* * Anonymous Doc

Saturday, January 15, 2011

I got notified the other day about a new follower on Twitter. I won't say her name. She apparently runs some kind of business where she charges aspiring medical students as much as $2000 to edit their application essays. She's a doctor. From a real medical school. My first thought was what kind of money can a doctor be making editing application essays. And then I saw what she charges. And then I read some of the testimonials on her website. Stuff like "residency director said my essay was the best essay he's ever read."

And I'm sure that residency director would be thrilled to find that testimonial and realize there's a good reason that essay was the best one he's read-- someone paid an awful lot of money for it.

I'm not presuming to know how this business works, but if I was paying someone $2000, I think I'd expect more than just the kind of edit you get from a friend you might send an essay to. I know it's not illegal to get essay help-- or take test prep classes, or pay money for all sorts of things to give you an edge in the admissions process-- but I feel like there must be a line somewhere, and I feel like an $2000 essay coach who is in fact also a doctor is on the wrong side of the line.

I wasn't going to write this post, but when I followed this person back on Twitter, I got an automated message that said something like, "I level the playing field for applicants to selective medical schools. Check out my website..."

Hold on just a second. You do what? You level the playing field? What does that mean? Seems to me you do exactly the opposite. You enable rich kids to game the system. You enable people who don't think paying someone to write their essay is a bad thing to get into a better medical school than they would have otherwise (assuming her work actually makes a difference and the whole thing isn't just a scam).

I don't want the playing field leveled. I want the people who deserve to get into a good medical school to get into a good medical school. And we could debate whether or not the current system works, and whether a lot of well-qualified students are actually denied entry -- they are, of course, and I'm not arguing otherwise. But essay coaching is an enemy, not a solution.

How much does she charge to help me with rounds? To save my patients? To take my boards? The people who can afford to pay someone $2000 to write their essays are the last people I want getting a leg up in the admissions process. This is not leveling the field. This is an unsavory way for a doctor to make money on the side, and a disgrace to the profession.


  1. I'm continually amazed by the types of people who make it into the medical field. I hear about some awful things my classmates have done, but because I don't actually socialize or talk to those people, there's nothing I can do. Anyone can fake out an interview and say all the right things and come off as a good person. It's scary. I'm actually frightened for some of my classmates to become physicians.

    That said, I think the ethically questionable people are in the minority and that the majority of us hold each other to a high enough standard to keep this kind of behavior to a minimum. I hope.

  2. It seems nearly certain that the people who are hiring people to write the essay need it most.

    Consider: Grades and other performances are predominantly based on intelligence and hard work. The essay should show basic literacy and personality.

    Saddled by an overcomfortable lifestyle, some people aren't going to shine in the personality and literacy department. These people need either to bribe med school admissions directors - a dicey proposition given the uneven quality of Bearnaise sauce in jail - or have someone write it for them.

    Your critique of the free market makes you a likely communist. Worse than Stalin, you are. Worse than Stalin.

  3. Arrrg!

    Doctors who can't communicate are a plague on the system. No medical person can do it alone, and writing is the main way doctors communicate with their team.

    I hope the woman who falsifies the communication ability of applicants ends up having to deal with someone making an incompetent mess of her records.

    - KrisW

  4. I agree with you Anon - paying someone to rewrite your essay and then passing it off as your own amounts to plagiarism in my book.

    Several months ago, I read an article (if memory serves, it was written by a residency director and posted at KevinMD) talking about dishonesty on residency applications. He referred to a study that had recently shown some unholy percentage of residency applicants had falsified their applications or had their personal statements written professionally.

    What was really scary was how many applications included claims to have written papers for non-existent journals or had changed authorship of legitimate publications (ie., removed co-authors or promoted themselves to first authors, etc.).

    The program director that was writing the article was actually advocating for a removal of the personal statement since so many applicants were having theirs written by another.

    As a prospective applicant, it really aggravates me to see people game the system, but it's a reality that I have to live with. Classmates are going to cheat, applicants will scam to do whatever they can to get into a competitive specialty - at some point, you just have to resign yourself to doing the best that you can and hoping that your best is good enough to get you in.

    A final thought on the subject - if people are willing to cheat and scam to get into medical school or advance their chances of getting into a prestigious residency program, it shouldn't surprise anyone when they're willing to falsify their research in order to gain or keep a grant.

  5. Sure it's leveling the playing field. Just not leveling the attribute you WANT to level. While you want to level the playing field by wealth/income (no matter how rich or poor you are, you still have a chance), this person so leveling the playing by skills - no matter how good or bad you are, you can still become a doctor.

    I cringe.

  6. What I look for and want in a physician is nothing less than the standard to which I hold myself:
    - a high level of intelligence
    - diligence and conscientiousness
    - strong work ethic
    - honesty and integrity - a moral compass
    - strong written and interpersonal communication skills

    In addition, compassion and a good sense of humor are assets...physicians lacking these talents might consider specialties such as anesthesiology or surgery (patients are asleep) or sticking to research.

    People who do not have the full skill set should look for other professions. Over and out.

    I, too am a professional and I am required to have a skill set. I am not lacking in the required set of skills or I would not make it in my chosen role. I would be in serious trouble if I could not write well enough on my own to submit an essay that would gain admittance to grad school!

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