PG Blazer: Congratulations on securing a top rank in the AIIMS and PGI entrance exams! What is the secret of your success?
Dr. Vivek Lanka: As “Po” from Kung Fu Panda would say, “There is no secret ingredient!” It’s all about understanding your strengths and limitations and planning accordingly.
PG Blazer: Could you tell us something about yourself?
Dr. Vivek Lanka: I am basically from Guntur, Andhra Pradesh but grew up and had most of my schooling (St. Gabriel’s High School) at Warangal, Telangana. My first noteworthy academic escapade was the JIPMER UG entrance exam, where I secured 10th rank. I subsequently joined JIPMER and completed my MBBS from there in Dec 2012.
PG Blazer: Who or what influenced you to take up Medicine as a career?
Dr. Vivek Lanka: My parents without a doubt. My mother (Dr. Lanka Radhika) is a doctor (OGesian) while my dad (Prof. Lanka Krishnanand) is a professor of Mechanical Engineering at NIT, Warangal. Both of them used to muse me with new developments in human biology by inculcating in me, a habit of following some of the engaging and highly entertaining magazines like Nature, The National Geographic, The Scientific American, etc. Even to this day, I retain that interest for academics and research as opposed to patient care.
PG Blazer: What was your aggregate percentage marks for MBBS?
Dr. Vivek Lanka: 69.71%.
PG Blazer: How did you prepare during your internship period?
Dr. Vivek Lanka: I did not prepare during my internship period. It’s probably the only part of my academic journey where I haven’t touched my books. We used to have a gruelling schedule. We were barely 54 interns across all the departments, with 33 to 34 hr duties once in every 4 days along with the routine 8 to 9hrs a day, Sundays and Holidays notwithstanding. If we take an average, we used to work close to 16hrs a day in our major postings (medicine, surgery, OG, Paediatrics, Orthopaedics and ENT). 2 months of PSM and a month of electives and ophthalmology were welcome breathing spaces in between but we used to spend most of the free time in these postings either going on long bike trips or just drinking like fish!
But I am glad that I had my internship the way it was meant to be. Central lines, LPs, intubations, normal deliveries, etc. are a piece of cake for JIPMERites. A single intern could manage an entire OG casualty all by him/herself. I even got to assist an emergency popliteal artery repair and got to experience the high of a criminal investigation by assisting a medico-legal autopsy! What more can you ask for!
PG Blazer: What ranks did you obtain in your previous attempts? What changes did you make to your preparation after your last attempt?
Dr. Vivek Lanka: I wrote my first entrance exam close to the end of my internship. The AIIMS November 2012 exam. I had rank 3060 (we were partying till 4 am the night before and I fell asleep during the last 1hr of the exam!). I wrote NEET the same December, in which I secured around 8000 rank! I had a good time at home for a couple of months after internship (Jan and Feb), after which I joined IAMS in March 2013 and started serious prep. I secured a decent rank (193) in the May 2013 edition of AIIMS. I wrote PGI too for the first time, but I left 60 odd questions for the lack of good time management. In the next November (2013), I secured 300 odd ranks in both AIIMS and PGI (I left 20 odd questions in PGI for the lack of time, which was again a huge disappointment) But I did get rank 41 in AIPGMEE that year. This was quite a relief as I had a guaranteed radiology seat at hand. But there was still that lingering fascination for AIIMS and PGI. The next February (2014), I secured rank 3 at JIPMER but I decided to have another go at AIIMS. In May 2014, I secured rank 11 in AIIMS but missed radiology by 3 ranks! (I lost hope with PGI. It was too fast for me. So I did not attempt it in May.) In the meantime, I also wrote NIMHANS neurology exam, as I read neurology quite well during my MBBS days and was also quite fascinated with neurology (but of course, second only to radiology).
I secured rank 1 and the prospect of a neurology degree, from an institute which was the best in the business was quite tempting. I worked there for 3 weeks. My love for reading neurology and working with neurobiology has not waned even to this day, but in those 3 weeks, I realised that practicing it as a clinician is a whole new ball game. The institute is still awesome and is undoubtedly the best in the country for learning neurology, but I felt like I just did not belong in the field. I realised that it was a huge mistake to have left all India and JIPMER radiology seats. I realised finally that the branch of my choice is way more important than the institute in which I do it. The institute stays with you may be for 3 to 6 years but you have to work in that field for the rest of your life! So I conveyed my doubts to my HOD at NIMHANS. She agreed with me and felt that I would not be happy with neurology with my mind fixed on something else. She also counselled me that if I leave the seat in under a month, it wouldn’t get wasted and the guy next to me would have a chance of studying there. I promptly left it in the 4th week of July, 2014. Obviously my mother was quite apprehensive that I keep leaving seats, so she insisted that I work in radiology for some time just to be sure that I really love the work. I worked at Care Hospital, Hyderabad for a couple of weeks, learning some basics of radiation physics and interpretation of artefacts. It really did wonders to my already existing interest in the field! In radiology, I get to use the right mixture of 3 of my most favourite subjects- Physics, Anatomy and Pathology! I came back home at the end of August, 2014 with added determination to get a radiology seat in a good institute. My mind was not fixed on AIIMS/PGI this time, because I know it’s a huge gamble being in the top 3, but I knew that I would get radiology somewhere or the other. But luckily, I landed both AIIMS and PGI this time (rank 3 and rank 1 respectively)!
PG Blazer: When did you start serious preparation for this year’s entrance exam?
Dr. Vivek Lanka: I started preparing seriously in the 3rd week of August, 2014 for this particular exam, but of course, the prep that I had last year before joining NIMHANS paid off as well.
PG Blazer: What was your study strategy?
Dr. Vivek Lanka: To start with, I read my textbooks well during my MBBS days. Yes. I lost track and did not touch my books in my internship for 1 full year, but from my first year till my final year, I read only the best books. I cannot overstress the importance of Robbins. It’s such a beautifully written book! It’s not only informative but also engaging and entertaining. In my opinion, every student of medicine must complete that book end to end! Especially the general pathology part. I will keep buying every new edition of that book for the rest of my life even though I am not choosing pathology as a speciality. That’s how much I love that book! Of course, other books are important too. I read the whole of haematology, nephrology, cardiology and neurology from Harrison and the rest of the chapters from Davidson. Speciality surgery topics like Neurosurgery, Paediatric Surgery and Urology are well written in Sabiston. I wish I read more of that book, but didn’t find time. Bailey and Love is good for the rest of the chapters. Ortho from Maheshwari with some select chapters like peripheral nerves and tumours from Apley. Likewise Katzung for Pharm, Ganong for Physio, BDC and Netter’s for Anat, Ghai for Paeds, Dutta for O and G, Dhingra for ENT, Parson for Ophthal, molecular biology and metabolism from Harper, etc. the routine. Probably the one text book that I did not read properly was Park & Park. I never touched the MCQ books during my MBBS days. I preferred reasoning and intuitive learning over mugging for the sake of some or the other university/entrance exam. By the end of my internship, all that stuff was at the back of my mind but a full 1year of “no touching books” policy made retrieval difficult. When I joined IAMS in March 2013, I was still naïve and strongly believed that text book reading alone would get me through. All I did from March to May, 2013 was to revise the familiar chapters from the standard textbooks, especially the first and second year subjects and notes and materials for short subjects like Skin, Anaesthesia, Radiology and Psychiatry ( I did not read these subjects well during my MBBS days). I got an encouraging result (AIIMS 193) at the end of just 2 months. But what I failed to realise was that the May 2013 paper was different. It not only had few repeats, but also had very few repeat related questions. The highest was only 66% and with just 58% I got rank 193. This led me to believe that unlike popular opinion, repeats do not play a role at all. For the next 6 months, from May to October, 2013 all I did was to read only textbooks and IAMS notes and materials, newly for short subjects. In addition, I used to keep myself up to date newly approved drugs by the FDA and newly published research on Pubmed and jwatch.org. After all that prep, the November 2013 paper was a shock! It had some 20 direct repeats from the most recent May paper alone and many more from other previous AIIMS and AIPG papers. I did not even know that they were repeats until I got out of the exam hall! It was only then that I understood the importance of repeats! Moreover I failed to revise properly in the last few days. In that 1 month gap between AIIMS and AIPGMEE, I did only the previous papers of AIIMS (AA), AIPG (MK) and PGI Chandigarh (Manoj). It did wonders to my result. The repeats complemented the previously laid foundations from textbooks and brought out a rank 41 in AIPGMEE last November. JIPMER Feb 2014 did not need any additional preparation. The same stuff sufficed. But for May AIIMS 2014, I put in some extra effort. I re did all my repeats and read all the repeat related topics from standard textbooks. For example, I read ROP, Diabetic Retinopathy, etc. from Yanoff and Ducker; NEC, HIE, Management of LBW and Preterm babies etc. from Nelson and so on and so forth. I also read all the neonatal management protocols on the WHO-AIIMS collaboration centre website. Also, this time I made sure that I revised almost everything 10 days before the exam. Especially the short subjects, P & SM and muggu topics in other subjects like Forensic sections, Paediatric milestones, etc. The result was AIIMS rank 11 in May 2014. After leaving NIMHANS, from August to November, 2014, I did not do anything special. I just revised whatever I read before. Revision is probably the most important part of anybody’s prep! Short term memory does play a very important role for many hard to remember topics.
PG Blazer: Did you make any notes for helping with your revision? Were they useful?
Dr. Vivek Lanka: No I did not make any notes. I tried to. But I found it very time consuming. All I used to do was make sticky notes on the pages of my textbooks and materials and underline important points selectively to facilitate revision. One other very useful thing that I did was to photograph many tables that frequently elude my memory, with my cell phone. Tables always have high yield points and revising them at the end is very productive. And having them on a portable device like a cell phone is even better.
PG Blazer: In your opinion, how much time does a student require for preparing for this exam?
Dr. Vivek Lanka: That’s a difficult question to answer. It all depends on the individual. How are his/ her basics, how good are they with their textbooks, their insight into the MCQ style of prep and what they want in life. For example my poor insight into the importance of repeats and the unusually high targets that I have set for myself made me take close to 2yrs to get what I want. Another student who has read his/her textbooks well and at the same time, understood the importance of repeats would take only 6 months or less.
PG Blazer: How many hours did you study each day?
Dr. Vivek Lanka: Not more than 5 to 6 hrs a day during the routine prep. But I changed gears during revision time about 15 days before the exam. I read close to 10 to 11 hrs a day during this last 15 days.
PG Blazer: Did you have a timetable for preparation? Were you able to stick to it?
Dr. Vivek Lanka: Haha! The timetable conundrum. Of course I made a timetable. But I always had to remake it at the end of every week as I have never been able to stick to it! Nevertheless making a new one every time gives you that sense of urgency and is definitely a useful tool.
PG Blazer: What role did the internet play in your preparation?
Dr. Vivek Lanka: It would have been impossible without the internet! I owe it big time to Larry Page and Sergey Brin! Without Google, it would have been a huge waste of time trying to open a different textbook for every small doubt. For example, if I was reading a topic like say, Interstitial Lung Disease and I had a doubt in Respiratory Physiology, it would be quite productive to open Ganong and read the whole topic. But suddenly for no reason, if I get a doubt from an unrelated topic like Disc Prolapse (“loosening of association” in psychiatric terminology, which I am sure every PG aspirant would have experienced) it would be much better to refer it with Google as fast as possible and get back to the topic at hand.
PG Blazer: Did you ever doubt your ability to get selected in this entrance exam? If so, how did you overcome your fears?
Dr. Vivek Lanka: I doubted it for a while after the 300 odd ranks that I got last November, but I knew exactly what had to be done. I knew that I was good with my basics. So the only thing that needed to be done in addition were the repeats. So I got back to what is necessary.
PG Blazer: Did you attend any classroom coaching? Was it useful? Do you think classroom coaching is essential for getting a good rank?
Dr. Vivek Lanka: I attended Speed classes in my third year and IAMS classes in 2013 after my internship. I was the cultural secretary of our students’ association and had a lot of extracurricular work on weekends in preparation for the various inter and intra college events that we used to conduct. So I bunked about half of Speed’s classes. But out of the classes that I attended, Ophthal, pharma, medicine, and paediatrics were just brilliant! They had awesome teachers especially in these subjects and I found it extremely useful. They did a wonderful job in introducing me to the final year subjects, when I was still in my infancy with those subjects. Their classes were not only informative but also interactive. I did not read any of Speed’s materials back then but I did find their “Harrison Based Teaching” volumes extremely useful. IAMS has some of the best teachers in Physio, Biochem Forensic, Skin, Anaesthesia, Psych, Radio and PSM. Other subjects were pretty average. But one deficiency that I found with IAMS was that they are brilliant teachers but poor coachers. Imagine. 1 whole year there never made me realise the importance of repeats! Even their tests used to have very few repeats and a lot of case based analytical questions. I used to love solving their papers and topped their tests quite a few times. But it creates an environment where a student like me might completely neglect repeats as a part of his/her preparation. May be I was just too naïve to realise what was obvious with all entrances in our country. The teachers over at IAMS are in total love with their subject. Their Physiology teacher for example will take you into another world for those few hours! He imparts you awesome concepts and makes you fall in love with the subject. But in his love for the subject, he strays away into topics which are not that important. Like low and high gravity physiology! I don’t regret attending IAMS. I thoroughly enjoyed the concepts imparted to me there. But I feel it’s not for the people who have a military commitment to crack PG entrances at the earliest. It will only delay you in your quest. But for people who just want to enjoy their subject or for the ones who are still doing their MBBS, IAMS is a very good option.
If you ask me whether it’s essential to attend classes, it’s difficult to answer. I can only say that I attended classes and I found them useful. It varies from person to person. I know a friend, Dr. Debasish Sahoo who topped PGI just after internship without attending any classes or test series!
PG Blazer: Did you attend any test series? If so, did you find it useful?
Dr. Vivek Lanka: I attended Bhatia online test series in 2013 and DAMS online test series in 2014. In my opinion, test series help you gauge where you are from time to time and help you stress more on your weaker areas. Bhatia tests are more of one liners and DAMS tests have more case scenarios and statements. Both have their pros and cons.
PG Blazer: What were the subjects you focused upon?
Dr. Vivek Lanka: If you want to be at the top of the list, you just cannot neglect any subject. But well, it’s always productive to start with the short subjects and PSM first.
PG Blazer: Which books did you read for theory?
Dr. Vivek Lanka: The books that I used for theory are:
Anat– IAMS class notes
Physio– IAMS class notes
Biochem– IAMS material and the entire molecular biology from Harper.
Path– I read only Hemat, tumour markers, staining and fixation aspects from IAMS class notes. I did not read the rest of pathology from any material. I just revised general pathology from Robbins (Obviously. Because it’s just my favourite book!)
Pharm- Garg plus CNS and Chemotherapy from Katzung
Micro– IAMS material and USMLE first aid chapter for Virology (has some good mnemonics)
ENT– Did not read ENT that well. I just read the throat part from IAMS material. Most of the questions from Ear and Nose are either usually covered in Anat or easily answered with logic (that’s my opinion) I just read laryngeal and Nasopharyngeal Ca from Medscape because laryngeal ca was asked in the last exam.
Ophthal– Retina. Especially normal anatomy and physiology, Diabetic Retinopathy, Detachments and ROP from Yanoff & Ducker. The rest from Ruchi Rai. I referred quite a lot of doubts in other topics from Yanoff and noted them down in Ruchi Rai.
PSM– Vivek Jain and Anthony N Glaser for Biostatistics (brilliant book!)
Medicine– “Harrison Based Teaching” volumes by Speed.
Psych– IAMS material is undoubtedly the best. Also I updated myself with some of the new changes in DSM-5 and read USMLE first aid for its mnemonics
Dermat– IAMS class notes
Surgery– Did not read well. Just referred some of the doubts that I got while doing repeats and some closely related topics from Sabiston.
Ortho– Maheshwari. I added a few points to it from Apley during my MBBS days. Read the same book.
O and G– IAMS class notes for Obs. Punit Bhojani for Gynae
Paeds– IAMS material and WHO-AIIMS collaboration centre website.
Anesthesia– Ajay Yadav
Radiology– Bipin Daga mostly. Saw the initial chapters on radiation physics in Sumer Sethi.
PG Blazer: What was your approach to Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine?
Dr. Vivek Lanka: I read Cardio, Neuro, Hemat and Nephro from Harrison. The rest I read from Davidson.
PG Blazer: Which books did you read for MCQ’s? Which ones were the most useful?
Dr. Vivek Lanka: I did the first volumes of Amit Ashish, Mudit Khanna and Manoj Chaudary. I did not finish all the papers from Arun Babu for JIPMER. I did about 3 papers. I did not do any subject wise MCQs separately.
PG Blazer: Is there anything specific to keep in mind while preparing for AIIMS?
Dr. Vivek Lanka: Like I said, if you have time left after finishing all the other stuff, then it’s useful to read up AIIMS neonatology protocols from the WHO-AIIMS collaboration centre website. Jwatch.org helps in keeping you up to date with newly published research. (It’s like a newsletter for the NEJM.) FDA website helps you with the newly approved drugs. MOHFW website for the newly launched health programs. Last but not the least it’s always better to read up all the IPC and CrPC sections 1 hr before your AIIMS exam. There was a question in every single one of the recent papers.
PG Blazer: How did you tackle the PGIMER entrance exam?
Dr. Vivek Lanka: It took me 2 yrs to fully attempt a PGI paper. So I don’t know if I am the right person to answer that question! For the most recent paper, I had a cool head because I already had the AIIMS result with me. I guess that helped me control the urge of looking back at an already answered question. I didn’t care whether I was marking my options correctly, nor was I trying to double check any of the questions. It’s just about reading the question with full concentration the first time. Going back to it will only cut down the time spent on another question. About which options to mark, the negative marking is sometimes more than 1 depending on the total number of correct options. (Which in turn varies from paper to paper.) So the rule is simple. Mark it if you know it. Do not mark it if you don’t know it. Either you do or do not. There is no try! (You never know. Yoda’s wisdom might have originated from writing a PGI exam!)
PG Blazer: How did you prepare for the image based questions?
Dr. Vivek Lanka: I did not do anything specific for the image based questions. I was lucky to have a good exposure to a variety of cases and surgical instruments, during my internship. Plus we had an awesome pathology department at JIPMER. Especially our favourite professor, Dr. Debdatta Basu was quite a quizzing wizard, which made learning pathology fun!
PG Blazer: What was your strategy for taking the exam?
Dr. Vivek Lanka: The most important thing is not to be hypoglycaemic/sleepy during the exam. It’s important to have a carbohydrate rich breakfast, but just enough to leave a little empty space in your stomach to avoid getting drowsy. I just start with the first question and proceed towards the last question. No mixing up business. At the end of the exam, you don’t wanna end up not reading a particular question at all!
PG Blazer: How many questions did you attempt?
Dr. Vivek Lanka: I attempted AIIMS-189 questions. PGI-not sure. I must have marked more than 700 options in this exam. There were quite a lot of correct options (more than usual)
PG Blazer: How many do you think you got correct?
Dr. Vivek Lanka: I got about 150 plus or minus 2 correct in AIIMS. PGI?? Come on! It’s just impossible to even guess the total number of marked options let alone the correct options!
PG Blazer: Which speciality are you interested in choosing and why? Which institute are you planning on joining?
Dr. Vivek Lanka: I am planning to join Radio-diagnosis. Preferably at AIIMS. Just in case, if I don’t get it there, then PGI. Like I said. I love Physics, Pathology and Anatomy (in that order!) and RD allows me to have a go at all three! I prefer academics and research to private practice and intend to be a part of a good institute in the future if I get the chance.
PG Blazer: What is your advice to future aspirants?
Dr. Vivek Lanka: Do not follow any of the stuff that I bored you with, unless it syncs with your style. This is not a “magic potion”/”formula”/”secret ingredient” for success! Preparing for PG entrance is all about prioritising. I read Yanoff because I felt comfortable with it. I read Garg because I felt I could remember better when I read from it. That doesn’t mean you read from the same books! There is no use spending hours together on a book just because some guy on the internet recommended it. Read a book personally and decide for yourself whether you wanna read it. Read stuff that you are not confident with. It’s necessary to get out of your comfort zone sometimes. I love pathology doesn’t mean I keep reading Robbins. I didn’t spend much time on PSM during my UG days, so it’s imperative that I make up for that now. I said this before and I will say this again. It’s all about understanding your strengths and limitations and planning accordingly! ALL THE BEST!
PG Blazer: That brings us to the conclusion of the interview. Best of luck for your future endeavours!