The tutors behind Varsity Tutors come from a variety of impressive backgrounds and experiences—including medical school! In this inaugural installment of our new Medical School Experience Q&A series, Rachel, a Maryland tutor, shares her experience at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Rachel is a second-year medical student who specializes in biology tutoring, MCAT Physical Sciences tutoring, SAT tutoring, and several other subjects. See what she had to say about Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine:
Why did you decide to attend Johns Hopkins?
Rachel: I decided to attend the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine for several reasons. It was located in an urban setting that would expose me to extraordinary patient diversity, it had premiere research facilities that would allow me to explore all of my interests, its curriculum included early clinical and patient exposure… the list goes on and on.
However, the main factor was the general environment and the atmosphere around the students. Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine uses a pass/fail grading system for the first two years, which really eliminates any competitive tensions in the air. My class is wonderfully collegial and collaborative—not to mention the diversity of personalities, experiences, and expertise that we have in one student body.
This is not to say that other schools do not have this. I also considered Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, University of Michigan Medical School, Weill Cornell Medicine, and others. They were all wonderful institutions that had many, if not all, of the things I listed above. In the end, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine just felt right.
Describe the application process.
Rachel: The interviews were generally similar to one another. None of them particularly stood out as extremely difficult or strange. It depends more on who your individual interviewer is. Some you will click with, some you will not. Either way is fine—the interview is designed to help admissions officers get to know you better in a more personal, multi-faceted way that your paper application does not necessarily express. Multiple mini interviews (MMIs) might take some getting used to, but they really were not so difficult and not worth being intimidated over. In fact, my first interview was a MMI, and it went fine.
I remember Duke University had some odd, very deep essay topics. Vanderbilt University had one of the longest, more ambiguous essays (a 1,200-word personal autobiography). Other than that, the essays for all schools were pretty similar, I would say.
I took the MCAT at the end of the summer between my sophomore and junior years. I did a month of intensive studying.
What medical specialty are you pursuing? What medical specialities is this school known for?
Rachel: I am uncertain about which specialty I am pursuing—I have only just completed my first year. I am leaning toward surgical specialties though.
My school is quite strong in most specialties, really. The one area that it might not be as strong in is primary care.
How would you describe your first two years of instruction? What research or hands-on experience did you gain?
Rachel: I have only finished one year so far. In regard to that year, however, I would say that it is an exercise in time management and balance. It becomes really easy to get sucked into just studying, or just organizing your extracurricular activities. But you want to remember to take breaks and to take time for just you. Mindfulness and wellness are more important than you initially realize.
At Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, you begin learning clinical skills in the first week. You learn how to conduct an interview, take a complete history, and conduct a complete physical exam for all systems in the first semester. Starting second semester, you are assigned a practice/clinic (usually primary care) where you go once a week. There, you get hands-on, independent experience with patients.
Students usually complete a research project during their first (and only) summer. That is what I am currently doing. These projects do not necessarily have to be basic or even clinical. Some students do history of medicine or arts in medicine.
What are the instructors, laboratories, and libraries like?
Rachel: Our medical school building is newly constructed and very modern, open, and airy. Our anatomy labs are on the top floor, with plenty of windows and natural light, thus lacking the dungeon-like feeling. We also have "virtual labs"—rooms filled with new Mac computers with large monitors for viewing histology and pathology slides. We also have a general computer room with similar technology, and a quiet study area with plenty of desks, windows, and lamps.
Library-wise, the libraries are physically located in other buildings. But our online library has practically everything you would ever need, and if there is anything in paper that you need, you can request to have it delivered to the medical school building.
Our instructors are all very available and committed to students. All lecturers are volunteers— they are not paid to give us lectures. Instead, there is an expectation and commitment to our education that is genuinely felt by the students.
What support services does this school offer? Is there assistance for USMLE Steps I and II, as well as for residency matching?
Rachel: There is a Student Wellness Initiative group within the medical student body. For Johns Hopkins University students in general, JHSAP (Johns Hopkins Student Assistance Program) provides various counseling and support services for free. They will also refer to long-term mental health services (also for free).
The peer advising organization matches every first-year student to a second year. That peer advisor is a great resource for any struggles that you may experience.
The Colleges Advisory Program assigns you to a faculty advisor from day one, as well as to a "molecule" of your peers. You meet with your advisor individually on a regular basis, and he or she provides a lot of guidance regarding academics, social life, residencies, etc. You also meet as an advising group (with your molecule) often, typically to learn new, potentially sensitive topics in medicine.
Describe the work-life balance at Johns Hopkins.
Rachel: Work-life balance is heavily emphasized at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, but it is up to you to execute it. The school gives you ample opportunity for it, from making lectures optional and giving you at least two afternoons off a week, to having a wealth of various wellness- or activities-based groups (i.e. sports, rock climbing, art, etc).
However, I think work-life balance is ultimately decided individually. You have to make it a priority. As long as you do, maintaining it is easier.
What is the surrounding town like?
Rachel: Baltimore is a city with a reputation. Honestly, growing up in Maryland, I cannot really speak to what people outside of the area think of Baltimore.
For me, personally, Baltimore is pretty much what I expected. It is a city of neighborhoods. There are some great, unique, beautiful and fun areas, and there are some not-so-safe areas. Just like all cities, you need to exercise common sense and appropriate vigilance when you are out and about. I do not feel that I am living any differently than other people living in other cities.
In general, a majority of first years live in an apartment complex very close to class. Starting in second year, however, more people live in row homes nearby, or in other neighborhoods. It is pretty easy to find housing and roommates. There are also a lot of tools that the school offers to help with that.
We tend to relax in young neighborhoods like Fells Point and Mount Vernon, or Inner Harbor and Federal Hill. We will take the occasional trip to Washington, D.C. or New York City.
What is one piece of advice you would give to a student who is currently applying to Johns Hopkins? Perhaps one strategy that served you well, or one thing you wish you had known then.
Rachel: One thing I would advise is to take the decision seriously. Medical school is amazing, but it is also difficult. If you are not going for the right reasons, or for external motivations—if you are not going for you—it is even more difficult.
Like I said in other answers, remember work-life balance, even now. Remember that your own wellness should be one of your top priorities. It is not being selfish—you cannot be expected to take care of patients when you cannot take care of yourself.
It is a little hard to think about now, but speaking as someone who just completed her first year, medical school takes a lot of adjusting and adapting. It requires some settling in. You are losing a lot of the support system and routine you had in college, or at your previous job, and while you are also gaining new ones, it takes some time to adapt.
Basically, I am saying to be ready for your boat to be rocked. Once you get your sea legs, though, medical school is an absolutely amazing experience.
Check out Rachel’s tutoring profile.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.