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 Amy Yao…
Accepted: We’d like to get to know you! Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad? Can you share 3 fun facts about yourself?
Amy: I grew up in California and upstate New York, and was a biology major at St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY. Three fun facts about me: (1) I backpacked alone through Europe for six weeks the summer before med school, (2) I ran my first half marathon (the NYC Half) last weekend, and (3) I can eat two Chipotle burritos in one sitting.
Accepted: Where are you in med school? What year?
Amy: I’m currently an MS1 at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in NYC.
Accepted: What is your favorite thing about Icahn School of Med so far? If you could change one thing about the program, what would it be?
Amy: The word most used to describe Sinai students is happy – and honestly, I’ve never been happier in my life. Sinai has an incredible community feeling to it that makes everyone feel immediately at home. The school has a very progressive approach to medical education, and we’re able to tailor our learning any way we like. Our first two years are all pass/fail, all lectures are recorded, and Sinai’s location is absolutely unmatched – we sit on the border of the Upper East Side and East Harlem, home to two of the most distinct patient populations in New York City.
It’s hard to think of anything I’d like to change! Structures (what we call Anatomy) is the first class we take, and it’s this wonderful, crazy nine-week whirlwind of the whole class trying to drink from the same fire hose. If I could, I’d add an extra few days of Anatomy lab to the end of first year, just to see how far we’ve come since our first day with a scalpel.
Accepted: Can you share some advice to incoming first year students, to help make their adjustment to med school easier?
Amy: I wish someone had told me this when I started: it’s best to take all advice (even this!) with a large grain of salt. Everyone is going to offer you tips on studying, work-life balance, how early you should start prepping for Step 1, which interest groups to join, etc. Give yourself time to take it all in, try out different learning styles, and discover what motivates and helps you. Even within the same institution, everyone has a different experience with med school. Take advantage of the freedom of first year and learn more about yourself.
Accepted: Can you tell us about all of your writing and graphic design experience?
Amy: I write for the Huffington Post and the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges) Aspiring Docs feature, and was the resident interior design blogger for College Fashion during undergrad. I’m still a little amazed that people read my work – mostly I treat it as productive procrastination. I’ve also contributed to a few creative nonfiction journals and was Editor-in-Chief of my college newspaper.
Design-wise, I started a small business in late high school called Amy Yao Design that I’ve managed to keep up through college and med school so far, designing for academic institutions and nonprofit organizations. My main focus is publication design, and it’s my favorite way to de-stress – making something beautiful is the best way to begin or end a day.
Accepted: With all of that talent and experience, why did you decide to pursue a career in medicine rather than in writing or design?
Amy: Writing and design are both tough and creative jobs, but a career in either of them translates into spending a lot of time alone. I chose medicine because I love the daily challenge and the focus on people – on really being able to leave a lasting impact on someone and to learn every day from them.
Accepted: Looking back, what was the most challenging aspect of the med school admissions process? How did you approach that challenge and overcome it?
Amy: I decided to graduate a year early from college, so I took the MCAT and submitted my application the summer after my second year while I was on campus working on my senior thesis. Condensing everything into a few months was difficult, but the hardest part was realizing how much more there was to do. Researching each school and writing what seemed like endless secondaries (while working in the lab all day!) was way more work than I had anticipated, and I initially didn’t budget my time well.
Eventually I buckled down and outlined each week with a list of realistic goals, which solved the logistical mess, helped with writer’s block, and even gave me time to take impromptu road trips with friends.
Accepted: Do you have any other advice for our med school applicant readers?
Amy: Recruit as many trusted friends as you can to proofread your application. If you think a part of your personal statement sounds pretentious or silly, it probably is. Avoid getting sucked into paranoid SDN threads. Eat your vegetables. It’s a long road, but it’s a wonderful one – be fully present for every moment of it.