Here's Why You Should Avoid Visiting Pre-Med Forums - (Frank Opinion About Premed101 by One of Our Admissions Experts)
On December 15, 2014, the University of British Colombia (UBC) broke new ground by sharing with applicants that they actually do check the pre-medicine forums on the internet, notably Premed101. The Admissions Team reported,
“We have a confession; from time to time we take a peek at the Premed 101 Forums to get a sense of how many of you are doing and to see if there is anything we can help to clarify. From the chatter over the last couple weeks, we’ve realized that there are many misconceptions floating around the internet, and thought that we would take this opportunity to try and give you some more information…” (click here to see the full report)
Then UBC graciously debunked some of the rumours floating around the forum to help potential applicants see things more clearly. The post was specifically about UBC’s NAQ score, or the standardized score given for the non-academic portions of the application. UBC writes,
“We’ re sorry if we’re putting a few of you on the spot, but since Premed 101 is anonymous we’ve decided to pull a few especially problematic speculations about our scoring system and ensure the information you receive is correct.”
And this is the point: Things that are posted on the internet without appropriate oversight can be very problematic. And you will be none the wiser. Premed101 has few people posting helpfully. But even people who are trying to help get it wrong because they’re over-speculating, they’re biased, and/or their sources aren’t accurate. Additionally, posts remain up for years so something that was correct in 2010 may not be correct today.
This is why most savvy students that get in avoid visiting Premed101 forums.
Of the few real members on Premed101, there are many bad apples. There are people trying to misdirect you, trying to shake your confidence and hoping that you just don’t apply. This type of bullying and misdirection is well documented and experienced by most premed students.
Most alarming is that even some (but not all) of the moderators use unprofessional and hostile language towards others, and get into frequent bickering matches in an attempt to prove their 'expertise' and superiority, which brings their qualifications as mentors and role models of professionalism into question and the forum moderators are anonymous and even the site owner and administrator claims he doesn't know who they are so it is quite possible that the 'expert' moderators might not even be medical students or residents.
There's more. Some of the fake profiles on these forums are unethical one-person operations disguised as companies that deliberating create fake profiles to misguide the visitors. There's at least one such individual that exclusively uses premed forums to advertise their services using fake profiles. This individual uses tactics such as creating multiple profiles and using one to pose a fake questions such as "does anyone know a good CASPer prep company?" and then responding with another profile to say that xyz company is the best (themselves of course), while others are terrible.
Also, some of those members are actual medical schools. If they can trace your Premed101 profile back to you, and you’ve said some distasteful things, you will be in trouble.
So let’s be clear: Using Premed101 to answer all your questions about how to get into medical school is the same as using Dr. Google to diagnose the cause of your abdominal pain. You’re bound to get a lot of information that you cannot interpret and it will freak you out. This is the difference between information and wisdom. Premed101 features a lot of data – nearly 1 million posts worth of data – but very little of it is contextualized for each member with a question. There is no wisdom.
For example, Premed101 user generic1234 posted earlier this month asking for help deciding what to do next with his/her life. This user did not receive any invites for interview at medical schools in Ontario this round despite having what appears to be an all-around decent application. The user then requested feedback on five different plans, including longer undergraduate studies, retaking the MCAT, pursuing graduate studies and a few others.
The user got five responses and all of them were sympathetic and supportive. Each response made a recommendation for what to do next. But none of these people understands generic1234’s values, financial situation or career aims. The best information I got, as a reader of the post, was from generic1234’s own original post. This is clearly a thoughtful person who can conduct their own post-mortem of their application, including a critical glance at reference letters. This person knows what’s up and doesn’t need 60,000 other opinions to move forward.
The final concern I have with Premed101 has to do with hive mind.
One piece of false information can spread like wild fire. One little hunk of advice becomes the community standard for everyone, even if the member offering the advice has no credentials and maybe hasn’t even been accepted to medical school. These membership forums support hive minds like few other internet phenomena and you would be wise to avoid thinking like everyone else when it comes to getting into medical school.
Importantly, how can you possibly stand out if you do what everyone else is doing on a forum like Premed101?
Your best source of internet advice when it comes to getting into medical school is the official website of the school. The websites have so much useful information because they are keen to have complete applications that follow all the rules. They also don’t want to get four million emails the week before the deadline clarifying things that are already on the internet. That being said, if you have a real specific question about how a certain school will read an element of your application, you should email the admissions team available via the address listed on the website. They are usually really awesome people who answer questions like yours all day long.
When I applied to medical school the first, second and third times (click here to learn more about the "Four Fatal Errors That Got Me Rejected From Medical School – Twice – And How To Avoid Them.") , I did not touch these fora. But I did scour the websites of my top schools and I emailed admissions when I didn’t understand something. And it worked out with zero time spent sucked into the internet.
Lastly, there is some good in certain parts of the fora.
On StudentDoctor.net, there is a large database of advice articles from medical students, residents and staff physicians. Everyone I had read is bright and insightful. Even our CEO, Dr. Behrouz Moemeni, has written blogs on SDN (here and here). They don’t typically deal in the granular details of each school’s application cycle but they help with perspective on this crazy process. A friend of mind, Dr. Romesa Khalid, wrote this very brave, smart piece on her experience as an unmatched candidate for residency programs for StudentDoctor.net. It is very good and I will pass it around for years to come to anyone I know in that situation. In this regard, StudentDoctor.net’s publishing arm has a real advantage over sites that just host fora but all of the other caveats described above still apply to Student Doctor Network Forum + their 'sponsorship' opportunities to stay afloat.
I know that this journey feels perilous and opaque all of the time. I know it seems easiest to reach for the internet conversations because that is what people under 50 do. But it will not get you any closer to admission than the websites of the schools, some good introspection and some formal career counseling.
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To your success,
Your friends at BeMo