Brian Blank, a recent fourth-year matcher out of University of North Carolina Chapel Hill School of Medicine, graciously gives us his expert advice on succeeding in medical school and beyond.
1. Tell us about yourself: Where are you from? What is your undergraduate degree and where did you receive it? Did you do anything between undergraduate and medical school?
Brian Blank: My undergrad degree was in broadcast journalism from the University of Missouri (graduated 2003). I worked in cable news for about five years (CNN, FOX Business Network) doing some radio reporting and TV producing. It was a great career — I loved it. I left to pursue primary care. I did a postbacc at the Harvard Extension School (two years of halftime classes, one gap year while I applied to schools). I’ve been married for eight years and have a one-year-old daughter.
2. What residency program will you be joining and where?
BB: I will be joining Duke Family Medicine Residency in July 2015.
3. Looking back on your medical school experience, what would you say to the young and naïve “first-year you”?
BB: Honestly, medical school has been a grind. I guess I’d say “it gets better!” Don’t give up the things that matter to you — like exercise!
4. What things did you do that you believe were valuable to succeed the first two years in the classroom?
BB: The first two years is all about gearing up for Step 1. If you don’t know what you want to do, then I’d put more emphasis on trying to figure that out as much as you can, like shadowing. But otherwise, doing practice questions and gearing up for that first big test is super important.
5. What things did you do that you believe were valuable to succeed the second two years through clinical rotations?
BB: I think it helped me to have had some real work experience before starting med school. I felt comfortable relating to different kinds of (older) people, plus I had more to talk about with them. It’s essentially just another job except you don’t get paid and the evaluations of you are pretty constant.
6. What things did you do during your four years of medical school that stuck out or particularly impressed your residency program?
BB: I think for me it was the extracurricular leadership stuff (student government, involvement with the American Academy of Family Physicians) during medical school, as well as my career before medical school. I think they liked that I had a background in communications and journalism.
7. What things were unhelpful or you wish you hadn’t done in medical school?
BB: The tests? Just kidding. I don’t really have any regrets about how I spent most of my time.
8. What was your level of involvement in research and other extracurricular activities, and your opinion on how important that involvement is?
BB: I didn’t do any research but was very involved in student government (class co-president for three years, student government co-president for one year). It was important because I enjoyed it, not necessarily because it helped me in terms of getting into residency (not really sure that it did). But I viewed the leadership stuff as a refreshing break from the constant studying — it was a lot more fun!
9. What attracted you to your chosen specialty?
BB: I wanted to actually help people as a generalist (which we need as a country) and not be just another partialist and technician (which is what specialists really are).
10. What attracted you to your residency program?
BB: Duke is very focused on community medicine and leadership, which I like. Its emphasis is very public health-y — it almost feels like you get a masters of public health without the degree!
11. What things did you do to maintain your sanity in medical school?
BB: Student government leadership was a fun way to keep my sanity. I also trained for my first ever triathlon after first year (an Ironman!), which was a ton of fun. But I went from possibly the best shape of my life then to the worst shape of my life (after third year). I gained 30 pounds. My goal for this year has been to get back in shape and I’ve almost clawed my way back there!
12. The floor is yours — what do you wish to share with current medical students?
BB: We need more people to go into primary care and there has not been a better time to go into those fields in the past 25 years. If you’re on the fence or secretly worried about reimbursement, I’d encourage you to learn more about direct primary care (DPC) models, like the ones pioneered by UNC’s own Brian Forrest in Apex, NC. By cutting out insurance, you can provide high quality, low cost health care to all comers (including the uninsured and Medicaid and Medicare patients!) And you can get paid like specialists to do it — all while focusing on quality and not quantity. It is truly a win-win-win (third win is because it reduces costs for the health care system itself by decreasing insurance utilization). DPC, according to current board members of the American Academy of Family Physicians, is truly the future of private primary care in America. Check it out!