Med Student Success Story: Ryan Chiu, MD Candidate

by Ryan Chiu, MD Candidate | May 4, 2021
Kaplan Student Success

I was born and raised in Chicago, IL and its surrounding suburbs as the son of immigrant parents who came to the United States with very little in the way of money, connections or formal education. I obtained my undergraduate dual degree in Political Science and Biology at the University of Illinois at Chicago and ended up staying in Chicago to obtain my M.D. at the University of Illinois College of Medicine. I am incredibly fortunate to be a first-generation American and college graduate, a successful byproduct of public education, and the first physician in my family.

Name:   Ryan Chiu, MD Candidate

Name of medical school attended:  University of Illinois College of Medicine

USMLE Score:

Step 1: 257 

Step 2 CK:  259

Tell Us About Yourself

Why did you decide to become a doctor?

From a young age, I have always been drawn toward the natural sciences. In grade school, I would always look forward to my science classes, participating in science fairs, and going to the library to check out books relating to biology or chemistry. Not feeling challenged enough in my local schools, I enrolled in a math and science magnet high school to further deepen my exposure to the sciences. There, I had the opportunity to work in a cancer research laboratory, present my work in scientific conferences, and help draft abstracts and manuscripts. 

However, I had a visceral feeling that much of the knowledge and experience I had gained was largely academic. I felt as though I was missing a human element to my work and wanted to find a way to apply the research and advances made in laboratories, such as the one I worked in, to helping real people at their time of greatest need. 

I began shadowing physicians who were caring for patients affected by the same cancers I had studied in the lab, and as a result, became immediately captivated by medicine as a profession. I found medicine to be a beautiful synergy between art and science―the art of empathy and bedside manner, meshed together with the application of scientific principles and advancements via evidence-based medicine. 

Which field of medicine do you plan on specializing in?

Neurosurgery!

I became fascinated with the brain during my undergraduate education, when I majored in Political Science in addition to Biology. It was during a philosophy course (out of all places) that I suddenly became intrigued about the brain: how was it that this single organ held all of our thoughts, intelligence, emotions, personality―everything that defines us as unique human beings? I began seeing the brain as an exciting frontier with so much we still have yet to explore or know.

How do you think your unique background has prepared you for success as a doctor?

Having grown up in blue collar communities, both in the inner city as well as the suburbs, I witnessed first-hand from a young age the effect that one’s socioeconomic status can have on their overall health, and vice versa. I saw, for example, how financial distress can lead to food insecurity, or how lack of access to affordable healthy grocery options led to poor health. When these conditions finally landed people into clinics and hospitals, the medical bills associated with their care would pile up and lead to financial ruin for many people in the community. 

Because of these experiences, witnessing firsthand the sheer scale of the vicarious cycle of health and wellness, I became invested in a career in medicine―where I can care for the underserved and underprivileged at their more vulnerable times, and treat all patients across a wide range of backgrounds, regardless of their ability to pay.

Tell Us About Your Study Habits & Kaplan Courses

Why did you choose Kaplan to help you prepare for your board exams?

I chose Kaplan for my board exam preparation because of its proven track record in preparing students across a wide range of career fields for their exams. From ACT and SAT prep as a high student applying to college, to the MCAT when I applied to medical school (in which I scored in the 98th percentile nationally), Kaplan has always equipped me with the tools and knowledge I needed to ace my exams. 

Describe how the Kaplan Medical course helped you achieve your high score.

Kaplan Medical’s content filled in crucial gaps left by other resources popular among medical students preparing for the USMLE. Kaplan’s prep books, diagrams and Qbanks were able to explain, reinforce and connect important topics and high-yield concepts in a way that promoted the understanding, and therefore long-term retention, of important clinical concepts as opposed to sheer memorization.

Would you recommend Kaplan to a friend or colleague? 

Absolutely. Kaplan’s book sets and question banks played a key role in my scoring high on the USMLE as well as improving my clinical knowledge while studying for my rotations and shelf exams.  

Tell us more about your studying habits. 

I typically study alone on most days, but I always made some time to study with classmates. We all found it helpful to occasionally bounce ideas off of one another, and would try to “teach” each other about the concepts we had learned. This actually turned out to be a great way to retain information―if you can teach someone else a concept in simple terms, you’ll know it much better yourself. 

That being said, it can sometimes be hard to minimize distractions or resist the urge to procrastinate. I found that having a routine and a schedule, and allowing yourself to have scheduled breaks within that daily routine, was particularly helpful. I personally used the Pomodoro technique―you set time intervals throughout the day (for example, 25-minute blocks) for doing nothing but studying, followed by brief breaks (for example, 5 minutes after every block with a longer 30 minute break after every 4th study block). Being organized and following a schedule was critical to my success. 

In terms of resources, I found Kaplan Qbanks to be one of the main reasons that I was able to do so well on the USMLE. Questions are, in my opinion, the best way by far to learn and reinforce key concepts you’ll need for the exam. They get you used to the format of the exam while also serving as a form of active, applied learning that will help you retain concepts better than more passive methods of learning such as flashcards. Kaplan also had incredibly detailed and well-written answer explanations following each question, precisely explaining and reinforcing not only why the correct answer was correct, but why wrong answers were wrong, which made the QBank the best resource I used in my preparation for the boards.

Tell Us About Your Medical School Experience

What was the most challenging aspect of medical school? What was the most rewarding experience?

The most challenging part of medical school for me was my pre-clinical years (M1 and M2). There is so much information to digest, and much of this difficulty is compounded by the fact that you are still learning about yourself and how you study best. The way you studied in college may not be the most effective method for studying in medical school, which places much greater emphasis on understanding rather than raw memorization. Figuring out a routine that works for you, in addition to digesting all of the information required for your exams, was a challenging process for me. 

The most rewarding part of medical school, on the other hand, were my clinical years―you got to see all of your knowledge being applied to the care of real patients with the conditions you had largely only read about up to that point. No longer are you spending most of your days with your face in a textbook―you finally get to see patients, which is what we all entered this profession to do in the first place! 

I truly believe that our patients are our greatest teachers, and it was so rewarding to be able to apply the knowledge we had gained in our pre-clinical years to making a difference in the lives of people who entrust us with their care.  

What do you think is the most important innovation in the history of medicine?

X-rays (and other imaging modalities: CT, MRI, etc.) For the first time, physicians had gained the opportunity to “see” inside the human body in a non-invasive manner.  

ADVICE

What advice do you have for med students preparing for the USMLE or COMLEX?

Avoid the urge to constantly compare yourself to others. Figure out a strategy and plan that works for YOU, and stick with it. Everyone is different. Do not use a resource or certain plan just because someone else is.

Is there a quote or saying that you live by?

Fear kills more dreams than failure ever will”  

IN CONCLUSION

If you hadn’t decided to become a doctor, what kind of work would you have pursued?

Probably a software engineer. I began learning how to code when I was 12, and have been coding as a hobby ever since. I also worked as a software engineer intern during the summers in college to pay off my tuition and save up money for medical school. 

And finally, what are your plans for the future?

I am looking forward to beginning my neurosurgery training at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, TX. I hope to become an academic neurosurgeon, dedicating my time both toward the treatment of patients with neurosurgical conditions as well as advancing the forefront of research into those conditions. Going forward, I will also continue searching for ways to integrate my passion for technology and innovation into my neurosurgical practice through the development of medical devices.  

Throughout the course of my career, I hope to also be a mentor to other aspiring physicians in all stages of their education, particularly those who are also first-generation college graduates/medical students and those with non-traditional majors or careers prior to medical school. 

A note about the recent USMLE Step 1 Announcement:

While we understand that the future move to Pass/Fail on Step 1 will have an impact on the residency application process, Step 2CK will continue to be a scaled three digit score, and as such becomes an even more important metric for students to differentiate themselves from other applicants.

I was born and raised in Chicago, IL and its surrounding suburbs as the son of immigrant parents who came to the United States with very little in the way of money, connections or formal education. I obtained my undergraduate dual degree in Political Science and Biology at the University of Illinois at Chicago and ended up staying in Chicago to obtain my M.D. at the University of Illinois College of Medicine. I am incredibly fortunate to be a first-generation American and college graduate, a successful byproduct of public education, and the first physician in my family.

See more posts by Ryan Chiu, MD Candidate