We’d like to introduce you to “D,” a future doctor who has just been accepted into a number of med schools and has a big decision ahead of him: where to attend! Read our interview below to hear all about the challenges and triumphs of a non-traditional med school applicant, and don’t forget to check out D’s blog for more stories and tips – Doctor Or Bust. Thanks D, and best of luck to you!
Accepted: First, can you tell us a little about yourself? Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad? What is your favorite non-school book?
D: I grew up in Southern California, and like a typical Californian I’ve moved around a lot, but I’ve mostly stayed in Los Angeles County. I’m one of fourteen, second to youngest, I come from a large family of mixed lineage. Also, I didn’t grow up with most of my brothers and sisters as I was born out of wedlock. I attended California Polytechnic University of Pomona where I obtained my bachelors of science in Exercise Physiology and a minor in Human Physiology. My favorite non school related reads are just about anything from Bertrand Russell; my favorite book by him at the moment is “The Problems of Philosophy.” Overall, I prefer reading famous essays or opinions as I find them to be more entertaining — I’m not really into fictional reading.
Accepted: Congrats on your med school admit! Where did you get accepted and when do you start?
D: Thank you! I was accepted into four programs: Cooper Rowan, East Virginia Medical School, Oakland Beaumont, and Loyola Stritch. I am awaiting a response from Boston University early next month. While I’m overjoyed to gain acceptances, no one really prepares you for one of the hardest parts: selecting where you will develop into a physician and live for the next probable decade.
When I was compiling my school list I only applied to programs I could envision myself fitting in, while this was great when I got accepted, it was terrible when it came time to choose. At the time I was choosing programs it was important to me that the program I felt focused on service and collegiality. I’m still awaiting to hear back from my top pick; I’d probably go there if accepted.
I wanted to select a program that could make me the best patient advocate and supply me with the most worldly experience. I have previous research experience, so I also wanted to go to an institution where clinical research was strongly encouraged.
Finally, I wanted to relocate and try something new, so I’m pretty certain that I will find myself living near the eastern seaboard around this time next year.
Accepted: In your blog, you describe yourself as a nontraditional premed applicant. Can you elaborate on that please?
D: When I finished high school I was accepted into a university, but I was discouraged from attending by my parents who wanted me to attend a community college as I didn’t qualify for financial aid. So my tuition came out of my pocket I got a job and hit the labor force for several years while sampling courses. Eventually, I decided to focus on school again and transferred to the university I was originally accepted into out of high school ironically.
I had an exciting opportunity to do electrophysiology research, where I studied ion channels. The research and the scholarships I received had me focused on PhD programs. I didn’t want to limit my options, so I also took the premed requirements concurrently. But, I never thought I’d apply for MD programs, until one day I just felt pretty useless when a family member and friend passed away a month apart. After that I withdrew my applications for graduate school and took the MCAT squeezed in some volunteering and hit the AMCAS applications hard. It all worked out in the end with the acceptances, but it really felt like a huge gamble at the time.
Accepted: Looking back at the med school application process, what would you say were your three greatest challenges and how would you advise current applicants who are faced with those same (or similar) challenges?
D: I’d say the top three challenges for me were: the MCAT (self studied), secondary essays, and lack of support from some people in my personal network.
My advice for premeds who have to self study is they find a study package that works for them; once I found my study package and stayed with it my practice scores steadily increased. However, self studying isn’t for everyone, there’s no shame in taking a prep course if you can afford it.
For secondaries my only advice is to have research about each school already completed before you receive secondaries. At first there is a drought where you receive no secondaries, then there’s a deluge, so it’s hard to find time to finish everything if you didn’t prepare beforehand. Personally, I paid for the MSAR (you must get the MSAR full edition) and made a spreadsheet about the pros and cons and random details several months before secondaries, so I just referred to my sheets to save me time while writing essays. If you don’t buy the MSAR you’re doing yourself a big disservice.
And about the last point, you’re bound to have some friends and family who can’t understand your sacrifices and may even doubt you while being a premed. I’ve had some flat out tell me I should give up. Always be true to yourself, and make sure to build a good support network of like-minded friends and mentors who understand your lifestyle and the hurdles you’ll certainly face as you chase the medical degree.
Accepted: Can you tell us more about your blog? When did you start blogging? What do you hope to gain from the experience?
D: I just started my blog sometime in October or so this year (2013). It’s a blog that is intended to share my experience as a nontraditional premed, now MD candidate, and into the future as a resident. But when I started the blog the goals weren’t so lofty, initially I was just using it to write some tutorials for a few premeds who asked for advice on Twitter. To my surprise one day my page counter told me other people actually read my blog too, so I decided to try to make it as a resource.
When I was trying to figure out how to apply to medical school I felt pretty lost, so I hoped this site would serve as a foundation for others like me who drift into medicine.
My only hope was that someone would feel my blog was useful and inspire at least one person, fortunately I have received a few messages here and there from premeds who’ve reached out to share their personal experiences with me — it really brightens my day.
D kindly informed us that he’ll be attending Boston University Medical School. Here was our follow up question:
Accepted: Why did you choose BU Medical School? What are you most looking forward to?
D: When you apply to medical school you never really imagine that one of the hardest parts will be selecting from a program if you have more than one medical school acceptance. This is obviously a better problem to have compared to the alternative. However, as premeds I think I was used to being told “what to do” for so long it was a curious feeling to finally get to decide what I “want to do.”
At the end of the day, it’s all about finding which school will be your home for at least the next four years, or as some schools call it “finding your fit.” The funny thing is when I applied to Boston University (BU) it felt like a long-shot, so when I received an interview I was sure they’d made a mistake and would withdraw my invitation sooner or later – I preemptively snatched up the first interview I could afford.
My first time ever being in Boston was for my interview, I found the campus and the city breathtaking. I was lucky to find a great host, an incredibly busy and knowledgeable M3 currently enrolled at BU. He gave me a treasure trove of information that was useful for my interview, this was my first active demonstration of the collegiality I yearned for in a medical school.
My interviewer and I connected during our session, we actually just about ran out of time during my interview, I even saw myself contacting her later as a possible research mentor after my interview was done. The dean of admissions was also very charismatic and down to earth, and I felt like we weren’t being pressured or rushed into the most important decision of our lives. I still remember the feeling I got when the dean was giving us our farewell speech, it felt as if he were speaking directly to me. I felt this medical program would help me fulfill my primary concerns as a MD candidate: gaining the tools so I can become excellent physician and patient advocate while staying grounded. I suppose, through the course of my interview day I slowly started to imagine myself walking the halls and growing as an individual there.
After returning from my interview I had to wait several months to hear back from Boston, in the meantime I received my share of acceptances and rejections from other programs. By the time the BU decision date was looming I had already been accepted into four schools, however knowing this didn’t assuage my fears of rejection from BU. I soon realized how emotionally invested I was, and how much it meant to me to be accepted because I had found my “fit”. So, when I received a phone call regarding my acceptance I was ecstatic to hear the feeling was mutual.
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