Before I started medical school, I thought there was a “recipe” for success among pre-medicine applicants: get good grades, do well on the MCAT, and have a well-rounded application with supportive letters of recommendation. That’s straightforward right? Well, that’s what I thought. But when I started medical school, I was amazed by the reality:
There are many journeys to medical school.
It wasn’t just a simple formula. There were traditional students who came right out of college, like myself, and there were many non-traditional students from different walks of life. Regrardless, everyone had a story–and it was different! It really fascinated me, which led to this “section” of the blog because I think it is important to showcase how different people are able to attain success. Your grades and MCAT score will always be important but there is so much more to the process. I hope that you will be able to take something from every success story featured on #DoctorGoals, and I truly hope that it will help you as you create your own journey to medical school. Enjoy!
– Alana aka Dr. Trot
The Resilient Student Who Overcame A Below Average MCAT and GPA
Say Hello To This Future Doctor…
Why did you decide to become a doctor?
“As a child, I always had the passion to work in healthcare. When I was 6 or 7 years old, I’d help my grandfather with his insulin injections and considered myself to be the ‘house doctor’. Well, really I was just his doctor because no one else would let me touch them. In high school, I decided to take a health careers class as an elective, and I am so glad I did. The teacher of the class, Ms. B, was a very outgoing individual who had strong connections in healthcare. You have to have an acquired taste for people like Ms. B, and luckily I did. Through her class, I was able to learn about the different departments in a healthcare facility and the numerous career opportunities available. Ms. B was also the Advisor of the Wisconsin Health Youth Apprenticeship (HYA) program. This is a special program offered in Wisconsin that allows high school students to gain hands on experience in healthcare (there are other HYA programs for business, engineering, etc.).
When I completed the elective with Ms. B, and I applied to become a member of HYA. I was accepted (because Ms. B was the ‘homie’). Through HYA, I met several nurses, physician assistants, physicians, and healthcare administrators. I gained a lot of shadowing experience and was able to become a licensed Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) at the age of 16 (FOR FREE!!!! HYA paid for it). Since HYA requires students to accumulate work-study hours, I had to get a job as well. Ms. B thought that I’d be a perfect fit at a local arthritis clinic, a small office owned by a very unique and compassionate physician, Dr. T (some of you may know her as ‘Mama T’ i.e. Alana’s mom).
Dr. T was very hands on at the office and she enjoyed working closely with high school students. She was very interested in my plans for the future. I remember the day she asked me what I wanted to go to school for and I told her nursing. She stopped what she was doing and said, “No honey, you’re going to be a doctor.” Ironically, becoming a doctor didn’t really cross my mind. I’m not exactly sure why. But once Dr. T told me how much potential she saw in me, I started to really consider it. Luckily her daughter, some of you may know ; ) had already gone through application process and she’s been my go-to for help and advice.
So in summary, my decision to become a doctor was multi-factorial that included my childhood experiences, information learned in HYA, shadowing experiences, work as a CNA, advice from mentors, interest in science, and my natural desire to work in healthcare.
Also, I’d like to add that it really helped that I had great parents who supported me in my endeavors. They did an excellent job at making sure I was exposed to a lot in life:
- Career opportunities
- Community involvement
- Extra-curricular activities.
My parents always expressed to me that they wanted me to accomplish great things and although they didn’t know much about higher education, college applications or becoming a doctor, they stressed their desire for me to succeed. Actually my whole family has been a big support: my grandma, brothers, church family, etc.”
What struggles did you face along the way?
“There were several, particularly in college. My mom was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer my sophomore year. I also lost both of my grandmothers back to back (one in Nov and one in Dec) that same year. My mom then passed away the first semester of my senior year. ALL of this greatly affected my academics and my GPA reflected that. Along with all of the unforeseen struggles I faced, I personally contributed to my academic issues because I wasn’t focused or thinking about future goals.”
The Infamous MCAT
“The MCAT sucked then, and I’m sure it sucks now!
I didn’t know much about the MCAT until my senior year of college (bad, I know). I wish I would’ve taken it immediately after my junior year when all of the content was still fresh in my mind. I ended up taking the MCAT one year post undergrad. I used Kaplan study material and “studied” for two months. Needless to say I didn’t do so well. So I decided to look for post-bacc pre-medical programs that would enhance my academics and offer MCAT prep.
However, looking for postbacc programs was difficult, mainly because there weren’t any in home state. I applied to two programs, Medprep-SIU and IUSM-MSMS, which were close to home and had good rates of getting underrepresented students into medical school. I was accepted into both and I chose IU for the following reasons:
- It was close to home
- It was in a bigger city
- It offfered the option of doing only one year
- If I completed the two-year program at IU I’d receive a Masters of Public Health degree so the worst case scenario is I didn’t get in but I had another degree to add to the resume
The MCAT prep offered didn’t help me as much as I had hoped. My scores only improved because I hired a personal tutor who was AWESOME! He was a 3rd year medical student who was not only a beast at standardize tests but was also an excellent teacher! On my second MCAT attempt, I did better but still not as well as I had hoped.
My advice for the MCAT is simple:
- Take it after your junior year or whenever you complete the prerequisites
- Do practice exams!!! (Consider using the AMCAS ones)
- Use study methods that work for YOU. For example, if group studying is not your thing then don’t try to study in groups. Do what works for you.”
Applying To Medical School
“My experience applying to medical school doesn’t seem so bad now, but I’m sure that’s because I’ve been accepted and can finally breathe. But here’s my journey. I applied to medical school twice. The first time I applied to 15 schools and was able to apply to that number thanks to the Fee Assistance Program (FAP), which is a very helpful program that helps provide financial assistance to applicants who otherwise wouldn’t the resources. I had several people look at my personal statement BUT ultimately I used a draft that sounded like me (considering I’d be the one in the interview answering questions). I wanted the admissions committee to hear my voice and my story. So while it’s probably not the best written essay in the world, MY voice is heard through it. (I still strongly recommend that you have people read your statement ask for their opinion but just make sure at the end of the day it’s still your story with your voice.) The AMCAS application is straight forward but it is time consuming so plan accordingly. I made sure to include all of my health-related work, experience and community involvement on the application. I tried to use activities that expressed “a well-rounded individual,” not everything related to school, research, or medicine. That year, I received two interviews and was wait-listed by the other (later rejected).
Prior to applying my first year, I came up with a plan B (which I recommend) and it was pretty simple: if I didn’t get in my first attempt, I’d stay in the master’s program and apply again, which is exactly what I’d do. The second time applying was much easier since I had just been through the process. I used everything from my old application but made minor changes by adding activities that I participated in over the summer. I also made sure to mention that I’d be receiving my masters in medical science.
Now, this was a “risky” decision: I decided not to retake the MCAT even though my score was subpar. I am a person of faith, and when I retook the MCAT the second time, I honestly prayed and asked God for my score to be sufficient enough to get me in. I believe that God hears and honors our prayers that are in line with His will, so I trusted Him. My second attempt, I only applied to 12 schools this time due to financial restraints (wasn’t able to get assistance from FAP that year). I made sure to choose my schools wisely! I chose schools that I thought would really be interested in me and also schools that I felt would be a good fit for me. I received 4 interviews and was accepted at 2 out of the four (so far).”
If you had to reapply again, what would you change?
“If I had to reapply the only thing I would change would be the amount of schools that I applied to. I work in the office of at my current school (in the medical school admissions office), and I’m starting to see “behind the scenes. Personally, I think the admissions process on choosing students is weird. You have a group of people voting on you, one person might not like something in your app and try to impose their opinions on the others or the opposite; one person might like your app and try to persuade others.
Luckily, my faith isn’t in man. I’m a Christian and I believe God is in complete control of everything. I didn’t get in when I wanted to because it was not a part of his plan. I can blame it on my MCAT score or low undergraduate GPA BUT the truth of the matter is, is that there were students accepted at schools all around the US that year with lower scores and grades, less medical experience, and less community involvement than me. So how do you explain that?”
If you were a freshman in college, what are 5 things you would absolutely do to make yourself as competitive as possible?
“This is what I would focus on:
- Get good grades, maintain good grades. Well above a 3.5
- Acquire info about the application and MCAT process ASAP (freshman year)
- Create a plan (based off of the application info) working with college advisors and mentors
- Take the MCAT after junior year
- Save money for AMCAS applications (like a year of two in advance, about $3000)
I hope my story showed you that you don’t have to be the perfect applicant. Best of luck to you guys.”
For more information on the Fee Assistance Program offered via AMCAS, click here.