I’ve got to admit, my journey to medical school has been ridiculously convoluted in some ways. When I returned to complete my college degree, I was in my 40s, with exactly zero foundation for the science courses I needed. While I have (finally!) been successful in achieving acceptance (three times – wowie – see my About page for details), there are a few things I really wish I’d known at the time.
Things that might make your journey a little easier.
With the clear vision of hindsight, I’d like to share the top three things I wish I’d known as a pre-med student. A caveat on my experience and my three things…. if you’re a 20-something student with a 4.0 GPA, tons of family resources to help fund the process, and no additional responsibilities besides ‘do-well-in-undergrad-and-apply-widely’, you can completely ignore this post. If, on the other hand, you’re a non-traditional student and have lived long enough to show your humanity on your application, read on.
1. Stop listening to advice that doesn’t apply to you.
I don’t know how to stress this point enough. There’s the advice that pretty much applies to everyone: get good grades, get your shadowing time documented, do great on the MCAT, apply broadly. Okay, that’s fine as far as it goes. But that is not sufficient if you’re a non-traditional student vying for one of those precious seats in an entering class.
Don’t read student forums (truly, they’re not helpful). Don’t hobnob with students ten years younger than you and hope to glean nuggets you can use to gain medical school acceptance. Don’t bother sending messages to other successful applicants asking something like, “Here’s my grades, what are my chances?”
Getting rid of all that noise will free you up to create your stand-out experience and application. Trust me, you do NOT want to look like everyone else out there.
2. Practice whatever you’re not good at, until you change that.
Practice everything. Practice a 30-second version of your story. Practice explaining your research. Practice test taking (seriously, until you’re very good at it). Find people who will ask tough questions and practice your response.
I remember a medical school interview I had about halfway through my nine years of application cycles. I was nervous. Intimidated even. And my interviewer did nothing to put me at ease (at least it seemed so at the time). Part of my application included molecular Biology research, and it was apparent that he had carefully read my Personal Statement when he asked me, “And what is the normal function of the RBR gene?” My mind went absolutely blank. Not only could I not pull up a smooth response, I couldn’t remember a single detail of the research I had spent two years working on. Finally, in a pathetically squeaky voice, I said, “I have absolutely no idea”.
Obviously, I did not get an acceptance after that interview.
My brother (who is a neurosurgeon) suggested I write out my experiences. Write down a concise explanation of my research work. Write down a concise explanation of my unique story. Write it down. Then start by reading it aloud (to the mirror at first, then to other people). He had given me that advice before the disastrous interview, and I had ignored it. (After all, I was a ‘more mature’ student and didn’t need it). Obviously, I changed that, fast.
3. Find a mentor (or two).
I don’t mean your undergrad pre-med advisor, although pre-med advisors can be wonderfully helpful as you navigate through the mechanics of the application cycle(s). But I’m referring more to real-life people with real life experiences who can relate to you, call you on your BS, and give you solid and practical suggestions.
You’re not looking for a cheering section (although encouragers are super important, that’s not what I’m talking about here). You’re looking for someone who KNOWS what its like. Do you struggle to find a way to afford all the application expenses? Talk to someone who didn’t have deep pockets as a premed. Do you battle test anxiety? Talk with someone who has struggled with the same thing and has found solutions. Do you have career and family responsibilities and wonder how the heck to add medical school responsibly into the mix? Talk to someone who was a parent or career person before they reached medical school. Do you have time-management issues? Talk to someone who successfully worked through those same issues.
It won’t always be easy, finding these folks who will help. However, I am convinced that their value cannot be too highly stated.
Obviously, all of the above is something we provide with Second Chance Mentor. But there are many different ways to find your champions – those who will go to bat for and with you, giving you feedback even when you don’t want it, and who won’t give up on you when you mess up (because you will).
This discussion wouldn’t be complete without this: Consider, when you have your own success story, becoming one of those mentors for someone else. One of the greatest gifts you can give is the gift of helping someone else succeed.
And yes, through every challenge, failure, and heartache of my convoluted journey to medicine, it was all overwhelmingly worth it!