We, as humans, almost always compare ourselves to others, not necessarily to compete but rather to gauge at how well we are doing when we don’t have an internal meter to measure our relative successes. Especially with the age of social media it can be hard to balance these comparisons with our own happiness and still lead our own path with confidence. So, I want to share my own journey towards medicine and that even though the choices I made have been rewarding, necessary and difficult at times they were uniquely mine.
I come from a small town, with a small high school and was first generation to attend college in my family. I had little to no advisement on what was necessary to get into college, did not study for the ACT but took it and with no mentor in the educational arena, it was overwhelming to navigate, so I just figured it out on my own with much trial and error.
Let’s start at the beginning, I first went to a community college, where I swear to you, on the first day of class, one of my professors stated that if you are here it is highly unlikely that you will make it into medical, law, pharmacy or any other professional school (it was a calculus class no less). I guess he was probably referring to the statistics, but I found it to be a challenge accepted scenario and was quite frankly a little insulted. As I reflect though, what that professor didn’t account for is that perhaps some individuals were at the community college not because they were unable to get in to a university but that they either didn’t try at it was not a right fit at the time or because they needed to be close to home. My reason was actually both. I did not know where I wanted to go to university so I thought my best choice was to stay close to home, near my family and friends, grow and develop organically and the determine later where I might want to first, spread my wings if you will, in the world. Simply I was not ready to leave.
When I was finishing up my associate degree for general transfer, two years later, I researched a university about 3 hours from home. It was by the beach, in a beautiful city and they had a pre-health plan so naturally being the Florida girl I am, I applied and got in! Leaving my home was hard, I had lived in the same house for 20 years and within 2 miles from my grandparents, I just was scared to leave and lose them. Once I arrived at university, I adapted quickly to everything but the coursework. I found my first job in healthcare, a dermatology office, got involved at school and started volunteering in the community. By the time graduation came, my GPA had dropped a bit, or a lot. I had taken organic chemistry way to soon after I moved and had not a clue at how much effort it would take to learn it. Also, there was physics, my overall least favorite subject in the entire world.
“Normally” people take the MCAT the summer or anytime during their junior year to senior year, if you want to start medical school immediately after completing a 4-year degree. I decided to take the MCAT after I finished my degree and take a gap year. Well long story short I was not happy with my score, so I decided to wait and take it again. At this same time, I eventually realized that I wanted to make my time worthwhile while I had “off” so I decided to pursue a master’s degree in public health. This path seemed like the best fit for me, my long-term boyfriend was moving in, I was starting a new degree and making a plan to apply to medical school the following year.
During that second year of my MPH, my relationship de-railed or train wrecked might be a more appropriate analogy and with that so did my plans. I needed to regroup and that I did, even though it took some time soul searching, moving and leaving the country for 2.5 months. During this time of uncertainty, I dabbled in the thoughts of pursuing public health as a career, looked into PhD programs but at the end of the day nothing quite felt right, and I just wanted to be in medicine.
Once my life normalized, I had finished my MPH and decided late to apply for medical school. Lesson learned, late applications is kind of like starting a race 50 meters back. I knew this of course but I figured why not. I did end up interviewing but very late in the cycle and essentially there were little to no spots left. This was of course unfortunate, but I like to live life by learning from my mistakes rather than dwelling on failures. I was working at this time, reached out to my previous college advisor and asked her to review my application to tell me what I should do. Her advice was to enroll in a post-bacc program to show admissions committees that I can still do well in the hard sciences since at this point it had been a couple years since my last science course. I could write a review paper in a single night but had not had biochemistry in 3 years.
I finally decided it was time to retake the MCAT which was the new format, I finished one year of post-bacc work and reapplied the summer of 2017 for entry into medical school Fall of 2018. I learned from my previous mistake and had my applications ready to submit for review the day that they opened in June. I interviewed in early September and was accepted two weeks later. This was a great moment when you realize all of your hard work has finally paid off! Fast track 1.5 years and I am about to finish the neuroanatomy system in my second semester of first year.
The point of detailing this is to remind whoever is reading that every path is unique to an individual and no path is what is considered normal, because it is only for you. I do not think I would be the student I am or be able to relate my life experiences as a future physician without making the choices that I did. At some points it felt like it was taking forever and now I am older than many of my classmates, but I try not to worry about that too often, if at all. I think one of the worst parts of changing your mind and making your own decisions on a particular course is having to answer to the questions of the people in your life. It can become tedious but, in the end, they are just trying to stay up to date and relate with you.
What is so important to understand is that we all have our own life variables that influence the choices we make. Whether you take a gap year, or three, take five years to complete your bachelor’s degree or even more, go to a community college or straight to university, have to retake courses for grade forgiveness or have a 4.0 GPA, if you’re goal is to become a physician and you make it there, the end result is the same. I hope that anyone might find inspiration to pursue their journey by seeing that it does not matter from where you come or the choices you make that if you have a goal, it is possible to get there.
My final thoughts are to:
- Be unapologetic for your choices
- Do what fits best for you
- Make a plan that allows for change
- Learn how to adapt, early
- Be confident in who you are, your goals and ideas
- Always take the chance, don’t be afraid of a detour
- Realize that you only live once so try not get caught up in the destination but rather appreciate the journey
Feel free to reach out if you have any questions or to share your journey in the comments below!