I have wanted to be a pediatrician since I was 14 and shadowed my own doctor. I did my homework (literally) about what steps to take to get there, including buying a copy of Kaplan’s Get into Medical School while I was still in high school… reading it, taking notes, and highlighting it cover-to-cover. I volunteered every summer in a local hospital and continued to shadow my own doctor, in addition to other small volunteer gigs.
I graduated valedictorian of my high school class (even though it was a tiny school), and kept up my overachiever habits throughout college as a Biochemistry major. I am competitive by nature and I like a little friendly competition, but I didn’t really consider myself a “gunner”. I worked exceptionally hard in every class, even the ones I didn’t care about, like Art Appreciation. My only two grades that were not A’s were in Physical Chemistry 1 & 2, and they were B’s. I was also involved on campus, becoming a leader in several groups that focused on volunteerism and preparing for graduate school. I tacked on an Honors Program curriculum during my third year and still managed to graduate on time, at the top of my class. By then I’d also worked on several reaseach projects and had published. I was the recipient of several local, regional, and national scholarships and awards, and I felt pretty confident that my dreams would come true.
Long story short, up until my senior year in college, everything had gone “according to plan” (thank you, Kaplan). I studied for the MCAT on my own and didn’t do as well as I had hoped, but I thought I would be fine (mistake #1). Then I applied to just a few medical schools close to home (mistake #2). After my only interview at my only state school, I panicked and started looking into graduate programs at a nearby, larger university, where I applied to and was accepted into the Master of Arts in Bioethics and Medical Humanities in March. In May, I was waitlisted at my #1 school. By August 1st, I was slowing acclimating to realizing that I would not be enrolling into medical school that fall. I was devastated, and not a very happy person in general around that time.
My graduate program was very difficult that first semester. I was dealing with feelings of inadequacy and ineptitude, and I wasn’t sure I would even finish the program. I felt like a complete failure. Even so, I met with an admissions counselor to see what I could do to improve my application for a second cycle, continued to volunteer, and retook the MCAT while studying on my own (mistake #3). This second application would also be unsuccessful as my MCAT score dropped a point or two, and I only applied to two schools (mistake #4).
After this blow of being unsuccessful yet again, I focused on my program. I worked diligently and wound up being incredibly successful while learning a lot about the health care field and its challenges and changes. I even wrote a paper on a topic that I was passionate about, to which my professor encouraged me to publish. I was able to sit in on bioethics committees at several local hospitals, round with preceptors in several specialties, and found that my desire to become a pediatrician and possibly a neonatologist was stronger than ever. It was during this time that I also met my future husband. Armed with a graduate degree and new hope, I applied (a third time) to the same two medical schools (mistake #5). I was also unsuccessful during that cycle, and heartbroken all over again. I was at the point of giving up all hope. With my husband’s encouragement, I prepared for my fourth and final application, no matter what the outcome.
This meant preparing for the MCAT yet again–my previous highest score was too old to be admissable for this particular application. I was so embarrassed to be taking this exam one more time, which increased my feelings of inadequacy. I enrolled in a class geared toward success on this exam, which I felt did help some. Thankfully, this exam went well. I rewrote all of my essays, asked for new recommendation letters, and most importantly, I applied much more broadly–all while working full-time as a reasearch technician and taking anatomy and medical terminology classes on the weekends to get back into the habit of being a student of science again. This time, my application was successful.
If any premeds are reading this, I hope you learn from my mistakes, and if you have failed previously, I hope my story encourages you to keep trying. Going through four application cycles has been an awful experience, but I do realize how much I have grown personally during my ‘gap years’ and how my experiences have shaped the goals I want to reach as a physician.