Navigating the Medical School Admission Obstacle Course. (Real Questions from Real Readers)

(I have received quite a few emails over the past two years asking for advice as well as anwering a lot of questions about the medical school admission process on The Student Doctor Network. I thought I’d publish some of them along with my replies. -PB)

Dear Panda,

I said I spoke Spanish on my AMCAS application when in fact the only Spanish I know is the Taco Bell menu. Was this a bad idea and will it come back to haunt me?


Nervous in Nebraska

Dear Nervous,

I also claimed to speak a foreign language. The problem with this is, obviously, that someone who interviews you might actually speak the language and want to bust out with you, his homie, in his native toungue.

So Spanish is definitely out. Although the possibility is remote, I have heard that some members of admission committees (and even some doctors if you can believe it) speak a little Spanish.

I picked “Walloon” as my language and wouldn’t you know it, one of my interviewers was from the Low Countries and started jabbering at me the minute I walked into his office.

That’s when I played my trump card and had a full-blown Grand Mal seizure. They took me to the Emergency Department and I was post-ictal until the end of that particular interview slot. But it’s cool. I had devoted some of my personal statement to how I had fought and overcome epilepsy to achieve my goal of Medical School so I had them in check.

Like I said. You have to think quick and be prepared.


P. Bear, MD


Dear Uncle Panda,

In a desperate attempt to make myself more diverse I may have exaggerated some of my extracurricular activities and qualifications. Do medical schools try to verify these things?


Worried in Wyoming

Dear Worried in Wyoming,
They most certainly do check on your qualifications and extracurricular activities. My medical school has an office that does nothing but verify everything you list on your AMCAS application. Fortunately they are kind of short-staffed because of budget cuts so if you play your cards right, delay submitting your application to the last minute, and use a little common sense the odds are that they won’t get around to checking your extracurriculars and qualifications until you are well into first year at which time, possession being nine-tenths of the law, it will be very difficult to dislodge you.

In fact, I listed myself as “Native American” and even described some of the suffering of my people in my personal statement.  I’m not really a Native American except in the sense that I was born here (so technically I am a indeed a native American). One day towards the end of first year I got an irate email from the registrar inviting me to explain to the verification committee how I could possibly make this claim.

As soon as I walked into the registrar’s office I let out a blood-curdling shriek, charged his desk, and touched him with my coup stick…you know…just to establish my tribal cred’.

“We prefer to be called Indians,” I said as I adjusted my loin cloth and sat down, “And I don’t know how those people from Calcutta or Bombay get away with calling themselves Indians either. It’s shameful and I don’t think they’re fooling anybody.”

The registrar politely inquired as to when we they would get my tribal certificate from the Bureau of Indian Affairs who had claimed to have never heard of me.

“I don’t need the white man’s worthless paper,” I replied fixing him with what I hoped was a don’t-give-me-your-small-pox-infected-blanket stare, “Or the white man’s laws, the white man’ unnatural technology, or the white man’s corrupt political system.”

“Hey, is that some of the white man’s coffee? Mind if I get a cup?”

Apparently the North Dakota Sioux in which tribe I may or may not have claimed membership had never heard of me either.

“Did you call my Uncle John Raging Pony? He’s the chief, you know.” Actually my uncle John couldn’t chief his way out of a paper bag. We only call him Raging Pony because he drinks a lot of Malt Liquor. But he lives in North Dakota. In a trailer. With no phone which is not really my problem.

“Oh, and my tribal name is Turgid Ferret.”

The registrar insisted that there was no record as far as they could tell of my belonging to any tribe in the United States.

“Well, there’s yer’ problem Great White Father. Our ancestral homeland straddles the border with Canada. We actually spend most of our time in Alberta. More bison, you understand”

Very pained look from the registrar. I could see he didn’t relish negotiating Canada’s incredibly primitive phone system. Plus he didn’t speak French so talking to the Canadians was going to be a problem. Always pick a third world country for your extracurriculars. It slows the verification process.

“Well, if that’s all I’ll be on way,”I said prying my tomahawk from his desk, “I go now to commune with the spirits of my ancestors over the traditional frothy coffee drink of my people.”

The medical school admission process is tough. You have to be smart and you have to keep your options open.

Glad I could help


P. Bear, MD

Dear Dr. Bear,

What keeps people from making up extracurricular activites?


Curious in Klamath Falls

Dear Curious,

What keeps people from making up extracurricular activities?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.


P. Bear MD
Winner, 1998 Noble Prize for Chemistry

Dr. Panda,

What is the purpose of the essay on the Secondary Application? I mean, I wrote my heart out on the AMCAS personal statement and now I have nothing more to give.


Perplexed in Paducah

Dear Perplexed,

The secondary essay gives you a place to explain why you called Mahatma Gandhi a “urine drinking magnificent bastard” in you AMCAS personal statement. It is also a good place to admit that you don’t actually have any kittens and yer’ Grandma who you claimed to have cared for until she “slid gently into a peaceful dream of death” is actually in a third-rate nursing home in the suburbs of Dubuque and you actually haven’t seen her in three years because the smell of “poopy” makes you gag.

They do check these things you know. My medical school had a whole department of “verifiers.”

Glad I could help.


P. Bear, MD

Dear Dr. Bear,

Do medical schools really verify all of the crap we list as extracurricular activities in our AMCAS application? I may have stretched the truth a bit (well, more than a bit) and I am starting to worry.


Nail-Biting in New York

Dear Nail Biting,

About six months into fourth year I got called into the Dean of Students office. Apparently they had found out that I hadn’t actually won the Nobel Prize for chemistry.

Thinking quickly, I said, “Nobel prize? Of course I didn’t win the Nobel Prize. I won the Noble Prize. See? Right there. Call my undergraduate institution and ask them about it.”

“Sure, I keep the Harvard registrars phone number in my wallet. Here ya’ go.”

By the time they sorted it out I had graduated.

I didn’t actually go to Harvard, by the way. A few months later I got an angry letter from the Dean of Students saying that there was no record of my having attended Harvard.

“Harvard?” I wrote back, “I didn’t go to Harvard, I went to Harvarads…you know, in St. Croix.” I gave him the phone number of the registrar which was really my cell-phone number. Every call I got for the next three months I always answered (in a thick Jamaican accent), “Hello, Registrars Office, can I help you mon?”

Incidently, if you look closely at my ID badge, between the “M” and the “D” is a tiny “C.” I actually didn’t go to a real undergraduate university but I did attend McDonald’s Hamburger U as an assistant night shift trainee. It said “University of Hamburg” on my AMCAS application so I’m not really lying. Besides, are they really going to call Norway to verify that I went there?

You just have to be smart.

My Best Regards,

Panda Bear, MD

Navigating the Medical School Admission Obstacle Course. (Real Questions from Real Readers)

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