Long Time No See

The last time I posted, I had just found out that I matched into one of the programs on my Rank Order List for a residency in pediatrics, accomplishing a goal I’ve had since I was 14.


It has been such a long time since then, and I haven’t written about it. After Match Day, there was so much to do, and it felt like we had no time. It all went by so quickly.

We immediately went on the hunt for a house. On one Saturday, we toured 19 properties, put in an offer, and bought our first home.


My brother got married with my Ladybug as the flower girl:


I finished my final med school rotation in the NICU, which I absolutely loved.


We had to find a new daycare and it completely broke my heart to leave the one we’d used since the Ladybug was 8 weeks old.

I GRADUATED!


We took a family vacation to Key West, FL, Dry Tortugas National Park, and Savannah, GA.


We spent two weekends painting the house and moving in, with the help of the best family and friends.

Then the fun started. Mountains of paperwork and training and licensing and certifications before even starting orientation.

And now they call me Doctor. Paging Dr. Allie. It is real, and no longer a fantasy or far off in the future. It doesn’t feel like it at all. I’m currently on my second rotation, which means I have “survived” July of intern year, but not without rubbing one of the children’s hospital’s ladybugs for luck on my first day.

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Frustration

My medical school is in a city at a boundary between two states. I live in the state opposite my school’s city. Because of this, there are lots of instances, especially in healthcare, where there are notable differences between the types of health services and execution of policies between the two states. I love my home state. I don’t agree with all of the laws and policies, but I love my home state. I don’t agree with all of the laws and policies of my school’s state either, but we have to function in a way that serves patients from both states well.

I am currently on child psychiatry and let me tell you… oh my goodness, the systemic problems are rampant. There isn’t a single child that we have had that hasn’t had at least one major problem/difficulty/delay in some form or another. These kids have some serious issues, and mostly not due to their own fault. It is so frustrating trying to get these kids the assistance they need when we repeatedly run into obstacle after obstacle. Psych is, by far, the singular specialty I have experienced that has this volume of barriers. It is unbelievably frustrating to have to hear each morning what new barriers we are waiting to overcome to give our patients the help they need.

To top things off, I overheard my attending this morning talking about the poor state of care patients from my state receive if they have the Medicaid my state offers. How my state is known for simply “not caring” about these people at all. That he is frustrated with his home state’s methodology for caring for patients, but that my home state is, despicably, even worse. It is enraging. I am so disappointed in my home state.

Disappointment isn’t enough. I want to do better for the people of my state, and every state, that has these sorts of issues. These issues are a systematic problem. There must be a way to fix these problems. That is not to say that the problems will be easy or fix, or that one particular group is responsible for the issues as a whole. As a medical student, I feel like not much that I do from day to day really matters, because at this point in my career my job is simply to learn so that I can be a great physician once I start practicing. I have a hard time accepting that I am not in a position that can make much change at this point. I have seen student-led groups reach amazing conclusions when they assemble for a common cause.

One person can’t do much alone. But if a group of passionate people with a cause work together to effect positive change…. THAT is what it is going to take to make these problems become less of a burden for the patients that depend upon the system to work for them. I want to start now. Not after I walk across the stage to get my diploma, not a decade later when I’m finally an attending, but now.

So, dear friends and readers…. how do we begin to tackle a systemic problem? How do we get those in power to care enough to be called to action? It is hard for me to see where all of the real obstacles are. These things, though, are immanently important.

HEART Article

I just have to share this article. It’s very well written, but totally heartbreaking. I can’t imagine being a parent and having to go through that with my child. It also shows that even if you’re a physician, when it’s your child, there are things you don’t know and need to turn to others for help.


http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp1312171

A Dream Realized

This is the beginning of a new adventure.

I was the kid who was excited to get home and check the mailbox to see if the latest issue of National Geographic had arrived.

The best week of the summer, for me, was Shark Week on the Discovery Channel.

I spent my summers chasing butterflies in the field behind our house, completely covered in chiggers, to put them in a bug box for observation while I looked up their Latin genus and species names.

I was the girl forever lost in a book.

Being the “smart kid” in a small town school is an occupational hazard. Classmates hate you when you are singled out as the “smart kid.” Teachers don’t seem to realize the damage they are doing when they praise some but not all. It makes me cringe when I see or hear it, because I know what the backlash is like as a kid.

Junior high and high school were no better. I’d say the fear of what my classmates would say or do to me was a major factor in my introverted personality that I still struggle with. Because, when an acquaintance in your class tells you to your face that he has always hated you because the teachers like you…. Well, I remember the smile that fell off my face, and I remember asking for independent study immediately after class, and spanned all four years. I withdrew within myself because I felt threatened. My senior year was the loneliest; I had one class, out of eight, with classmates.

High school was no place for me.

The teachers were wonderful, but they had to spend too much of their time babysitting certain kids to be any benefit to me. Independent study was a dream come true. I could work at my own pace to focus on my own goals. In my spare time, I edited copy for the yearbook and newsletter, as well as took on editorial positions with the literary magazine because writing was an escape for me. I would walk the hallways looking at the floor and making eye contact while talking to anyone was difficult if not painful. This is why I turned to writing; I can do it entirely on my own. I had been offered the opportunity to advance a year or two, but I declined for personal reasons. At the time, I thought that was the best decision.

Maybe I was wrong.

If I learned anything from these experiences, it was humility.

I am a very goal-oriented person. Once I made a goal chart out of colored construction paper– I would write out individual goals on paper squares and stick them to the board. Every time I achieved one, I’d take down the square and replace it with a new goal. Some were small (“understand calculus”), others a bit bigger (“graduate valedictorian”)… And some fairly lofty (“full ride to college”). Most if not all of these were achieved. I never told anyone about my goals, or my chart. I even hid the chart from my parents.

So what does that have to do with humility? When others–usually the adults, the teachers, at the time–would be happy and congratulate me, it made my life harder to live. (Of course, they never meant it that way.) When classmates and peers looked at me with glares intending for me to burst into flames, it’s impossible to be happy about my achievements. So instead, I’d keep my mouth shut. Silence seemed to be the better answer. I was known for being “quiet”, to a fault. To avoid the glares, I’d keep my nose in books.

College was such a huge relief.

Intelligence and achievement were celebrated. Talents were showcased. I was no longer an anomaly, an outlier. I could be happy in public. I could talk about the good things in my life.

But it is still hard to share my joys, even after all these years.

I know, for a fact, that there were people who giggled with joy when I didn’t get into med school the first time. I know that there are people who think I always have things “handed to me.” Because, of course, I haven’t earned anything through hard work or perseverance, right?

I am tired of hiding my joys because some people are either jealous or pessimistic, or whatever else.

Not much has changed, really. While I am not as introverted as I used to be, the people I connect with best at school are still the professors, even now. I have no idea how to explain that.

And, I am still keeping track of my goals.

For instance, today, a longtime dream came true.

My heart has been drawn to medical missions for as long as I can remember, but there has always been a barrier of some sort, either time or skills or money. Or all three.

One of the privileges of being a medical student is that you are encouraged to use your skills for the underserved. My school offers several opportunities for students to go abroad during the summer after MS1 to serve on medical missions. There was one in particular that I have had my eye on.

I’ve written before about Timmy Global Health. I love this organization and what it stands for–working with the Ministry of Health of the country to provide sustainable access to care for underserved populations. After dreaming for years to be a part of this organization, I was anxious for the opportunity to apply for one of the 20 spots to go to Ecuador next summer.

And then I heard how many of my classmates applied. For 20 spots, I heard rumors of 40, 50, or 60 applicants. So, I knew my dream may just remain a dream. But I applied anyway, prepped for the interview, and put it in God’s hands.

I cried tears of joy when I got the congratulatory email.

And of course, I wanted to share. I wanted to know who else in my class was going with me. I told my husband, my parents, and my closest friends. But at the same time, I was sad and didn’t want to share the news, because of how many people I knew were probably disappointed, and I didn’t want to rub my good fortune in their faces. Salt in the wound hurts all.

In this day and age, oversharing is the norm via Facebook, Twitter, whatever. We share what we ate for lunch (and where, with pictures, check-in’s, etc), vacations, how much work sucks… and my favorite (sarcasm), parents who share their children’s every bowel movement. It’s not just what we share, but how. The new term I overheard the other day was “the humblebrag”, bragging while trying and usually failing to sound humble. There have been so many articles and papers and blog posts about how these outlets for sharing hone our abilities to just post our “highlight reel” for the world to see, and so they are lies, mostly by omission. So, for instance, “I made this awesome dinner!” but leaving out the “I burnt it the first three times.” I’ve even read articles about how reading others’ highlight reels makes us feel depressed and inadequate. In my experience, it’s totally true! Someone else is having a great time doing X. I wish I was too. So I am immediately ungrateful for all the things in my life that are great, because I am falling into the trap of comparison. “Comparison is the thief of joy,” as the adage goes.

And so, I am sharing my good news anyway–I am so very excited that a dream is becoming reality, that a Bucket List item can be checked off next summer, that my head, hands, and heart can be used to help someone else. I hope that those not selected for this trip are selected for the other trips our school offers to Kenya, Brazil, or Thailand.

Ecuador. South America. The Amazon Basin. Galapagos. Straddling the Equator. Getting to use my Spanish skills. Actually using my newly-acquired clinical skills. New people to meet and communicate with. New problems to solve. So many new things to learn and experience on this adventure. I can’t wait!

But for now… back to studying the pelvis, the bane of my existence as a medical student.

Pimped

I need to quit saying that the week was killer, because the following week is always worse….

But, it’s over. Over, over, over. Thank you, God.

I really didn’t mind that my boss volunteered me for more work in another lab. It’s nice knowing that both PIs think I do quality work. But when T came to me with 18 fresh samples on the week we had scheduled 40 surgeries, I was not the happiest of campers.

It took me four hours just to homogenize the damn things. And that is only step 1. My boss walked in during the middle of my procedure, saw the obscene amount of tubes I had labeled (and probably noticed the displeased look on my face), and asked, “So… How many samples….?” When I said 18, all he could say was, “Oh. He didn’t tell me that. That’s ridiculous!”

It was a lot of work. I was frazzled. But, it got done, on time, with finesse.

And, all 40 surgeries, my most in one week to date, all went well.

That was in July, and that is what I miss now, two months into med school. I miss feeling like I can knock out anything with ease and have hard-and-fast evidence that I can rock a lab. I miss being in charge. I miss being able to learn real-world stuff that I can use immediately–and it’s not simply book-learnin’. I really, really miss a regular paycheck. I definitely miss my coworkers.

I checked our class calendar the other day to see what the spring semester looked like when it hit me that this is how it is now. It’s not going to get easier. It’s like being under a waterfall every day, it just keeps coming. And after the this year comes a harder second year. And then Boards. And then third year on the wards, being pimped in a different way. And then fourth year rotations and interviews and the submission of a rank list that will determine where I get my first job. And then intern year. And then more years of residency. And then maybe a fellowship–another 3 years. Maybe eventually I’ll be an attending.

It just keeps coming.

So today I found myself thinking how easy it would be to go back to the old job. I would still fit right in, I could still be that productive, I haven’t forgotten how to do everything in the lab yet. But I’d be giving up all of these new and exciting opportunities that come with having the basic tagline medical student. And I don’t think anyone could pry me away from medicine now.

In my “free time” (AKA when I am home and studying), I’ve had on marathons of Grey’s Anatomy. As much as I have enjoyed this show since high school, I love it even more now. Now, I understand things like “blue tet”, teratomas, esophageal varices, congenital diaphragmatic hernia, ascites from cirrhosis… the list goes on. And I LOVE it, being able to know not only what they mean but where they come from and why and how to fix them. I can only imagine how much more there is to learn and how much more I will understand once I learn it.

There is no going back now.

On Compassion in Medicine

After our exams this week, the last two days have been easy, with medical ethics-type lectures (which of course I totally geeked out to, especially since two of my favorite professors from grad school were guest lecturers), so compassion in medicine has been on my mind, and finally publishing this draft seemed appropriate. So here it is, tense left unchanged:

One of the blogs I read with some frequency (since I’m not in school yet and therefore still have what resembles a life and free time), is called “I’m 25 and My Boobs are Trying to Kill Me.” The author is a brave, witty life enthusiast who writes beautifully and sees the meaning in everyday life now that she is in remission from breast cancer. Having previously worked in breast cancer research, her story stuck with me because of how personal it was, in her own words as she was going through the experience of chemo. Her most recent post made me stop to think a bit about patient dignity.

You can read one of her latest posts here.

So, as a doctor, someday I’ll prescribe drugs or therapies in order to save someone, or at least bring his or her experience back to baseline. Most of the time when I do this, I will not have gone through it myself. I’ve never had cancer, so I don’t know what the experience of chemotherapy is like. Sure, I can read that I’d lose my hair and be nauseated with frequency, but I do not know what that experience is like firsthand. Reading this blog has guided my thinking about what patient care, and good patient care, really is. It’s not just good enough to nail down the diagnosis and prescribe the drug. In my mind, anyway, there needs to be something more.

She had her dignity. Her confidence. Those around her either destroyed it or built it up. How many of us take for granted those little things that make us feel like ourselves? She talks about how seeing the Gollum in the mirror when she expects a head full of long, brunette curls affects the way she views herself, and even more than that: she didn’t want other people to have memories of her as a bald woman. It speaks to how much she has lost her sense of self due to her illness. Realizing how the illness affects the person’s normal, day-to-day life outside of the clinic/hospital. It involves seeing them as a whole person. I am completely convinced that medical personal narratives can do wonders for patient peace of mind as well as give insight to physicians about how a patient can be better treated. Competently demonstrating compassion in a clinical setting is a complicated thing to do. What if one of her physicians would have asked her about how she felt now, in remission, even without her hair? Would she have felt better about her self (and herself) if the focus was put on how she was handling life outside the clinic, instead of her status as a cancer patient?

The term “holistic” gets thrown around a lot in the healthcare sphere these days. Whenever I read comments on how doctors think they treat patients holistically, I have to chuckle just a bit. Treating a patient as a whole person goes above and beyond calling a patient Mr./Ms. so-and-so instead of “the case of X in room 215.” I remember in grad school talking about caring for a person’s narrative in Narrative Ethics and Caring in The Ethics of Care. “Of course I see my patient as a whole person and not just a disease!” they say. Oh, really? We had cases on a regular basis… they would just roll in, endlessly. Many cases were brought to a bioethics committee’s attention, but more often than not, they never made it that far. There are plenty of opportunities for finding ways to change medicine that do not necessarily revolve around cost-containnment, new drugs, illness management, or the like. Establishing a relationship for the patient and physician is of the utmost importance, but many that I have encountered who plan on going into medicine seem to brush it off, which I feel is just incrediblely sad and a disservice to our future patients.

I think I just wrote a manifesto. It was not my intention, but that is where my mind wandered.

I hope I do not forget this as med school progresses.

What I Should Have Done & Why: Part 1

In recent months, a few friends and friends-of-friends of mine have asked if I had any advice about this whole applying-to-med-school process. Uh, yes. Lots. So, I thought I’d share. My apologies in advance for what is sure to be a long, long post.

Let me preface this post with this: Failure is good for the soul. It keeps you humble, keeps you hungry. Certainly, I wouldn’t have fought so hard if I didn’t have to.

High School

Yes, starting with high school. I didn’t find out until well into my first semester of college that I had the grades and SAT/ACT scores to get me into combined MD/BS programs at several universities across the nation. I have no idea how on earth those programs escaped my research, but they did. If there is anything that I can count as a pet peeve, it’s not knowing about something until it’s too late–it aggravates me so much. That’s probably why I plan well in advance for every little thing.

I started volunteering in hospitals while I was in high school. If I could do it all over again, what I should have done was to get my CNA while I was still this young. It would have been a tremendous help, gaining experience in health care settings of all sorts while stashing away a little extra cash over the summers.

College

College is so much more than just a degree and toga parties. There is so much outside of that that is worth going to college and earning that degree. I met most of my best friends there; it’s surprising how close you can get to new friends while in college, it’s definitely more accelerated than in high school (in my experience, anyway). There were friends to be made, opportunities for leadership, research, and just figuring out who I was, after all. Not to mention the time management skills that were honed. I would definitely do it all over again, at my school. Although, if I could go back and do anything, I would have done two other things: studied abroad and picked up a double major in nursing.

Why? Many reasons. As far as study abroad goes, when else would I have had the ability to travel, learn new languages, made friends across the globe at such a young age? I love learning languages and learning to communicate with other people. It would have been a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but I never pursued it because my mindset was to graduate “on time”–and study abroad would have pushed back my graduation a semester or two, which at the time wasn’t worth it to me. (If I had only known!) I had let myself think that study abroad was not possible–big mistake. Now, for the double major… having that extra degree in nursing would have opened doors for employment after college once I didn’t get into med school the first time I applied. There have been so many jobs I didn’t qualify for because I didn’t have the necessary time spent with patients, that could have been obtained with a nursing degree; aside from that, think of all the practical stuff I would have learned that would have been a great help in medical school… but oh well. Can’t change it now.

Now, back to my pre-med advice for college:
First and foremost, be your own advocate and advisor. Search out information and do not, I repeat DO NOT just follow information you got from one sole source. Bad, bad idea. I highly recommend starting off with a copy of a medical school strategy book (my personal favorites are Kaplan’s Get into Medical School: A Strategic Approach, and Medical School Confidential. I do not have any financial conflicts of interest to address; but out of all the books I’ve read, these two are probably two of the most helpful.) just to give you the basic ins-and-outs of how it all works and what it will take to get you to where you want to be. (Especially if you haven’t done so yet in high school. I did, but only because that’s my neuroticism showing.) Personally, I am an information junkie. If I’m interested in something, I will track down every thing about it so that I know I am well-informed. This is a great way to start. Also, seek out your campus pre-med (or pre-vet/pharm/nursing/PA/podiatry, whatever) advisor as soon as possible and see what information they have for you. [*Caveat: I do not, DO NOT recommend taking what this advisor says as the end-all and be-all of information, and here’s why: all someone has to do to be a pre-med advisor is to volunteer. There is no training, no seminars, no nothing. He or she may have incorrect or outdated information. This is why I always recommend having multiple sources for this type of information. Do not be blindsided by something you did not know.

Also check out the free information available from the American Association of Medical Colleges, aamc.org. They’re the guys that put together the lovely MCAT and who you’ll use later for your medical school application, AMCAS, and rotation/residency applications later on. You’re going to have a lot of fun with these guys, so you might as well get used to them now.

Extra Classes
If you are not a biology major (I wasn’t), it is definitely in your best interests to pursue classes in biology that are above and beyond your degree requirements, especially: Cell Biology, Developmental Biology, Anatomy, Human Physiology… etc. etc. Because, having seen some of it before medical school would be a big help. If you only have room for one of them, I recommend Anatomy. It is well worth your time to take it in advance.

STAY OFF OF SDN.
SDN is the Student Doctor Network. It’s an online forum, where you can have an anonymous username, read forum threads, create them, find answers to your questions about anything related about health professions from start to finish. Sounds great, right? In theory, yes. But my advice is to stay away from the Pre-Med Allopathic/Osteopathic sections. Why? Think about it. Those who are “gunning” for medical school know that it is obscenely competitive, and by nature they’re strong Type-A personalities to begin with. These are the kids that think they’ll have an edge by telling you the test is on the wrong day, or boast that the never study but make A’s, etc. etc…. just to psych out the competition, and they derive much sadistic pleasure from seeing others fail, or squirm. Now put a bunch of those strong Type-A personalities behind an anonymous username and give them the ‘power’ to post their opinions on an online forum… and you have disaster. Misinformation, wrong information, hateful opinions on every single question that is posed… and let’s not forget they all boast 4.5 GPA’s, 45T MCAT scores, and “above average” extracurriculars. There are a lot of opinions about what medicine is, how it works, how it is changing–all by people who are not even accepted to or enrolled in medical school yet. If you want to feel inferior or discouraged, or if you need someone to ruin your day and your outlook on a career in healthcare fields, by all means read those forums. Be prepared to sift through a mountain of BS for a few gold nuggets of information.

CAVEAT: Just like in chemistry class, as soon as you learn a hard-and-fast rule…. you learn all of the exceptions to that rule. So with that being said, I will say that there is a goldmine of great resources on SDN. Personally, I read the Pediatrics and Neonatology forums, and the moderators/med students/residents/fellows are all super helpful and encouraging. Also, there are separate forums for every single medical school for your particular application cycle, so you can ask questions about personal statements, supplemental applications, due dates, interview prep (this was pure, unadulterated GOLD during my interview cycle), etc that is definitely worth your time and attention. Those are the areas I used the forums for the most, and yes it helped me tremendously.

Get Involved
…but only if you want to. Grades will always be the most important, but you need to have fun too… if only to keep your sanity. You do not have to be the guy that basically lives on campus (guilty as charged). Medical schools will want to see that you have a passion for something and a strong commitment to it. It does not have to be medicine-related. Just find something you are passionate about and go after it. Maybe it’s hiking/rock climbing/mountaineering/running marathons. Awesome. Maybe it is starting a Frisbee golf group on campus. Cool. Just go do it, and do it with all of your heart. That is where the meat of your Personal Statement can come from, or it can be fodder for questions during your interview. The ADCOMs will want to see that you have a way of dealing with stress, that you have outside interests from medicine, because that is going to save your sanity when you matriculate and proceed through this battlefield. It makes you interesting. Be able to talk about it.

Volunteering/Shadowing
This is pretty much expected of you, if you want to be a medical student (of any sort). Doctors need to be compassionate, help people from all ages and stages of life, and have some hands-on experience. It doesn’t have to be in a hospital or in any certain field. It can be seen as just “checking the box”, but if you really get something out of it, it can be a powerful ace up your sleeve. Not to mention some of your supervisors may write you glowing letters of recommendation for your application(s).

Work on that CV
Having a CV, and a well-organized one at that, can open doors. I don’t remember exactly when I first heard of a CV (curriculum vitae), but basically it’s a more detailed resume. Develop one, have several people read over it, and keep adding to it. I have had so many compliments on my CV, and it’s definitely helped me land jobs since college. Another plus, keeping all of this information in one place will be handy when you start filling out your applications.

Other Opportunities
If you find out about some sort of opportunity that you would LOVE to do, by all means go for it! You won’t know if you don’t try. The first time I applied for summer research positions, I didn’t have the first day of research experience, and the one program that I wanted, I thought was well out of my grasp. I only applied to five or six programs, but the only one I secured was this one I thought was beyond my reach. This one program has opened countless doors for me afterward, including getting published and having a mutual acquaintaince with an interviewer at my future medical school.

The Dreaded MCAT
Do not underestimate this exam. It’s a bear. No, more like a monster. Yeah, that’s a better descriptor. I bought a copy of Kaplan’s MCAT Review as a freshman, and used it as a guide to study from my first two years of college. Looking back, I wish I had taken the actual Kaplan (or Princeton Review, pick your poison) class way back then. The strategies help, and practice, practice, practice. At the time, I didn’t want to spend the money for it, and finding time to go to another campus to take the class are the things that deterred me from it. You do NOT want to have to take this thing more than once, so prep early, be dedicated, and if you don’t feel that you are ready yet, push your test date back. Be sure to note that the MCAT is currently changing and will make BIG changes in 2015. I’ve heard it’s going to gradually grow into an eight-hour exam. Check with the AAMC for the most recently updated information.

Plan B, C, D….
Have backup plans. Several. At one point, I had even made a flowchart. If A doesn’t work, go to B… but if C comes along, drop B…. It may sound a little crazy, but it kept me motivated (and for the most part, employed) during my “gap-years”. If Plan A doesn’t work, there are 25 other letters in the alphabet; I kept that in mind as I figured out what I would do if my application cycle(s) didn’t work out, and it saved me a lot of stress since I knew that no matter what happened, I had options and I was going to be okay.

In speaking of backup plans…

Graduate School/Employment

Graduate School. Oh, grad school. It’s wonderful, it’s awful, it’s a mess. I found a program that interested me that would accept my MCAT scores (because I did NOT want to have to study for, pay for, and sit for the GRE). There are so many programs to choose from. Most pre-meds that go to grad school opt for MS degrees in some sort of field of biology; some of these programs are tied to medical schools and can be known as ‘feeder’* programs to the MD/DO degree… and are sometimes referred to as SMPs, or Special Masters Programs. *Be careful with these though; more often than not, these DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT guarantee your entrance into medical school, so don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. Read the fine print, ask questions, be proactive.

Here I would also like to note that an MS Bio-related program may not be the best choice. From my experience, I would say that if you do not eat-breathe-sleep whatever thing it is that you would study in grad school, DO NOT DO IT. Grad school requires you to be utterly consumed with whatever-it-is that you are studying. So if you do not love it enough to marry it, don’t go to grad school for it. Of special note, I will also add that in my interviews, my interviewers were majorly impressed that I wasn’t like everyone else and got a different degree than an MS Bio-whatever. If you’re wanting to set yourself apart and gain some hands-on experience with medicine/healthcare, I highly encourage you to purse a Masters of Public Health or Masters of Bioethics/Medical Humanities. Sure, Social Inequality in Healthcare didn’t help my background knowledge in biochemistry to make med school biochem any easier, but I know more about helping people in the community… which has translated into some very engaging interviews and ultimately, several acceptances.

I will add this caveat though: it would have helped my earning potential in the interim if I’d have gotten the MS Bio-whatever anyway. As a lab tech, all of my interviews for jobs were interested in the MA, but since it wasn’t an MS, I couldn’t negotiate for higher pay based on my education. Which sucks. But I was able to use my lab skills to land a good job that has afforded my husband and I to live quite well, I think. So take that with a grain of salt if you’re considering grad school, employment, then med school and beyond. (Remember that flowchart I mentioned? Yep, that was all on there.)

Just don’t give up. The door will open. I may have had to kick it open, but it did finally open.

The Application Season
This process is awful. Soul-crushing awful. My best advice is to be totally, completely prepared. I started gathering information for my application a year in advance. I downloaded the instruction manual from AAMC.org, so I knew every exact thing I would need, and when. Doing that saved me SO MUCH TIME. I knew the application would open in May to submit in June, and the entire process could take until August of the following year if I happened to get waitlisted. I knew how many activities I could enter and that each would need a description. I knew how long my essay, or Personal Statement, was supposed to be. So I started early, and kept a binder (I keep a binder for everything). I wrote my essays early and had several friends read it and give me feedback. I asked for all of my letters of recommendation early. I sent off for my transcripts so they’d get there well before I submitted, so I’d be first in line for verifcation. I knew which schools I wanted to apply to, which ones gave out secondary applications to all students, which ones had a ton of essays. I also knew how crazy expensive all of this was going to be, from fees to send transcripts, to the MCAT, to the application processing fee, to the secondary fees, to the interview attire/travel/hotel costs. I took the time to get organized. It was so much less stressful this way! Start early, get organized, and you’ll be less stressed. (And actually, the first time I applied, I had never even heard of/bothered to check out (the useful parts of) SDN. Sometimes I wonder if maybe that could have hurt me, no matter how prepared I was.)

Also: find something to preoccupy your time that summer/fall. If I had nothing to do that summer, I would have driven myself crazy. It’s even worse now that I have my email on my phone. Every little “ding!” from my phone would make me jump, thinking that it was a secondary application/interview invite/acceptance email. Have something to keep you occupied.

My advice to anyone, doing anything under the sun: Be polite. Be nice to people–everyone from the professor to the secretary to the Chair of the ADCOM is going to be watching your demeanor and how you treat others. Someone is always watching. Find a way to go out of your way to make someone else’s day better. People will remember you by your actions and how you treat them, not by what is on your resume/CV or what your grades/scores were. Having a positive attitude and being willing to lend a hand will take you far, no matter what your goals are.

So there you have it. Eight years of trial and error have now graced this blog in my longest post ever–which is why Part 2 is on its way. I hope someone finds it useful and learns from my… errors. 😉