This interview is the latest in an Accepted blog series featuring interviews with medical school applicants and students, offering readers a behind-the-scenes look at top medical schools and the med school application process. And now, introducing Amareen Dhaliwal…
Accepted: We’d like to get to know you! Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad? When and where are you going to be going to medical school?
Amareen: I was originally born in Punjab, India and moved to Virginia when I was 6. My mom and I shared rented rooms in 10 different cities from Virginia to Washington (State) while I was growing up. I moved to San Diego (UCSD) because I loved the seals and sun (and their biochemistry program)! I will finish at UCSD on July 31st and directly go to medical school at Boston University SOM on August 1st (not looking forward to the rush!).
Accepted: You will be 19 when you start medical school. How did you complete college and get into med school so young?
Amareen: My mother needed help at home which made me miss a lot of high school. I was at risk for being dropped (they wanted me to be emancipated) and the high school in Seattle offered a subsidized program where I could attend community college! I actually drove for the first time at my community college right after getting my driver’s license (just a block away!).
I completed 130 credits on a quarter system at the school, sometimes taking 4-5 science classes a quarter. It was tough, but I loved challenges! The school also offered a great distraction from what was going on at home, so I found college to be a sigh of relief.
Every student had an amazing story, and I got to teach STEM and made friends who actually had children older than me! I was able to pursue independent research, take upper division courses, and even graduate as the youngest in my cohort of 2000 with 2 associate’s degrees. My time there taught me a great deal about people, teaching, and learning!
Accepted: What motivated you to pursue a career in medicine at this point in your life?
Amareen: I was always exposed to medicine from birth onward! My grandmother was an OB/GYN, my mother was an anesthesiologist, and my aunt was an oncologist. Strangely, nothing really pushed me to pursue medicine as my mother always wanted me to go into acting or to art school. I loved oil painting (portraiture), but mainly because of the human I got to focus on!
I started reading medical books for fun in 6th grade and began lecturing it in 9th grade at a premed club. After visiting India to work in a rural hospital at the age of 14 and 15, I realized teaching and art were not the only reason I wanted to work with the human body. I loved interacting with patients and the research-like though process that went into figuring out a disease. I more so loved the challenge and altruism the doctors in rural countries had. At that moment, I realized I would do everything in my power to become a doctor. Teaching, studying, and volunteering allowed me to support this. I continued to question my desire for medicine as I wanted to make sure this was for the right reason, it was never doubted!
After becoming a nursing aide right when I turned 18, my skills with patients improved VASTLY! The confidence it takes to make your patient comfortable while doing the most private type of care is so admirable. I worked overnight shifts sometimes 15 hours straight for 5 days in a row on top of full time courses, microfluidics research, and volunteering with girls in science or teaching autistic students (slept in the car a lot!). I loved nursing but understood that I had the opportunity to provide similar care to even more people as a physician.
Accepted: You currently teach “med ed.” Can you tell us how that came about and what you’ve gained from the experience?
Amareen: Ah! Teaching medical education was my first venture into business (the good kind!). I learned medicine early because I used my niche for teaching to make education easy for myself. I realized A LOT more people wanted to learn some basic amount of medicine before going to med school! So I took a set of Kaplan USMLE Step 1 books, First Aid, Pathoma, and every little resource I could find on case studies to compile my own powerpoints and exams! I did make the material simple (although my students might disagree ☺), but we re-aimed our approach for the second cohort.
The second cohort is now exposed to a case study, asked to discuss diseases/mechanisms/pathophysiology for a few minutes, and then me or our teaching staff lecture on that topic. This opens their mind to absorb more content as they are more actively looking for the answer. It is a spinoff of PBLs used in med school (I actually got this idea during my interview at Boston University; their medical education research is AMAZING).
During the first pilot I was teaching for 9 hours STRAIGHT; it was hard to talk for so long and I realized that I should make sure the course is more integrative. It has improved my ability to lecture and adapt to the needs of students.
If anyone is curious in registering, we have an online summer course where interns will find 20+ volunteer activities (to cover holistic care aspects such as LGBT health) along with our lectures (run by me).
Accepted: What advice would you give to a student on how to get accepted to medical school?
Amareen: I don’t believe in competition but you need to work hard. Work harder than anyone you have learned about in history or in the present. You are not working for yourself and you are not focused on your own life, you are working to help the lives of others. You will be their source of help and care, and it is your job to show that you have done everything in your power to take care of your patient. Medical school wants the SAME thing. They want to see that every minute of your day was spent improving yourself (not just in medicine!) to be better at associating with and critically thinking for your patient. This means understanding every topic and understanding it well. Don’t spread yourself too thin, but do not leave any topic untouched. Be a master of everything you do and show them that you will be just as caring and serious in medical school. Stand out, do what you love, and find a way to tie it to healthcare. Be social, make people comfortable and open around you. Most of all, work hard!
Accepted: What are your top 3 tips for taking the MCAT?
1. DON’T TAKE THE MCAT UNTIL YOUR PRACTICE SCORES ARE ABOVE 508. PLEASE ☺! Practice scores are so close to the real thing. Out of my 60 students so far, I have not seen a single person fluctuate more that 2-3 points from practice scores. It is OKAY to push your exam back ☺!
2. Plan to spend $2000 minimum on studying! I’m not sure why MCAT prep cost is not in the school budget! This exam is worth MORE than your GPA. The GPA costs $50-100k minimum! This exam is worth any cost, it is your golden ticket and the only way you can be compared across the board. You need to do practice exams (ALL of them!). Do ALL of the material you can get your hands on. The old material (old TBR and EK books) still works great! Berkeley review is my GO TO source for ALL of the students I tutor.
3. The time you study for the MCAT is not a reflection of your abilities. The people who score strongly on the MCAT with minimum studying are either great at exams or have had teachers who focused on MCAT-like content. I took the MCAT without physics or much of biochem and ended up studying for 6 months (was ready by 4 but had to wait!) because I did not take biochem. Some people may have to study for a year. This does not mean you are less able than someone else! The smartest thing you can possibly do is to study for the time YOU need (which is not always 12 weeks).
Accepted: You’ve had such diverse experiences in your life. Can you tell us about some of the experiences you’ve had that have motivated you to pursue medicine?
Amareen: There are so many! My favorite story is one where I was a nursing aide for an elderly woman. They sent me to her a few hours after she woke up from her hip surgery and she was crying in pain. I took her hand and trying to soothe her with my “typical” technique of “breathe in 1,2,3…breathe out,” but it didn’t work for long. She wasn’t able to speak much but I usually offer as much as possible and make conversation until my patients begin to speak comfortably. She was in a lot of pain and all I could think was, “If I were in her shoes, I would want chocolate ice cream!” I asked her and her eyes LIT UP! She was cold so I knew this was not the best idea. I went to the fridge and grabbed sugar free chocolate ice cream and MICROWAVED it! She was drinking chocolate malt! She began to cry and was so happy drinking it, we ended up going through 6 cups (skipped dinner due to eating difficulties so the total calories were similar). I was told she liked to sing but this was not my forte. I began to hum random songs and she SANG! I was so excited! I took care of her at the hospital, a nursing home, and her retirement home overnight. She really proved to me how much of a difference the type of care I provide can make to my patients and that I would hopefully improve with future patients as a physician.
Accepted: Can you share 3 fun facts about yourself?
1. I’m a competitive bodybuilder (in bikini class) and have placed in the top 5 in my first competition! From this, I run a fitness company called MetaboliteMD that offers super cheap ($30) personal online training for busy health professionals and patients.
2. I am starting a homeless shelter and homeschool in Boston called “School for Gifted Youth” to help homeless youth feel more comfortable studying and develop a stronger internal locus of control. The 501c(3) has been filed and our interns have AMAZING personal stories about youth homelessness which we hope to share. We are developing a K-12 curriculum which will allow the kids to SKIP GRADES so they feel stronger academically. We will recruit Boston students to teach our clients. We are still looking for funding so that we can house the youth with their families because a lot of the time youth do not want to be separated from their parents or siblings. I have background working with homeless people and this was an absolute dream of mine.
3. I LOVE the MCAT (ah, why? because I like to teach it)! I actually took it with the motivation of knowing I would be able to tutor for more companies with a high score! My company allows me to personalize this approach. It is SO fun to hear everyone’s stories and give them a more holistic, stress-free approach (fitness and nutrition plans are a bonus) to studying for the exam. I make them hourly plans, purchase all of their tests/books, and sometimes tutor just one student up to 7 hours in a day! My students know I am flexible and we work together to make sure they succeed. They have 24-hour access to text me and I love hearing about the progress they make!
Accepted: What else would you like to share?
Amareen: Well the only thing I have left to say now is: don’t let anyone tell you when to go to med school. I was LAUGHED at for saying I was applying to med school, no one believed an 18 year old applicant who took most of her prereqs at community college would even get considered. I applied really late in the cycle and grew concerned when my parents also agreed that my age hindered me. Your age has nothing to do with when it is your time to go to med school! My interviewer extended my interview to 3 hours and told me that she believed I belonged at BU regardless of my age. I learned my maturity from being surrounded by friends ranging from 21-35 and also personal home-life struggles that increased my responsibilities from the age of 14 onward.
Being an educator and business owner, I have to act older than “my age.” But at the same time, it is important to understand that each individual is different. Not everyone will fit boundaries and as premeds, we really do not need to. Be different, work hard, stay motivated, it is SO worth it ☺!
Side note: I am open to sending my AMCAS to anyone! ☺
You can follow Amareen’s med school adventure by checking out the links above. Thank you Amareen for sharing your story with us!
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