When your dream is to become a doctor, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and scared. It's easy to feel the anxious sense of ‘I must apply to 100 schools, get accepted to 50, and hopefully reach my dreams!'
Now I agree, you want to apply to multiple schools. But in the end, one acceptance is all it takes.
One school to say, ‘Yes we want (your name) in our upcoming class!’ That’s it! You’re one step closer to your dream.
I'd like to introduce you to a student whose story I think will resonate with many: She struggled to find balance with school, volunteer experience, and MCAT studying. She only got one acceptance to a medical school, but you know what, she’s on her way to becoming a doctor!
I grew up on a traveling carnival.
At age nineteen I left the carnival and was the first in my family to attend college.
Initially I majored in Art.
I worked full-time while taking a full class load.
One of my jobs was at a live-in home for children with developmental disabilities.
I enrolled in an EMT class to be better prepared to handle an emergency if one occurred.
For the first time,
I knew with absolute certainty what I wanted to do with my life:
Practicing medicine would allow me to utilize my communication, creativity, and critical thinking skills in a very meaningful way.
I took time off from completing my bachelor’s degree to attend paramedic school.
This proved to be a key turning point in my life.
I had an opportunity to shadow a cardiothoracic surgeon.
He was performing a coronary artery bypass and valve replacement.
He took his time and explained every step.
He answered all of my questions, no matter how naïve they were.
At the end of the five-hour procedure I recalled thinking,
“I have to do this; I have to be a doctor!”
I realized that if I wanted to have this type of positive impact on patients, I'd have to be a physician.
This would give me the autonomy and intellectual challenge I desired in both a clinical and research setting.
Since then I have relentlessly pursued my dream.
A combination of paramedic work, researching (publishing) and volunteer work have led me to this point.
In addition, overcoming and learning from my many setbacks and failures has given me the opportunity to, not only grow in knowledge, but in character.
This journey has given me the opportunity to fully realize my passion for medicine,
And to prove to myself that,
“I have the ability and inner fortitude to succeed in medical school and to become a great physician.”
I graduated from college with a less-than-stellar undergraduate GPA of 2.7.
I got a 22 the first time I took the MCAT in March of 2012.
I realized I had some major work to do if I was going to achieve my dream of going to medical school and becoming a physician.
I moved to California and took a combined fifty-one credit hours of post bac classes.
I earned a postbac GPA of 3.9 while working full time and volunteering.
I also retook the new version of the MCAT in May of 2016 and earned a 504.
This had improved my score by almost forty percentile points!
All You Need is One “Yes!”
I applied to fifty-eight schools (combined Osteopathic and Allopathic).
I received a handful of interviews from September 2016 through February 2017.
So far I’ve received one acceptance, two waitlists (ultimately rejected), and I declined one of my interviews.
Of course, I was ecstatic about my acceptance.
On the other hand, the rejections were soul-crushing.
That's over 50 rejections.
Some were more devastating than others – especially the early ones before I had gotten an acceptance.
I’d poured my heart and soul into my application.
I’d worked tremendously hard for years.
Everything leading up to this moment.
It can feel really overwhelming.
I allowed myself to feel sad, angry, and overlooked.
I cried somedays, and was just angry others.
However, I feel that although it’s important to purge ourselves of emotions, it’s equally important not to dwell on them.
I’d usually allow myself one day to feel pitiful, and then get back to work.
One of my favorite quotes is “a smooth sea never made a skillful sailor.”
I reminded myself of this constantly throughout my MCAT prep, and applications, and use it as a motivator currently in medical school.
A physician friend of mine said something that really helped to give me peace of mind. To paraphrase:
‘Every medical student gets a lot of rejections.
It’s something that just isn’t talked about.
Most schools are looking for particular qualities in their students and there is no way that you will fit the profile for every school you apply to!
All you need is one “yes,” and you get to be a doctor!’
Words of Wisdom
If you are thinking of a career in medicine,
I believe, one of the most important things you can do for yourself is:
Find a great Mentor.
Talk to as many advisors and potential mentors as you can.
Ask lots of questions and don’t be afraid to tell them your story.
It’s yours after all! You have to own it.
I am incredibly lucky to have found mentors that are,
not only knowledgeable about the ins and outs of applying to medical school,
but who genuinely care about me and are invested in my success.
My mentors, along with my grit and undying determination, are what have gotten me into medical school.
The Whole Person, including scores!
Don’t assume a wealth of clinical skills and experience will overshadow a poor GPA and MCAT score!
I made this mistake when I applied to only Osteopathic schools in 2012.
Clinical experience is necessary and great.
But it doesn’t mean anything if you can’t prove your ability to succeed academically.
Becoming a physician means being a lifetime learner.
And learning how to learn will help you tremendously in the long run.
Becoming a medical student/physician is a humbling experience.
You WILL make mistakes as a student and a doctor.
You’re only human after all.
It’s important, however, to be able to recognize your weaknesses,
regardless of the circumstances that may have caused them,
and find ways to address them early on.
For me this meant overcoming my cognitive dissonance about my GPA and MCAT score.
It meant acknowledging and owning my weakness in that area.
Then working my butt off to improve myself.
I realized, that if I’m going to ask patients to put their lives in my hands, I had better be prepared to take on that responsibility.
I guarantee, being the ultimate caregiver for a dying or critically ill patient is much more stressful than taking the MCAT.
The stakes are MUCH higher.
Have a Life
Don’t postpone your life until you get into med school.
As a medical student and as a physician,
the work, the learning, and the struggle to always be better at your profession will never stop.
If you want to have kids, have them.
If you love painting, music, or some other outside hobby, make sure to make time for that.
Leah's Note: Not sure how to balance ‘life' with MCAT? Follow Step 4 of the Ultimate MCAT Prep Guide and learn how to create a balanced schedule.
Keep at It!
Lastly, if you know you want to be a physician and can’t imagine doing anything else with your life, don’t give up.
I was able to speak to a Dean, from a school by whom I was rejected, to go over my application:
Basically, my GPA and two low sections on the MCAT were what prompted my rejection. Though, the Dean did specify that if my MCAT had been higher I might have gotten in.
Know this: as long as you keep trying, you will succeed.
It’s only over when you say it’s over!
Everything you’re learning now will make you a better doctor.
We only get one life!
Why not spend it working towards the things we are passionate about?
Even if it means starting med school at 33 years old!