Accepted: Last we spoke, you were just about to start med school at Marian University College of Osteopathic Medicine (MU-COM). Can you bring us up to speed? How have the last few years been??
Heather: Time is certainly flying! I am currently in the middle of my third year of medical school with 6 months of clinical rotations under my belt. Looking back, I can’t believe how fast it all went (certainly doesn’t feel like it when you are studying your life away!).
In the past two years, I planned a wedding, got married, moved to a new apartment, and studied for and passed my Level 1 boards. Even with the first set of boards out of the way, I am already starting to study for my COMLEX Level 2 PE & CE which I will be taking in March and May, respectively.
This is rather early but I really want to knock these exams out of the park so I can focus on doing well on audition rotations during my fourth year.
Accepted: Is there anything you wish you would’ve known as a first-year student? What advice would you give to incoming students so that they make the most of their time at med school?
Heather: Before going to medical school, I talked to more people than I can count about what to expect, but I don’t think any amount of advice can truly prepare you for that first year.
Be prepared for a wild ride! In hindsight, my best advice is to find joy no matter where you are.
The first two years of medical school can be absolutely brutal at times and it’s easy to get bogged down by the stress and anxiety of constant studying and exams. Remember to make time to enjoy your life, family, friends, and hobbies. Remind yourself often of why you started your journey in medicine and that you are extremely lucky to have this opportunity!
Accepted: Two years ago your interests were OB-Gyn and emergency medicine. Has that changed? How have your rotations influenced your thoughts about a future specialty?
Heather: Wow! Yes, I’ve made a complete shift in my specialty preference. I’m actually planning to pursue either Child and Adolescent Psychiatry or Pediatrics.
The funny thing is, I always had an interest in both fields but never really committed to the idea. After several months of clinical rotations, I ended up loving nearly everything I’ve done: Internal Medicine, Emergency Med, OB-Gyn, and especially Peds!
The common thread between all those very different specialties was the interpersonal relationships and opportunities to create a connection at a vulnerable period in a patient’s life. When I completed my Psychiatry rotation, I felt very much at home. I find the patients fascinating and inspiring. I love getting to spend more time talking with patients and working through problems that impact many areas of their lives.
At this point, I hope to combine my two loves by applying to Triple Board residency in addition to Categorical Psychiatry.
Accepted: Can we back up a bit to your pre-med life? Last time, you had mentioned that were a reapplicant and how you had worked to increase your MCAT before reapplying. Can you tell us more about that? Why do you think you were initially rejected? What did you do right the second time around?
Heather: I think my biggest challenge was that I was very much “average” in comparison to the medical school applicant pool. I also limited myself geographically when applying so I could be close to family and my husband. Combined, these issues limited my opportunities significantly.
Although I did retake the MCAT and improved my score by a few points, I think the best thing I did during my gap year was gain meaningful patient experience beyond shadowing or volunteering in the ER a few hours a week. I obtained my nursing assistant certification and spent a year caring for patients in rehabilitation and private home care settings.
In addition to more experience, I was also more realistic about applying to medical school the second time around. I applied to a greater variety of schools and strengthened my application with better scores, letters of recommendation, and real life experience.
Accepted: How would you advise others who go through this experience?
Heather: With almost three years of medical school under my belt, I’m still so happy that I pursued medicine and the reapplication process. However, I advise anyone pursuing a career in medicine to know what you’re getting yourself into!
If you can think of other things might rather do besides medicine, go do that! Medicine is an extremely rewarding profession but it isn’t without sacrifice and hardship.
Not only that, it’s an expensive process. Applications, interviews, exam fees, study materials – it doesn’t end after you are accepted to medical school. If you determine medicine is the ONLY profession for you, go for it! Keep your head held high and showcase your strengths (research, volunteering, interpersonal skills, etc.) but also work on your weaknesses.
Accepted: Can you share a few tips about the school-life balance? What are some things med students can do to stay sane during these rigorous, study-heavy years?
Heather: Balance is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. Contrary to what society tells us, self-care is not selfish! School is obviously a high priority but it shouldn’t be your only priority.
It’s very easy to lock yourself away, never spend time with friends or family, not make time for healthy meals and workouts, or stop doing things you enjoy. I promise you, an extra hour of studying is not going to make or break you, but neglecting your basic needs like sleep just might.
We are starting to realize just how prevalent burn-out and issues like depression, anxiety, suicide, etc. are within the medical community. While we all want to do well in our profession, do not do so at the expense of your health, relationships, or livelihood!
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