This interview is the latest in an Accepted.com 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 Derin…
Accepted: We’d like to get to know you! Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad?
Derin: Hey readers! My name is Aderinola but most people know me as Derin. I am originally from Lagos, Nigeria but I moved to the U.S. when I was l0 years old. I moved around a bit but the longest place I have lived in the U.S. is now Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
I went to the University of Pennsylvania here in Philadelphia and was a double major in Sociology of Health & Medicine and African Studies. I also minored in Biology to supplement my pre-med requisites. I loved the education I received, being able to combine my love of medicine with the social sciences and humanities.
Accepted: How have you been spending your time since graduating college (other than applying to med school)? Why did you decide to take a gap year, rather than jump directly from college to medical school?
Derin: I have been working as a Clinical Research Coordinator at Perelman School of Medicine – University of Pennsylvania. I love the work I do! I work mostly with qualitative data, so it’s essentially utilizing qualitative and mixed methods methodology to solve clinical research questions.
I remember when I decided to take a gap year. It was the summer going into my junior year and I had just received my physics grade. I was very disappointed at my performance. At the same time, I realized it had been difficult trying to succeed in physics and working many hours at my summer job. My self-esteem felt shot and I concluded that I needed to reduce my workload. So instead of taking organic chemistry the first semester of my junior year, I decided to take only social science/ humanities courses for that semester and focus my energy on my two majors. At that point, I also started thinking about having a real world experience. I decided I wanted to have some professional work experience before plunging right into medicine. Most of the positions I was interested in required at least a two year commitment, so I decided I would have a two year gap.
Accepted: I see you submitted your AMCAS application just a few hours after the system opened for submissions. Can you talk about how you managed to be so prepared and why you felt it was important to submit early?
Derin: Well, I literally started working on my application the first day it opened up – May 1st. Step one was actually logging in. The next day I started filling in the biographical information and my work and activities. Surprising the work and activities section took a lot longer than I thought because I had been involved in so much during undergrad! I utilized my resume/CV to fill out this particular section, along with past journals and written reflections. At UPenn, there is a process pre-health applicants have to go through to obtain a committee letter; the process also helps in getting some materials for AMCAS ready. I had a rough draft of my work and activities section ready to go because of this.
By the middle of May, I started working on my personal statement and actively editing and rewriting. I had a very rough outline that I had started a few months ago and I built my personal statement off that. I also had some awesome mentors and friends help me by reading and critiquing my essay.
I wanted my personal statement to be an accurate representation of both my writing abilities and my journey to med school. It was a juggling act trying to get my application ready and working full-time. However, when it comes to deadlines and applications, I am a very organized individual. By June 3rd, I was ready to submit my application.
Accepted: What would you say has been the most challenging aspect of the med school admissions process so far? How did you approach that challenge and overcome it?
Derin: The most challenging part is trying not to stress out and think of the worst scenario. To tackle this, I surround myself with positive people and read a lot of success stories. I also exercise a lot and do obstacle races like the Spartan race to remind myself that no challenge is too big, it CAN be conquered. In addition, I write in my journal to ease the anxiety and talk to my friends who have also been on this journey. I wrote a post on my blog called “Strategies for Managing the Stress of the Application Process” where I list some other tactics I utilize. Check it out!
Accepted: Where are you applying to med school? Do you have a top choice program?
Derin: I am applying to schools in the east coast and a few in the midwest and south. Each of these schools have their own specific strengths. I spent a great deal of time researching my schools well in advance and had 12 of the schools on my list since May 2013. The qualities these schools have in common are emphasis on research, commitment to the underserved/ local community, and working with diverse population. I could see myself at any of these schools, and well my top choice program, is one that enables me to thrive. I am looking forward to finding that out during my interview process.
Accepted: Do you have any idea at this early stage what sort of medicine you want to practice?
Derin: Yes! I am very interested in Obstetrics and Gynecology. I got interested in this while doing a winter internship in Peru and shadowing an OB/Gyn doctor. Prior to that I had no exposure to the specialty, but that experience sparked my interest and I looked into the field. All of a sudden, it seemed like I was meeting female Ob/Gyns everywhere I went! All my medical mentors right now are Ob/Gyn doctors. One is currently practicing, two started their residency and the fourth is in her final year, so it’s pretty cool seeing their different stages. I will add that, I did not go looking specifically for mentors who are Ob/Gyns; I believe this was just God setting me up, divine intervention really.
Accepted: Do you have any other advice for our med school applicant readers?
Derin: Plan ahead, stay organized, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. One thing that I have learned along the way is that “The well laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” Sometimes you can’t sweat the small stuff. What may seem like a down fall or rejection is just a redirection. Pick your head up and plunge ahead! Taking this gap year for instance, has been the best redirection I could have ever imagined. Another example: I was initially supposed to do a fellowship abroad after I graduated college, however due to funding, it got cancelled. I was crushed and the next day began frantically applying to jobs, that’s when I actually stumbled on my current job. It was the best redirection! I have attained a certain level of maturity, explored my interests and grown so much in just a short while.
Also, don’t let procrastination get the best of you!
In addition, don’t be afraid to go at your own pace! Some things just can’t be rushed.
Lastly, ask for help if you need it! I wish I had talked to more upperclassmen while in undergrad, or had some strong mentorship. I didn’t do that. I made silly mistakes like not researching my professors before I took the class and not asking upperclassmen what they did to succeed in the class. I’ve realized now that no man is an island and you just have to open your mouth and ask. And even if one person isn’t willing to help, ask the next person.
Accepted: Can you tell us about your blog? When did you start blogging? What have you gained from the blogging experience?
Derin: I’ve been blogging since 2011. My last two blogs were travel blogs, one on my trip to South Africa and one on my internship in Peru. I love blogging and recounting my experience for the sake of posterity. I started “Curve Balls and Med School” because I envisioned my gap years as being a critical stage in my life that I’d want to record and look back on. I also knew a few undergrads on this path and I wanted to be a source of inspiration. Of course, there was the initial fear of failure so even though I started the blog in July 2013 right after I graduated, it was anonymous until a few months ago. I wanted to demystify the med school application process and I felt there would be more credibility by being open.
From blogging, I’ve learned that no one’s journey is the same, everyone has their own curve balls and that’s what makes it so unique. I feature current med students and it’s interesting learning about their journey to med school. It’s also been really cool to see how encouraging and receptive people have been to my blog. I felt a little vulnerable at first – there is a very real possibility for failure and people are following my journey knowing fully well I am not in med school – yet. At the same time, I live by faith and I walk by faith, so I know God is in control. Blogging has been a humbling experience, and that’s why I adopted this quote by my favorite author Maya Angelou: “When you learn, teach, when you get give.”
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You can read more about Derin’s med school journey by checking out her blog, Curve Balls and Med School. Thank you Derin for sharing your story with us!
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