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 Elizabeth Freeman…
Accepted: We’d like to get to know you! Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad? What is your favorite non-school book?
Elizabeth: I’m from Wilmington, North Carolina – right on the beach! I went to UNC Wilmington for undergrad, where I very uncreatively decided to major in biology with a minor in chemistry and I wrote my honors thesis in virology.
I have a LOT of favorite books. It’d be hard to pick just one! Some of my very favorites are Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder, The Hot Zone by Richard Preston (also loved The Cobra Event and The Demon in the Freezer), and recently I read Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore, which was hilarious and irreverent in the best ways possible. And I have a definite weak spot for historical and legal fiction – David Baldacci is my favorite guilty-pleasure author.
Accepted: Where are you in med school? What year?
Elizabeth: I’m an MS3 at the University of North Carolina. I love it here, and I love being an MS3!!
Accepted: Can you tell us about your blog? When and why did you start blogging? And how does your blog title reflect on who you are?
Elizabeth: My blog was originally, and always will be, a space for me to reflect on things that are happening during med school and beyond. I’ve pretty much always been in the habit of journaling, but it makes it a lot more fun having people read and like and comment! I started blogging at the beginning of this school year, and adding on a community of fellow writers has already just enriched the experience of writing more than I expected it to!
The blog title is a little weird and I’m not entirely sure how I put it together initially, to tell the truth. The “Mini” part of it was a nickname someone gave me a long time ago (now made more real by the fact that I have yet to take care of an adult patient who doesn’t outweigh me). Then the Tarheel is more straightforward – go UNC! There used to be this little cafeteria near our lecture hall called the “TarHeal Café,” which I thought was a pretty cute play on words, which is why the subtitle of the blog is “TarHealer in Training.” Finally, MD, because eventually I’ll be one!
Accepted: Did you really graduate college when you were 18-years-old? How did you manage that?
Elizabeth: I did actually graduate from college when I was 18. Most of this has to do with my awesome parents who kind of let me do whatever I wanted academically speaking. For most of my life I was homeschooled which really gave us a lot of flexibility in terms of moving through courses more quickly than the average public or private school student might get do.
I started taking classes at the local community college at 14, when the laws in NC only allowed students under 15 to attend class with a parent in the room (um, mortifying!) which my mom very gracefully dealt with. Then I transferred to UNCW when I was 15 and ended up loving it! I stayed home throughout college and don’t feel like I missed out on too much in doing so. I had a great group of friends and family who made the whole college experience really special.
Accepted: Did you start med school straight after finishing undergrad? If you took time off, how did you spend your time?
Elizabeth: No, I actually took a couple years off! This was absolutely the best decision I could have possibly made, no question. I worked two very different and amazing jobs, both of which contributed to my personal growth tremendously. The first was as an intake coordinator at a free clinic in Wilmington. Basically, that meant I was responsible for making sure all of the patients were evaluated for financial eligibility at entry and then again annually. It was a lot of work, but by the time I left I’d made their system a lot easier to use and made room in the program for about 600 new patients. I learned a lot from pharmacists, business administrators, nurse practitioners, and fellow volunteers about what it means to serve the underserved and how poor access to care negatively affects chronic conditions.
The other job, in very stark contrast, was at J.Crew. I had so much fun styling people (and mannequins!) and worked with a bunch of surprisingly motivated coworkers; in addition to the friends who are pursuing careers in retail and fashion at places like Anthropologie, Ralph Lauren, and Rag & Bone, several are now teachers, law students, social workers, and MBAs, which was so not what I expected when I popped in the store one afternoon and decided to apply for a job. I am so proud to have been a part of that group! Oh, and the discount was amazing. I call that the wardrobe-building phase of my career.
Accepted: I assume you’re the youngest med student at UNC — what’s that like?
Elizabeth: Actually, even though I’m the youngest person in my class, there’s actually another kid in the class above me who started med school when he was only 18! For the most part, people don’t really care how old I am – there’s a moment of “wait, you’re HOW old?” and then we move on. Occasionally a patient will comment on how young I look, so I just say “yeah, I get that a lot” and change the subject. The only time it was an actual problem was during orientation and a few other times in first year when a lot of events were 21+ which meant I legally couldn’t go to socialize! But people were very accommodating and found ways to make me feel included.
Accepted: What is your favorite thing about UNC?
Elizabeth: There are so many things about UNC that make it an awesome school to attend. We go back and forth with UWash for #1 in primary care, but still have really strong research rankings as well, which makes it a really well-rounded institution where you can literally do whatever you put your mind to. The people here are so kind and caring and genuinely want to produce awesome physicians, and I think they’re accomplishing that easily.
The place I’ve invested the most time and energy, outside the classroom at least, is at the Student Health Action Coalition, or SHAC for short, which is the country’s oldest, and arguably largest, student-run free clinic. Last year I was a clinic director, which basically meant 15-20 hours per week of working to give away more than $100,000 worth of free care to the area’s underserved. I don’t know a lot of med students who had that sort of opportunity while they were still just working on their MD!
Accepted: Do you have any tips for incoming first year med students? Is there anything you wish you would’ve known when just starting out?
Elizabeth: Relax. The first few weeks of med school are overwhelming – you’re meeting tons of new people, taking more classes than you ever have before, and if you’re like me, living in a totally new city. None of this is a walk in the park and it’s so easy to build up a lot of anxiety about all the stressors in your life! Your classmates will also be feeling nervous and neurotic about studying 24/7 and that energy can contribute to your stress level as well. To stay sane, I made sure I kept connections to things outside of med school as very prominent parts of my life – a daily yoga practice, friends not in medical professions, regular phone calls to family – and I let go of expectations that everything had to be perfect all the time. You’ll have bad days. Everyone will have bad days. Just pick yourself up and keep going – we all get through it one way or another!
Accepted: Can you share your top 3 med school admissions tips?
• Unless you’re someone who absolutely cannot stay focused on a schedule for MCAT studying, I wouldn’t recommend spending the time and money on an MCAT prep course.
That being said, if you’re someone who absolutely cannot stay focused on a schedule for MCAT studying, are you going to be able to motivate yourself to study enough in med school? A lot of learning, especially in the clinical years, is self-directed, and it’s important to be able to keep yourself moving forward without seeing a professor every couple of days who has given you a strict reading schedule. I think setting up your own MCAT study plan and sticking to it is a good barometer for how you’ll handle the pressure of med school.
• Have people read your essays.
Over and over and over. Get strangers to read it, get your mom to read it, read it out loud to your dog (that last one can actually help you catch typos that you’d miss if you’re reading it silently!) and welcome any sort of feedback you receive. Ultimately, the words are your own and you have to be happy with the content, but people who don’t know you will be making huge decisions based on this essay and it’s great to know how it comes across to a variety of readers before you submit it.
• Make sure you have a diverse and unique application.
If your CV shows that you’re a cookie cutter pre-med, you’re going to struggle to stand out on paper. Try non-health-related volunteering, travel (but skip the “voluntourism” – just travel for fun so you’ll learn more about the world have interesting stories to talk about), and major in something that isn’t science, unless you’re just particularly into biology. I really wish someone would have made it clear to me at the start of undergrad that I would get plenty of basic science in med school and that I should study something fun while I had the chance. Med schools want well-rounded, nice individuals – everyone here is smart, it’s the kind and genuine people who stand out on applications.
• And a bonus #4, which may actually be the most important piece of advice ever: apply early.
With rolling admissions, just submitting by the deadline is actually pretty late.
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You can follow Elizabeth’s adventure by checking out her blog, Mini MD: TarHealer in Training. Thank you Elizabeth for sharing your story with us!
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