#1 The MCAT does NOT equate to your potential as a medical student or future physician
As I write this, I am a month shy from my medical school graduation. I cannot believe that I will actually be “Dr. Trot” in a short amount of time. As a senior medical student, I just recently went through the application process again but this time for residency. And let me tell you, it is very similar to applying to medical school. You fill out an application, write a personal statement, get letters of recommendation and submit your transcript and board exam scores (USMLE Step 1 and/or 2…think of them as the MCAT’s older siblings). Once again, the standardized test scores are central to your application. If you scored above a certain number, your chances of matching (securing a residency position) were pretty good. But if they were below average, you found yourself in a difficult situation where people try to push you to enter less competitive specialties because, “Your scores are just not good enough.” Hmm…why do standardized tests play such a limiting factor in our lives?
The only answer I know to that question is, “It is what it is.” What’s promising is that even though it’s important to do as well as possible on standardized tests to open doors and get you where you want to go, they do NOT correlate to your potential as a future professional. Simply, they test whether or not you know the material but mainly, can you take a test under horribly stressful situations.
Before I applied to medical school, all I heard was that the MCAT determines how successful you’ll be as a medical student and thereafter. I received an average MCAT score so I guess I was supposed to be an average medical student. Except for the fact that I would argue that I was not “average”. I actually did pretty well. To be honest, the adjustment was not easy for me but once I figured out how to effectively study despite the SIGNIFICANT amount of material thrown at you every single day, I just took off and did fine consistently. To my surprise, there were students with higher MCAT scores (and I’m talking about 35+ on the old MCAT scale) who were struggling, some of whom had to repeat first year. I also personally know people who had scores lower than mine and are doing just fine.
Your MCAT score does NOT determine how good of a doctor you will be. That is contingent upon YOU!
Are you a hard worker?
Are you personable?
Do you genuinely care about your job?
Do you try to get better every day?
Do you learn from your mistakes?
In my opinion, what determines who will be successful as a medical student and future physician is who they are. Do you have the willingness and drive to do whatever it takes to be the best doctor you can possibly be?
Reality is, the MCAT is the core of your application. Just keep in mind that your score does not directly correlate to your potential as a medical student. You can still succeed even if you didn’t get the score you wanted; you can still struggle even though you received a top score. Reality is, medical school is hard for everyone. It’s an exhausting marathon that throws you into the trenches when you are weak, tired, and sleep deprived. Those who have the mental toughness, drive, and determination to withstand the rigors of medical school will be successful.
#2 Many successful applicants took the MCAT more than once
I was SHOCKED by this. By the time I was a senior in medical school, I had met many successful students (medical students, residents, and attendings) and we often shared our journeys to medical school, etc. I was amazed to hear that many of them took the MCAT more than once. Why? Because many people struggle with the exam and did not do well on their first attempt. I would say, on average, the people I’ve met took the MCAT twice.
Initially, this surprised me because as a pre-med student I fell into this notion that in order to be successful and get into medical school I had to be perfect and receive a top MCAT score. And when I didn’t after my first attempt, I felt kind of “inadequate” that I had to take it again. Fast forward to now, and I expect someone I speak to to say that they took the MCAT more than once.
#3 Many successful applicants did not get in on their first attempt
Broken record alert: Getting into medical school is hard!
Worse, more and more people are applying, which means you are competing against even more people for the “handful” of spots. And oh by the way, it is VERY expensive to apply, which is really unfortunate because that limits how many schools you apply to. Ideally, the more schools you apply to, the greater your chance of getting in but if you cannot afford to apply to more than 10, well that alone is limiting your chances.
Regardless, I just want you guys to know, especially those who recently did not get into medical school, that the race is not over. Don’t give up! Many successful applicants who are doing well did not get in on their first attempt or even their second. Here are some examples to help calm the nerves and quiet the fear:
A current first year medical school was rejected two times before he was accepted on his third attempt.
A current post-bac student got in on her second attempt. The first time she applied, she was told that her MCAT score and GPA were “too low” and was rejected. She entered the post-bac program and became the top student and improved her MCAT score. She applied again with a stronger application and was accepted into three scores, two of which are giving her scholarships. Wow!
A classmate of mine applied SEVEN times. That’s six years worth of rejections and hearing “Nope, you’re not good enough”. Well, he clearly didn’t pay attention to it and is well on his months shy of starting residency.
#4 There is more to life than being a pre-med student – it’s okay to chill out!
Being a pre-med student should NOT define you. Yes, as a pre-med student you will have requirements that are demanding and time consuming (coursework, MCAT, volunteering, shadowing, etc.), but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy life and have fun! Step outside of your box and explore new things. You can major in whatever you want in college as long as you complete the pre-med requirements to apply. My second major was African-American Studies because I wanted to learn more about my culture. I’ve talked to other medical students and residents who majored in dance, history, women’s studies, etc. You do not have to have a science major because you are pre-med. If you want to, then great! If not, then great! Major in something that interests you because you may never get the chance to take those courses again.
Point is your time before medical school is a great time to explore, travel, CHILL (what I wish I did more of), etc. because once you become a medical student, THAT will define you.
Now, I’m not saying turn your pre-med years into a vacation because that’s just not possible when you’re taking physics, organic chemistry, the MCAT, and being involved in different extracurriculars. But I want to encourage you guys to at least try to enjoy life outside of being pre-med. In order words:
That was a big lesson I learned once I started medical school where 97% of my day and thoughts involved studying or being consumed by the fear that I wasn’t studying enough. I quickly learned how important it was to have balance simply to stay sane (seriously). Once you start medical school, your one and only job is to study. And it’s not fun! Yes, you learn interesting things but studying 8-12 hours a day almost every day gets old very fast, especially when your friends are already working earning an income, traveling, getting married, etc. Say hello to your beautiful, highly anticipated…desk.
And here’s a dose of unfortunate medical school reality:
You get 1 summer off (between your first and second year) but many students do research where they work up to 40 hours/week.
Only get a spring break first and second year of medical school but many second medical students use that week off to study for boards or they have an exam days after spring break (that’s just cruel).
Once you start second year, the years basically blend. For example, you’ll likely finish second year of medical school in May, take the boards in June, and then start third year around July 1st. You basically jump right enter the next year. Breaks are minimal.
So where’s all the free time? It was back in college. Without a doubt, as a pre-med student still bust your tail off to do well academically as it’s getting more competitive each year to get into medical school. But! Try to enjoy life outside of being pre med. This is the time to just have fun and explore. You may never get that chance again. At least not until after residency, which is at least 7-10 years away if you haven’t started medical school. But hey, who’s counting!
#5 It is okay to take time off
Prior to starting medical school, I thought there was this “formula” to becoming a doctor:
4 years of college
4 years of medical school
3-7+ years of residency
…then I started medical school. I met many traditional and non-traditional students who had such different journeys to medical school (check some of them out on the Doctor Goals Podcast). My “formula” was shattered.
I met people who finished undergrad in less than 4 years and jumped into medical school right after
I met non-traditional students who didn’t know they wanted to be doctors until after college. Some of these students were in their late 20s or early 30s.
A classmate of mine was actually “supposed” to be in the class above with his identical twin but he chose to defer his acceptance for a year because he wanted to travel! I love it!
I met a student who, after successfully completing his first year of medical school, decided that he wanted to play his last year of eligibility (football) not only because he missed the sport but because he needed to take a step back.