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 Abby…
Accepted: We’d like to get to know you! Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad? When did you graduate?
Abby: My name is Abby! I grew up pretty much halfway in between Washington DC and Baltimore, MD, and I have lived in Maryland all my life. I went to the University of Maryland, College Park for my undergraduate degree, and received a Bachelor of Science in Animal Sciences with a minor in Spanish Language and Cultures. I graduated in 2016, and headed straight to medical school a few months later!
Accepted: Where are you currently attending medical school? What year are you?
Abby: I am currently a second year medical student at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, in Baltimore City.
Accepted: When did you figure out you wanted to be a physician?
Abby: My path into medicine was a little bit interesting – I originally wanted to go to veterinary school. During my senior year of high school, I took anatomy and really enjoyed it, which kind of confirmed my suspicions that something in the general medical field may be the right choice for me. This encouraged me to build on my background of always being curious about science, my love of learning, and also of animals, and to explore veterinary medicine with a major in Animal Sciences, which is what I did. However, once I started getting the necessary experience for veterinary school, I realized I wasn’t passionate about it. I figured this out somewhat “late” for some – in my sophomore year of college. I really missed and craved more meaningful interactions with people, as well teaching, which I think medicine contains a wonderful aspect of. Working directly with the individuals you are treating allows for a unique dynamic of education, exploration, leadership, building relationships, and so many more things that I love. So, I kind of fell into medicine after deciding to shadow my old pediatrician, and deciding that I enjoyed those types of interactions so much better than my experiences in veterinary medicine. Looking back, it makes sense. I remember watching Discovery Health on TV as an elementary schooler, always being curious about the body and science, loving school, loving to read and learn, considering myself a leader, so on and so forth. In the end, I think it was the right decision for me!
Accepted: How has medical school been so far for you? Is there anything that has surprised you? Is there anything that you wish you could change?
Abby: Medical school has been great so far! It’s really quite the ride. It’s been the most challenging thing I’ve done yet – it’s rigorous, it’s difficult. It doesn’t really stop, and it’s taxing, especially now as a second year, getting into more pathology, having a little bit of constant anxiety about Step 1 at the back of my mind. I think it surprised me just HOW MUCH I was going to study in medical school. I knew going into it that I was going to be studying a lot, but you never really know until you’re in the thick of it. I don’t know what I expected – I didn’t really know that weekends before exams would be spent studying literally 10+ hours a day, and that when a friend is in town close to an exam, you do have to tell them sorry, but you can’t go out tonight because you have to study. It’s a lot of give and take, and you need to find that balance. In terms of what I wish I could change – I’m not really sure! There are things I like about medical school, and things that I don’t. I think the biggest thing I wish I could change is just the fact that, like I said, life pretty much stops once an exam is approaching. It’s a lot of stress, it’s difficult to stay grounded, and it’s easy to feel like you’re missing out on the rest of life, as you’re seeing people moving on and doing other things around you as you’re studying for hours on end, feeling kind of stagnant. But, it will be worth it in the long run!
Accepted: Looking back at the application process, how did it go for you? Did you experience any hiccups along the way?
Abby: I was extremely fortunate in my application process. I applied once, was lucky enough to be accepted to several schools, and am very happy where I’ve ended up. I just had one little hiccup, which was a “me problem”– I will never forget this. My personal statement went right up to the character limit– so much so, that the period at the very end of the statement was cut off. And I realized it after I already submitted! I flipped out a little bit. I thought, they’re going to think I’m so careless, submitting this statement and not ending the last sentence with a period, my chances are done for. So, when my interviews started rolling in, I was SO relieved. If I didn’t notice a missing period, I guess nobody else did either.
Accepted: How did you prepare for the MCAT? Did you feel prepared on test day?
Abby: In terms of how I prepared for the MCAT, I personally did not take a course, I didn’t really have the time or the money to invest in it. I purchased a set of MCAT books and attempted to self-study from those. I took a January exam, so I was trying to study during a semester packed with some difficult classes, like nutrition and biochemistry, while working and being a TA. Looking back, I think I would have tried to take it over a summer break, or maybe when I had some more time to myself to just dedicate to studying. I did end up having about three weeks over winter break just for studying. I ended up at the library most days, and starting about 8 weeks out from the test, I would go to a building on campus every Sunday morning at 8 am (with my best friend, who took it on the same day as I did, and now goes to medical school with me!) and we would do a full-length practice test. It wasn’t fun to give up every Sunday morning, but I think that I learn best from practicing, so this was something extremely helpful that I highly recommend! Take the time to do practice exams – simulate the testing environment, the breaks, everything. Get comfortable with taking practice exams, and then thoroughly go over your answers to see what you got wrong, and why. You want to analyze your testing strategy to see what you’re doing right and wrong, and improve from there.
Accepted: Readers can find out more about you either on your blog, or your Instagram account! What made you want to start sharing your journey with others?
Abby: I would love for readers to learn more about me! My blog is medstudentsaga.wordpress.com, and my Instagram is @medstudentsaga. Thinking back to why I started, I think I was really inspired by other accounts, which I started looking at once I was accepted to medical school, to kind of get a feel for what it might be like and see the experiences other students were sharing. I’ve always loved taking photos, so I enjoyed the concept of documenting the huge journey that is medical school on a platform where I could be creative, easily access it myself, but also share it with others! I have really loved being able to mentor and guide other students along the way over the years, so I think I saw it as an outlet for that as well. I’m always super happy to get other students reaching out to me with questions or for advice. I’ve even been able to edit a few personal statements and essays (time permitting!), and it’s just an overall really fun way to share my experience as a medical student, while seeing what other people are experiencing, and inspiring and pushing each other to do our best. I think I’ve found such an amazing community, especially on Instagram, of other medical students, physicians, and other professionals that I really did not expect, and I’m so glad that I found what I did! I’m looking forward to continuing sharing my journey with you all.
Accepted: Lastly, can you share your top three tips for surviving your first year of medical school?
1. KEEP UP. Some of you may have heard the pancake analogy, and I really do think it’s a great way to describe medical school. The material, the work, the hours – it never stops. So every day, you need to “eat your pancakes” (do your work) from that day, so to speak. You can choose not to do it one day – I can choose to take an afternoon off and not review a lecture or take notes from the day. But those pancakes aren’t going away, so that makes double the pancakes for me to eat tomorrow. You can pick and choose how you’d like to complete your work and study, but in order to prevent getting completely bogged down, I suggest trying to keep up with those pancakes. There will be days where you really don’t want to, and that’s okay. But, just find good ways to motivate yourself and take some time off if you really need it.
2. Take time for yourself. We need to stay human in medical school. Stick to your hobbies! And always remember that while medicine may define our careers, medicine does not define us. I heard a great quote from a physician the other day – she said “I am a person before I am a doctor.” Medicine may be your dream career, but you are a human being at the end of the day. What do you do to take care of yourself, to have fun, to enjoy your life outside of medicine? Find those things, those people, and cling to them.
3. Don’t panic because you don’t know what you want to do, or because you change your mind. This is still a piece of advice I am struggling with and need to remind myself of daily. The decision to declare a specialty approaches closer, and I need to remind myself that it’s okay I don’t know what I want to do! While time goes fast, there really is a lot of it to explore – take the time to shadow, talk to physicians, do some reading and research. I came into medical school thinking I might want to do family medicine, I’ve toyed around now with the idea of med-peds, pediatrics, maybe OBGYN, and at the end of the day, I still have no clue. And that’s okay! Everyone figures it out at some point, and it really is never too late to make a change. I’ve met several physicians who have switched residencies to specialize in something different, so while it’s difficult and takes time, it’s possible and worth it to do what you love.
You can continue following Abby’s story on Instagram (@medstudentsaga) and on her blog A Medical Student Saga. Thank you Abby for sharing your story with us, we wish you much success!
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