As the 2014 NBA playoffs get underway, had the pleasure of speaking with Harlan Selesnick, MD, the team physician for the Miami Heat, winners of the NBA championship title two years in a row. The interview gives us a candid look at a what Dr. Selesnick’s experiences were as a pre-med, as well as a peek into a career path that on the surface may seem glamorous, but in reality is a lot of work.

How much of an influence did you parents have on your decision to become a doctor?

My father was an obstetrician/gynecologist and my mother was a sex therapist so they were certainly both in the medical field. They were both very supportive of anything I wanted to do and obviously with medicine they were very supportive because that was something they were interested in as well.

You attended Northwestern University’s 6-year BS/MD program. Can you talk a little about that?

I’m a big fan of accelerated medical programs for many reasons. If you think you have an interest in medicine, one of the big stresses that pre-med students have is getting into medical school and having to worry about that during their four years of college. So one of the big advantages of a BS/MD program is that you know what the next six or seven years are going to be. That provides a student the chance to perform decently with regard to their GPA which is probably a level slightly lower (than what’s needed to gain admission to medical school through the traditional route) and be able to continue on to medical school. Another big advantage is that because you don’t have to have as high a GPA because they expect you’re going to do well, it give you an opportunity to take some courses in other areas that you may not normally have the opportunity to take. If you have an interest in Political Science, American Lit, or Astronomy, you’ll be able to take those courses knowing that if you receive one or two grades that weren’t that great you can still get into medical school.

Northwestern was really a great program! They treated you really well and even during the “college part” they would bring in medical faculty who would lecture about different areas of medicine which would keep our interest going. They were very supportive once you got into medical school.

Do you think there any disadvantages to being in a BS/MD accelerated program?

Looking back now, the disadvantage is that college is supposed to be a fun time. So in my circumstance, I missed two years of college and those are two years of college experiences that I won’t necessarily get back. One of the advantages of Northwestern was that even though medical school was very demanding, I still had a lot of friends in college and was still able to enjoy the college life while in medical school.

Do you think you had to sacrifice a lot to get where you are today?

Technically, I sacrificed two years of college. But I don’t really feel like I missed anything. Regardless of whether a student is in a six-year program or any other pre-med who has to take demanding courses, whether it’s Organic Chemistry or P-Chem, you’re studying harder, and have to sacrifice having a certain amount of fun at times, so I think everybody has to do that.

Is there anything you learned during your two years of undergrad that you feel prepared you for medical school?

One of the best elements of an accelerated program is that because students are taking a more concentrated amount of science courses is that you are forced to be a little more organized and have better study habits, so I think that helped to prepare me for medical school.

Is there anything you wish you would have know before you started medical school?

I think one of the misconceptions a lot of people have is that they know exactly what kind of doctor or what field of medicine they are going to pursue when they’re premed. The reality of it is is that most people change their minds two or three times when they’re there. Some people get stressed about what type of doctor they are going to be and that’s really not a very important thing.

Medical school isn’t really that hard in the sense that it’s more memorizing and applying what you learned to different diagnoses. I think in some ways Physics courses were harder than medical school. Medical school is time consuming because you have to learn so much.

What would you say was the most challenging time for you during undergrad?

P-Chem! (laughs) That was probably the most challenging time, trying to get through that.  But other than that there was nothing too bad.

If you had once piece of advice to give to those who are applying to medical school, what would it be?

There are two things: Get a good GPA and do well on the MCAT.

Check back for Part 2 of our interview with Dr. Selesnick, where he talks about:

  • Why he chose orthopedic surgery
  • His greatest challenges as a physician
  • What he enjoys about being the Miami Heat team physician
  • What premeds should know if they want to practice medicine

 The full interview is published in the upcoming May/June 2014 issue of PreMedLife magazine.