Thursday, April 30, 2009

Interview Day vs Revisit Weekend

I interviewed at HMS in January -- it became my last medical school interview. At 8:00 am sharp all twenty of us nervous applicants were escorted into a dimly lit conference room with a long table in the middle and two rows of chairs of both sides. There were several pots of coffee and a sorry bowl of Quaker bars on the table in the corner. My brains were floating in a bath of adrenaline but I did manage to absorb some of the short introduction to our interview day, namely that there will be no hospital tour, no formal lunch with current students, no anatomy lab visit, or any of the usual events that one finds on the courtship agenda of the other 150 medical schools in this country. Semiconscious I breathed out "When are we going to have the financial aid session?" only to have the coordinator burn a whole through my pinstriped suit with her Cyclops gaze - "If you are invited for a revisit", she said as if I just desecrated the Lenin Mausoleum, "you will have a session then". I asked no more questions for the rest of the day and was certain that this unacceptable frivolity will cost me any possibility of admission. Next I was handed a couple of cab vouchers to get to my first interview which was at Mass General Hospital on the other side of town, and that was all the love that HMS showed me that day... It is true that of all the schools I visited, Harvard did the least to convince you of its greatness. Nothing like the revisit!!! Almost all who received the coveted letter of admissions came to the revisit, filling the large antique hall of the Vanderbuilt medical student dormitory building (you can see the entrance to Vanderbuilt in this picture). Our chatter was amazingly synchronous, students asking each other time and again "Where did you come from?", "Where did you go for undergrad?", "Are you positive you're coming here?" My head was spinning and I was starving too, having come here right from work. I don't know what it is about HMS, but they sure keep you waiting for food, perhaps in a healthy attempt to keep our cholesterol low? It's a prominent feature on campus banners, by the way. Two hours after we arrived at Vanderbuilt, and many more hours for some students who flew in from all over the country, our starving cohort proceeded into a huge ballroom arranged with clothed restaurant-style tables, a prominently featured speaker podium, and a large bar which students flocked around. It seemed that all of HMS's grandeur was baked into their amazing artichoke dip and all sorts of dinner treats for our hungry stomachs. We shared this amazing dinner with faculty members and students who were most friendly and easy-going. Dr. Matthew Frosch gave the kindest remarks about the school and the HST curriculum -- I spoke to him on the phone before I applied to Harvard and he was every bit as intimidating as I would imagine, so nothing like he was that day! -- and current students spoke with passion about how much they loved being at Harvard. Over and over they repeated that the greatest asset they were awarded by HMS is their classmates, and this opinion was passionately shared by the faculty and the administration. It was just a great time!

I did not spend the night at Vanderbuilt as many students did because I live a short train ride away from HMS. So next morning I arrived from Downtown Boston to share breakfast with the other students. It was in the same ballroom, but there were no speakers this time. After breakfast we gathered into groups that went on various tours around the campus: we began by sitting in on a tutorial class, then proceeded to tour one of the older hospitals on campus - the Brigham and Women's Hospital (the picture below is the old Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, but it was much extended in the recent years). The tour was headed by two fourth year-students, but they somehow managed to arrange for us to be guided through the intestinal transplant unit by the surgeon who worked there. He introduced our group to two of his patients, a young man whose abdomen was an intricate network of surgical scars from numerous intestinal transplants here received, and a baby-girl who underwent similar surgery. Both were friendly and smiling, and greeted us with enthusiasm. Next we marched over to the neonatal ICU where a small group of us, myself included, was allowed to tiptoe through the unit and see the tiny babies in their clear plastic cribs, attended to by doctors and their families. A very pregnant doctor told me with a smile that I should choose to specialize in neonatal emergency care. I thought she was awesome.

Tired of walking and riding in elevators -- a time-consuming business for a group of fourty people -- our tour dropped us off at the medical school building where we were scheduled to have our financial aid session (for me it had a whiff of magical significance), a review of "opportunities", and an address by Dr. Jules Dienstag, once dean of medical education at Harvard. I've read his article in the New England Journal of Medicine in July 2008 about the need to upgrade the pre-med requirements to make them more adequate for modern medical school curriculum. It was very exciting to meet him in person!

I jolly-well napped through the talk about opportunities because it turned out to be concerned primarily with international medicine and travel. I'm not interested in travelling abroad (at least, at this point in my life), but I recognized that for somebody who was, they offered rich and exciting variety of options. Then came the financial aid. It started with a photo... featuring a gleeful bunch of people, dressed up in Halloween costumes, smiling and delighted - nothing like your undergrad financial aid, where half the staff is depressed from giving bad news to your parents and husbands that MORE of their money is going bye-bye. Harvard financial aid is mostly good news -- it really is incredibly generous!

I left soon after the financial aid session ended, having asked Dr. Dienstag about his article! I felt increbily excited, and above all - that this was the right place for me. I know I will be so happy at Harvard Medical School, and I will try and write about my expreinces there as I go along through this remarkable journey to become a Harvard-trained physician.
 
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