If you’re a premed or medical student on Twitter, you’re probably following Dr. Sujay M. Kansagra, better known in the Twitter world as Dr.K (@medschooladvice). We were honored to have an opportunity to speak with Dr. Kansagra who is a Duke Medical School graduate and author of the popular book Everything I Learned in Medical School: Besides All the Book Stuff. Dr. Kansagra was as down-to-earth as his candid and true-to-life tweets make him out to be. What were the premed years like for this doctor and author? What advice would he give to those pursuing a career in medicine? In our interview with him, we spoke about his premed years, what motivated him as a premed, and advice he has for pursuing a medical career.
My inspiration to pursue a career in medicine…
came through regular classes and as I went through school I was involved and mostly interested in science and math. I was kind of an adventurer growing up – mixing chemicals, creating contraptions, so the overall pursuit of science inspired me. My parents were very much supportive of everything I did and they were supportive of my interest in science, they allowed me to take extra science classes. The motivation for me to pursue a career in science came early in life. Then basically, as I went through college I saw that it was a good fit for me. I enjoyed working with people, I enjoyed the experiences that I had in the health care field and that was motivation for me to continue pursuing a career in health care.
I remember my medical school interviews…
to be an overall positive process. There was no one who tried to trip me up or throw me a hardball question. There are always people who say the process was a nightmare for them, but I never had that experience. The questions were mostly from my application, about me, and about my motivation to become a doctor.

My advice for pre-med students is to enjoy the road! I tell people, the destination will never be worth it if you didn’t enjoy the road.”

When it came to my medical school interview questions…

the easiest questions were the ones I knew were coming like, why are you interested in medicine and questions about my volunteering experiences. The hard question I remember was when one gentleman gave me a patient’s narrative in which I would have to prescribe a treatment for the patient but the insurance company wouldn’t cover it and asked what I would do in this situation, and so it kind of stumped me because I didn’t have much patient experience and I didn’t know what the options were in such a situation. So I said I would try to explain to the patient that their insurance wasn’t covering the medication and I would give them the options that I did have and try to push them toward the direction that the insurance company would cover. What the interviewer told me is what I could do is argue with the insurance company and fight for my patient, and so that’s something that I didn’t know much about back then when I was coming out of college but I clearly know that when it comes to patient care you can always fight for your patient by going up against insurance companies. So that was a tough question because I didn’t have any experience with that type of situation, but for the most part everything else was straightforward. To prepare for the MCAT I actually took a MCAT prep course, which I was very happy with. My sister is also in medicine and is two years older than me, so I used her old MCAT material and started looking over the material pretty early to get a sense of the type of questions and content that would be on the exam to familiarize myself with the whole test. Then I took the MCAT prep course which was about 2-3 months of going to classes and taking practice test. The main thing from there was I used a set of books that the test prep company provided which were like lecture notes and I read through those multiple times and tried to remember the important equations. It was very nicely, condensed amount of material that I felt I could get through and really truly dedicate my time to the material. By reading through those books I felt like almost every question on the MCAT when it came to the science section I could relate back to something I learned in those books and had some sense of how to answer them, every questions except for like one or two questions. I also took tons and tons of practice tests. I took full-length practice tests a few weekends in a row. I recommend trying to find a set of material to dedicate your time to and read it repeatedly instead of trying to find every single book out there on the MCAT. Try to familiarize yourself with the test itself.

During my pre-med years,

I didn’t have to sacrifice much. Granted it did involve studyingand a lot of hard work. I was lucky enough to have a nice group of friends who also made sure I enjoyed my time in college and didn’t spend all of my time just sitting in the library reading. I think every premed goes through that, a little sacrifice has to be made because getting into medical school does involve a lot of hard work. But for me, I always felt that studying wasn’t always necessarily a chore, I almost kind of enjoyed the learning process. I tell a lot of my followers on Twitter, if people get into the mindset of enjoying studying and not something that you’re forcing yourself to do, then it makes your life much easier. I was also involved in a lot of extracurricular activities that were enjoyable and so even though there was a lot of studying I felt like I had a pretty good college experience.

I tell my Twitter followers, we have this mindset that we feel that once this step is over, when we’ve worked really hard to get into college things start calming down a bit, and then when we’re in college we think I just have to work my butt off right now just so I could make it into medical school and then I won’t have to work as hard. And then in medical school, the same thing, let me just work really, really hard so I can get to residency then I can start slowing down as far as studying. And then when you’re a resident, you’re like let me just work a little bit harder now so I can become a fellow. And then you’re an attending and as you’re attending you’re still working really hard. So I wish I would have known earlier that every step along the way you’re taking time to enjoy what you’re doing because the work never really ends, it’s ongoing, and so you have to really learn how to enjoy life as you go, because you’re going to realize that no matter what the next step is, there’s always going to be work that needs to
be done, so don’t sacrifice too much.

I didn’t stress about the medical school admission process.

The main thing I did was start everything early. Not only with the admission process, but I also started early when preparing for tests like the MCAT. I think the earlier you start the less stress and anxiety you feel when it comes to whatever it is that you’re trying to tackle. So with the medical school admissions process, I started early, I knew where I wanted to apply, and I felt pretty comfortable about my MCAT scores, I applied to schools based on what my MCAT scores were like, and so I felt prepared and I think that was the main thing to not feeling stressed.

The best advice I ever received as a college student…

was when I was told to explore my options and to not go through college only thinking I was going to be premed. I think that was helpful because I got a chance to explore other potential career opportunities. A lot of people get into the mindset that this is the most competitive thing and this is what I need to shoot for but you have to make sure that during your college years you give yourself a chance to explore and find what your true passions are.

My advice for pre-med students…

is to enjoy the road! I tell people, the destination will never be worth it if you didn’t enjoy the road. Don’t feel like you’re sacrificing all of your life and your youth because you’re only young once and the work never ends! So enjoy your time as you’re going through the process. My most challenging times as a pre-med were when the preparation for medical school took up a lot of my time. I spent a lot of time studying for the MCAT. I remember spring break and studying for the MCAT alone. A lot of my friends were out having fun and me and one of my other pre-med buddies were studying for the MCAT. But overall I think the end result was really worth the sacrifice that I had to make. I tried to make an attitude out of whatever I was doing so I was also kind of enjoying and not really feeling like studying for the MCAT was a punishment per se. Although it was tough sometimes, I had to stay up pretty late studying and work really hard, I think in the end everything worked out.

This interview was published in the January/February 2013 issue of PreMedLife Magazine.