We’d like to introduce you to Chantal Mendes, a small town girl looking to make a big impact in the medical field. You can read about Chantal’s med school application experience right here and on her blog, Journalist Doing Science. Thank you Chantal for sharing your story with us –we wish you lots of luck on your journey!
Accepted: First, can you tell us a little about yourself – where are you from, where did you go to school and when did you graduate? What is the last book you read for fun?
Chantal: I’m originally from North Carolina but moved with my family to Vermont when I was 10 years old. I’m the oldest girl in a large family and growing up in a small, rural area was definitely a unique experience. With 6 younger siblings, caring for others kind of became second nature to me and I’ve always felt a sense of responsibility for the well-being of my loved ones. I also consider myself to be fairly independent. I was homeschooled until high school and had a lot of freedom when it came to what I wanted to study. I focused a lot on English because I loved books and creative writing and I think that greatly influenced my decision to pursue an English major at Boston University and ultimately end up with a journalism degree.
I still try to read as much as I can and am in the middle of War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, although I have to admit it is slow going, Anna Karenina is still my favorite Tolstoy creation by far.
Accepted: What stage are you up to in the med school application process?
Chantal: I am almost finished with my secondaries currently; I only have one left! It’s been a little tough because I always have so much going on, so while I’ve been writing applications I’ve also been working, studying for the MCAT and preparing to move to Chicago. I thrive on being busy but it can get stressful at times. I worked all through college and my post-bac program so I’m used to having a lot on my plate but sometimes it would be nice to focus on only one thing. I’ll be really excited when I hit ‘submit’ on that last app!
Accepted: Can you talk about how you made the transition from journalism to med school?
Chantal: The past few years have been a pretty crazy ride. In high school I was always told that I should pursue writing because that’s what I was good at, so I applied to Boston University because they had a really great English department and then ended up transferring to the College of Communication two years later.
When I graduated in 2010 I fully intended to be a journalist. Instead, the first job I was offered was a project coordinator position on an international research grant at Tufts University and it changed everything for me. I was working with all of these amazing doctors, vets and public health specialists studying pandemic diseases and I realized that I wanted to do something on the front lines. I wanted to be more involved and I wanted to make an impact.
A year later I was accepted into the Harvard University Extension School Post-Bac program and now I’m in the middle of the application cycle! Along the way I’ve had some wonderful opportunities to use my abilities as a journalist in a scientific setting by getting involved with research projects at Harvard University and Brigham & Women’s Hospital.
A huge part of being a good journalist is cultivating curiosity, asking the right questions and constantly pursuing the truth. The same is true for research and I’ve really enjoyed learning the process of discovery. Having a background in journalism has been a critical part of my pursuit of medicine and I’m glad I’ve been able to combine my two loves through my blog, journalistdoingscience.blogspot.com.
Accepted: How important do you think clinical experience is for pre-med students?
Chantal: Clinical experience is important because when you’re slowly being crushed under the weight of science classes and application stress it’s easy to lose sight of why you want to be a doctor. Interacting with a patient, observing physicians, and simply being in a clinical environment can help remind you of why you’re passionate about medicine.
I volunteered at an orthopedic trauma clinic for a semester and it was so helpful to observe physicians and see firsthand what it means to be a doctor. I was able to work directly with attendings and residents who would sometimes let me help with small procedures and I always left for the day feeling giddy with excitement for the future. It’s very affirming to shadow a physician and be renewed with a sense of conviction that you’ve chosen to pursue the right profession. It’s very encouraging.
At the same time, I don’t think that clinical experience is a crucial requirement for everyone.Some students get to medical school having spent zero time in a hospital because their strengths are in other areas like lab research or volunteering with underserved populations in a nonmedical capacity. I think the most important thing is to pursue whatever speaks to you and reminds you why you felt called to medicine in the first place.
Accepted: Where are you applying to med school?
Chantal: I’ve applied all over! Boston, New York, Chicago – I have a long list of schools that share a few common characteristics. I’m really interested in research so I looked for places with a strong reputation in that area. It’s also very important for me to be involved in community service so a lot of the schools I chose for their emphasis on working with underserved populations. I’m especially interested in global health initiatives and have been really impressed with the opportunities at some schools to travel and learn about medicine all over the world.
Accepted: What do you think you will bring to your med school class as a non-traditional student?
Chantal: Being a non-traditional student has really shown me the significance of diversity and perseverance. As the daughter of two immigrants, I was always encouraged to learn about different cultures and appreciate the richness of collaboration with people from all backgrounds. My parents instilled in me a desire to experience the world which sparked an interest in international health.
Additionally, coming from a family that never had a lot of money has made me very sensitive to those who are less fortunate. Struggling to support myself through school, worrying about being able to afford rent and having no health insurance at times has enabled me to empathize with others who are faced with similar uncertainties. I think being able to identify with others and a constant desire to improve will definitely help me as a medical student.
Accepted: Any tips for our readers?
Chantal: Don’t get discouraged! It is always going to be hard but if you truly feel that medicine is your calling, it will also be worth it. There will always be people who question you or don’t believe in you but don’t take that to heart. And don’t put things off. Some of my peers that are stressed about being slightly older and applying to med school feel that there are a lot of things they can’t have. They don’t want to get into relationships or take time off to travel or start a new job but I think you just have to go for what you want in life or you’ll always be waiting for “the right time.”
The thing is, one day you’ll be a doctor and it won’t matter how many times you applied to school before you got in, if you took a year off to have a kid or how old you were when you graduated because the important thing is you will have made it.
Just remember, “Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there someday.” (A.A. Milne)
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