted to be an interventional radiologist since they were 12, this won’t be the case.


WHO MIGHT (OR MIGHT NOT) BENEFIT FROM A GAP YEAR?

This is actually a really tough question as the answer will vary greatly depending on the individual. Personally, I feel like the majority of pre-med, pre-law, or any advanced pre-professional program student would benefit from the gap year. I think taking one year to really explore the field you plan to enter is both important and necessary. The exception to this would be those who entered college knowing exactly what they wanted to do as a career, planned accordingly from the beginning, and prepared adequately for the road they're about to go down.

Here’s a list of some specific situations where I feel a gap year is warranted:

1) Those who changed majors throughout their college careers.

2) Individuals who feel they need the extra time to prepare for the MCAT, DAT, LSAT, etc.

3) Student-athletes or others who didn’t have the time to really explore their future field of choice.

4) Those who feel they aren’t yet qualified to apply to professional programs due to grades, lack of volunteer experience, limited knowledge of their field of choice, etc..

(Note that #4 may require more coursework to improve grades, thus it wouldn't me a traditional “gap year”)


HOW I USED MY GAP YEAR TO PREPARE FOR MEDICAL SCHOOL

I’ll preface this by stating that my situation was unique. I graduated undergrad in 2017 and still had 3 courses I needed to complete before applying. So, I treated 2017-2018 as an additional academic year in which I completed my prerequisite courses, studied for the MCAT, and prepared my application. 2018 was my application year, which I used as a gap year to further explore the field of medicine while getting involved in some other passions.

Here’s some of the things I got involved with during my gap year:

  1. Research- I was fortunate to receive an offer to join a musculoskeletal medicine lab, where I’ve worked as a research assistant for 2 years now. This position has allowed me to learn more than I could imagine about spinal anatomy (my research area), surgical technique, and sterilization protocol in the OR. All in all, I got really lucky in finding this position.

  2. Volunteer Work- For me, volunteering is something I always want to do. I plan to continue volunteering through medical school because frankly, I just have fun and feel good when I do it. I volunteered this year with a hockey coach for an adaptive sports agency, a group mindfulness and exercise instructor at The American Cancer Society, and as a community caregiver.

  3. Learned about medical topics I was interested in (and some I’m not)- I’m big into disease prevention, human performance, nutrition and exercise, so I read a lot of books and took some online courses on these topics. However, I am also interested in sports medicine and orthopedics, so I have shadowed some local doctors in these fields. I’ve also tried to push myself to read about areas in science that aren't comfortable for me (genetics, microbiology, etc.)

  4. Determined what a career in medicine entails- I know (and have known) that I want to be a doctor. What I didn't know prior to my gap year was all that goes into becoming a really good physician. The sacrifice, determination, and effort required is unlike any other field. However, I can say that through exploring this, I couldn't be more confident that I’m making the right decision.

  5. Got my finance on- I read the White Coat Investor every day. I just bought the book and will probably take the course in the near future. The field of medicine is changing and I want to understand how to best handle my families financial future.


Remember, use this information to help you shape your plans but don’t use it as a blueprint!

MED SCHOOL APPLICATION 101: Deciding Where To Apply

Often times when I speak with friends and mentees who either are in the process of and/or looking to apply to medical school in the future, I get asked the simple question, “how did you decide where to apply?” Before I get to my answer, just know that the answer to this question is completely dependent on your individual situation. With this said, I will share my experience as I feel you may benefit from learning from my successes and mistakes.

Step 1. I built a list of questions that I felt would help me develop a solid list.

For me personally, here’s what I considered when building my list of schools (in no particular order):

  1. Do I have a preference between allopathic (MD) and osteopathic medicine (DO)?

  2. Where do I have the best chance to get accepted? (based on my statistics, extracurriculars, experiences.

  3. Where do I want to be geographically?

  4. As a student interested in research, which schools will allow me to seek research involvement?

  5. What does the schools residency match list look like? (diversity of specialties, strong residency record, access to solid residency programs)

  6. I didn't take biochemistry as an undergraduate, so I looked for programs that either didn't require biochem OR allowed you to complete it before matriculating (this is usually the case so it wasn't a limiting factor).

  7. How can I save the most money on my medical school education?

Step 2. I Assessed Myself and Answered These Questions in an Unbiased Manner:

This part is hard. Essentially, I took the 7 questions above and gave myself a reality check. I worked through each question, trying my best to be realistic and honest with my answers. Here’s what I came to figure out:

  1. I didn't have a preference between MD and DO (this may not be the case for you, and that's OK!). I’m interested in sports med, so while I may decide to go into ortho, I don’t believe that going the osteopathic route will prevent me from doing so.

  2. Full disclosure- my MCAT was very average (literally). HOWEVER, my GPA was very high and I had a lot of extracurricular involvement, so I decided to apply broadly, both MD and DO.

  3. Due to my MCAT, I didn't have much of a choice on this. I needed to apply broadly to have a chance, so that’s what I decided to do. However, my goal was to stay in the Northeast where I could be in close proximity to family.

  4. Again, this was conflicted by #2, but I tried to apply to schools that had research opportunities AND accepted students with stats in my range.

  5. This was very important to me. Especially when I got to looking at osteopathic schools. What I found is that most medical schools produce students in each specialty. I tried to apply to schools that had good track records in producing ortho residents as that’s a specialty of interest for me.

  6. Didn't really factor in as most schools let you apply with classes in progress.

  7. I applied to all of my state schools. I’m lucky to live in NY where we have a four state schools, so I made sure to apply to each of those.

Step 3. I Finalized My List and Stuck To It

Listen, don’t overthink the process. If you have terrible statistics and know you have a .000001% chance of getting in, don't apply. In my situation and after speaking with my mentors, I was very confident that I would get 3-4 interviews if I applied to 20+ schools (including osteopathic). However, this was: 1) very expensive and 2) very risky seeing how the process is so competitive and there really are no guarantees. Looking back, I can’t say I regret applying so broadly because it brought opportunities. I will say that as I’ve gotten more educated on the admissions process, I could probably have cut my list by 5-10 schools.

Anyway, the point is that once I made my list, finished my application, and reviewed everything in detail, I pressed submit, paid the price, and tried to relax. Pressing submit is an accomplishment in itself and you need to do your best let the process play out.

Final Thoughts.

For me, the application process began in May. I applied when AMCAS opened in June to try and maximize my chances for acceptance. I did not hear from some schools until January (in fact as I type this I still await admissions decisions from some schools).

However, I have remained positive throughout the process and kept busy. I have continued my research, cooked a lot of healthy food, and worked out like a mad man. I hope this post helps you develop your list and avoid some of the common pitfalls that myself and other students make. As always, if you have questions regarding the process, feel free to drop me a question in the comments section or send me an email.

MED SCHOOL APPLICATION 101: The Application Game

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Full disclosure- applying to medical school sucks. Let me rephrase that, the application itself isn’t all that bad, it’s the waiting to hear from schools (depending on your GPA, MCAT, extracurriculars, etc..) that WILL challenge your patience, relationships, and perhaps even your desire to become a physician. However, take it from someone who’s MCAT wasn't all that great (me), you CAN get in. While anyone who says, stats aren't important is lying to your face, it is possible to get in with lower stats (in my opinion) if you:

  1. Apply early

  2. Fill your application with MEANINGFUL extracurricular activities

  3. Ace your interviews (if you get any)

*Please note that you should 100% strive for the best GPA, highest MCAT score, and most well-rounded application as possible. This gives you the best chance, period. No ifs, ands, or buts.

Now, this next piece of advice applies to anyone applying to medical or professional school. I’m not going to sit here and tell you how to get into your dream school or how to study for the MCAT, that’s the job of people far more involved in the process than I am. I can, however, give you some practical tips that worked for me to help limit your stress, maintain your sanity, and keep you excited about what your future holds. Most of this advice applies to students in a gap year looking to fill their time, but this can also be applied to the lives of students. As always, these are strictly my experiences and should not be considered gospel. If some (or all) work for you, great! If not, there’s lots of other strategies out there.

1) The Power of Yoga- Luckily for me, Teslie is an amazing yoga teacher and has helped me find my flexibility after a long hockey career. However, I’ve noticed that the benefits of yoga reach far beyond the physical effects. I practiced yoga 1-3 times per week while waiting to hear from schools and felt it provided mental clarity of the situation. Many of the visualization and meditation techniques exerted a powerful calming effect that really helped ease any nervousness or anxiety. If you need suggestions on a certain type of yoga or studio near you, let me know and Teslie and I can send you our thoughts.

2) Get Involved in The Community- This should be obvious as most of you reading this want to save lives, give back, and increase the health of communities and individuals alike, but the reality is we don’t give back enough of our time. Further, I found it extremely gratifying to volunteer during my gap year. Time flies by, and you gain perspective into what really matters. I spent time with an adaptive sports team, read to children at a local school, and got involved with the American Cancer Society.

3) Shadow a Doctor Who Enjoys Teaching-This is a big one. I think shadowing is very necessary. However, I don’t think it matters which specialty you’re in. What really matters is that the physician you’re shadowing enjoys teaching students. Let’s be honest, as pre-meds, we know very little (if anything at all). Therefore, finding a doctor willing to take the time to simplify things seen in practice can be an awesome preparatory tool for us. I spent my time with orthopedic surgeons, family doctors, and general practitioners as I’m interested in family medicine/sports med. I was lucky to know the docs I shadowed and they were great teachers, so I encourage you to find similar role models.

4) Start to read on Medical Student Finance- I’ve become a regular on The White Coat Investor Site and have been trying to be a sponge for financial information. We are entering a lucrative field, but don’t forget that medical school is expensive. Spend some time now researching ways to minimize your student loan debt and save yourself some stress down the line. Additionally, this can be an interesting activity. I’ve found it fascinating to learn how to navigate the financial world, but I know this isn't for everyone.

5) Learn How to Cook- I won’t lie to you. In my gap year, I took my culinary skills to a new level. I began to cook delicious, healthy, and even exotic food items almost nightly (check the food page if you don’t believe me). For me, cooking is a safe space and I have loved every minute of it. I turn on a good playlist or podcast and get lost in the art of creating culinary perfection.

6) Exercise, Exercise, Exercise- My secret weapon. On my most anxious-filled days, I went to the gym and worked my tail off. I have always loved physical activity and competition, so playing hockey, doing CrossFit, and mixing in some long runs each week has been therapeutic. However, remember that I come from a career as a hockey player and as such am probably wired a bit differently than most. I’m not saying to sign up for CrossFit tomorrow, but I think high intensity exercise is a great way to literally burn off some stress. 

7) Work and Save Money-This goes hand in hand with (4) above, but get a job if you’re taking a gap year. I was fortunate to be in a research lab that I loved, surrounded by great minds and teachers. I encourage you to find a good situation that allows you to learn and grow. The experience should challenge you academically, this will only make you a stronger applicant. 

I hope this helps! 

Albee 

How It All Began.

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I was just 18 years old when I moved into my first apartment in Andover, Massachusetts. I had fled there from my hometown of Averill Park, NY to play junior hockey with the goal of getting a division I scholarship. Unfortunately, 6 short games into my season, I suffered a season ending tear of my Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL). What was a young kid to do? I was alone, lost, and scared of what my future would look like if I no longer had the sport of hockey. I had dreamed of playing college hockey since the age of 5, was I just expected to give up? Was it all over? 

Luckily for me, I was (and still am) fortunate to have a support system unlike any other. My parents researched to find the best surgeon available for ACL repairs and let me tell you, they found him in Rutland, VT. In November of 2011, I entered the doctor’s office for my pre-surgery visit as that same scared boy I describe above. However, as my doctor laid out my rehabilitation plan step-by-step, I began to gain confidence. I left that first meeting knowing that I WOULD play hockey at a high level again (and I did).

Over the next 9 months, I spent 4 hours each day rehabilitating my knee and training my mind with techniques such as yoga and meditation. I spent the rest of the time reading about the human body, how it heals, how to feed it properly, and how the state of the mind impacts the physical state of the body. I was hooked and determined to learn more. I had formed a burning passion to help and empower others and this is where my passion for learning and practicing medicine began. Through my time as a student athlete, researcher, and soon to be medical student, I haven’t turned back. If you’re reading this post, you most likely have a similar passion, perhaps you even have a similar story. If you do, let’s connect, collaborate, and grow, because you’re not turning back either.