View Full Version : new kid on the block: MedStars

08-13-2009, 11:17 AM
Xavier has acquired a second agency, MedStars, to arrange rotations for students. Let's not mince words: the other agency, which I will mercifully simply refer to as the "OA", is, well, not popular among students, but MedStars is doing an excellent job.

You may have read complaints in this bb, or heard from other students, about the OA's failure to answer the phone or reply to messages, hostile responses to reasonable requests regarding rotations, failure to pay preceptors resulting in dismissal of students from rotations, scolding of students at meetings, demands to attend lectures when they are not required by the school (and still are not) and threats to lower preceptor grades for not attending, and other abuses by an overcontrolling bureacracy at the OA. The atmosphere at the OA is a legacy of the agency's former owner, who also is the former owner of Xavier. Thankfully, he has nothing whatever to do with MedStars.

Everything has changed with MedStars. Are there bumps? Certainly, but for different reasons. I am on the phone with MedStars frequently, and have also discussed rotations problems with docs and with my classmates. It seems that the OA has such a bad reputation among preceptors that when MedStars approaches them to place students, the preceptors want nothing to do with it; that's why at first it was hard to get exactly the rotations we wanted, where we wanted them (close to home), and when we wanted them. The good news is that things are constantly getting better. I have personally smoothed the way for MedStars with reluctant preceptors by being a good student, not making trouble, and assuring those preceptors that they would be paid on time (which they have).

Unlike the OA, MedStars frequently answers the phone on the first ring; if not, they always -- and I mean always -- return calls promptly, and they similarly respond to emails. Also unlike the OA, MedStars understands the individual needs of students, like wanting to be close to home, preference for a particular doc who may have a good reputation with other students, and not being in the same rotation as annoying classmates whom you'd like to avoid. The OA ignored all such requests, but MedStars has been pretty good at fulfilling them.

MedStars is in daily contact with our rotations coordinator and clinical vice president; they have an excellent working relationship such that you may deal with either the coordinator or your MedStars agent, as you prefer.

When you come to Atlanta for your fifth semester Kaplan experience (which, IMO, is a complete waste of time and money), you will attend orientations by both MedStars and the OA. You do NOT have to have any dealings with the OA; if you don't "register" with them, you won't have to pay their outrageous registration fee, and you can safely ignore any dire warnings they may direct at you regarding all the terrible things that will happen if you don't deal with them. To be sure that you don't wind up with rotations through the OA, simply send email to the rotations coordinator requesting that all rotations be through MedStars. Hopefully the school's new owners will rid themselves of the OA forever when the current contract runs out in about a year.

See my other posts regarding the types of rotations arranged by MedStars, and how to find your own elective rotations.

10-27-2009, 12:23 PM
"When you come to Atlanta for your fifth semester Kaplan experience (which, IMO, is a complete waste of time and money)"

care to elaborate? I'm thinking of transferring to the 5th semester, so I would like to know what its actually like!

10-29-2009, 02:40 AM
The Kaplan experience is controversial. In my post, I said "IMO", which means it's my opinion, but you may find otherwise. What I find most objectionable is the paternalistic attitude of the school, which insists on a one-size-fits-all regimen for learning.

The Kaplan center is on the second -- and part of the first -- floors of a two-story roadside office building on Roswell Road in Atlanta. In the center are two rooms filled with old TV monitors and DVD players. They sit in tiny cubicles with barely enough room to inhale without bumping your neighbor. You will be provided with headphones, but that won't drown out the inconsiderate chatter of students who insist on talking while you're trying to study.

The room is air-conditioned, but the A/C doesn't vent to the outside, which would be more expensive. Instead, it cools and recirculates the same air, with the effect that when the room is crowded -- which is almost always -- within minutes you will fall asleep from the high carbon dioxide level. I tried sleeping as much as thirteen hours prior to going to Kaplan, in an attempt to stay awake, but it didn't work. Also, the A/C circulates air from a room on the first floor where there is a microwave used by students to cook ethnic food; the A/C pulls the smell into the study room and drives out those whose ethnic taste buds are not accostomed to it.

The main problem with Kaplan is the curriculum. You will be allowed 33 visits; you must sign in and out, but they're not too careful about checking the times you write in the log (!). It doesn't matter how long you stay; attendance is reckoned by the visit, not the time. And you better go because the school will deny your degree if you don't.

Before starting your 33 visits, you will meet with a counselor who will lay out your study plan. You are not required to follow it, nor are you required to take the various tests at the end, which are for self-evaluation and are not reported to the school. The problem begins when you start viewing the DVDs. There is no way, absolutely no way, you can view all the DVDs in the time allotted, at least not if you plan on learning anything from them. In my study plan, I was given 3 visits to complete the Anatomy discs (again, you need not adhere to the plan). After 11 visits, I still had not completed Anatomy, and Anatomy is just one of many subjects. It didn't take me 11 visits to see where this was going, which was nowhere.

The quality of material on the discs is variable. In Anatomy, there are two lecturers; one was really good, and the other was terrible. I've heard that Physiology is very good, although I have not seen the discs. You will get a big stack of books, whose content is also of variable quality. The reason it takes so long to view the DVDs is that most of the material on the DVDs is not in the books, so you'll find yourself writing furiously in the books while viewing the discs, which is very time-consuming.

Most importantly, there is nothing on the discs which is not in the USMLE review books we all use. So the question as to whether you will benefit comes down to how you learn best. I am a book reader, and can study endlessly from books without getting bored, but I learn nothing at all from being lectured at whether in person or from a disc (which is why the entire Aruba experience was also a waste of time for me -- I could have learned the same thing sitting in my townhouse in New Jersey and saved about $100K). Some students have opted for the live lecture and say that they like it; those are the students who benefit from listening to talking heads regurgitate the material in the books. They claim the advantage is that you can ask the lecturer questions. If it works for you, then go for it. I never had a question I couldn't find the answer to on the Internet.

Under the previous ownership, many students tried to convince the school to let them substitute other options for fifth semester, and were denied. I don't know what the current policy is. There are several competitors to Kaplan popular with students; some students have gone through those programs surreptitiously and paid out of pocket. I know Kaplan pays a substantial finder's fee for steering students to them, and I think this may have something to do with the school's insistence on Kaplan.

If you find that the Kaplan experience is a waste of time, I advise going there every day, signing the book, checking out a disc, then sitting in a quiet study room (if you can find one) to read your USMLE review books.

10-31-2009, 04:44 AM
wow, the situation you described seems a bit blah to say the least. What are its effects on the students, are they able to score well on the board exam (or even pass?) I know there are a number of factors invovled in determining that, but in general, from your post it seems like its just a waste of money to sign up.. its better to just spend time at home studying by yourself (which I dont mind doing at all, as you described yourself as an endless book reader, I'm just like you)

Dont the materials you get consist of everything from Kaplan? I heard those are quite beneficial though, and infact one of the most important things that you need to study from?

11-01-2009, 04:27 AM
It's impossible to know for sure what the effects of Kaplan study are. One would think that the school would have an interest in this, and would conduct some sort of scientific study. Right? If you ask the Kaplan folks, they will say it's a no-brainer, but that's like asking a used car salesman if the junk pile he's pushing is the right car for you.

You have to at least go through the motions of Kaplan, or you won't graduate. The only students who have told me they like it are the ones who bought the live lecture (now no extra charge, I believe). Others read the Kaplan books, supplemented by First Aid and USMLEWorld. Of students I know who have passed Step 1, those three sources were their only study material; they didn't bother with the review books (BRS, Road Map, Rapid Review, Ridiculously Simple) (note that High Yield is a condensed BRS, not sufficient for Step 1). I haven't taken Step 1 yet, so I can't speak from personal experience as to what served me best, but I read everything I can get my hands on until my eyes close. I used to listen to the G----n lectures until I couldn't take his egocentricity any longer (plus there are a lot of mistakes in them).

The materials from Kaplan, as I've said, are of mixed value. The pharmacology section is way too detailed, and the anatomy section way too sparse. I would ignore those books in favor of the four review book series mentioned above, but I'd go through all the questions in the QBank you will get as part of your Kaplan book set.

I know students who have failed by just a few points. They have a common fault: reliance on too few materials. They read only First Aid and USMLEWorld. You need a third source; that's what the review books are for. Even better are the "big" books, but you won't have time to read them in their entirety. If you have the time, the BRS books are the most comprehensive (and longest); if you have less time, the Rapid Review and Road Map are of equal quality and somewhat shorter. And remember: there are 17 areas you are responsible for (more or less, depending on which ones you may combine): ethics, imaging, physical diagnosis, microbiology and infectious diseases, anatomy, embryology, biochemistry, immunology, genetics, behavior, physiology, neuroanatomy, cell biology, histology, biostatistics, epidemiology, pharmacology. These are not equally represented on the exam, of course; the Big Three are pathology, physiology, and pharmacology, and I've heard that close behind are immunology, biochemistry, and behavior. Study accordingly.

So get to work! :-)

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