May 17, 2013

Out of the Box: FSU COM

For those of you unfamiliar with the process of attending medical school, allow me to briefly walk you through it.  You graduate from college with some lofty science degree.  You take the MCAT.  You don't get the score you want, so you pay Kaplan (cough name drop cough) for a MCAT prep class.  You retake the MCAT and score 1-2 points higher, somehow justifying the $600 you just spent on the Kaplan (cough paid endorsement cough) class.  Then you start to apply to medical schools.  There is a national application process.  You fill out all of your information online and then pick which schools to send it to.  To make the process more like purchasing auto insurance, there are bundle prices for applications.  So, as an example, since you are paying the same price for fifteen or twenty schools, you apply to twenty schools.  This is where you dream big.  You pick any school you could imagine yourself going. Any city that has family in it.  Any place that has cool places to visit.  Any university that has a good football team.  Just apply to them all.  You can a very wide net in hopes of catching something.

Slowly you hear back from these schools.  Well, you hear back from some of them.  Others act like "too good for you" cheerleaders and never actually check a box and return your note.  If they do contact you, they will ask you to fill out a secondary application.  At first, you are thrilled at the number of schools that request these secondaries.  Then you realize two things.  First, you have to pay an additional fee for each secondary application.  Second, the secondary application requests only a small amount less information than a Homeland Security background check.  So you start to pare down your options to more realistic ones.  Let's eliminate Drexel and Temple.  We don't REALLY want to move to Missouri.  Stuff like that.

After you have sent off all of your secondary applications, you wait again.  You start to hear from medical schools.  Some of them will say something like, "We believe you will be a great doctor, just not if we have anything to do with it."  Or they may say, "Thank you for your interest in our med school.  Unfortunately you are not a native Spanish speaker so vas chupar los huevos."  Again, you have the cool COMs that just ignore your application entirely, maybe pass it around as a joke.  Then there are the few that offer you an interview.  Here is where you go to the school and meet with some representatives.  They want to simultaneously wow you with the program, cast doubt on if you will be asked to go there, and encourage you to keep trying even they reject you.  Eventually, you hope that one school will offer you a spot.  If not, you go apply to a Caribbean med school or try again the next year and hope for better results.

As we went through this process, we followed all these steps.  We applied to tons of schools in the initial application round.  We applied up in Philadelphia, in New York, in DC, in every Southern state, and to every Florida option with a medical school.  Heather was going to be entering med school in May of 2009.  We got very excited to see that UCF - our hometown school, our alma mater - was going to be opening a med school in May of 2009.  It got even more exciting when we found out that UCF was going to try to lure top recruits even though they had no accreditation by paying the tuition of the entire first class.  As we walked through, our goal was UCF.  It was perfect.  We didn't have to move.  Tuition was free.  It was UCF, which is the best school ever.  Number one was UCF.  There was no number two.

This mindset had to change when we began to realize just was UCF was doing.  They weren't really after med students.  They wanted to make a massive splash by pulling in people with ridonkulous resumes who didn't mind adding an MD to their name.  Their thought process was brilliant.  By overloading the stats of their first class, they never would have to deal with the stigma that came from checking the list of med schools and seeing bad numbers for UCF (low MCAT scores, lower GPAs, etc).  They didn't stick with their "Florida first" approach that they had promised.  They were flooded with applications.  And they ended up grabbing thirty-one people where half of them may never actually practice medicine.

We started to wonder what other schools we were going to "go after."  There was UF, which was close.  USF had a program.  We liked the med schools in Georgia and South Carolina.  And then there was FSU.  We had always said that we would be fine going to FSU.  We didn't know much about the program itself, or the city.  We had a good friend who lived in Tallahassee, but that was it.  It was always in the back of our minds - a way to stay in Florida, stay relatively close to family.  It wasn't our top choice, but it was an option.

Now, we had prayed that God would show us where to go.  I know some of you discount the role God has in our lives.  "He has bigger things to worry about than where you go to medical school."  Fair enough, you are entitled to your opinions on that.  When it comes to major decisions in our lives, this is how I usually pray.  "Dear God.  I am a big stupid idiot.  Left to my own devices, I will most assuredly screw this up.  I will make a bad choice.  I will overlook something.  I know myself too well.  SO even if you do not make a practice of helping people know how to (fill in the blank), please do it for me.  Because I am a moron."  I'm not kidding.  I pray that frequently.  I prayed that when I was single and hoping to find a wife.  I prayed that about jobs.  I prayed that about residency.  And I prayed that about med school.  God has been merciful and has usually answered that prayer in the affirmative, guiding me along.  I'm thankful for that.

As events would have it, the first medical school that offered Heather an interview was FSU.  We figured it took a while to process the applications.  Instead, FSU contacted Heather within a couple of days of submitting the application and wanted to do the interview right away.  So we packed the kids up and made the long, boring, boring, boring drive to Tallahassee.  Heather went to the interview and I took the kids to the Governor's Square Mall to kill time.  I think I knew the instant Heather got into the car that we would be moving to Tallahassee. She told me about the interview and how nice Dr Brummell-Smith and Nancy Clark were. She told me about how FSU approached teaching medicine differently - a very patient-focused approach instead of a mostly academic one. They were interested in making good doctors, not good med students.

We were told Heather would be wait listed, since it was so far along in the application process. Instead, she got a phone call later that week offering her a spot. I still hold out hope for UCF to work out, but I knew it wouldn't. And it didn't. 

I spent a lot of time in this blog bashing Tallahassee. And I stand by most of what I said. I didn't enjoy the city very much. But I also have to be fair and note that I personally was battling depression and a lot of other issues during those two years. So I may have had a negative view of Paris had I been living there in the same boat emotionally. All that being said, I do not want my opinion of Tallahassee to ever be mistaken for my view of the FSU College of Medicine. To be perfectly honest, I think the FSU COM is absolutely incredible. And I don't think Heather could have gotten better training to be a doctor anywhere else.

Going into this endeavor, we heard a lot of horror stories about medical school.  The hours were horrific.  Students would steal journals from the library.  They would rip pages out of books or check them out and not return them all semester.  Students would claw, scratch, and backstab to get ahead on the grade list.  FSU immediately puts an end to that mindset.  First, they assign everyone to one of four study groups, so they are forced to work with each other.  Second, the library is almost all electronic, so thievery does no good.  Third, they didn't release class rank until fourth year.  Fourth, they focused time and again on patient interactions instead of research or plain memorization.  From the very first year, Heather was interacting with standardized patients (people who got paid to pretend to be patients).  They matched her with a doctor in second year to work with and actually experience being a doctor.  The first two years at FSU literally give students thousands of patient interactions vs just a handful at most schools.

Lots of people wondered why we moved back to Orlando halfway through Heather's schooling.  Tallahassee is not big enough to have 240 med students roaming around the city for third and fourth year.  So FSU has established partnerships with satellite locations around the state.  Each of those locations has a mini-FSU med school, complete with a dean and a full roster of faculty.  The students are paired up with a doctor that they work with once a week for the entirety of third year.  They have rotations ever month with local doctors and in local hospitals.  The are actually DOING things.  In her OB/GYN rotation, Heather helped deliver babies.  She sutured cuts.  She placed IVs.  She did hundreds and hundreds of exams.

The thing about all of this hands-on training is that FSU graduates are obscenely experienced when it comes to actually practicing medicine.  They don't just know it on a theoretical level.  They are fully functioning doctors.  Residencies all over the country have started to notice this.  When they have a chance to snap up an FSU grad for their resident program, they do.  And after they have had a taste of FSU grads, they start to go after them more and more.  This past year, it was incredible to hear the places that FSU grads placed for residency: Cornell, Dartmouth, Johns Hopkins, Dallas Children's Hospital, Denver for Neurological Surgery.  These grads are so equipped that the residencies are falling over themselves to recruit them.  I watched the process with Heather, where a half dozen top notch pediatric residencies kept pursuing her.  In the words of the head of the South Carolina residency we matched with, "Heather was awesome.  We wanted her.  We got her."

I may have hated Tallahassee, but it was only two years.  I absolutely loved FSU's Med School.  The faculty were so incredible sweet and attentive to my family.  They always asked about the kids and did special things for them.  The other students were amazing and loved our family.  One girl put on an Easter egg hunt for our kids.  Several of the girls watched our kids to give us a night out.  The guys took care of my wife when she was up at the school late studying.  They encouraged her and me.  I know that it is common for med students to forge lifelong friendships.  But I feel that I have as well.  People like Austin Henkel and his family, Zach and Jasmeet, Shawn Shah, Richard Jones and his wife Meagan, Souhail and Mariana, Laura Davis, Josh Smith, Shannon and Mark, Karina Walker, Eva Bellon, Emily Dudemeister (sorry, Dodenhoff), Beth and Nathan, David and Dana, and Sheallah Palmer showed me how much they cared for me as well as my brilliant wife.  The staff at FSU was just as awesome.  The local faculty invested so much time in Heather and were so kind to us.

It was a different kind of learning experience.  The faculty and administration were majorly invested in the students.  And that went beyond just teaching.  The Orlando campus dean every year would throw a dessert social for all of the faculty, students, and staff.  This wasn't your ordinary "cookies and cake" party, either.  He would take two or three days off before to make these high-end extravagant desserts that would cost a fortune in a restaurant.  Both years we had a blast.  He did it just because he liked the people he interacted with.  Faculty went overboard to mentor Heather, write her recommendations, and give her guidance on the next steps of her career.  People like Dr Stine, Dr Weatherly, Dr Coffman, Dr McBane, Dr Laham, Dr Harding, Dr Sabogal, and Dr Faverio did more for Heather than we can ever repay.

This weekend, we will close this chapter of our lives.  I think that I may post something about graduation on Saturday.  But I wanted to make sure that I expressed appreciation for a wonderful school, a wonderful faculty and staff, and wonderful fellow students.  I know that Heather is prepared to her utmost to be the best doctor she can be thanks to them.  I have enjoyed watching the experience unfold.  If FSU ever needs someone to talk up their med school, I would be honored to do so.  It has been a great four years and we are excited about our next steps thanks to FSU COM.  I'll even forgive them for being in Tallahassee.

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