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 Maria Valdez…
Accepted: We’d like to get to know you! Where are you from? Where and what are you studying as an undergrad?
Maria: Hello! My name is Maria Valdez, I live and was raised in Yuma, Arizona but was born in Mexicali, Baja California in Mexico. My dad came to the U.S. when my mom was pregnant with me and then when I was about 1 year old we all moved. I have 2 older brothers and 1 little sister, who is my world. I attend the University of Arizona – Yuma campus. The main campus of the University of Arizona is in Tucson, but after a year there I came back to Yuma and am finishing up my degree here in Yuma. My degree is a Bachelor’s of Science in Family Studies and Human Development. I changed my major several times – at first I was majoring in anthropology, then physiology, public health and lastly Family Studies and Human Development. At the end of the day I am very happy with the major I chose because it has taught me the emotional side of medicine. Sometimes a patient needs more than a prescription, surgical procedure or exam, they need empathy to get through whatever they are going through. I like to call this major the holistic major of medicine.
Accepted: If you could meet any famous person – past or present – who would it be and why?
Maria: I would have loved to meet Oliver Sacks. His view of medicine and his research in neuroscience is phenomenal. He is sort of like a poet and neurologist put together – his writings/books are amazing. He was such a curious man, and had so many stories. I actually did a presentation on his work/research with the disease encephalitis lethargica for an internship. I would have loved to meet and talk with him about neuroscience, and so many other things!
Accepted: If you could describe yourself in 3 words, what would they be?
Maria: Ambitious, hopeful and family oriented.
Accepted: When and where do you plan on applying to med school?
Maria: I plan to apply to medical school in August 2017. The two top medical schools on my list are University of Arizona – Phoenix campus and Keck Medical School in California. My goal is to apply to medical schools in and close to my family’s state, Arizona. Ideally, I would love to stay in either Arizona or California but I will apply to all the states around Arizona. I want to remain close to my family, especially my sister.
Accepted: What stage are you at in the med school process? Have you taken the MCAT yet? What tools do you plan on using to study for the exam?
Maria: I am currently studying for my MCAT. I am done with all my premed courses. I was going to apply last year and take my MCAT last year but I was not able too. I had a lot going on: I was an intern in psychiatry during the summer, I had summer classes, plus other work that I needed to do for my internship. I realized the first day of my internship that I couldn’t do it, I was not going to be able to study for the MCAT and do everything else. It was painful to realize this but I was glad I did. The last thing one wants to do is go into medical school burned out and I think that is how I would have ended up if I would have applied this year. Now my plan is to take the MCAT in May 2017. I am currently using Kaplan. I used Barrons first but I felt it was too condensed. Right now I am learning all the Kaplan flashcards. I also do the daily question that @MCATpublishing tweets each day, and have great people around me who are helping me and motivating me! Another thing that helps during MCAT prep is organization! That is key, organize a schedule of when you will study. It is so much information missing one study day can hurt, but remember to take at least 1 day off so you can get a break.
Accepted: You have a blog called Marvalous Premed007. What can readers find on your site? What made you want to start chronicling your journey to med school?
Maria: Yes I do. I started that blog in the midst of my neurosurgery internship. The main reason I started it was because I needed to vent. A lot of things were happening in my life: I left home, was in neurosurgery so I saw a lot of things from death to miracles, I left the military spontaneously and my sister was going through a tough time (she was diagnosed with Epilepsy and a chromosomal mutation). I needed to do something to keep me sane, and writing seemed to be it. I ended up realizing that I loved writing. Not only was it therapeutic, but it became my hobby and now another area where I wish to pursue a career in. I also hope that my posts motivate and inspire other students by showing them that they are not alone. I have not written in my personal blog in a while, but I have a post I will publish soon! I am also a blogger for Huffington Post where I write about more general topics. For example one of my last blogs was about the science and politics of cannabis. I love writing and hope to grow in that field.
Accepted: Who are some of the people or what are some of the experiences that inspired you to follow your chosen career path?
Maria: The person that most inspired me to start a medical career was my sister. She was diagnosed with Autism when I was 10, and from then on I spent my life in and out of clinics. I translated for my mom, since she only knew Spanish, so sometimes I had no choice but to learn some medical terminology to be able to translate. Time passed and I went on learning more and more, till I did it for fun. I knew I wanted to go into neuroscience. I did not know I loved surgery until my neurosurgery internship. Along with my sister, I thankfully have my family who supports me in my career. Medicine is a hard and a lifelong career, so a support system is crucial.
Accepted: What are some of your most rewarding extracurricular activities? How have those shaped your love for medicine?
Maria: Because I jumped into the medical field very young, the majority of my extracurricular activities were in medicine itself, like my neurosurgery internship or my developmental peds internship. The one that I think was the most rewarding and emotionally and physically draining was my neurosurgery internship. I started out in the summer and continued the whole school year till the following summer. I loved it – I had never seen such beauty and precision in my life. But as we know, medicine isn’t always happy. It can be the exact opposite. I remember a patient who was in a car crash, he had ICP so he got an EVD. It was thought he was going to have it removed soon but things took a turn and he started to have IC bleeding. Long story short, he had about 3 to 4 surgeries to remove the EVD and control the brain bleeds. Having to talk to his family was torture. It was hard giving hope when you yourself are looking for hope to save this patient, and it is painful to see the family going through so much…Fortunately, the patient lived and had no neurological deficits. This side is the ugly side of medicine, because medicine has an ugly side, a very very ugly side. And sometimes we don’t see the ugly side of medicine till medical school or 6 months before the MCAT. That is why shadowing and actual experience in the medical field is CRUCIAL. It will help you decide how much you love medicine and if you love it enough to commit yourself to this career. I am very grateful I got the opportunity to see the ugly side of medicine. These ugly sides have actually made me question 2 times if I really do love medicine or not, but once I get back into the OR or spend a day helping save lives in the trauma bay, I remember that there isn’t anything I rather do than save lives.
Accepted: Any last words of wisdom you’d like to share?
Maria: Don’t lose hope, don’t say you can’t be a doctor because you got a C, I got some Cs… Now, I am definitely not proud of them, but I learned and that is the most important thing because when you become a doctor, you will make mistakes that’s inevitable, you are human, but the important thing is that you learn from them. Also, find a hobby. Medicine is emotionally draining, and you will need that hobby to refresh yourself. A resident told me that once, and I thought, why? If I love spending hours in the OR, I don’t need a hobby. Sometimes, though, you don’t realize you are draining yourself till you’re halfway drained (that’s how I got those Cs). And lastly, never lose curiosity. Curiosity is what will keep you going, because just like Aristotle once said, the more you know the more you know you don’t know.
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