MIT students interested in medical school can be cured of the "ER" view of doctors while keeping their enthusiasm for medicine, thanks to mentoring by area physicians who are also MIT graduates.
The students cite shadowing physicians as a critical and inspiring aspect of the advising relationships, which are organized through the MIT Careers Office.
Patrick McCormick (S.B. 1998) works with adviser Louis Kuchnir, M.D. (S.B. 1987) on the medical school application process and on appreciating the day-to-day life of a physician. The MIT Careers Office arranged their meeting in August 2002.
"By working side by side with a physician one realizes what doctors actually do all day. Dr. Kuchnir showed me medical procedures, good bedside manner and ways to deal with families. He also showed me the business side of a medical practice: insurance billing, office management and attracting referrals. You won't see a lot of this stuff on 'ER' or in the pre-med handbooks, but it's all crucial to being a doctor," McCormick said. Kuchnir is a dermatologist practicing in Marlborough.
Bob Yin, a senior majoring in biology, has a particular interest in surgery; he also works with Kuchnir, meeting with him regularly and volunteering weekly at the emergency room in Marlborough Hospital.
"It's great to be able to show the joy of clinical medicine. The young men I'm working with are sharp, and they're going to make great doctors. It's a pleasure to help students get excited about medicine, and I'm glad to help MIT become an even better university," said Kuchnir. McCormick and Yin are his first advisees.
Kuchnir, a Chicago native, received the Ph.D. degree in chemistry from Harvard University in 1993 and the M.D. from Washington University at St. Louis in 1997.
He credits the Careers Office (then known as the Office of Pre-Professional Planning) for helping him manage the financial piece of medical school. "I'm particularly grateful to them because they guided me to a full-tuition scholarship. That made all the difference in when I could go," he said.
Kuchnir is guiding both advisees through the grueling process of applying to medical school, a yearlong endeavor "more a campaign than an application," said McCormick.
McCormick spent four of his five years at MIT in medical imaging research but learned little about life as a physician, he said. He found he shared with Kuchnir both an interest in medicine and a slightly unconventional career path toward it. McCormick was involved in two startup companies before he realized he "needed a career that focuses on helping people and society, and that I was only going to get that fulfillment as a physician. Dr. Kuchnir also came to medicine from another career," McCormick said.
Kuchnir's doctoral work in chemistry did steer him towards a teaching track, he said. But early role models--his pediatrician and dentist--inspired him to reconsider medicine as a way to combine his interests in science and helping people. "It's hard to think of a better career than clinical medicine. It's a great field; you're giving people advice they really need," said Kuchnir.
Kuchnir, enthusiastic as he is about the practice of medicine and about advising, is a busy man, and his advisees must work to keep up with him.
It's up to the "advisee to make sure your adviser has a good idea of who you are and what your motivations are. You want your adviser to be able to tell you where your preparation is lacking," said McCormick.
"Be aggressive. Many advisers won't meet unless the student has taken the initiative to schedule meetings. It's up to the student to maintain the relationship," said Yin.
McCormick's experience with Kuchnir and the Careers Office inspired him to go outside MIT for more information.
"I called five different physicians in my hometown, and they were all happy to talk with me. When it comes time to write your application and interview, all of this experience will really show that you've taken the time to understand medicine," he said.
CHARTING MIT'S PRE-MEDS
In 2002, medical schools accepted 73 percent of MIT applicants. The national acceptance rate was 53 percent.
In 2002, 60 percent of MIT applicants to medical schools were women. The national average was 49 percent.
Medical schools accepted 69 percent of MIT applicants in 2001, 68 percent in 2000 and 72 percent in 1999.
Schools that MIT applicants most commonly apply to include Albert Einstein, Boston University, Cornell, Duke, Harvard, Mt. Sinai, Northwestern, Stanford, Tufts, the University of Chicago/Pritzer, University of Pennsylvania, Yale.
MIT students apply from a variety of majors including biology, chemical engineering, chemistry, brain and cognitive science, humanities, physics, nuclear engineering, and foreign languages and literature.
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A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 16, 2003.